2014.20 | coin vs plastc

The newly hyped Plastc sure looks a lot like Coin – both are electronic replacements for the plastic cards carried in the wallets of consumers.

Let’s revisit that product and see how it stacks up against Coin, especially given all of the recent hype around alternative payment schemes such as Apple Pay.

CaptureC O I N 

Coin raised some serious concerns for me when it was first revealed – from the original post.  Since that post, additional information is available from the Coin site and FAQ.  Here are the concerns I had with updates from Coin:

  • Acceptance – Retailers and their staff may have some qualms about scanning a relatively unknown black electronic device across their pinpads. Education will be needed for store staff to be confident that this is a valid technology to use for payment. If this is not achieved, everyone that spent $100 will be out of luck when they go to pay with their single card.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that card branding and details will be visible on the screen of the card.  This should help with this challenge.  In the intervening year since Coin has been under consideration there have been so many new payment schemes that have popped up in the media that as long as a card scans, store staff will probably not question it too deeply depending on the transaction value and type.]

  • Fraud – What stops a Coin user from stealing cards and putting a number of them onto the Coin card to complete fraudulent transactions? Hopefully there are some measures to verify that the person scanning the card is the rightful owner of the card.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that the card owner must have a card in hand in order to enter it into the database.  A mobile app takes an image of front and back and matches it to an MSR swipe.  The system also requests a temporary authorization on the card in an amount that must be validated by the user by looking at the account online.  That’s a clever move and reduces the potential of this card becoming a tool for fraud.]

  • Dishonest Store Staff – If one can easily flip through all my cards with the touch of a button, there better be a PIN lock on it to do that, otherwise you just gave a cashier in a restaurant ALL of your cards. Hit the button and swipe to capture all of the numbers. If they’re not dishonest, they may accidentally select the wrong card by selecting a button.

[UPDATE: There are no details I could find on the FAQ that indicate that there is a PIN lock to stop someone from sorting through all of the cards on the device, though there is reference to tap code that may serve this purpose.  As the device is swiped as an MSR, this would indicate that if you hand that card to a server in a restaurant and they take it to a POS to scan, they could theoretically scan all of the cards on the Coin device to capture all of the account numbers if they are familiar with it. While the device avoids the concern of being a fraud tool, it doesn’t really protect the user in the restaurant scenario any further than current 40 year old MSR technology.  As a consumer I would want to know if the tap code locks a particular card for use on the device.]

  • User Validation – How do stores validate that the user is who they say they are? Is there a signature on the back of Coin? Does it show the card number and expiry date on the screen? Is a Drivers license needed for verification every time?

[UPDATE: There are no details on the site other than the fact that the Coin will display the card details.  One can only assume that a cashier or server would ask to see your drivers license or alternative ID to see a signature for validation. Probably necessary to carry ID anyway, but it really negates the point of having a cool device for payment when users scratch a line onto paper to prove who they are.]

  • EMV – Consumers in many parts of the world outside of the US no longer use MSR cards, and we can expect the same in the US over coming months and years. I see no chip option available but perhaps that is a future consideration.

[UPDATE: Coin it its current iteration – not released yet by the way – will not support EMV.  This is a serious shortcoming that becomes more crucial over time.  As a consumer I see little benefit to purchasing a tool like this that will only be usable in some places when EMV takes hold.  Also: International markets can’t use this solution – that’s disappointing for us.]

  • Contactless – I like using the contactless feature of my cards to make my purchases quick and simple. No indication that coin has NFC capability

[UPDATE: No indication of NFC or other contactless capability.]

Some other interesting points that came available after the original post about Coin:

  • Coin uses low energy bluetooth connectivity is used to remind users that have left cards behind via their mobile device.
  • The device is supported via an app for both apple and android mobile devices.
  • The device uses a non-rechargeable battery targeted for 2 years of usage.  Mileage will vary.

