The pimples and beauty marks of the mega-retailers’ CurrentC mobile wallet are on display for all to see during the app's ongoing beta test prior to its planned rollout next year.
Though the mobile wallet, designed for a coalition of 70 merchants led by Walmart and Target called the Merchant Customer Exchange, is not nationally available for use yet, it can be downloaded by anyone during the ongoing tests. And the app's earliest users are very outspoken about how it meets — and doesn't meet — their expectations.
Got 15 minutes? CurrentC's biggest flaw—the lengthy process required to add personal details and basic payment credentials to the app—is the first thing prospective users will notice after downloading the app from iTunes or Google Play.
In its current design, CurrentC asks users enrolling a checking account to provide proof of identity with a driver's license number, state or military ID, in addition to providing the online account login credentials for security. Users also must create a four-digit PIN code to use each time they pay.
After users answer three security questions and verify enrollment through an email sent separately, they'll be ready to use CurrentC at any of the 200 retail locations that are part of a pilot that began last fall in Columbus, Ohio.
It's been more than three years since MCX announced its plan to develop CurrentC, and apparently the complexity of its concept—a universal ACH-funded wallet for retailers to use by itself or within their own apps—isn't easy to build. But while CurrentC crawls along, a plethora of other mobile wallets are popping up, including a high-profile new entry from MCX member Walmart.
Some fret the long road to rollout could hurt CurrentC's chances of getting top-of-wallet status with consumers, especially as retailers, phone makers and banks bring their own wallets to market. Details are scarce about when CurrentC will officially go live, but it's reportedly expanding the test to other states in early 2016.
As recently as October, MCX was making major changes to CurrentC, including a deal to include acceptance for Chase-branded credit and debit cards. Tacking on Chase Pay could be a boon to building scale and quicker enrollment of Chase's 94 million payment cards, analysts say. Chase has promised MCX members will benefit from a lower, "fixed" transaction fee, but it has not publicly disclosed its fee structure.
Though it would seem like a positive development, the Chase deal raises certain questions about MCX's mission.
One of the coalition's core goals was to streamline ACH payments for participants, making it a viable alternative to pricier credit card payments. But MCX's biggest backers seem to have lost sight of this goal, as Walmart Pay and the rumored Target Pay would support card payments. It's possible that CurrentC participants could use loyalty and rewards programs to steer shoppers to a preferred payment method, analysts suggest.
Target proved it can be done: Its Target RED card, a decoupled debit product that subtracts funds for purchases directly from users' checking accounts with a 5% net saving for consumers on total purchases, is a solid success.
Apart from the payments angle, CurrentC is developing several intriguing features to enhance the shopping experience, such as a well-integrated loyalty and marketing system. Users can search for deals across all merchandise categories within the app, flagging desired discounts such as $2 off a package of diapers, which are subtracted from the total at the checkout. MCX in August inked a deal to support national coupons with Inmar Inc.
This approach to incentives may prove a more enticing lure than other wallets' approach of simply storing cards from existing loyalty programs. A new study from Auriemma suggests shoppers prefer upfront discounts over reward redemption.
CurrentC's ability to improve the old, inefficient and frustrating process of clipping paper coupons and redeeming them at checkout could be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of supermarket promotions, according to Richard Crone, a principal with Crone Consulting LLC, who has closely watched CurrentC and experimented with the app as it's evolved.
Consumer packaged goods manufacturers account for 95% of promotion spending—including all marketing and advertising—and unlocking that money for more targeted, effective offers would be revolutionary, he contends.
Even the most avid coupon-clippers would welcome a more convenient way to redeem offers, Crone said.
"There's a huge benefit to giving consumers a deal right at the checkout," Crone said, noting that interest in deals falls off sharply if the reward is delayed. "When consumers have to activate an offer ahead of time, and go back after the shopping trip to see how it was redeemed, it adds a lot of painful, extra steps that discourage use."
Unlike Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, CurrentC relies on bar code scanning for checkout, but there are intriguing benefits to CurrentC's approach. Consumers can check out by presenting a barcode to the cashier, but CurrentC also deploys Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a system that is more commonly used for marketing but has potential for payment acceptance. CurrentC is testing this approach at Wendy's fast-food drive-through locations, according to MCX executives.
Time is ticking while CurrentC prepares its mobile wallet, and some observers say the patience of some of the participating retailers may run out before the app goes live.
"The lengthy delays for CurrentC's rollout don't bode well, not to mention there's a lot of potential within MCX for merchants treading on each other's toes," noted Nick Holland, an independent payments consultant.