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Not a day goes by without at least one email appearing in my inbox telling me about a new revolution in the world of payments. Telling me if I’m not using my mobile phone to pay for everything I am an idiot.

The year is 2013, it’s pretty much the future. So as an experiment I set out on a day trip to London with only my mobile phone in my pocket. No wallet, no cards, no cash. Foolish? Yes. Very.

I had three objectives for my day – get to a meeting, grab some lunch and find a present for my Dad’s upcoming birthday.

I live near Birmingham so a trip to London is a moderately significant undertaking. Upon arrival at the train station I felt a sense of ominous dread as the car park barrier spat out its ticket – how would I pay for this? Maybe it would be one of those ‘Pay by Text’ car parks and my mobile would be saviour. In any case, it would be 5pm by the time I was back here and I suspected that by then this would be the least of my worries.

I will confess that I had cheated slightly on the train ticket front, paid for in advance on a corporate account. No card needed here though, I could have paid with PayPal in advance.

Once I arrived in London, getting around with no money was easy and I had a load of different options – my Oyster card automatically tops itself up from my bank account, I had one of the taxi apps on my phone meaning I could pay that way (although both times I’ve tried that the taxi driver wouldn’t let me use it due to the high percentage they are charged – “great for getting jobs, not so good for fares”).

Arriving at the meeting with time to spare I immediately noticed how free it felt not to have to carry a wallet around. It was a hot day and I wasn’t wearing a jacket but didn’t need to worry about unsightly bulges in my highly fashionable slim fit trousers.

Following the meeting I set out on the quest for food. Immediately realising that many independents were even further back on the payment curve, not even accepting cards, I went out to the big chains. Still a lack of mobile acceptance; it was at least four or five attempts before I found one of the large pizza chains that would accept payments via their app. I didn’t want a huge lunch but was stuck.

After tucking in I went to the app, not only paying but securing a discount for doing so and walked out. On the way I was stopped by the waiter who was a bit confused that I hadn’t left any method of payment. He had heard of his own chain’s app so let me off, with only a slightly dubious look in his eye.

Now I just had my Dad’s birthday present to buy.

Working at BT Expedite, I’ve been involved in a number of implementations of mobile vouchers and payments so finding a shop was as simple as going through our customer list. That’s not to say the item I selected will be my Dad’s first choice of gift (I’m not sure how ladies sizes relate to men) but don’t they say it’s the thought that counts?

This was going OK, maybe I could live without a wallet. As long as I had narrow expectations and didn’t mind being restricted in many ways I was OK.

One of the big restrictions in all this however is not the growing number of places that accept mobile payment. It is my phone. Already I was getting low battery warnings. I had a 90 minute train journey to go – if I had any hope of getting home safely I would have to sacrifice music, emails, browsing and Candy Crush Saga. Martyrdom awaits.

Alas, even this didn’t take into account that someone might phone me up. They did and despite my best efforts as I got off the train my phone finally gave up.

To the payment industry, which wants me to seriously utilise my phone as a payment device, I would suggest either investing heavily in phone battery development or realising that my phone has many other uses. It isn’t as dependable as a card, which is always there when I open my wallet. My card never runs out of battery, doesn’t need charging. I can’t break the screen and it doesn’t become unusable when I take a phone call or read an email. In 2013, we are supposed to be multi-tasking machines. I read a story the other day about a lady who was refused service in her local supermarket while she was on her phone. At least that doesn’t happen in the world of mobile-phone payments.

So this leaves me here, in the station car park. No form of payment, no way of contacting anyone to help me pay. Without breaking the law I’m stuck.

Does anyone know if the police take bail payments via mobile yet?

Mark Denton, Head of Solution Consulting, BT Expedite


RIP for NFC?

Posted by: Kevin Burns  |   Comments  No Response

When the iPhone 5 was released recently, one of the big talking points was the decision not to include near field communication (NFC) capability. So is this a missed opportunity by Apple or a stark assessment of the technology’s prospects?

NFC facilitates contactless payments and data transmissions and it’s been bubbling under for quite a while. But it’s not hit the heights predicted for it just yet, with only 2 per cent of merchants globally equipped with NFC reader terminals.

