Walmart, the mega-giant retailer, made a bold entry into the mobile wallet space by rolling out its Walmart Pay app in Arkansas and Texas this week. A Little Rock TV station, KATV, sent intrepid reporters into the field to test the new app.
Reviews were mixed. At the same time, a rival to Apple Pay, known as CurrentC, is close to throwing in the towel. Walmart was an early backer of CurrentC until it decided to strike off on its own with Walmart Pay.
The rollout encompasses 600 stores, and will serve as a testing ground before launching the app in other regions of the country. Walmart Pay is a smartphone app that you can use to purchase items in Walmart stores.
To use the app, you must first create an account at Walmart.com and designate a preferred payment method, which can include any debit card, credit card, Walmart gift card or prepaid account.
At the checkout line, you click on the app, enter your secret 4-digit PIN, scan the register-displayed Quick Response (QR) Code with the phone's camera, and let the cashier press some buttons on the register before checking out your items. When done, you receive an e-receipt for your purchase.
The system is secure because only you know your PIN, and the generated QR Code is different for each use. Walmart Pay does not offer any loyalty benefits.
Problems encountered by the KATV reporters were more human than technical.
They set up the Walmart Pay app on their smartphone, and linked it to both a Walmart gift card and to a debit card. At the first location in Bentonville AR, 2 different cashiers did not know how the system worked.
It was the intention of the reporters to pay for a purchase by first using up the gift card balance in the Walmart Pay app and then pay the rest using the app-linked debit card account. The reporters gave up and paid with a debit card after the line threatened to hogtie them.
Happily, the reporters had better luck with the app at the self-check area, where the transaction worked as advertised.
While Walmart might be celebrating its new app, there wasn't much to celebrate at the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a consortium of big retailers and brands which includes Walmart. CurrentC, the app developed by the consortium, was created to offer retailers a way to bypass expensive payments processors like Visa, MasterCard and Apple Pay.
Now that Walmart has gone at it alone with Walmart Pay, MCX has postponed the launch of CurrentC and laid off workers.
MCX still has ties to companies like Chase, and partnered in the development of the Chase Pay app. But it's hard to imagine much of a future for MCX as retailers develop their own apps or accept payments from third party mobile wallets like Apple Pay.
Paydiant, the company that powered the development of CurrentC for MCX, was snatched up by PayPal (the owner of the popular Venmo mobile payments app) last year.
Another nail in the MCX coffin is the advent of third-party, white-label payment platforms, such as WePay, that give companies a mobile-payment solution out of the box, without any development costs.
Do you need a credit card? It pays to shop around using a credit card website like GET.com.
Image by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine - Own work. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.