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Bridges to Mobility


Anything that makes shopping easier and faster for consumers is a win for retailers—and contactless-payment technologies have gained momentum as the industry moves increasingly toward mobile commerce.

Credit cards enabled with a radio-frequency (RF) antenna that facilitates tap-and-go payments represent the first wave of contactless adoption. But now consumers, credit-card issuers and merchants are clamoring for near-field communication (NFC), which allows a mobile phone to become the wallet of the future. However, widespread deployment of NFC-enabled phones is months away.

Charles Walton, executive VP of payments at Boston-based Inside Contactless, which has conducted a number of NFC pilots, suggested that commercial rollout of NFC-enabled phones will be more prevalent by next fall, and by 2010, NFC phones likely will have become the dominant “way to pay.”

Until that happens, companies like Inside Contactless, which has its global headquarters in Aix-en-Provence, France, and Denver-based First Data have begun producing laminated stickers that contain essentially the same RFID chips that are currently deployed on plastic credit and debit cards. The stickers, typically about 1-in. square, can be applied to virtually any surface—iPods, employee ID badges, driver’s licenses, etc.

Last month, Inside Contactless announced its contactless-payment sticker would support open-loop applications and was available to card issuers. Open-loop applications, such as MasterCard, Visa, American Express or Discover, can be used at any merchant accepting the issuer’s brand. Closed-loop applications, such as private-label, retailer-specific credit cards, are accepted at select locations.

First Data recently completed a successful test of stickers in a closed-loop environment, after distributing approximately 5,000 of the chip-enabled stickers to a portion of the attendees at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The stickers were placed on a commemorative pin and pre-loaded with a value of $10 that could be used at any of the concession stands in the Denver Pepsi Center. Feedback following the test was all positive—lines moved more quickly thanks to contactless payments, and visitors who saw it being used were interested in finding out how they might go “contactless” themselves.

Loyal following: While the motivators for contactless payments are primarily convenience and expedited checkout, the contactless stickers can serve a myriad of customer-service functions.

For instance, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, which is home to Denver’s professional soccer team the Colorado Rapids, utilized First Data’s contactless technology for the loyalty program with its 2008 season-ticket holders.

This year the contactless program was deployed via RFID-enabled plastic cards, but in the coming season contactless stickers will replace the cards.

Jason Linscott, senior director, ticket sales and service, for The Colorado Rapids, told Chain Store Age, “We provided discounted offers to our season-ticket holders via the contactless loyalty program and they were able to redeem the offers at the team stores or concession stands operated in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.”

The contactless loyalty program offered additional perks such as expedited entrance into the stadium and experiences with Colorado Rapids players. For the upcoming 2009 season, the program will be expanded in a number of ways, including the possibility of using the stickers as a preloaded payment card, as was done at the Democratic National Convention.

“We want to be able to reward our loyal fans with random acts of kindness—maybe they would get credit for a free team jersey from one of our team stores when they purchase food at a concession stand,” explained Linscott.

This would be a nice reward for the fan, and an enticing pull to bring traffic into the stadium stores. In 2009, Linscott would also like to see the program expanded from season-ticket holders to other fans as well. For instance, he envisions distributing the stickers to purchasers of family-night tickets.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park hosts events year-round, including all levels of soccer tournaments and concerts. Linscott noted the contactless stickers will be deployed for those events as well.

Speculating as to what the future of contactless might hold, Linscott was hopeful that the loyalty program might be expanded to include a partnership with Dicks Sporting Goods (DSG) stores. “It would be great if our fans could earn points to use in the DSG Park when they make purchases at one of the DSG stores,” he said.

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