The Walmart Mystique: Anti-Interchange Payment Alliance Has New Members, But Why?

The retailer alliance that's trying to come up with its own interchange-free mobile payments system has added a handful of new members, and we're trying to figure out why. On Monday (Oct. 1), MCX said that Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dillard's, Dunkin' Brands "and others" have now signed up for the group, which insists it's hard at work on a mobile payments platform.

No doubt it is. So is ISIS, which counts Dillard's as part of its someday-soon trial, and Google Wallet, which 65 Gap stores have been accepting for almost a year. Clearly these aren't retailers who just want to wait until the perfect payments platform comes along.

Maybe it's the Walmart mystique—Walmart finance people have reportedly been running MCX, and if you're a retailer it's probably worth spending good money and signing a non-disclosure agreement just to keep an eye on what Walmart is doing. For good measure, there's also an opportunity to spy on Target.

Or maybe it's the chance to network with other retail finance and marketing execs, with a ringside seat for the inevitable implosion when competitors start acting competitive.

It can't be because they think the MCX mobile payments platform is just around the corner. ISIS missed its summer debut after a year's work and the certainty that they'd be ready to go by May. (Although it's possible that having a consortium of three competing mobile operators caused some problems. But that certainly wouldn't auger ill for MCX having at least 20 competing retailers, right?)

And it can't be because they've been dazzled by MCX's vague mobile payments proposal. We see vague proposals every day. MCX would have to add lots of detail to rise to the level of being vague.

Maybe it's nostalgia. After all, these finance and marketing guys are the direct corporate descendants of the people who thought Visa and MasterCard were such a good idea that they'd dump their own store cards just to get out from under the complexities and challenges of running a credit operation.

Perhaps they've got a pool going to predict when Apple will jump into mobile payments and render MCX irrelevant.

No, we're going with the top of the list: Walmart-watching. Walmart has been throwing its weight around in MCX, which strongly suggests that whatever Walmart wants, MCX will get. Getting an advance look at Walmart's plans, even if it's something Walmart competitors would never touch, is worth anteing up for.

Besides, even Walmart doesn't have enough clout to dictate to all its competitors that they will convince customers to use interchange-free mobile payments instead of mag-striped plastic.

If those competitors could convince customers of that—heck, if Walmart knew how to convince customers to do that—it would already have happened.