How Simple is "Simply Tap"?

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9 November 2011
Zilvinas Bareisis
Last week the UK saw the launch of the Mobile Money Network's (MMN) new Simply Tap mobile shopping service. Is this yet another mobile app destined for obscurity or will it truly re-design our shopping and payment experience? I've downloaded the app to give it a try. The registration process was simple and straightforward. The idea is that you register your card and the shipping address with the app and then you can shop by simply entering a product code to have it shipped to you. So, what do I like about the solution?
  • I can see this working for billboard/ poster/ TV/ etc advertising, where a customer sees the code and uses it to buy the goods.
  • It's not trying to develop a new payment solution - the actual payment is still done over a registered card. This is, essentially, a new way to shop and check out
  • Card details are not shared with the merchant
  • It's backed by an impressive list of partners and individuals, such as Charles Dunstone, Sir Stuart Rose and others
  • It's built on a proven technology platform provided by Monitise
However, I also have a number of other observations and questions:
  • I don't think the buying process is as simple as the name of "Simply Tap" implies. When Google Wallet talks about "Single Tap", you indeed pay by simply tapping the phone against the terminal. This version of "simply tap" involves finding the product code, then typing it in on your phone's keyboard (in the demo it appears to be 7 characters - 3 letters and 4 numbers, but I guess the codes will vary), then pulling out your card to enter the three-digit security code on the card, etc.
  • While there was talk of adding QR-code or even image recognition functionality, the app just launched doesn't have any of those capabilities. Perhaps something for the future?
  • The merchants need to assign codes to their products and to have a relationship with MMN, which offers two services - fully integrated and fully managed. How quickly will MMN be able to sign up and integrate new merchants? Also, I wonder if the code only points the customer to the product, or also includes channel information, allowing the merchant to understand better how their products are bought and which advertising channels pay off?
  • This is clearly not a solution when a customer is buying multiple items and wants to check out at a traditional point of sale. The way it could work in the physical retail environment is if you see a product you like and type in the code to check out without queuing for the product to be sent home. This, however, assumes that you don't just want to walk away with the product from the store - one of the remaining advantages of actual, rather than online shopping. Of course, it would be handy for large bulky items or the items that are out-of-stock in a particular store.
  • A week after launch I couldn't find online any product codes to type in. I haven't been to the participating physical stores yet, but I checked a number of websites of participating retailers (e.g. moreTvicar, thehut.com and even Carphone Warehouse, a founding partner) and could not find a single code...
  • The only code I did find was on the Simply Tap website, where a box of Thornton's chocolates was advertised as being available for £5 instead of a regular £15. I entered the code (6 letters) and indeed, a box of chocolates came up on my mobile screen. However, the price was £15 and not £5. I logged-in (typing in an 8-character password), as I thought that perhaps the discount would be applied as I proceed with the purchase, but I got to the Buy button and there was no discount. I exited the app... I am sure these are teething issues and things will get better.
  • The app includes offers and promotions that could be pushed to the customer, but they don't seem to be integrated and making use of geolocation or other unique mobile feature to truly enhance the shopping experience.
  • The success will also be dependent on the economics. If MMN will take a cut on a transaction, the cost of card acceptance would increase for a merchant. While this would likely be acceptable if it generates more impulse purchases off the billboards and posters, it would not be easy to convince merchants to offer that as an alternative online or in the physical stores. A service-based fee might work better assuming the merchants can be convinced of the additional value the solution generates.
  • Best Buy Europe, one of the key partners in the MMN venture, have not been very successful - they lost £47m in the first 6 months and are pulling out of the UK, shutting every store.
  • MMN says the solution works on any handset, and then points you to the Android or Apple store. Not clear how it works for non-smartphones (that is, its claim of any handset, any network)
In summary, while I can see how the solution could be useful in a number of use cases, I don't think it will revolutionise our shopping on a mass scale. At least not this holiday season yet. Do you agree?

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