For mobile commerce provider Cardfree, landing a deal with Dunkin' Donuts to upgrade its app to include pre-ordering and payment is like a trip to the past.

San Francisco-based Cardfree will provide the mobile platform for the Dunkin' On-the-Go Ordering app, which is being tested in Portland, Me., with plans for a national launch in the future.

"It is a story about bringing the band back together," said Cardfree CEO Jon Squire, who was the chief marketing officer for mobile pay provider CorFire when it originally worked with Dunkin' Donuts in 2012 to establish a mobile payment app to answer that of its major coffee rival, Starbucks.

Many Cardfree executives  were involved with CorFire and members of the technology team were also instrumental in developing the mobile payment app for Starbucks. That app has gone on to become the gold standard in high-volume, low-value mobile transactions that combine payment and loyalty.Squire couldn't elaborate on the new contract deal with Dunkin' Donuts, but it is clear that previous experience in the mobile pay and coffee space was critical.

"We had a unique offering and they decided to go with us for the on-the-go effort," Squire said.

In the past three years, Cardfree has expanded its services to coincide with how its original mobile payment offering has evolved. "Historically, it started as a payments program," Squire said. "With the Starbucks effort, they had a giant payments crowd through prepaid cards already, so the focus was in trying to leverage an audience that was in the double-digit millions."

Now, operations like Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and other quick-service restaurants are adding loyalty and rewards to their apps and, most recently, the ability for users to pre-order and pay.

"Payments is just part of the journey now, as it is all more focused on the full breadth of mobile commerce solutions," Squire said. "And we are starting to see it in different channels, like grocery and convenience stores.  You can't really go to market with just one solution any more."

In a manner similar to Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts customers using the mobile app pay for purchases through a QR code scan from funds linked to a Dunkin' Donuts prepaid or gift card in the app. The on-the-go transactions are cloud-based payments.

Dunkin' Donuts says its DD Perks Rewards app has recorded 15 million downloads and has more than 3.6 million members. The company has more than 11,300 locations in nearly 60 countries.

A major trend in payments has been embedding the payment into an overall customer experience and Cardfree's deal with Dunkin' Donuts provides "the perfect example of this," said Thad Peterson, senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group.

"The payment is less important to the overall experience, and the people at Cardfree are really good at understanding that," Peterson said. "It is no coincidence that they did the Starbucks app before they created Cardfree and they are doing it again at Dunkin' Donuts."

Ultimately, merchants and payment providers will stop contemplating whether a payment platform should be open- or closed-loop and think more in terms of minimizing customer friction, Peterson added. "Using mobile as a prepaid or preload option is an easy and convenient way to do transactions," Peterson said. "And it is probably an easy way to load funds as well."

After Squire left to lead Cardfree, Austin-based Mozido acquired CorFire in late 2014 to help its own global expansion of a white-label mobile wallet offering for banks and retailers.In showing its intention to spread its wings quickly, Cardfree hooked a partnership in early 2014 with Mercury Payment Systems, a company known for its integrated POS services that eventually became part of Vantiv.

Also last year, Cardfree partnered with Xpient Solutions to bolster its cloud-based transaction management systems, a move the company felt would help speed up the time to market for its merchant clients."It's been a really good ride for Cardfree," Squire said. "We started mostly with quick-service restaurants, but we are starting to service other merchants."

Still, the key ingredients for mobile apps so far have been daily transactions that are low-value but part of consumer habit.

"Dunkin' Donuts is a great partner because they are focused on technology and what mobile can do," Squire said. "This frequency [of purchases] thing is really great for mobile."

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