Retail mobile wallet strategies are evolving as merchants' views of the opportunity that mobile presents matures beyond payment acceptance and technical considerations.
Paydiant has witnessed this evolution in the types of executives it meets with to pitch its private-label mobile wallets. In the past, Paydiant met with representatives from merchants' treasury and finance groups about reducing interchange costs and steering consumers to retailer-brand, says Chris Gardner, co-founder of the private-label mobile wallet developer.
"The whole discussion is now being led by marketing folks, and it's changed from a payments-driven exercise to 'how do I have a better relationship with my customers,'" he says.
Gardner spoke during a panel discussion Jan. 14 at the National Retail Federation's 103rd annual convention and expo in New York City. Many retailers are saying that the overriding demand that's driving retailers' interest in mobile wallets isn't payments.
Instead, the focus is on gathering the data necessary to provide the higher level of personalization that consumers have come to expect. The goal is taking relatively anonymous consumers, "and converting them into loyal customers," says Catherine Tabor, CEO of Sparkfly, which develops digital promotions and loyalty programs.
The analytics that e-commerce merchants can derive from consumer Web traffic and online purchase data has put traditional brick-and-mortar retailers at a disadvantage, says Don Kingsborough, PayPal's vice president of retail services.
"They have to compete with a very difficult competitor in Amazon, and Amazon has lots of different information about their customers," he says. "Large retailers are very interested in getting that type of information so they can compete."
Merchants are also putting less focus on the underlying technology behind mobile wallets, making the "technical debate" over QR codes, Near Field Communication and other capabilities less important, Gardner says.
"That's falling by the wayside. The technology is a means to an end," he says.
Because the myriad mobile-based payments and loyalty programs being developed use different technologies, consumers shouldn't be limited by their devices, says Koichi Tagawa, chairman of the NFC Forum.
"The important thing is a mobile device should carry all the necessary interfaces, and NFC is one that absolutely has to be there," he says.