A new mobile-commerce wallet from payment-processor Apriva LLC could go a long way toward helping merchants decide whether investing in new mobile-payment hardware is worth the cost.

The smartphone-based Apriva Wallet takes the unusual approach of harnessing the merchant-acquiring channel by enabling independent sales organizations and agents to sell the product as an added-value service (see story).

Though the Apriva Wallet does not directly enable payments, it provides “an important bridge” between existing card-based payment terminals and new mobile wallets that enable consumers to track and manage loyalty programs, discounts and deals in their handsets with minimal steps, Andy Schmidt, research director at TowerGroup, tells PaymentsSource.

“Apriva’s offering gives merchants a much more active role than some of the other wallet offerings we’ve seen so far,” Schmidt says.

And because one of the biggest lures of mobile payments for merchants is the customized promotions and loyalty support the technology promises, Apriva’s wallet can provide a kind of laboratory for merchants to learn the value of smartphone-based mobile wallets, he suggests.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Apriva spent more than two years developing the technology, which works with any smartphone or payment card, Paul Coppinger, Apriva president, tells PaymentsSource.

“Unlike other mobile wallets we have seen so far, ours is designed from the outset to work with every major mobile-phone platform, and any kind of merchant can use it without making any core changes to their systems,” Coppinger says.

Apriva Wallet stands out because it combines existing point-of-sale card-acceptance systems with mobile-wallet technology, “giving merchants a chance to figure out what type of handset-based promotions work and whether it moves the needle” without making any changes in point-of-sale systems, Schmidt says.

“Once merchants see how this kind of thing works and gather some data on how effective mobile wallet-based promotions are in changing consumer behavior, they might be more interested in investing in NFC and EMV point of sale hardware,” he says.

Merchants participating in Apriva Wallet enroll consumers that give their permission at the point of sale by swiping a payment card and providing their mobile phone number. Consumers immediately receive a text message confirming participation in the program, and afterward each card-swiped transaction automatically links to their mobile wallet.

After swiping a card, a merchant’s updated promotional and other information appears immediately on the consumer’s smartphone handset screen, sorted according to the merchant. Merchants may customize their level of offerings, Coppinger says.

The Apriva Wallet works with any type of credit, debit or prepaid card, and merchants can configure it to keep track of loyalty points, promotions, receipts and other identity credentials, depending on how merchants choose to structure the wallet. Consumers also may download the app on their own for Apple Inc. iPhone, Google Inc. Android and, later this year, Windows Mobile phones.

Once consumers are enrolled with any participating merchant, other merchants using Apriva Wallet can instantly enroll those who give their permission without obtaining their mobile-phone number. The technology recognizes the card numbers of consumers already enrolled in the program and instantly adds the new merchant to the wallet application in the handset.

Apriva will not charge ISOs for the wallet, offering it instead as a marketing and retention tool, Coppinger says.

The processor based the wallet technology on AprivaTalk, a secure technology incorporating Payment Card Industry data-security standards, Coppinger says.

Two of the most-notable mobile wallets introduced so far, Isis and Google Wallet, require specific handset types and–for those harnessing Near Field Communication for a two-way exchange of information–installation of contactless-payment hardware at the point of sale. And that gives most merchants pause, Coppinger says.

“Merchants are interested in the promotional capabilities of mobile wallets, but they don’t want to supplement or replace all their payment terminals to get it,” he says. “Our technology lets merchants add all that value of promotions and loyalty messages stored on consumers’ handsets and, if NFC eventually arrives, it is already designed to support it.”

The Apriva Wallet “has some real potential” to catch on with merchants, but it also could run into interoperability problems with other mobile-wallet and mobile-payment schemes down the road, Schmidt warns.

“Future interoperability issues with Isis and Google Wallet and others that may come along are not resolved, and that will be a question mark here,” he says.

For instance, other mobile-wallet operators linked to specific payment card brands or wireless carriers may lock out separate mobile-wallet programs, such as Apriva’s.

“In theory, all these emerging mobile wallets will work together, but a lot still needs to be worked out before you can say there will be no channel conflict or obstacles to broad adoption,” Schmidt says.

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