In September of this year, mobile payments provider Square announced that it had raised $200 million. Investors included, among others, Starbucks Coffee Company—a surprise for many in the mobile payments industry, as Starbucks has been so successful with its own app.
The press release about the funding includes some impressive numbers. Last fall (2011), Square had about 150 employees and processed about $1 billion in payments (annualized). This fall, it has over 400 employees and processes over $8 billion in payments (again, annualized). Talk about explosive growth.
Square pioneered a new point of sale (POS) by allowing small businesses and consumers to accept credit card payments via their mobile devices. Several Square-like equivalents have popped up lately, including PayPay Here, iZettle in Europe and Tortuga in Asia.
Now it’s clear that Square is onto something new. Its Pay With Square app allows consumers to pay for purchases by simply telling the cashier their name. GPS and a few apps cooperate behind the scenes to take care of the rest—no credit card swipe required. (See my earlier post for details.)
Square’s success is certainly helping to fuel the battle at the POS not only in terms of where the payment is taken, but also in the method of payment. Back in May, Visa and MasterCard both entered the ring in an effort to defend their long-established market dominance. Each launched its own “digital” wallet service—not “mobile” wallet, mind you. Yet.
Visa’s solution, called V.me, is made for online transactions. It stores your credit card, billing and shipping details, allowing you to pay for online purchases by providing only your V.me email address and password to the merchant. It’s not tap-and-pay, but it’s a start. And the company says it plans to introduce the mobile aspect soon via NFC, QR codes or other technology that would allow tap-and-pay, scan-and-pay or something similar.
MasterCard’s answer is PayPass Wallet, which expands on the PayPass brand that does currently offer tap-and-go NFC payments (i.e. Google Wallet). The new addition, PayPass Wallet, is also geared toward online purchases, storing the necessary card, shipping and billing details and allowing you to check out faster, though via a special button on the websites of participating merchants (or in their mobile apps). And like Visa, MasterCard says it has plans to roll out to points of sale at some point in the future, but offers no specifics regarding timeframe or technology.
POS rookie Google Wallet continues to march on, working out the kinks, adding more credit cards, and steadily signing up merchants and users. One stumbling block continues to be the small range of compatible consumer devices. Isis, the NFC mobile payment joint venture between AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, just launched its pilots in Salt Lake City and Austin in October.
It’s an interesting battle to watch, and not only because of the different companies vying for control. Technology is developing so fast that NFC may already be yesterday’s news. We’re clearly still in the learning phase, with each solution providing valuable lessons for the next. Offerings are also moving from payment only to payment + additional value. And I think that “additional value” is the key to making mobile payments work. Check back soon for my follow-up post about how QR codes are entering the fray and may give NFC a run for it’s money.