US Retailers Collaborate in Mobile Payments Venture

A collective of major US retailers, including Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Sunoco and 7-Eleven, plan to create a joint mobile wallet service, joining the already crowded market of mobile phone payment (m-payment) services.

More than a dozen names are forming the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX). Members of the new joint venture, such as Walmart and Target, are unhappy at paying what they regard as excessive interchange fees to the existing card schemes run by Visa and MasterCard. They also do not wish to cede the potentially lucrative new m-payment and loyalty programme sector to Google Wallet or Isis, the venture backed by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

“MCX will leverage mobile technology to give consumers a faster and more convenient shopping experience,  while eliminating unnecessary costs for all stakeholders,” said Mike Cook, corporate vice president at Walmart. The new platform would “employ secure technology to deliver an efficiency-enhancing mobile solution available to all merchant categories, including retail stores, casual dining, petroleum and e-commerce,” he added.

Terry Scully, Target’s president of financial and retail services, said that the group of retailers, which collectively account for about US$1 trillion in annual sales, wants to ensure that it has a say in the development of standards for m-payments.

Scully added that the group is in discussions with various financial institutions, technology companies and telecommunications providers on providing support  for the new payment system, although he did not offer a date for when it would be introduced in stores.

The new venture follows an announcement earlier this month by coffee shop chain Starbucks that it is partnering with Square to process payments at its US stores and in May eBay’s PayPal unit announced deals with 15 retailers to use its system for mobile payments.

Retailers fear that they will be vulnerable to excessive fees if they do not have some influence in the developing digital ecosystem. The Gartner research consultancy predicts that the worth of mobile transactions will rise to US$600bn by 2016, from US$172bn this year, illustrating the potential in the field but only if consumers are not scared off by multiple, and confusing, rival offerings.

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