Now's the time for independent sales organizations to start offering mobile-payments options to their merchant customers, according to industry observers.

Too many are delaying their entry into mobile because they don't know which technology to use. Mobile wallets can be built on Near Field Communication chips or on software-based systems like bar codes and the cloud.

"If you wait to figure out who the winner is, it's all going to pass you by," says Steve McRae, chief executive of Merchant360 Inc., a mobile-payment software provider in Medford, Ore.

The decision on what technology to use should remain secondary to an ISO's determination to support mobile wallets, agrees Chris Gardner, CEO of Paydiant Inc., a Boston-based mobile-payments company.

"If ISOs can go in and … offer value-added services around mobile, mobile wallet and advertising, that could win business and give them new revenue streams," says Gardner.

Indeed, the mobile-payments market is growing. The technology will attract 448 million users worldwide and $617 billion in transaction value by 2016, Gartner Inc. predicts. In North America, Gartner projects the number of mobile-payment users to grow by 177%, to more than 90 million in 2016 from 32.7 million users in 2012.

As the market blossoms, ISOs face challenges. Should they develop their own mobile wallet or align with a vendor? Which technology will prevail? Will something unforeseen leapfrog what's available today? How can they take advantage of mobile offerings while keeping a tight hold on customer data?

"They have to track the developments in the marketplace and make judgment calls based on the kinds of merchants that they are servicing today," says Maria Arminio, president and chief executive of Avenue B Consulting in Redondo Beach, Calif.

TriSource Solutions LLC in Bettendorf, Iowa, works with several vendors to offer mobile-payment acceptance, says Michael Cottrell, the company's vice president of business of development.

Meanwhile, Cottrell advises ISOs to do a better job of making mobile payments part of their usual sales process.

"An ISO needs to have something that makes mobile-payment acceptance easy and affordable for agents to use as a competitive piece or proactively with merchants," he says.

But salespeople still face a formidable task in explaining the possibilities of mobile payments to retailers, says Rick Oglesby, a senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group.

ISOs should show them what mobile payments are all about and what the advantages are, he says.

At the same time, ISOs should offer merchants software powerful enough to handle value-added offerings that include coupons and loyalty products, Oglesby says.

"You've got to have something that's differentiated and innovative, and that's what I'd be working on," says Todd Ablowitz, president of Centennial, Colo.-based Double Diamond Group LLC.

That means looking for ways to add sales and revenue for a particular merchant instead of merely offering the mobile-payment service, he says.

ISOs should seek software-based approaches to mobile payment, so they don't have to bother with hardware at the point of sale or for the phone, some observers say.

"It's much better for the merchants to pursue software-only solutions," says Richard K. Crone, who heads Crone Consulting LLC in San Carlos, Calif.

Merchant Warehouse, an ISO in Boston, offers a payment platform called Genius that enables merchants to accept any kind of mobile payment, including NFC, quick-response codes and mobile wallets. It can also support loyalty, gift and rewards programs.

The ISO looked into products on the market but decided to build one, says Robert McCarthy, a Merchant Warehouse product manager.

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