Though it seems as if the Merchant Customer Exchange has been stuck in the same mud the past year — still testing its CurrentC mobile wallet with no true launch date set — much has happened to support those who believe the retailer joint venture could still land squarely on its feet.
Detractors to such a notion make good points. MCX has been in place for more than three years as a venture to get merchants out from under the suffocation of credit card interchange, uncertainty about who controls customer data and the desire to establish a common mobile commerce with consumers.
Many would say that's too long to not have a serviceable mobile wallet and loyalty program in place while Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay and, soon, LG Pay were ready to complicate the market with different technologies and choices.
Others were certain that major retailers such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy and others could not possibly collaborate on something that would benefit each equally. They are, after all, fierce competitors in the retail arena.
And yet others swallowed hard when MCX revealed CurrentC would operate through ACH, with users linking the wallet to their bank accounts rather than payment cards. The reasoning being that consumers who have been deluged with stories about retail data breaches were not likely to be enamored with giving a retailer their checking account information.
Remember when we were all anxious for Apple to finally do something? We thought maybe the electronics giant had dragged its feet too long to offer a payment app on its iPhones, especially since Apple ultimately decided to stick to tradition in a sense by using card brand network rails and adopting Near Field Communication as its contactless technology. Forget for a moment that Apple has likely been more interested in the in-app payment capability of Apple Pay and its link to Apple Watch and who knows what else in the future. The bottom line is that it took a long time for Apple to decide what to do and, as it turns out, its execs are now seeing that bank and card network support, biometric authorization and tokenized card data does not automatically equate to consumer and merchant adoption. It doesn't hurt, but it's not the magic formula.
And MCX likely is not concerning itself about magic formulas at this time either, but it knows what it has and, ultimately, what it might not have.
First, it has merchants involved. Big ones.
As the key development of Walmart Pay proved last week, MCX is not hanging over the merchants like dead weight, demanding its members wait until CurrentC has passed all of its tests before adopting other payment technology.
Rather, as some analysts are already pointing out, CurrentC has been the "lab" for retailers to get a lengthy education about how new payment methods operate and how a common model can co-exist with their branded payment and loyalty apps.
When MCX lost CEO Dekkers Davidson, it opened the gates to create a picture of pending doom. The fact that the Softcard mobile wallet was deteriorating quickly and would eventually be gobbled up by Google made it easy to picture MCX heading down the same path.
The reality now is that MCX could announce it is spiking the CurrentC mobile wallet concept tomorrow, but the retailers can look at Walmart Pay and have a far better read on where they need to go to capture the attention of consumers who are learning right along with them about mobile commerce.
More importantly, they can point to the recent deal with Chase Pay, and the bank's promise of lower fees, as to the type of bargaining power it can wield and how bank-branded wallets can play nicely with the retailer's branded app.
If CurrentC testing continues on a positive track, as some sources have indicated it is, then the retailers will find themselves in a fairly enviable position. If they choose to, they would have their own branded mobile pay feature, like Walmart Pay, attached to their mobile shopping apps, with banks likely asking for a way in.
They would have a complementary ACH option in CurrentC that would result in not having to offer or share revenues with PayPal. It would also mean the retailers won't have to live or die with the assertion that they would need as many of its customers as possible to pledge allegiance to CurrentC. A complementary piece can grow at its own pace.
They would have EMV acceptance at the point of sale, but wouldn't necessarily have to add NFC, a technology that Walmart, for one, has steered clear of. If the QR code technology being tested through CurrentC proves effective, the retailers would see no reason to change direction.
Though statements to the media from MCX or its member executives don't always shed great light on where the joint venture's overall mission really stands, they do indicate that they have a good understanding of the picture painted in the previous scenario.
“We remain committed to MCX, and recently launched acceptance of CurrentC in all of our locations in the Columbus market," Mike Cook, senior vice president and assistant treasurer, for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., stated in an e-mail to PaymentsSource.
"We view Walmart Pay and CurrentC as complementary mobile payments solutions, and expect the two to build off each other’s success,” Cook added.
Any way you measure MCX's approach, or even how it all comes out in the wash, it is becoming clearer that the venture is finally on to something.
David Heun is Associate Editor at PaymentsSource.