Apple Pay has gone live at yet another regional grocery group. The 217 Lucky, Save Mart and FoodMaxx supermarkets in Northern California and Nevada now all officially support Apple's mobile payment system, their corporate parent announced on Thursday (Jan. 15).
The official rollout comes weeks after reports began to surface on forums at MacRumors that some Save Mart grocery stores had already begun to accept Apple Pay, Google Wallet and contactless card payments at some stores.
Those reports were similar to those immediately after Apple Pay's launch in October. Technically, Apple Pay transactions can be done at any point-of-sale terminal that supports contactless payments, so long as the retailer hasn't actually blocked use of Apple Pay. But in those cases, the customer's iPhone is simply emulating a contactless card.
The full Apple Pay experience -- complete with tokenization that works across Visa, MasterCard and AmEx, and no need for customers to punch additional buttons on a PIN pad -- is a lot more complicated to achieve, according to James Sims, CIO of Save Mart Supermarkets in Modesto, California.
"With 2,200 [checkout] lanes, you can't just turn something like that on overnight. We had to roll it out surreptitiously," Sims said.
That included tweaking everything in the transaction chain, down to new PIN pad screens that announced the availability of Apple Pay. More complicated to handle were the encryption differences between AmEx, Visa and MasterCard. Most challenging of all was getting answers for specific technical problems, since there's not yet a large community of developers or integrators with much experience in Apple Pay. "It's a little obscure," said Sims.
From customers' points of view, the difference is that the experience is now the one they see in television commercials -- without the need to select debit or credit and type in a PIN or sign on a point-of-sale device.
A side benefit of the Apple Pay rollout is that the chain's stores now also support smartphone-based payments using Google Wallet and Softcard, as well as plastic contactless credit and debit cards.
That suggests Apple Pay has actually begun to turn around what had been a shriveling number of merchants who accepted contactless. At the Apple Pay launch, Apple said it could be used at 220,000 U.S. merchants who support contactless payments -- a number that had been flat in the three years since Google Wallet launched and claimed the same number of contactless-supporting retailers.