New Retail Payments Network Adds to Mobile Payments Confusion

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that "more than a dozen big merchants are expected to announce Wednesday their plans to jointly develop a mobile-payments network." This new network now goes up against the carrier-led ISIS, Google Wallet, bank-card sponsored systems, PayPal, Square and a range of others. What a mess.

The retailers who've agreed to participate in the new company/system (to be called "MCX") include: Wal-Mart, Shell, Lowe's, Sears, CVS, Publix Super Markets and Best Buy among a few others. They will use customer data and purchase histories to target offers and promotions as part of the system. Those discounts and promotions will also presumably be the incentive to use it vs. others (who will also have offers).

Given that these retailers have more direct relationships with customers than wireless carriers -- ISIS is destined to fail -- they have a fighting chance, provided they can get it right. How easy will it be to configure and use?

Regardless, the addition of yet another payments provider and network into the mix is both confusing to the market and will likely delay consumer adoption of mobile payments. Too many choices causes many people to stick with what they know, which is the existing card-swipe system. 

I've argued that "point solutions" (e.g., Starbucks, parking) will drive consumer mobile payments adoption because people will clearly understand the benefits of paying for parking with an app or their Starbucks latte -- as opposed to a more "abstract" system like Google Wallet. 

Mobile payments will happen (and are happening in pockets) but all these competing systems are highly problematic for consumers. We're in a "land grab" period right now. Ultimately there's probably room for three or four major winners unless all payment systems are equally built on and can take advantage of the same infrastructure, which NFC-enabled phones and payment terminals can in fact provide. However the NFC-merchant infrastructure isn't yet fully in place. 

I won't condemn MCX before I've seen it. But when each week seems to bring a new payments initiative, I have to roll my eyes.