While the industry waits for consumers to adopt near-field communication technology, AT&T Labs is putting the finishing touches on a white-label application that will let companies accept mobile commerce payments and coupons from any smartphone, says Rob Russell, director of global marketing solutions at AT&T.
The application, created completely by AT&T in-house, allows consumers to enter specific digits on the phone's keypad to make a payment with a specific retailer. It works similar to a swipe of a gift card or Starbucks coffee card. The mobile application shows the account balance, additions and subtractions. Consumers can add funds into the mobile application through a Web portal or on the phone.
Russell calls the application "a stored value gift card with loyalty" features, declining to provide AT&T's internal code name for the product in case the name changes.
Grocery stores, restaurants, university cafeterias, retail shops or other merchants providing the application to customers would essentially receive funds in advance of the purchase. They would have an opportunity to gather data on the back end to make better buying decisions when reordering merchandise or serving up specials and coupons to specific consumers.
AT&T might offer an option to integrate a recent application launched as a pilot in August, called AT&T Bar Code Services, which will be offered in two months. Last year, AT&T rolled out services that enable marketers to create interactive codes, as well as manage the back end to track and change content in real-time -- all in a completely secure environment.
The barcode feature focuses on "search and discover" with the ability to tie into other actions related to a merchant's catalog or menu of items. The message in an ad might direct consumers to "scan this" to get more information, for example.
Consumers will have an option to share location, gender, age, and other information to help merchants see the response rate for ads. The two applications, the barcode and mobile commerce, would complement mobile targeting.
This model is not without challenges.
Some consumers might not want a boatload of applications dedicated to specific retailers on their phone, or be locked down to buy from one merchant. "Exactly," agrees Russell, pointing to Isis, the joint NFC venture. "It will take some time for NFC to reach the masses. This application will attract the heavy users."
One in five smartphones will have NFC technology by 2014, according to Jupiter Research. The analyst firm estimates that there will be nearly 300 million NFC capable smartphones by 2014, driven in the short term by mobile network operators launching services in 20 early adopting countries before the end of 2012.
Jupiter predicts North America will account for half of all NFC smartphones in 2014, followed by Western Europe. With many entities such as banks, mobile operators, transport companies and merchants involved, service complexity is a challenge in each NFC rollout.
AT&T will support mobile commerce with a white-label application as Verizon, France Telecom, Orange, Telefonica, Microsoft, Google, and others build out the infrastructure.