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Google Wallet Struggles With Being Open, But On Only One Platform: Its Own

June 1st, 2011

A Forrester report on Google Wallet points out how few NFC-capable phones exist today. “Relying on an installed base of phones that is today indistinguishable from zero, a single payment system, a single card issuer and a modest network of merchants capable of accepting these phone-based payments means that the near-term impact will be negligible,” wrote Forrester Analysts Charles S. Golvin and Thomas Husson. “However, Google’s interest here isn’t in the payments. It’s in the data that underlies the complete chain of commerce, including consideration, promotion, transaction details, coupons and receipts.”

Remarkably enough, that means the interests of Google and retailers are in synch. Retailers don’t want to be in the payments business any more than Google does. The more that can be pushed off on the processors and the card brands, the better. The only interests in POS involve CRM and boosting (and tracking) sales. OK, if the system can help with anti-fraud/loss prevention, that’s nice, too.

The CIO at that major apparel chain said Google’s move is making it explicit that retail mobile will have very little to do with actual payment. “The future potential here is huge and it actually is having less and less to do with payment itself. Think CRM. Sadly, payment is likely the ticket to entry so we’ll have to scrape the losers off the battlefield before we can start leveraging the real value. But who are the CRM plays that really get what this technology could do in-store? Please stand. Hello? Hello?”

Getting back to the Google trial and the very near term, how much back-end POS work does the Google Wallet require? According to Google partner Verifone, quite a bit.

What about the chains that are already using NFC readers? Surely they should have an easy transition? Nope. “Of the NFC readers out there, the majority—close to 100 percent—will need to be updated,” said Paul Rasori, Verifone’s senior VP for Global Marketing. “These readers are much more advanced than” current PayPass terminals, he said. On top of those upgrades will be the usual software changes throughout the network.

With all this effort and cost, is it worth it to get involved in one of these early stage mobile-payment trials? Quite possibly. There are two reasons to want to do so. First, it always has been about the data and improving the customer experience—and upsells. These trials will almost certainly provide much critical data that will be useful no matter what happens next.

The second reason to do so is what we’ll call the Gambler’s Choice.


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