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!

2011.21 | Google Wallet Could Work

I’ve derided attempts at a mobile wallet for some time.  I want it as badly as anyone, but it has been an elusive dream for years.

If you look through the blog you can see my reasons for this skepticism.  It’s never been about the technology – that capability has existed for years.  It’s about the infrastructure, consumer readiness and not adding fees for the service.  I’ve been thinking about last week’s announcement around Google Wallet, and it could work – in Canada at least.  Let’s discuss just a few reasons why their model could work.

NFC acceptability at POS – While articles I have read about the US and Europe have indicated that they have not adopted NFC strongly, numerous Canadian retailers have built NFC into their infrastructure as they were forced to spend millions on getting EMV in place.  The EMV upgrade caused thousands of pinpads to be replaced, and untold hours of software changes and testing.  It only made sense to include NFC in that process to make best use of the investment.

This investment places Canada in a solid position on the number of POS sites that can accept NFC payments.  Not convinced?  Consider just a few of the major retailers that accept contactless in Canada: Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s, Loblaws, Sobeys, Cineplex and probably many more where I haven’t used my NFC cards yet. (Let me know if you’ve seen it elsewhere in the comments!)  More sites where an NFC tender can be provided means more potential purchasing locations where a Google Wallet can be used, which drives potential use, and therefore more potential adoption.

One PIN to rule them all – Canadians have become accustomed to Chip and Pin over the past few years.  The unforeseen challenge of this new and more secure system is remembering PINs for multiple cards.  I have relatively few cards, but have 3 credit cards and a debit card.  Try keeping 4 pins straight in your head for whichever card you are using.  Using the same PIN for all four?  If you get filmed entering your PIN, you could be scammed on all of your cards.

If you use an NFC credit card, most retailers don’t require a PIN for purchases under a pre-set amount – generally $50 or so – particularly for their own cards.  I like using them for that reason alone.  Not entering a PIN at every transaction is a convenience to users and can speed throughput for retailers.  At the same time, having a single PIN on the Google Wallet means that the card could not be used unless that PIN  has been entered, providing an extra layer of security for an NFC transaction.

Usability – I’ve highlighted that any new payment solution needs to be extremely simple to use.  Your most novice user needs to be able to do this in 5-10 seconds flat in front of a queue of impatient people and a bored cashier.  The Google Wallet with NFC appears to get closer to this nirvana than other solutions.  My technologically challenged mother uses NFC cards regularly and loves it.  You “Tap n Go”.  Consumers can use the current pinpad at the POS just like they have done for years.  It’s comfortable.

Contrast this interface with Square as one example.  Square is an awesome idea and it looks slick, but is my mom going to use it?  Nope.  Too foreign.  It also requires the use of a solid data connection to work every time as transactions are completed via the network.  Anyone want to be held up relying on your local wireless coverage to complete a transaction? NFC gets around that by allowing the use of NFC which just requires the mobile device to be on.

Will my mother use this solution?  Probably not right out of the gate.  But a mobile wallet needs to be this simple to get widespread traction in the marketplace.  For those of you who may deride this need saying that our Gen Y digital natives are more sophisticated, watch your average mobile user at any point of service.

Many citizens (I didn’t say all – and they aren’t the only ones!) of this segment are so busy checking texts, talking on their mobile, or zoned into their own world listening to their iPod that they are often loathe to interrupt to complete a transaction. Mobile wallet usage needs to be so simple that one can open the app while they complete other activities while distracted.

I would also argue that Gen Y, while potentially more comfortable and trusting of technology than older consumers, are still subject to the needs of a simple user interface.  They are not necessarily any better at using technology.

Increasing Mobile Usage – While Canada lags behind the US in mobile technology, we are catching up.   99% of the 18-34 set have a mobile phone.  We are up to almost 25% of mobile phones with a data plan.  A target market of 25% of the population isn’t a bad starting point, and it will only grow.  This increasing use of mobile is also driving increased comfort with downloading apps like the mobile wallet.  Android is also gaining market share – providing a potential foothold.

The Google Factor  – Past attempts at mobile wallets in Canada have been pilots inevitably involving a mobile carrier, a credit card company, and a bank. Sometimes a credit card processor and/or a retailer got into the mix. All parties have been trying to figure out a way to split the profits for years – nobody has made it work.

Neither consumers or retailers will pay a significant fee for the privilege of carrying their phone instead of a piece of plastic. There has been no large monetary benefit to these parties to add additional cost and risk into the mix for the returns they have found or we would already have mobile wallets.  The carriers and handset manufacturers have not included NFC into the mobile handsets as they had no incentive to do so, and importantly – no universal application to leverage NFC if it were there.

Another problem is the issue of consumer acceptance.  Carrying a mobile wallet for every credit card, bank or other institution adds complexity, it doesn’t remove it.  Having a mobile wallet from some Silicon Valley start up you’ve never heard about – not going to do that either.

