Payments provider eftpos hopes to unite Australian mobile payments around a single cloud-based service, according to eftpos CEO Bruce Mansfield.
A mobile payments trial by eftpos of different types of smartphone-based transactions began last year and is expected to continue throughout 2014.
The Commonwealth Bank, Coles and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank are all partners on the trial, even though they have each announced separate mobile payment initiatives.
“Everyone’s got their toe in the water,” Mansfield said in an interview with Computerworld Australia.
“What we’ve found during the history of any innovation is that a collaborative approach to support one universal solution across a market like ours is always going to be more likely to succeed.”
Mansfield said he hopes all the partners will come together “and land on a solution that we all like.”
He added that eftpos is currently talking to Coles and Bendigo “about expanding the [eftpos] trial to include their activity.”
The eftpos trial
The eftpos mobile payments trial commenced in mid-December. The pilot is expected to conclude at the end of calendar-year 2014, with commercial launch planned for early 2015, said Mansfield.
So far, the eftpos trial includes about 10 merchants in the Sydney CBD near Martin Place and Darling Park, but Mansfield said this will expand to about 25 in the next month. The trial will also eventually expand to other cities, including Melbourne, he said.
Consumer participants include staff of eftpos and CBA and their family and friends, he said.
The transactions require a mobile point-of-sale terminal at the merchant’s end, but Mansfield said the terminals already in merchants’ hands will be compatible.
“We’re trialling the existing point-of-sale infrastructure,” specifically using an Ingenico terminal in the trial. “What’s important to us is there’s a simple way to upgrade the existing infrastructure to support this.”
To make a payment, the consumer must have a smartphone with an eftpos app installed. Devices in the trial include the Apple iPhone and three Samsung Galaxy smartphones — the S3, S4 and Note. However, the payment system will support a much broader range of devices, Mansfield said.
“This platform is a cloud-based payments platform ... and it supports a range of interactions between consumers and merchants.”
In addition, eftpos is trialling a broad range of payment technologies — including NFC, QR codes and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The cloud-based nature of the platform means eftpos can also support online payments, he said.
“Our philosophical view is we should be agnostic in terms of what the interface is between the device and the handset until we work out what is the most compelling customer proposition,” said Mansfield.
Not every technology may be supported in the final release, he said. This will be determined based on the state of payment infrastructure at the end of the year and how intuitive each technology is for the end user.
“You need to explore a range of options because things are still changing there and it all comes down to what is the customer value proposition.”
In the trial, consumers with phones that have embedded NFC chips — such as the Samsung devices in the trial — can pay by tapping their phone on the merchant’s payment terminal.
Currently, transactions of $10 or less are automatically accepted. Payments between $10 and $50 require the user to confirm their purchase by tapping OK on the phone, while payments above $50 require the user to enter a password or PIN.
Users with phones that lack NFC — including the iPhone — can pay by using the mobile device’s camera to scan a QR code on the screen of the payment terminal.
While eftpos has not yet tested Bluetooth payments, that will happen later this year, said Mansfield. The iPhone and other BLE-enabled devices will support this type of payment, which relies on small Bluetooth transmitters that Apple calls “iBeacons” to detect when a phone is nearby.
Mansfield said the eftpos wallet will allow the user to choose between multiple payment sources, selecting one as a default payment. He compared this functionality to what PayPal has done with its own app.
Path to success
Ease of use will be critical to consumers adopting an eftpos mobile wallet, said Mansfield.
“The two key things that will determine success is a simple way to enrol or register consumers,” including adding a default payment method, and second, “once you got the thing working, you’ve got to be able to use it.”
“You’ve got to get registration right and you’ve got to get merchant acceptance right.”
In addition, eftpos has learned from the trial that the speed of a transaction is critical, he said.
“What we’ve found is that there is a range of customer experience issues in relation to how the customer presents the handset to the point-of-sale device.”
For example, eftpos is monitoring how comfortable customers are scanning QR codes, and whether there are any difficulties getting phone cameras to focus properly.
One challenge that eftpos has found with NFC is that different models of phones and POS terminals have NFC chips planted in different locations, and consumers don’t always know right away how to line them up and make a successful payment.
While eftpos is not testing smart stickers like some others — including CommBank and Coles — Mansfield said that technique is a “good short-term step” built for existing payment infrastructure.
“But I think I’d rather be focussed on the long-term stuff and build a digital payments platform that will meet their future needs as well as their current needs.”
“What we really should be focussing on is the bigger customer proposition of how does the customer want to engage with the merchant in their overall shopping experience and how do we fit into that as a payment instrument to make it seamless and frictionless.”