The retailer-driven Merchant Customer Exchange mobile payments venture is making a lot of noise, though it has yet to reveal its product. But since the final MCX app will interact with those made by its individual retailers, CVS Caremark Corp. can serve as an early example of the venture's potential.
CVS, which gets mostly positive consumer reviews for its mobile pharmacy application, last week introduced an interactive mobile shopping app for the iPad that creates a 3D setting of a CVS store. The app also functions as a coupon center and a catalog for placing orders.
CVS was quick to join MCX last year when major retailers announced they would collaborate on a mobile wallet and commerce system.
Though MCX has been outspoken, it hasn't said much about its technology. Most substantially, MCX says it plans to use a bar-code system for payments in a wallet that would work across multiple retailers.
The CVS app includes a QR code scanner as a way for consumers to scan products for information or accept promotional coupons. Mobile payment systems such as Payair work the same way, asking a consumer to scan a bar code displayed on a payment terminal.
"MCX has said that its app will initially be primarily bar code- and cloud-based," says MCX spokesman Jeremy Mullman. "To the extent that the CVS app operates that way, there would be some similarities."
A CVS executive was not available for an interview by deadline.
"I wouldn't read too far into those similarities," as MCX did not play a role in building the CVS app, he adds. But the MCX app will interact with the CVS one.
"One key feature of what MCX is developing is the flexibility for its solution to work inside a merchant's mobile application," Mullman says. "Once it is rolled out, it will be able to work inside an application like CVS."
Despite MCX's caution about casting CVS as a model for its own app, "I do see very much how MCX could play into something similar" to what CVS is doing, says Rick Oglesby, senior analyst and mobile pay expert with Boston-based Aite Group.
However, it makes sense for the individual retailers to continue to develop and advance their own mobile apps because they create loyal customers by doing so, Oglesby says.
Occasional customers are not likely to have applications on their phones for several different merchants, but they might download one that covers numerous merchants, such as what MCX plans to offer, Oglesby says.
"Merchants have no idea who the customer is if they come in only occasionally and pay with a plastic card or cash," Oglesby says. "MCX is looking to address that."
Control of customer information remains a vital element for all participating retailers, says Jeffrey Green, director of emerging technologies advisory services for Boston-based Mercator Advisory Group.
As such, it makes sense that retailers would continue to develop their own mobile shopping apps while waiting for the MCX app.
"MCX remains the unknown in the mobile wallet world at this point," Green says.
Because Walmart, Target, Lowe's and others are involved in the mobile wallet project, MCX could "potentially cause considerable disruption," Green adds.