In the UK its spread relies on retailers investing in new PEDs (PIN entry devices) and implementing/accrediting to the associated standards. As a result, contactless payments have yet to have their day in the sun – despite more and more card issuers now issuing cards with contactless enabled.

The biggest driver in retail at the moment is mobile. There are 1.08 billion smartphones out there, and over 38 per cent of smartphone users have completed a purchase from their device. So the phone is an obvious target for anyone seeking to bring everything – including payments – together in one place.

But in terms of in-store contactless payments, NFC may be the weak link.

 “What came out from NRF,” explains BT Expedite product director Jason Shorrock, “is that NFC is NOT proven as the way to do ‘contactless payment’. In fact, the parties interested in NFC investment are now pushing it for media transfer between devices (you can now share photos, product info etc just by touching) rather than payments. 

“The big debate was whether the e-wallet should be in the cloud (and therefore accessible to all channels) with the method of identification in the store varying between barcode, NFC, finger vein and visual recognition.”

There’s no doubt that NFC could deliver a more enriched in-store experience, but then so could QR codes or geolocation. For retailers, getting to know the consumer (CRM) and targeting them with meaningful data is of greater value at the moment.

 Mobile puts the power of the internet in the palm of your hand, giving consumers the upper hand for product information, price comparison and deals. It enables you to transact anywhere at any time. So it’s more important just now that retailers ensure their website is mobile optimised.

What is clear is that, regardless of how payment is taken, all retailers need to have an in-store strategy for both customer-owned and staff mobile devices. NFC may not be about to come of age, but m-commerce is growing fast.

It’s not RIP for NFC, but more a wait and see…

by Kevin Burns, Head of Payments and PCI, BT Expedite

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OK, let me get a confession out of the way. This blog isn’t very glamorous. It’s not going to set the world on fire in terms of innovation. It’s not going to dazzle you with new, shiny toys. It’s perhaps even the dullest topic I could have chosen to blog about after my recent trip to NRF. But it may also spark a revolution…

With a prime spot at the biggest retail showcase in the world, astoundingly some exhibitors were presenting the mundane and unattractive. In a sea of glamorous assistants, the latest innovations and multi-million pound stands, were these people super-brave or super-crazy?

For those that noticed this trend, you can say: “I was there when the revolution started.” For those who let it slip by unnoticed or didn’t make the trip across the pond, I’m prepared to let you in on the secret. Amongst all the glitz and glamour there was a tribe of at least five or six brave suppliers, big and small, all demonstrating the latest ‘innovations’ in cash management.

I’m not entirely sure if it is being led by the growth of mobile in the store, a need to make the store as efficient as possible or loss prevention improvements but a cash management revolution is coming. Automation is the name of the game – automated cash counter devices are in, in a big way.

What these devices do is take money in (and it can be directly from the customer), automatically count and issue the appropriate change and then perform all your cash management for you – so no cash lifts, no banking, no z or x reads – your new cash management friend will automatically prepare the money ready to be taken direct to the bank. No one in your store will ever have to touch cash again. All those complex processes, all those Loss Prevention worries, all the time it takes your store staff – all taken out of the equation by a machine.

For the retailer it becomes an interesting thought – as you are not touching the money, you could get agreement with your bank that when the money is in the device it’s as good as banked therefore you could start earning interest on it at that point?

That’s not all; these devices also help you with your mobile POS processes. Anyone who has a mobile POS in their store will soon realise that the first time someone wants to pay cash, you have a problem. What do you do with the cash? Do you have to take the customer to the till, bypassing your fancy new iPad in the process? Are you resorting to a bum-bag?

Many of the devices on show could help solve that challenge. When a customer wants to pay cash, you walk them to the cash device, conveniently situated within the store, pay the money in and are given the correct change.

There’s nothing new here; we’ve seen these cash management devices hang around the fringes of the mainstream for some time now but my feel from NRF is that 2013 and the changes enforced by mobile technology mean this could well be their moment.

