Using NFC, Carriers To Secure Mobile Payments? Ann Taylor's CIO: "The Most Exciting Thing Out There"

Michael Sajor, CIO for the 907-store apparel chain Anne Taylor, is frustrated and baffled by how telecom carriers are avoiding getting directly involved in retail mobile payments. If they did, he said, especially if using Near-Field Communication (NFC), it would be "the most exciting thing out there."

"The carriers know something about. They authenticate you, and it's reasonably difficult to falsify or spoof that authentication. If you're holding that device, there's a pretty darn good chance that you are who you say you are, as you've authenticated with the mobile network," said Sajor, who was recently promoted to CIO from Chief Technology Officer. "Wouldn't it be interesting, wouldn't it be nice to use that authentication to authenticate you for your mobile experience all the way through the entire mobile payment channel? That would take away the logins and all of that kind of thing. You'd probably want to have some secondary protection: PINs or whatever. But if you could actually use that authentication in a sensible way to seamlessly permeate the entire experience, now you get a much more holistic experience based on what the carrier already knows. The data is already there. We just have to be able to get to it. I don't think we're quite at that point yet."

Sajor's point, made in panel discussion is available as a series of stories and podcasts from the event.

"NFC, in general, I believe has an unbelievable potential. In some geographies worldwide, NFC—or NFC-like approaches—has been used with the carrier taking a role in the payment process, with billing appearing in the carrier billing. In other cases, it's been feed-through," he said. "But NFC in general has that opportunity to start using that authentication process to share that data electronically between [the consumer] and the retailer dynamically. What an opportunity! You walk into the store. You pass by an appropriate detector. Now suddenly I, as a retailer, know what I need to know about you. I know who you are, and I'm darn sure you are who you are. I can do whatever I want to do in the background around CRM."

That CRM reference could cut both ways, Sajor said, meaning that it could log everything the customer is doing, in addition to allowing store associates to seamlessly have full data about the customers who are nearby.

"Suddenly I can have on my device—whatever it is [the associate] is carrying—details about [the customer's] last purchases, the projects [the customer has] been working on, clothing preferences, whatever," Sajor said. "It opens up an entire new arena of possibilities in In-Store mobility that, for me, has got to be the most exciting thing out there."

Sajor added that he is confused by the initial move of ISIS—an effort by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile to standardize mobile payments from the telco side—to avoid letting such payments even appear on telco bills. "I'm not quite sure I understand why ISIS has made the choices it has made. It's a little curious," he said.

In that panel—which we have turned into "We're not advanced in that capacity. We're probably the retailer that is farthest behind. But we're going to do the same thing that everybody else is doing. If you authenticate on our site and we retain your credit card, then we're going to process you the same way," Kinzey said. "But we'll offer you—if you don't want to log in that way—the alternative methods. At some point, we'd like to get to what you're talking about, it's just probably three or four years out for us."

Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors, another panelist, applauds these possibilities. But he stressed that chains should slow down until mobile standards are clear.

"My personal opinion is that I do think it has great potential. But I think that we have to wait until a standard evolves, especially here in the U.S. What you don't want to do is hitch your wagon to some train that ends up being the Betamax to the VCR," Concors said. "We need to wait for the device saturation to occur and then figure out how a standard evolves here in the U.S."

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