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15 March 2010
As I wrote earlier this year, I have a confirmed case of iPhone envy. As I scan industry news, that sense of envy is getting stronger. This is because lately, I have been noticing iPhone apps that are leveraging what I believe is a credible role for mobile devices in payments -- i.e., the ability to receive/present data that encourages purchasing behavior. For example, Starbucks and Target are using mobile devices to enable users to access promotional discounts, ads/news and even "soft" versions of prepaid cards. The adoption of mobile functionality by such well-recognized brands is bound to raise consumers' awareness that mobile phones have a role to play at physical points-of-sale. It appears that retailers are not only using apps, but SMS/text and mobile browser modalities as well. Yes, I know this is not an iPhone... In the case of iPhone apps, a consumer that shops at both Starbucks and Target has to go to separate locations (e.g., the Starbucks.com web site, the Target.com web site, the iPhone App Store, etc.) for downloads. Looking ahead, I wonder if the app distribution model may need some "tweaking". Retailers such as Starbucks and Target enjoy powerful brand equity and the temptation will understandably be for them to create their own, discrete apps. Because of this, Starbucks and Target aren't the first and won't be the last retailers to launch their own apps. However, disparate apps will likely impede consumer awareness and adoption (as well as create a highly-cluttered iPhone deck). Consumers are eventually going to want a lot more simplicity, and to be automatically updated across all their favorite retail brands. A retailer aggregator app might make a lot more sense, one that consumers instinctively access at POS. If this were to happen, it would create interesting real estate for "top of wallet" reminders or promotions ("use your ABC debit card and get an additional 5% off"). Hmmm, I wonder if a bank would be interested in something like this... As I'm not (yet) an iPhone user, I'd like to hear from our iPhone-using readers -- are there any apps available that do a good job of retailer aggregation and open the possibility of promoting a payment type?