Apple Pay's NFC-based mobile pay system doesn't automatically equate to a marriage between the retailers' point of sale and the contactless communication technology.
Part of the challenge for merchants is Apple's broader track record of frequent updates to new technology. This concerns businesses that are accustomed to consistency when it comes to accepting transactions.
"I talked to a major retailer not long ago who said he is still waiting to see what happens because he doesn't want to make a bad decision about what to invest in," said Richard Mader, retailer consultant and president of Bernville, Pa.-based Mader International Consulting.
While the EMV migration and industrywide focus on security have made point of sale upgrades inevitable, many merchants have seen technology change so fast in the past five years they fear investing millions of dollars in an upgrade now, because something better will surface soon afterward, Mader said.
There is a strong case for NFC. In a recent mobile wallet development report, Javelin Strategy & Research reinforces the theory that NFC is worth the investment, particularly since the card brands made NFC contactless capabilities at the terminal a recommended part of the EMV migration liability shift taking hold in October 2015.
Calling NFC "the payment standard of the future," Javelin said Apple Pay coupled with momentum for the technology globally makes NFC a solid proposition. The introduction of host card emulation, which makes NFC possible through applications while bypassing the secure element in a mobile handset, also opens doors previously blocked to merchants by mobile network operators, Javelin said.
"Since the Apple announcement, we have talked to major terminal vendors Verifone and Ingenico and they say that almost all of their systems are now NFC-enabled," said Mary Monahan, head of mobile for Javelin.
Before Apple burst into the payments landscape in early September, the number of NFC-enabled terminals being sold hovered between 70% and 80%, Monahan said.
Now, wallet providers embracing NFC represent an impressive list that would equate to consumer and merchant adoption over time, Monahan said. "You now have Apple, Google, Softcard and Microsoft utilizing NFC in their wallets."
But early-adopter consumers anxious to try Apple Pay, or those who have used Google Wallet or others for the past few years, have found that a retailer with an NFC terminal doesn't necessarily have to turn on the technology at the point of sale.
CVS and Rite Aid both shut down all NFC capabilities in a signal of its loyalty to the still-developing CurrentC bar code-based technology of the Merchant Customer Exchange, the major retail joint venture seeking a new payments system that could potentially bypass card network interchange.
During a press conference addressing an e-mail hack into the MCX system, venture CEO Dekkers Davidson said MCX could "pivot" back to NFC if consumers wanted it.
For its part in saying no to Apple Pay, Walmart executives have said they simply have not turned on the NFC capable terminals already in place.
"It's not as difficult as it may seem to have an NFC terminal in place," Monahan said.
"That is, in part, why the EMV migration is so important. Ultimately, I think retailers realize that NFC is probably going to be the contactless standard."
Various estimates place the number of retailers with NFC capable terminals in place at around 220,000.
But it will remain a tough nut to crack in the small business world, according to a survey conducted through Newtek Business Services Inc.
Based on an October poll of more than 1,000 small businesses, 82% said they currently do not have a POS in place that accepts NFC transactions, Newtek stated Nov. 5.
In addition, 93% said they were not planning on upgrading existing terminals to accept NFC payment options, meaning they either planned to wait until they had to purchase new equipment or had reservations about the technology.
"Our poll depicts indifference toward contactless mobile payments and the use of NFC in the future," Barry Sloane, chairman of the small business authority, stated in a release about the findings.
The poll results indicate that the card brands have to do a better job of educating small business owners about the benefits of NFC as it relates to the EMV migration, Sloane added.
"The takeup of NFC has really been lackluster," said Brian Riley, senior research director and analyst with Boston-based CEB TowerGroup. "Retailers and consumers haven't determined if they like it yet, and it always brings you back to the same old question of what is better or faster than a current payment card?"
Because the launch of Apple Pay has had some glitches, it is not clear yet how much influence the tech giant will have on the payments industry, Riley said.
"Over time, NFC can socialize through wearables and things like that," Riley added. "But when people shop, they want to settle the transaction quickly, and the merchant feels the same way."
Retailers remain unsure about the card brands supporting Apple Pay and NFC in general. "A retailer doesn't really know for sure which way the industry is going to go with payment technology," Mader said. "They initially backed away from NFC because they believed the card brands would come back and charge another two cents or so per contactless transaction."
Ultimately, the retailers have to rethink NFC and not get distracted by their differences with the card brands or what appears to be a battle between Apple, MCX, Walmart and others, Mader said.
"There will have to be a compromise achieved because, after all, payments is about the consumer," Mader said.