Walmart-backed CurrentC to begin testing

CurrentC, a long awaited competitor to Apple Pay, will begin testing in stores next month. Among all the mobile payment apps either in the market now, or expected in the near future, CurrentC is the only one funded by major retailers, including Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

CurrentC was developed by Merchant Customer Exchange, a company founded in 2012 and backed by retailers, Bloomberg Business reported. The MCX system was tested by retailer employees and it will get a limited launch in stores next month.

Other retailers listed on the CurrentC website as being part of its network include: Kohl's, Dillard's, Giant Eagle, Sears, 7-Eleven, Hy-Vee, Old Navy, Wawa, Publix, CVS, Lowe's, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wendy's, Dick's Sporting Goods and Rite Aid. MCX members operate 110,000 locations, processing $1 trillion in transactions per year, the company said.

CurrentC will begin public tests this year, Scott Rankin, MCX's chief operating officer and a former Staples executive said in an e-mail. MCX is "making good progress" on bringing the app to market, he said.

"We expect there to be more than one successful player in mobile payments, and we expect to be one of them," Rankin said.

The app will officially debut in the third quarter, a Lowe's spokesperson said. Although part of the MCX consortium, Lowe's will not be part of the initial rollout.

While CurrentC seems late to get in the game, the contest is actually just getting started. A Gallup Panel web study recently reported that only 2 percent of American consumers are now using digital wallets. Gallup also reported that 13 percent of U.S. adults have a digital wallet on their smartphone, but 76 percent of those people have either never used it, or almost never used it, to make a purchase in the last 30 days

CurrentC has faced a number of hurdles getting started. While Apple Pay and others were lining up banks and retailers, CurrentC was still in development. Also, the pilot program of the system was hacked last fall. "Trust is going to be a huge issue for them," said Julie Conroy, a payments security analyst at Aite Group.

Additionally, MCX hasn't signed up major credit card networks to use bank-issued cards with the app. Users of CurrentC will be limited to private-label store cards, or to providing checking account information to MCX.

Two reasons that the retailers' support MCX are fees and customer data. Merchants dislike the fees they pay for credit and debit card acceptance, and they also object to Apple Pay's policy of not sharing customer data.

MCX members signed three-year exclusivity deals prohibiting other mobile payment options, but those end next month. Best Buy has already said it will soon accept Apple Pay, while Target has expressed very strong interest. Competitors of CurrentC include Google Wallet, Android Pay, PayPal, Samsung Pay, which is now testing in Korea, and others.

While Apple Pay and others, including EMV chip cards, use near-field communications, CurrentC does not use the technology, although it works with existing POS terminals. However, Apple Pay can only be used on the latest iPhones, while CurrentC can be used on iOS and Android phones.

"I'm increasingly skeptical of the chance (for MCX) to really make a dent," Conroy said.

For more:
-See this Bloomberg Business article
-See this Appleinsider article

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