The difference here versus the past is that Google is looking for an edge over Apple and RIM.  They want and need to provide something the iPhone doesn’t have.  The handset manufacturers also want in on that.  NFC is a viable option they can provide.

To use that hardware, a universal mobile wallet from a trusted source is needed.  Google is a verb now – who doesn’t know Google.  The name Google Wallet doesn’t make you nervous – it makes you want to download the app.  They also provide the corporate clout needed to deal with the major banks and credit cards.

They are providing the hardware we could never get in the past, and a universal app that could allow us to use all of our credit cards in one trustworthy mobile wallet. These two elements, along with the benefits above, may just push Google Wallet into mainstream usage.

This isn’t even remotely a slam dunk.  At present this is going to be used in two test markets.  It only works with one phone.  It’s not offered in Canada yet.  There is no guarantee the credit card companies will get on board.  There will always be security issues.  EMV could force you to pull out your card anyway for a larger purchase.  If your battery is dead you have no wallet.

Many hurdles need to be overcome, but Google is moving us closer to the mobile wallet than ever.  Perhaps they could offer it on other platforms like Blackberry and Apple’s iOS.  Ideally Google’s initiative will drive other organizations to come up with their own wallets.  Paypal – perhaps.  Apple is likely to get in on this as well.  Having organizations like this behind a mobile wallet initiative can only move the ball forward.  After all, what’s left to add to our mobile gadgets?

2009.49 | Square is Beta

As discussed some time ago, Jack Dorsey’s new startup for mobile payments, now officially called Square is moving forward.  (See posts 2009.21, 2009.25 and 2009.42) The website went live this afternoon as reported by Tech Crunch.

The details appear to be very similar to original expectations.  A small dongle connected to the microphone port of any device allows for clients to swipe a credit card, for payments.  The program is in beta and the website doesn’t indicate much else.

Their are some real benefits to consumers here:

  • No fee for the service = free is always good
  • Uses can see receipts online = useful for tracking and searching
  • Vendors can track loyalty of Square users to their business = potential rewards for loyalty
  • Emailed / Texted Receipts = no paper used and less trash
  • 1 cent of each transaction donated to charity of choice = social responsibility points
  • No power drain on phone as unit is powered by swipe = less mobile charging

It also provides upside to businesses based on what’s on the site, but details are still sketchy:

  • Signature verification still used = 1 point of verification to which consumers are accustomed
  • Photo Verification – device seems to show photo of payee = 2nd point of verification
  • Ease of Entry – Small biz can run anywhere with just a mobile and take electronic payment
  • Virtual Loyalty Program – some indication of user tracking = rudimentary understanding of client base
  • Hipness factor = seriously, I’m takin’ your payment on my mobile

All these items are goodness, and full marks to this organization for looking at things differently.  It’s a great effort, and the results will be very interesting.

Now let’s ponder some of the open questions:

  • Transaction Fees – Square appear to avoid the whole cost splitting situation among banks, mobile phone companies, payment processors, and others by going around the current paradigm.  Great!  This is free to the consumer.  Someone needs to pay for this transaction.  Nothing is free.  Who is paying for this?  Is it the retailer?  Is Square selling mined data in some way? Is it advertising based?
  • Platform Fees – What are the fees to the retailer/consumer facing organization, if any?  High credit card fees being charged to businesses are a big issue in Canada these days.  If you are using a card, the retailer pays in some fashion.  Does this change that?
  • Hardware – From whence comes the dongle?  Who pays for it?  How do we get it?  How much does it cost for the consumer?  What if I lose it?
  • Usability – Looks straightforward on the site, but it still needs to pass the I’m in front of 5 other people in line and I can do the transaction in seconds. This means I have to have my phone ready, the dongle ready, my card ready, and the app ready.  Now you tell me the amount, indicate how I pick you as the vendor, I swipe my card, do my signature, you look at my photo and agree and the we wait while the payment processes.  This will not be as fast as transactions on the current system at POS terminals, and will probably not work well in high volumes based on the model portrayed.  It also fails the “so simple my mom can do it” test that I recommend for in store retail payments.  If it isn’t simple at the front end of a retail establishment, it will be difficult to obtain consumer acceptance.
  • Security – The signature on a touchscreen will be interesting.  Most of us sign with a pen, and not our fingers so the signatures could be questionable.  The photo ID is a great idea assuming it goes quickly from one unit to the other.  This scenario will also involve passing ones card to the payee, which is to be avoided for security purposes (see contactless and EMV)  EMV is a whole other question.  Not currently slated for the US, EMV is a necessity in other countries like Canada.  This would require a re-think of the dongle to a larger unit – in fact  it would be almost as big as an iPhone no matter how you look at it, as the card stays in with the chip in contact with the terminal.  That would be a game breaker.

No matter what happens next, this is a laudable attempt at mobile payments, and one has to cheer an organization just going for it.  The beta program will be closely watched!

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