As a Canadian, Coin in it’s current iteration won’t work for me – it’s not targeted at international markets.  A US consumer may find it useful, though I have concerns about security and the real benefits.  Also in the currently prescribed video of an affable dude with a beard showing us the solution, Coin should really scrap the big wallet.  Do people who want a single card really carry a George Costanza wallet after they get this sleek new device?  I think not, but that’s just one voice.   All kidding aside, the Coin solution is intriguing.  Bringing something new like this to market is very difficult and they deserve full credit for pushing the idea; it’s certainly a credible concept.

P L A S T C

CaptureLet’s consider the same real world concerns for the newly unveiled – and yet also unreleased – Plastc.

  • Acceptance – Plastc has an e-ink screen that covers the bottom third of the front of the card.  This allows for graphics and details to be shown on the card that should lend it credibility when it’s used for payment.  That same e-ink screen is scannable with a barcode to allow the use of loyalty cards with it as well. Another point of consideration is EMV.  With future EMV capability, store staff have no reason to look at cards.  In fact, once consumers and staff are accustomed to staff NOT having to check signatures, the need for the laughable security measure of checking signatures becomes aggravating to staff and shoppers alike.  (Ask Canadians about visiting Gap Brand stores – a rare holdout that checks signatures – it annoys all.)
  • Fraud – Details are less specific, but the Plastc Wallet mentions the requirement of a facial scan and authentication.  Details of how cards are added are not provided at present.  The card shows an image of the cardholder, which should also be useful in minimizing fraudulent transactions.
  • Dishonest Store Staff - There is a PIN on the card, but the site does not provide details on whether the card is locked when cards are passed to staff.  That said, the card supports NFC and ships with a chip that will enable Chip and Pin / EMV in future, so there is less need to leave a card with a server or cashier, reducing the potential for card number capture.
  • User Validation – At release, signatures would be used.  Signatures could theoretically be stored on the e-ink screen, but there is no indication of signatures shown on screen.  Once again, with NFC and EMV options, the necessity of a signature is avoided, and the use of a PIN or just the NFC itself simplifies the validation.
  • EMV – The card has a chip to be activated later via a software update.  This is key for future proofing with EMV coming on the scene in the US in 2015, and opportunity for international usage.
  • Contactless – The card has contactless capability.   This avoids the need for signatures, enables small value purchases and reduces fraud compared to MSR options.

Other points:

  • Like Coin, Plastc uses Low Energy Bluetooth to alert users to cards left behind.   The card automatically locks if left behind.
  • An app is used to manage account information stored on the app.
  • Barcodes can be put on the screen and shown for scanning. This means that the Starbucks app could be enabled to work with it.
  • The NFC function could also be used for access doors to add additional card functionality
  • The Plastc card is rechargeable on a wireless charging pad. Entire lifetime is not indicated.

Both the Plastc and Coin cards aim to eliminate all of the cards we carry in our wallets, and both appear to have created the miraculous with such tiny hardware.  Both certainly represent viable options, but given the need for a chip in particular and contactless to a lesser degree, the edge goes to Plastc.  While some pundits may suggest that mobile programs like Apple Pay would supersede card hardware like this, but the complexity of payments is such that cards will not go away quickly and card solutions definitely fulfill a need for an interim solution to move us all to the mobile wallet.  It’s hard to say if consumers will shell out $100 or $150 for the convenience of cards like these, but one must wonder if the card companies may not eventually decide to fund such things.

2014.18 | iOS8 for retail

CaptureiOS 8 will be released this week.  Among many changes to the operating system for apple mobile devices, there are a number of changes that are worthy of consideration to retailers.

Apple Pay – The moment Apple Pay was released, a flood of POS providers showed their support and ability to enable Apple Pay on their platform (my own employer among them).  Apple are releasing the program in the US with support from a number of well known tier one retailers.  While there is no way of knowing whether showing an apple logo on the retailer’s door will get people to finally jump to a mobile wallet, it’s a good strategy to keep options open in the event it becomes a commonly requested payment method.

apple-pay-retailers-iphone-6-announcementRetailers in Canada that implemented new pinpads for EMV  over the past few years enabled NFC on those pinpads as a matter of course.  With that NFC capability, they should be well placed to enable Apple Pay when it becomes available in Canada.  US based retailers that do not currently have NFC capability and are working through EMV certification would do well to include NFC and Apple Pay integration as part of that process.    The incremental cost of enabling Apple Pay as part of an overall EMV effort is likely to be minimal.  While it would be optimal to deploy quickly to take advantage of consumer interest, EMV takes time and if the devices onsite do not have NFC capability, a deployment of new devices will be necessary.

