Will Wal-Mart and Target’s New Mobile Payment System Thrive?

If anything has the power to slow down the growth of fledgling mobile payment apps Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay, it’s CurrentC. 

The app-based mobile payment system was created by Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a company founded and funded by some of the biggest U.S. retailers—including Wal-Mart, Target, Gap, Dunkin’ Donuts, Lowe’s, Kohl’s, and Kmart—as a response to the unstoppable ascension of mobile-based shopping.  

Bloomberg reports that after three years in development, the platform will “get a limited trial run next month in stores.” Which means the most wide-reaching native mobile payment platform ever created is nearing its official launch date. 

But many tech bloggers see CurrentC as a plaform with a single mission: to quash Apple Pay—using technology that’s not nearly as nimble as its sleeker, chicer competitor’s.

Where Apple Pay uses NFC technology (which is speedy and easy) to transmit payments in stores, CurrentC harnesses clunky QR codes displayed on a cashier’s screen and scanned by the consumer’s phone for transactions.

And Apple Pay is certainly more secure on the consumer end. For one, the mobile system changes the number of a user’s credit card as soon as he/she signs up, making it more difficult for hackers to steal a real credit card number.

CurrentC, in contrast, stores consumer information such as credit card numbers and addresses on an app—unencrypted. Which is why many tech pundits weren’t surprised when the platform was hacked in 2014, close to a year before its official debut.

And it hasn’t been smooth sailing inside MCX. In 2015, Best Buy bowed out of the club, saying it would not renew its exclusivity deal with MCX when it expired this summer (the retailer plans to set up NFC terminals to accept Apple Pay in stores later this year). And, according to Bloomberg, Lowe’s won’t be a part of CurrentC’s initial launch—which looks, as the kids say, shady.

But no matter how inelegant the platform’s technology may turn out to be—or how many games of musical chairs its funders play—it will still be the go-to app for a retail coalition boasting roughly 110,000 locations across the country.

Will CurrentC’s versatility make it as ubiquitous as, say, the Starbucks app? Or will iPhone users simply roll their eyes and pull out their Visas?


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JCK Senior Editor

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