The downside is that, in the main, these devices are big and deeply unattractive. If you had one in your store you’d be so ashamed of it that you’d want to hide it as far away from customers as possible. It would immediately distract from anything your visual merchandisers could do to make the rest of the store look uber-cool. To be truly adopted, these machines will need a makeover to become slick and sharp, matching the new mobile technology that’s being installed along the high street.

Maybe in a year’s time we’ll look back and laugh at the prospect but devices that take the pain out of potentially the most complex in-store process, eliminate store loss and enhance the Assisted Service capability can only be a good thing.

Thank you for your patience while I got that out of my system. I promise, the next time I blog we’ll be discussing something far more exciting – maybe receipt paper, innovation in scanner technology or the latest PCI policies. I bet you can’t wait.

Posted by Mark Denton, Head of Solution Consulting, BT Expedite

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It’s in New York and it’s billed as Retail’s Big Show, so I didn’t need to be asked twice! And along with more than 27,000 other delegates at the 102nd National Retail Federation conference, we helped to make Retail’s Big Show the biggest ever.

Because we get caught up in the day-to-day so much at home, getting away to NRF is a great opportunity to have a look around and gauge what’s happening now – and what’s coming in the near future. With such a large event, it’s impossible to see everything, but there were some things that really caught my eye:

Omnipresent omni-channel

One curious feature of the event was that omni-channel was everywhere – and no-one mentioned it. It seems that it’s now a given that we’re all working in an omni-channel world. The recent Christmas results, building on a record-breaking ‘Mega Monday’ showed quite a stark two-speed market – split by those who offer a credible omni-channel offer and those that don’t. (Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule and Primark are a shining example!)

But we wouldn’t be retail technology geeks if we didn’t conjure up a few new buzzwords. This year it was all about ‘frictionless transaction’ and ‘reduced effort’ (explained by BT’s futurologist, Nicola Millard as covering emotional, physical and intellectual effort as well as the time it takes to complete a shopping journey for the consumer). 

Your future journey starts here

The eBay stand had the best demonstration of what this might look like – with stories to illustrate an effortless shopping journey across mobile, store, web and TV, all wrapped by a completely frictionless e-wallet managing loyalty, e-vouchers, gift cards and traditional cards and bank accounts.  

Combining what’s here now with what’s coming soon, the demo incorporated geo-location/geo-fencing (as I walk past the mall), personal location-based vouchers (in the mall), clienteling to provide better assisted selling (in the store), seamless anywhere, everywhere stock availability, context-relevant recommendations (on my mobile) and a smart e-wallet to ensure I clock up loyalty points when I pay. We’ll definitely be working on something like this with eBay/PayPal to bring it to our customers as soon as it’s available in the UK.

E-wallets: taking the pain out of payments

There was a lot of debate in the breakouts about e-wallets and the future of payments – with card providers, banks, payment service providers and retailers all proposing very different approaches. 

As using cards is fairly frictionless already, my view is that the e-wallet has to add value for the customer if it’s to challenge the current card process. That means it needs to work across all channels and bring payment, loyalty, vouchers and gift cards together in one place – rather than the current jumble of bank cards, gift cards, loyalty cards and vouchers. 

But the debate about whether an e-wallet is best delivered through NFC (via a mobile) or the cloud (available across all channels) is set to rage for some time yet, while retailers sniff out ways to bypass intermediary service providers and reduce costs.

If you go down to 5th Avenue today

On our last day in NYC, we visited the Build-A-Bear Workshop flagship store on Fifth Avenue. We were officially there on business, although one or two (who’ll remain nameless) couldn’t resist trying out the full build-a-bear experience (aimed primarily at the 4-14 age group).

Build-A-Bear has just sold its 100 millionth bear – and shows no sign of slowing down. During the tour, the store manager gave us a glimpse of the company’s ‘store of the future’ which has been trialled in a number of sites with impressive results. 

The technology they are introducing includes virtual fitting rooms, Microsoft surfaces for 3D interaction, Epicor advanced CRM to build ongoing relationships with customers and a seamless blending of the real and virtual worlds. 

Customer feedback was that the children loved the virtual and digital interaction and often preferred it to the ‘old hat’ physical world – a scary example of the next generation absorbing new technology as soon as it appears.