It will be important for retailers to track where and how Apple Pay gains traction.  The area of focus may vary – hospitality and small transactions could be the sweet spot, but perhaps it will be popular with shoppers at luxury retailers.  Retailers should watch closely and ensure that their shopper’s preferences are fulfilled.

Photo 2014-09-15, 9 09 00 AMScan Credit Card for eCommerce – While much was made of the ability of scanning scan credit cards to add them to Passbook, the ability to scan credit cards into Safari for eComm purchases is also a nice addition.  As someone who makes eComm purchases on my mobile devices for items such as movie tickets, making a purchase is an effort.  Shoppers must TYPE their full name, credit card number, expiration date and card security code.  I have those memorized, and it’s still clunky to do on a mobile.  For some retailers one also must type in a verified by visa password.   If that whole process can be replaced by a scan from my phone, or an autofill from my safari keychain, it saves a whole lot of typing and removes obstacles from mobile purchases.  Retailers who enable this function are likely to drive more sales through their mobile channel with the removal of obstacles.

Capture2Location Based App Shortcuts – On earlier versions of iOS, Passbook provided a lock screen notification for Starbucks if you were in a store.  Passbook also provided a lock screen notification for a plane or movie ticket if the time for the ticket was approaching.  While this was a convenient workaround an unnecessary pin code entry, it also required some setting changes.  For Starbucks, users had to identify “favourite” sites that enabled Passbook to provide the lock screen notification for Starbucks payment.

iOS8 provides a non-Passbook lock screen shortcut in the bottom left of the screen based on your GPS location.  Users have noted that their iPhones with apps from Vons, Tesco, Starbucks and more  show an app icon in the bottom left of the lock screen.  When users swipe up on the icon at bottom left, the app is opened with out a PIN [Update: you still need your PIN to access the full app.  Passbook = no PIN).    While it may appear that beacons are at play, it sounds like it may be driven by GPS as some users had no connectivity at the time.  One user also indicated that a Costco icon showed at the bottom left even though they did not have a Costco app installed.

Retailers stand to benefit from reduced barriers for shoppers to use their mobiles once again.  Making an app easier to access while actually at the retail location is a great idea.  Providing a visual cue right on the lock screen is even better.  This access sets the stage to enable retailers to bring online and stores together with some unique functionality.

CaptureHey Siri! - The latest iteration of Siri allows users to access the personal assistant without having to push a button.  iPhones can now listen for users to ask for help.  Siri is also finally going back to its roots with integration to more services.  Siri is able to listen to songs for you with Shazam to find and purchase the name of the song/tv show/movie you are observing.

While Siri will be a great sales tool for Shazam and iTunes to sell it doesn’t help other retailers much on the surface, but it does indicate a possible door widening to integration with other services.   When Siri was originally launched, it connected to 45 services, but after Apple bought them, it connected to only 12.  The founders of Siri are working on another service – viv – that promises to take the personal assistant to another level – and ideally connect it to a plethora of services that can access it via natural language.

Retailers that can make their transaction engines available to channels like AI personal assistants will be exposing their products and services in a new way.

Privacy – In past iterations, mac addresses were easily harvestable from idevices by pinging them with a wifi signal.  In essence, ‘free’ consumer tracking was possible.  With iOS8, iDevices provide a pseudo MAC address until consumers actually establish a connection with the wifi network.  This means that retailers and other consumer facing organizations will need to track consumers via an iBeacon option or even through accepting a wifi connection with shoppers.

Making the MAC address data private is the right thing for retailers and shoppers alike.  All retail programs should be opt-in and retailers and all consumer facing organizations should be clear on data tracked, for what purpose, and allow shoppers the right to opt out of anything they are not comfortable with.  Selling is a two way street and being as honest and straightforward is possible will have the best returns in the long run.  Shoppers who are willing to provide their data for improved service are not hard to find, and everyone appreciates an honest trading partner.

