Future Of Mobile Payments, Scanning Tech Debated At MIT
NFC. QR codes. Mobile wallets. Mobile barcodes. We know of many up-and-coming mobile payments technologies — we just don’t know which one will reign supreme.
That’s the question experts attempted to answer at “What Technology Will Dominate Retail?” a conference focused on joining the voices of five experienced mobile payments and retail executives, and hearing their opinions on the latest in mobile technology trends.
Representatives from Mobeam, ScanLife Inc., Motorola Solutions, and Tyco Retail joined moderator Ann Grackin of ChainLink Research to speak to a full house at the event, which was hosted by the MIT Enterprise Forum Auto-ID & Sensing Solutions Group.
While much of the conference was, understandably, more about marketing and demographics than payments, two of the companies represented – Mobeam and ScanLife, provide technologies that could radically alter the way mobile commerce operates.
Mike Wehrs, chief operating officer and president of ScanLife, described his company as an “enabling platform, built to connect any type of digital tag to a variety of digital experiences.” Likening it to scanner from Star Trek, ScanLife essentially asks: once a tag is found and scanned, what do I do with it?
This, according to Wehrs, is what makes ScanLife so innovative. Once a tag is scanned, ScanLife can redirect the user to a website, video, product info, social network site, electronic coupon, or whatever else it deems worthy. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and it’s not hard to envision a scenario where that redirect would offer consumers a one-touch payments method as well.
ScanLife can also modify its redirects based on geofencing, time of day, and several other factors that allow for merchants, in Wehrs’ words, to “never miss a sales opportunity.”
“The amount of data I get every time someone takes their phone out and scans something is staggering,” Wehrs said. "The analytics capabilities that come from the fact that our device can do this, can measure whether [consumers] like the experience or not … it makes for incredible targeting.”
While ScanLife focuses on scanning QR codes and other information identifiers, another company present, MoBeam, specializes in reading barcodes off of mobile devices.
Chris Sellers, chief executive officer of MoBeam, capped off the presentations with an interesting challenge. He claimed if anyone could come up to him with a barcode on his or her mobile phone that he could scan using a traditional red laser scanner, he’d give him or her $100.
No one took the bait, and for good reason. According to MoBeam, such scanners don’t work on smartphone screens, and that’s where this two-year-old startup enters the picture.
Mobeam claims to makes sense for merchants because it’s based off of exiting retail technology and lets them use their existing point-of-sale systems using a “beaming” method that allows them to scan barcodes displayed on mobile devices, and then relay that information to existing payments infrastructure.
Sellers emphasized that he views MoBeam as being able to work with, not against, NFC and 2D scanning in the future, and said his company is really just addressing a simple problem.
“We’re taking what we see as mobile and adding the commerce piece to it,” Sellers said.
A final presentation that raised interesting questions for the future of payments came from Robert Locke, vice president and general manager, store performance solutions at Tyco Retail. Locke spoke about the need for retailers to offer multiple payments options to consumers thanks to the constant emergency of new technologies, and how predicting the future of payments can be a difficult task.
“What we see as a challenge is to find a way to bring all of these technologies to bear, and to bring retailers the opportunity to pick and choose what they want,” Locke said. “As NFC matures and enters the picture, there will be other technologies we can’t even imagine today. Three years ago, no one thought the iPad would’ve taken over the world and be as dominant a force as it is today. And even two years ago, very few people would’ve thought mobile would have the impact it does today.”
As this conference emphasized, it’s easy to see that mobile will continue to be impactful, but difficult to know through which technology that impact will be made.
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