All in all it was a really invigorating event. We had the chance to spend some quality time with our customers away from the pressures of the day-to-day environment; we caught up with Epicor, our software partner; we tapped into some of the latest trends and thinking; and we rounded things off with a glimpse of what’s coming next from our BT technology scout and futurologists. Oh, and the office has a new bear.

Useful links

Watch a video showing the Epicor technology in action at Build-A-Bear>

See some of the BIG Show Videos from NRF>

Posted by Jason Shorrock, Product Director, BT Expedite

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Last night, at about 3am, I was awoken by a strange noise. Climbing out of bed I was approached by a ghostly figure. “Who are you?” I asked. “And what are you doing in a retail technology blog-related dream?”

“I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past,” came the reply. “You might remember me, I’m the one everyone remembers from the film.”

“You’ve been focussed on retail technology all year, I’m here to take you on a journey to show you the effect some of your work has. You’ll need this.” He handed me a Gift Card; the familiar bit of plastic so many of us have received, often from relatives who don’t know what else to get us or bought as a panic buy at 3pm on Christmas Eve.

“Of course in my day,” said the spirit, “it was all paper-based, fixed values, printed on till rolls, faded in the sun.”

I explained to the spirit that life and technology moved on, paper-based is great but with no real-time authorisation and a lack of flexibility around topping up they don’t quite conform to today’s real-time world.

“And look what happened last year…” The spirit transported me to a room full of gold coins. “In this room there is £250,000,000. I’ve counted the lot”

Last year, £2 billion was added onto gift cards and this was the money that was never redeemed – the unused change languishing on the nation’s  Gift Cards, with people too embarrassed to ask the store to take the last 47p off the card. Or the gift card you got for that shop you never go in, or the one you lost behind the sofa or the one you forgot you had….

As I listed these situations, the spirit vanished.

Turning around, I saw another spirit. “I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present.” Suddenly I was presented with a whole load of data – my shopping habits, my Christmas list, my e-commerce and store transactional history, loyalty points information and a multi-brand, omnichannel solution.

“By buying a  Gift Card this year,” said the spirit “you are providing the smart retailers out there with the perfect way to capture additional customer information; from a few simple  Gift Card transactions you could be telling the retailer who you are, who you like enough to buy a present for and what they like to buy – you’re effectively signing your relative up for a loyalty scheme as an extra Christmas present. The really smart retailers will of course have a combined loyalty and  Gift Card – why have two cards in your wallet when one will suffice, meaning the  Gift Card remains in your relative’s wallet long beyond the January sales.”

“Blimey,” I thought, “this spirit knows his stuff. The Ghost of Christmas Present is right. Throughout this year we’ve seen a number of customers doing exactly that, by bringing their  Gift Card capabilities in-house and stitching the solution into their CRM, loss prevention, POS and e-commerce systems they can really build up a picture of the customer from a single purchase. The Ghost of Christmas Past was right too. That unspent money, previously sitting with a third party supplier, is now sitting with the retailer, no longer paying a percentage of each transaction used on their  Gift Card scheme.” Online authorisation of balance, liability tracking and management and web service integration means a  Gift Card is a tender that can be used anywhere these days.

And I waited for the third spirit that tradition dictates would be along. But he never came.

The next morning however I noticed something strange on my phone. Of course! A mobile voucher – with a personalised greeting from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He had obviously learned from the other two ghosts how to do things properly, removing even the plastic from the mix, collating more CRM data (e-mail addresses and phone numbers) and suddenly having the ability to target those customers with unspent vouchers to drive them into his shop. And integration into an electronic mall scheme (linked to my e-wallet) means that if I don’t approve of the choice of shop for my mobile voucher, I can easily transfer it to a brand of my choice.

So am I a changed man following my experience with the three ghosts?

Well yes, I’ve seen the light;  Gift Cards aren’t just for those relatives you don’t know what else to buy for. They provide a key to an omnichannel shopping experience with benefits for both the customer and the retailer alike. It’s a win-win situation. 
And that’s what I’ll be telling my wife on Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Mark Denton, Head of Solution Consulting, BT Expedite 

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