CaptureIndoor Positioning -  Apples latest offering enables indoor maps and wayfinding to be more easily implemented by shopping centres and department stores.  Apple has made iPhone motion sensors available to their API.  With that API update and a more powerful processor, indoor systems can access phone data to make navigating large venues simpler.

Retailers that leverage any tool possible to provide access to their products and services make themselves more readily available to shoppers.

iOS 8 looks to be a landmark release with lots of new features and functions.

Check out a longer list of deep dive functionality, and please share any retail oriented features discovered at release!

2011.04 | NFC Mobile Payments

Image Source - Cult of Mac

The previous blog post on Starbucks 2D Barcode Mobile Payments drew questions from readers and colleagues around Near Field Communication (NFC) payments, specifically, why would Starbucks have implemented a 2d Mobile Payment solution when NFC is just around the corner?

The Starbucks solution with 2D payments is a perfect fit for the unique Starbucks situation and does not preclude them from accepting mobile NFC payments.  However, the 2d barcode payment is not one I would recommend for any other retailer unless they were have the same characteristics as Starbucks and their solution outlined in the previous post, and there are few if any retailers or consumer facing organizations in that position.

In order to provide NFC mobile payments, it is necessary to have the following elements: NFC at Point of Service, NFC enabled mobile devices, and most difficult of all, Credit Card Company and Credit Processor cooperation.

Point of Service Interface – Retailers that wish to accept mobile NFC payments require NFC enabled pinpads that already work with NFC credit cards.  The most common units in place so far in Canada are the Verifone vx810 and Ingenico i3070c.  These pinpads would provide the interface in stores for NFC ready mobile devices, and are, in fact, already widely installed by many tier 1 Canadian retailers as part of recent EMV efforts.

NFC Mobile Devices – According to rumour, both RIM (Dakota) and Apple (iPhone 5, iPad 2) have NFC ready devices coming out in 2011.  If that is the case, then we may indeed finally be looking at the long awaited electronic wallet, as we now have an encrypted and relatively secure electronic interface from mobile device to point of service device.   Apple and RIM’s massive base and marketing power, as well as their ongoing competition, certainly has the potential to drive massive traffic.  So the mobile devices might be coming, but this has been the expected for at least 4 years.  We’ll call mobile NFC devices a strong maybe.

Credit Card Company / Processor Cooperation – My thoughts on contactless payments are well documented on the blog under NFC if you want to pick it from the tag cloud. The problem isn’t the technology, it’s how the payments get processed and who gets paid to do it. See my posts here and here, as well as a recent article published on StoreFront Backtalk.  The credit card companies, and the various payment processors already get their slice of the payments pie, while all of the mobile carriers have been trying to figure a way to get theirs for years now. Both Canada (Enstream) and US (Isis) mobile carriers have established collective organizations to deliver on mobile payments.  It isn’t that all of these organizations don’t want mobile payments, it’s just very difficult to sort out, and there is really no extra potential revenue in it for them unless consumers or retailers will pay more for some reason.  Some may point to startups like Square and Twitpay, and they may take a bite out of mobile payment in the future, but it doesn’t look like it will happen in the immediate future.  Getting these organizations on board, extending a very successful and secure closed network to the uncertain security of millions of devices is a long short in the near future.

NFC mobile wallets can and should happen (you can already stick an NFC tag on your phone if you like), but sorting out who gets paid how, and how funds will stream through a secure system will take some time.  Nobody knows when that will be.

Why did Starbucks implement a 2d Barcode Payment System instead of NFC?  Only they can answer that, and much of it may be marketing, but in the end, they can drive an ROI.  With a 2D system implemented TODAY, Starbucks potentially gets more consumer card usage, drive more ‘deposits’ on their stored value card, and a quick tender.  Consumers get the convenience of paying with their phone, and the kind of bleeding edge fun many Starbucks customers enjoy.

Starbucks avoids the complex mess of processors, EMV, PCI, and dealing with the processors and credit card companies altogether by taking no the risk themselves.  They have made a good gamble on the fact that they can attract early adopters with relatively very little investment, and by the time mobile payments are mainstream, their system will have already provided a good ROI.

