The newest battle in mobile technology is for control over the emerging digital wallet, with an estimated 100 competing factions such as Google, Walmart and a flurry of startups jockeying to control the mobile customer market, experts say.
"It's a gold rush right now," said Nick Holland, an analyst at the Hub-based Yankee Group. "Dozens of companies are trying to get a piece of the action."
Among recent examples just last week:
--Big retailers including Walmart, Target, Best Buy and CVS announced a joint system, Merchant Customer Exchange, to develop a customer mobile payment app.
--Dunkin' Donuts released a new mobile payment app just days after Starbucks inked a deal to use the digital payment startup Square to process payments in the U.S.
--Hub startup Scvngr announced a new plan for its LevelUp platform to eliminate its 2 percent transaction processing fee for merchants.
Earlier, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T began working on a system that stores encrypted credit card information and communicates with point-of-sale devices via near-field communications technology. In May, PayPal announced mobile payment deals with 15 retailers.
An original player in the nascent market is Google Wallet, which released a cloud-based app several weeks ago and has partnered with Discover Card for in-store purchases.
The danger, however, is that all of these competing options could confuse or altogether turn off consumers. Research shows most people have no problem using credit cards and cash, and a recent survey by Hub-based Forrester Research found a whopping 70 percent of adults with mobile phones are not even interested in digital payments.
Yet although interest is small, it is growing. By 2016, more than a quarter of nationwide consumers will own mobile device set up for near-field communications, according to Denee Carrington of Forrester Research. And point-of-sale terminals are expected to undergo major upgrades as credit card companies push for so-called "contactless" cards that contain electronic chips instead of a magnetic strip.
Gene Signorini, vice president of mobile insights at Mobiquity, said customers will gravitate toward whomever makes the best overall payment experience. There's an opportunity, he said, for retailers to use the mobile wallet to turn the least enjoyable part of shopping -- paying at checkout -- into a "seamless" experience.
"What retailers are trying to do is make the payment part of it almost disappear to an extent," Signorini said.
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