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Merchant mobile payment effort gains traction

(UPDATED) Merchant Customer Exchange, the merchant-driven mobile payment consortium, is growing. The group announced that a new tranche of restaurants and retailers will join its effort to bring a mobile payment and commerce solution to market. Among the new group of merchants joining MCX are Gap Inc., Dillard’s Inc., Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. and Dunkin’ Brands.

"We are seeing tremendous interest from merchants of all sizes," said Dodd Roberts in the announcement. "Merchants recognize mobile payment adoption will be limited until it can be used where consumers regularly shop. MCX offers unmatched scale, representing merchants with more than $1 trillion in annual sales across nearly every merchant vertical.”

Roberts, identified in the announcement as an “MCX executive,” is now officially heading up the consortium. Most recently, Roberts was president of the Merchant Advisory Group, an industry trade association that represents merchant issues to the payment industry.

The Merchant option

Rumored for some time, MCX was announced in August. The consortium, backed by more than a dozen large retailers in the U.S., came about due to retailer dissatisfaction with how current mobile payment products are shaping up. Retailers have been largely ambivalent about NFC-enabled mobile payment products from Google Wallet and Isis, the joint venture between wireless carriers Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile USA. Retailers have been especially dubious of the longterm viability of NFC as a potential payment technology as well as the cost to upgrade point of sale terminals to accept NFC and contactless payments. 

Retailers have also been reluctant to turn over access to transaction and customer data to third parties like Google and the carriers.

Making progress

The announcement of new members is a sign that MCX, and its message of a merchant-controlled mobile payment solution, is gaining ground. The new partners join existing retailers like Walmart Inc., Target Corp., Best Buy Co. and 7-Eleven Inc.

"We strive to constantly enhance the guest experience at our Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins restaurants, and mobile commerce will play an increasingly important role in helping us achieve that goal,” said John Costello, chief global marketing and innovation officer, Dunkin' Brands, in a statement. "By joining MCX we hope to offer our guests, including those already enjoying our new Dunkin’ Donuts Mobile App, a mobile payment solution that is customer-focused, securely delivered and accepted at the broadest possible range of their favorite retail locations."

The announcement is also part of a larger effort of MCX to promote its solution to the merchant community. A group of MCX executives are attending the RAMP Mobile Retail Services Summit in Chicago this week. Roberts chaired a closed-door session with retailers on Monday afternoon to introduce its solution to merchants.

According to a source familiar with what was discussed, MCX explained its vision of a mobile payment solution that addresses a number of consumer-use cases including payments, discounts, promotions and marketing while minimizing the need for merchants to invest in new technology and point of sale equipment. The MCX platform will also take a "hands-off" approach to retailer's transaction and customer data.

Some early bumps

At this point, however, no actual merchant solution exists, and the timeframe for getting it to market is still up in the air. MCX said its platform is under development and the company is trying to focus on integrating payments with offers and promotions delivered to a smartphone. But a source familiar with MCX’s effort said the consortium is still working through an RFP process to find technology vendors to help bring its solution to market.

The source also said there is some dissatisfaction voiced by some participants in the way the solutions is taking shape, with Walmart playing an oversized role in its development. Some early participants are beginning to pull back from the effort as Walmart, a competitor to all the other consortium members, has started to assert control.

The presence of Walmart has actually been a deterrent to some companies joining the consortium. Retailer Kohl's and grocery store chain Kroger's have reportedly resisted an invitation to join MCX.

UPDATE: In a follow-up discussion with Mobile Payments Today, Dodd Roberts said the contention that there is any merchant dissatisfaction with how MCX is shaping up is simply not true.

"That's not accurate," Roberts said. "MCX merchants represent a trillion dollars in transactions. That number would not be that high if merchants weren't onboard." 

Roberts said that rather than pulling back, there is more interest from retailers including some who have not yet been named. 

"We would anticipate that some more announcements (on additional retail partners) are coming," Roberts said.

For more stories on this topic, visit the mobile/digital wallet research center.

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