2010.29 | Small Town Retail Technology

I just returned from a family vacation to Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, which explains the dearth of posts over the past couple of weeks. The trip was relaxing as any vacation should be, and provided me with some new insights into how retail is conducted in less populous areas of Canada. While there were the big box stores you would expect anywhere else in the country in the larger centres, and even in many of the smaller ones there was a lot of smaller retail enterprises, and quite a number of seasonal ones.  I enjoyed seeing the small roadside stands with piles of bags of potatoes or firewood with a pricing sign, and a little can in which to put your payment or make change.  This sort of honour system was a big part of my youth, used quite often to sell sweet corn or for selling candy or drinks at the office.  I haven’t seen this system anywhere in many years.  It made me realize that self service has actually been with us for longer than I had considered – it just moved to a more sophisticated platform.

While I expected to see very little in the way of technology around retail, I was interested in the pervasiveness of retail technology.  It’s not that it was fancy or more sophisticated than what you would see elsewhere, but it was there and it just worked.  Three things in particular were interesting from my trip.

1.  Debit and credit was available from the smallest vendor imaginable, and almost all of them were EMV.  In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense.  Many of these vendors are smaller, and do not provide integrated debit, so EMV is essentially as easy as changing out their pinpad.  However, in past years when I’ve gone to vacation spots like these, I’ve required lots of cash on hand for all the little expenses; lunch at small roadside mom and pop operations or parking at an attraction, for example.  Even if debit or credit was available, the operators always seemed a bit nervous to use the units.  Not so any longer.  Every single place I visited had debit and credit, and the transactions were quick and easy – from the ice cream store to the parking lots.  I’m starting to wonder why we need cash at all.

2.  There are a lot of screens everywhere today, and I’ve become used to not seeing them when I go on vacations to cottage country.  I was surprised at the number of screens I encountered in small restaurants and hotels.  Even the smallest restaurants in Edmundston, Fredericton, and Charlottetown, were using digital signage to share their message with customers, identifying services, and I expect, driving a little more revenue.  While some of these were as simple as a digital picture frame, it’s indicative of the increasing availability and simplicity of obtaining and leveraging these technologies.

3.  Self Service saved me from a line – even in a place where I rarely encountered any lines.  I took the Confederation Bridge on the way home.  In other years, I’ve taken the ferry back and driven through Nova Scotia, but this year our plans took us back across the bridge.   I knew they had self service, but I hadn’t used it.  I can’t tell you how happy it made me to pass two lines of cars, pull up to the kiosk, put my card in and drive right through, given the hours I would be facing in the car.  The kiosk was simple straightforward and worked, and it got me on my way just a little more quickly.

2010.22 | Chip and Pin in the US

Retailers in Canada have been working for some time to get through the hardware and software hurdles required to get online for EMV prior to the dates liability passes from the card issuers to retailers in October 2010.  Given that EMV has been implemented in places like the UK, Mexico and many other countries, it has always seemed logical that at some point the US would embrace the same technology.  Now Wal-Mart is pushing for it in the US based on its international experience.  While there are certainly difficulties involved in getting it done, the US can’t let itself get behind the rest of the world on technologies like this.  The fact that a now international organization like Wal-Mart is trying to move this forward shows they see benefits from it. 

From my own experience it seems ridiculous that we still scribble a name on a slip of paper and expect it to be ‘security’ in today’s information age.  My own signature is completely worn off my card from use.  I am periodically asked for identification to validate my signature, but once again, how secure is this really?  A 15 year old squints at what I wrote on a slip of paper and compares it to my drivers license?  Even crazier is retailers having to keep many of these slips of paper for many weeks to maintain a paper trail in the event that someone contests a charge.  This is the digital age? 

It seems to me that some of this effort needs to fall to the card issuers, and they’ve made the effort in Canada.  It’s their system that is at risk here, and what an opportunity for the credit card companies to show some value to the retailers.  Given the sort of confrontational feeling in recent years between credit card issuers and retailers here in Canada, it is a strong move to add value to the relationship with retailers.  Working with the retailers to reduce fraud that ultimately comes out of the retailers pocket is a strong play.  While it means a short term cost, it results in a long term gain in the relationship.

