Ingenico Group is confident it can translate consumers' love for big-screen entertainment into a payments technology blockbuster.
Ingenico's acquisition last week of startup Think&Go and its Near Field Communication digital display capabilities sets the stage for advancing what it calls "screen commerce," which the Paris-based terminal manufacturer envisions having great potential as a future payments trend.
At its core, screen commerce allows consumers to learn about products, services or events from a large display screen in a mall, airport or retail setting. A picture of a payment card with a circle around it shows users where to tap for an NFC connection, giving consumers the option to make a purchase or download a coupon with a contactless card or smartphone.
"We have been providing payment terminals for a long time, but what we see coming up is the booming of Internet of Things, with more connected devices, more ways to connect software with consumers," said Michel Léger, executive vice president of innovation at Ingenico Group and the head of Ingenico Labs.
Screen commerce won't replace traditional point of sale terminals in stores, but some retail settings may use them for events or special sales, Léger said. In acquiring Think&Go, Ingenico adds its payment and security technology to Think&Go's marketing and digital couponing strengths.
Léger considers the approach of incorporating payments or loyalty onto a large digital display as the modern version of asking consumers to scan QR codes printed on posters.
"QR codes pushed connected commerce, but we have also seen the limitations of the QR code because you have to launch an app to use it and it is generally just one-way communication," Léger said.
"With our technology, the merchant can exchange information with the customer through the screen," Léger added. "It has been clear that NFC is the easiest for the consumer, but we are also thinking of incorporating [Bluetooth Low Energy] into our screen commerce."
QR codes remain a core element of mobile wallet development, even as Apple, Google and Samsung promote the use of NFC. Chase Pay, for example, uses QR codes because many merchants already have the technology in place, said Kimberly Fitzsimmons, U.S. market president for Chase Merchant Services, during presentations last week at SourceMedia's annual Card Forum and Expo.
But even the strongest advocates of QR codes know that other technologies will soon take over. The QR code is "old and it will evolve, but right now that's what the merchants are using … anybody that accepts an electronic coupon accepts a QR code," Fitzsimmons said at the event. Chase is partnered with the Merchant Customer Exchange, which uses QR codes as the foundation of its own CurrentC wallet.
Stockholm-based Seamless, which has had success with its SEQR mobile payment app, is also pushing into newer technologies. It revealed late last year that it was adding NFC to more quickly integrate with more merchants.
No matter which technology a provider chooses to engage a consumer, they are still asking for consumers to make a significant change in their behavior, said Tim Sloane, director of emerging technologies advisory services for Boston-based Mercator Advisory Group.
"I'm not sure we have found the right technology yet," Sloane said. "At some point, consumers will want a signal coming from a screen to present a buy button on the phone, without having to do anything else."
Having to scan a QR code or make near-physical contact with an NFC reader may still be "too difficult for some consumers to engage in," Sloane said.
Still, Ingenico is on the right path in where it intends to advance screen commerce, Sloane said.
"If you target people when in a passive mode like watching TV, you are not going to get a lot of activity," he added. "However, when they are in an engaged mode like at an event, or walking through a mall, it would make sense to have these displays available."
Screen commerce, which bridges online and in-store shopping, fits nicely with Ingenico's release this week of a software development kit to help software developers accept EMV payments in their mobile payment apps.
Ingenico has a solid track record of seeking ways to link online and offline commerce, and the screen commerce technology "is yet another way to do that," said Gil Luria, analyst with Los Angeles-based Wedbush Securities.
"It's an incremental effort for Ingenico to tap into the capabilities around phones," Luria said. "When consumers start getting used to paying with phones, it is not a big leap to think they would do that to make purchases or obtain information from display screens."
Ingenico plans to push its screen commerce concept at train stations, airports, subways and shopping malls in countries where contactless cards are more the norm, such as the U.K., Canada and Australia. The U.S. would likely come further down that list.
"The question in the U.S. is about adoption of contactless technology," Léger said. "The country has all of the technology it needs, but the adoption is not strong yet."