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TechBytes: CurrentC -- Two Pros and Three Cons


CurrentC, the mobile payment service under development from a retailer consortium known as Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX, has been getting a lot of attention in the past week. First MCX members CVS and Rite Aid disabled their NFC payment systems to block the rival ApplePay mobile payment service, and then hackers stole the emails of CurrentC users. And despite all this publicity, CurrentC is still in pilot mode.

Nevertheless, now that CurrentC is a topic of mainstream news discussion, it’s time to look at the pros and cons of CurrentC as a viable mobile payment option for retailers. As of now, the cons outnumber the pros, but let’s start on the positive side of things.

Pro #1: Major retailers are involved

MCX is hardly some ragtag bunch of mom-and-pop stores. In addition to CVS and Rite Aid, other members include Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target. As exemplified by CVS and Rite Aid shutting down NFC entirely, many of them are purposely not accepting ApplePay (more on Apple shortly), leaving a sizable number of highly trafficked stores open for an alternative.

Pro #2: Retailers are more involved in technology development

Retailers are much more actively involved in the development of technology than they used to be. MCX members like Wal-Mart and Target operate their own Silicon Valley development labs, and whole IT companies like Springboard Retail have evolved from proprietary in-house efforts of different retailers. Retailers are no longer strictly end users in the IT game, but are turning into sophisticated providers as well. Thus a retailer-driven IT effort like CurrentC has more plausible chances of success today than it would have even a few years ago.

Con #1: Apple

There’s no getting around it--even Wal-Mart cannot take the prospect of directly competing with Apple lightly. ApplePay has a huge built-in user base and benefits from Apple’s design and development expertise, which still surpasses that of any retailer (or arguably any IT provider). Offering an alternative to a service provided by Apple, which is also supported by the major payment card providers, is a big step.

Con #2: Complex Transactions

Making a purchase with CurrentC is much more complex than the tap and pay procedure offered by ApplePay. CurrentC users must open the CurrentC app, scan a QR code, and display a paycode to the cashier for approval. CurrentC does offer some convenient features, such as redeeming exclusive offers, programs and coupons automatically, earning instant loyalty rewards and points, and having the option to pay with checking accounts and store gift cards as well as select debit and credit cards. However, perpetually rushed consumers want a checkout process that is faster than a traditional POS transaction, not slower.

Con #3: Security

CurrentC has already experienced a security breach, with hackers reportedly gaining access to user email addresses. CurrentC requires users to provide personal data including driver's license number, Social Security number, and date of birth. While security protocols include a four-digit passcode, a secure unique paycode attached to every purchase, and storage of information on an encrypted cloud rather than on the phone, having a breach while still in pilot mode is not the best way to gain widespread media exposure. MCX also says it will share some user data for marketing purposes, which may give consumers pause.

CurrentC is scheduled to go into full rollout mode early next year. There are no guarantees of its long-term success, but it should hardly be counted out, either. ApplePay is clearly here to stay, but there may be room for more than one player on the automated mobile payment court.

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