2009.44 | e-Payments in Canada

The controversy around Visa debit in Canada continues.  Merchants say the new negative option process is unfair.  Visa says that the current Interac ‘monopoly’ stifles innovation.   The Retail Council of Canada says fees will go up.  

It’s hard to say who is right in this battle, but they both assume that Interac will not change itself in any way to deal with the entrance of Visa to the market, which is not likely the case.  Retailers and consumers alike can expect increasing complexity in the electronic payments area.  As a myriad of services come available, the current simplicity of debit and credit in Canada becomes increasingly complex with new players as well as the interfaces – tapping, dipping, and using debit online (which you can do now, by the way, contrary to Visa’s Mike Bradley’s comments).    It is now possible to pay with mobile numbers online as well, via Zong and Obopay.  More options will come as other posts have indicated. 

While the end game is hard to see at present, the organizations that can bring value to clients for a reasonable fee stand to gain a great deal given the size of the electronic payments market.  The challenge is that payment processors and banks hold the keys to the kingdom at present and will demand a piece of any fee charged – directly or indirectly.  This will restrict new players unless they can find a way to get around these behemoths, as consumers and retailers alike will resist additional fees without some tangible benefit.  Unless there is a real game changer, the most likely future scenario is a plethora of new players with niche solutions chipping away at the current players with small incremental gains.

2009.17 | Convenience | DVD Landscape | Mobile POS

Taking the Store to Customers – Convenience has ever been important to consumer facing businesses, and there are many new and different ways that these organizations are trying to make their products and services more convenient for consumers to obtain.

The primary inconvenience of purchasing food from a mobile vendor is the difficulty of knowing where they are. Kogi Korean BBQ, a taco truck in LA, lets their customers keep track of their location via Twitter – taking uncertainty out of the mix.

Starbucks is looking to place coffee vending machines across North America that leverage electronic payment – including contactless – avoiding the necessity for having coins or small bills at the ready.

Coinstar is already doing very well with Redbox DVD rental machines. They add additional convenience by providing a reloadable credit card solution – a gap filler for those who wish to rent and don’t have a credit card. This should sound familiar, as this solution is available on an NCR platform used by Readycredit. These would be well placed next to NCR SelfServ Entertainment units.

The Changing DVD Landscape – The DVD rental industry is becoming increasingly complicated, with ever changing players, formats and scenarios. While the cheap DVD rental is a boon for the consumer, there are complications, as it represents a paradigm change for studios and consumers alike. Whatever the issues, expect them to be resolved, and this business to continue its growth for the next few years at the very least.

Mobile POS – I’ve already expressed my admiration for the handheld POS units used in Apple Stores. Now it looks like they might be taking the expected step of moving from their current Windows Based platform to an iPhone based solution with the soon to be released iPhone 3.0 software which allows improved connectivity and interoperability for hardware add-ons. This is key, as swiping a card is much faster than typing in a number, and EMV will require dip card readers in many countries.

While this platform doesn’t suit every environment, look for mobile based payment systems to act as the small business POS of the future. You can already download some from the iPhone app store today.

2009.05 | Interac Chip

Interac Chip – Chip continues to move forward in Canada. After trials in Kitchener-Waterloo in late 2008, and the increasing use of Visa chip cards, Interac is starting to make noise about getting chip cards into the real world. This means changes to pinpads at POS and card readers on ATM units in the coming months and years. Check out the details.

Vending and Media Convergence – With the increasingly lower cost of technology, retail channels are converging ever faster. Look at where vending machines are now, and where they are going. The line between digital signage, POS, vending machines and media in the store is increasingly blurring.

Ralph Lauren Mobile Store - I talk about moving to the “store in the pocket” quite a lot with friends and clients, and Ralph Lauren is trying to move that way with their new mobile site. I don’t know if this is the right type of store for mobile, but may be more likely to fit the demographic than the one Sears put in place. I like the way they have integrated the 2d barcode into the site, and their links to a reader. It’s important to have the consistent customer experience as well as the link between sites, and they are making that effort.

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