Mobile could reverse the woes that have buffeted the British high street, with a series of features on handsets such as loyalty cards, vouchers and wallets finally on the verge of mainstream acceptance.
After years of operators and banks trying to get mobile payments to take off, a new white paper published by GSMA has detailed the potential role to be played by NFC and related technologies in ‘bolstering bricks and mortar stores and boosting local economies’. The telecoms organisation said former attempts to make the technology work were confusing and unpleasant to consumers. The only way it can work is through ‘standardisation and collaboration’.
Crucial to this is networks, vendors and merchants working together to provide a ‘consistent, simple service’ for consumers, and now the GSMA, along with O2, EE and Vodafone joint venture Weve, payment service providers The Logic Group, m-commerce specialists Proxama, among others, have joined forces as m-commerce makes its latest attempt to crack into the mainstream.
At the presentation of the document - Mobile Commerce in Retail - in London last month, GSMA strategic engagement director Paul Crutchley told Mobile: ‘We’ve taken some time to try and complete the core building blocks, but there is still work to be done in terms of the technical communication between devices. We’re trying to develop a framework to allow people to leverage their innovation. So we’re putting things in place like standards for Sims and handsets, allowing people to understand what they need to do to innovate on those core services.
‘We have to understand each other’s businesses and work together to offer standard messages. It’s going to be a slow process but if we do it in a consistent manner then m-commerce can be a reality.’
Crutchley says the ‘fragmented’ nature of the existing landscape in terms of customer education, retail propositions and the mobile offering was to blame for the failure of NFC payments to catch on to date. However, he says an easier to use mobile wallet, offering a range of different services, could lead to consumers flocking back to the high street, rather than shopping online. He says: ‘How can mobile help improve [the high street]? How can we work together to make the service as compelling as possible?
‘If a consumer walks into a town centre which has 300 shops and they have 300 apps on their phone, they will start to get confused. It all needs to be integrated so that everything is relevant to the customer.’
According to Crutchley, value added services should be at the crux of this technology. Although contactless payment is one feature of NFC, he reveals that it should not be the main driver. NFC enabled handsets with the relevant apps and Sim card can open up numerous shopping opportunities – from using electronic vouchers, to parking apps, to collecting loyalty points, and receiving personalised mobile alerts. From a retailer’s point of view consumer trends can even be tracked.
Loyalty is an emerging opportunity, according to David Sear and Owen Geddes of Weve. Last month Sear told Mobile that loyalty was ‘broken’ in its current incarnation of plastic and stamp cards, however, NFC provides a base for a new type of loyalty incorporated in a smartphone wallet.
‘Loyalty will help acquire customers and the intention is that your wallet will be relevant to you,’ says Geddes during Weve’s presentation. ‘The proposition has got to be mass-market though. What you don’t want to do is only talk to a sub-section of the population.
‘This isn’t a platform for discounting, it’s about loyalty in its purest sense - about having a relationship with the customer. The loyalty wallet will be personalised to them, not two million other people, and merchants will be able to have regular dialogue with their customers.’
Indeed, consumer perceptions and experiences will ultimately be where mobile payments succeed or fail. Lack of compatible hardware remains a barrier to making the whole package universal, however. Only a handful of handsets in the UK come with the functionality, although Crutchley believes there are viable substitutes until NFC becomes a ‘full commercial proposition’. He says: ‘It’s all got to be progressive. In the short term we can do something around barcodes and QR codes, which will suit you whether you have a feature phone or a smart phone, or whether you’re on contract or pay-as-you-go.
‘Let’s get a product out there that supports multiple merchants, supports high streets and I think that’s where we’ll start moving to and building up momentum.’