To Go Mobile or Not to Go Mobile?

by Mitch Corbin 0

Technology today is lightning-quick, which can prove a bit intimidating. Just when you think you’ve got a fix on a given new system, platform, or communication method, it morphs into something unexpected or it’s replaced by something else completely. If you rely on technology to conduct business every day, as retailers and merchants do at the point-of-sale, it can cause some long and sleepless nights as you figure out which new innovations will move your business forward, and which might lead to a costly dead end.

Add industry and market pressures that originate from banks and card issuers, device manufacturers, analysts, and even, at times, the consumer base itself, and it can leave a merchant hesitant to become an early adopter of any new offering. The challenge is a real one though, because waiting to see where the dust settles from the stir of any new breakthrough is no safe option either. Doing so may only give the competition an upper hand and can leave your business lagging.

There’s no better example of this dynamic than the persistent struggle merchants face in determining whether to invest in emerging NFC point-of-sale solutions. There’s been no lack of buzz about NFC in the market, but there’s also been comparatively little traction, which has left merchants in a bit of a quandary, not only as to how to proceed with NFC, but also whether to go mobile at all. And the fact is, those are two altogether different issues.

NFC In a Nutshell

As a brief primer, let’s recap what NFC is all about. NFC, or Near-Field Communications, is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices that was established to enable radio communications between these terminals by touching them together or bringing them near to one another. NFC-enabled devices can be used in contactless payment systems similar to those currently used in credit cards and electronic ticket smartcards, enabling mobile payments to replace or supplement these card-based systems.

The economic challenge to adoption, however, remains an obstacle: the NFC chip would need to be embedded not only within the smartphone or device, but also within the merchant’s payment terminal itself, which would end up costing just Tier 1 merchants tens of billions of dollars in upgrades. The added — and significant—hardware investments that NFC requires has posed a whole other dimension of complication to U.S.-based merchants, only increasing resistance and slowing adoption, at least initially. The market success of NFC also depends on the widespread embracing of a new and unfamiliar type of consumer behavior, contactless payment, which is further complicated by the fact that contactless technology right now is only being actively supported by a subset of smartphone manufacturers.

If all that were not enough, there’s an even taller hurdle: Somehow, during the height and hype of NFC mania, merchants have come to automatically and mistakenly link the concept of mobile commerce to NFC, believing one cannot exist without the other — and this is just incorrect. As a result, many merchants have been reluctant to consider integrating any mobile commerce capabilities into their business models because of this confused and negative association with NFC, and they find themselves watching and waiting in the wings for the fog of uncertainty to lift. The problem is, while they continue to stall, business opportunities keep slipping away. Two of today’s most respected research firms, Forrester and IDC, project mobile commerce to become a $17 billion industry by 2017. With lucrative business potential like this, it doesn’t make sense to continue waiting to see how the NFC dust will settle before getting into the mobile game. Especially when it’s not a prerequisite to do so.

No Need to Wait and Wonder

Let us be clear: There is nothing wrong with NFC. In its own right, NFC is a perfectly viable and proven wireless technology that continues to make steady inroads into US markets year after year. However, it must also be clarified that wireless does not equate with mobile. One does not need NFC to go mobile. These technologies are not interdependent. Yes, they can be integrated one with the other on the same devices, but they do not depend on each other to function. They are not technologically connected at the hip. Merchants can go mobile whenever they’d like — today — with no thought to NFC. There’s just no need to stay in the wings.

In fact, there are mobile point-of-sale technology appliances available today that already come mobile commerce-enabled; they are powerful, compact, easy-to-use and pre-certified to PCI. They are flexible enough to get you into the mobile game right away without requiring any “all in” NFC hardware investments, because they transform existing smartphones into full-service, highly secure, mobile point-of-sale terminals. Which means, there’s no need to wait for smartphone manufacturers to embed NFC chips into their new models either, because these universal mobile appliances are audio-jack-pluggable and are designed to be smartphone agnostic. They are engineered to be compatible with iOS as well as Android platforms alike.

If you’re a retailer, merchant or merchant acquirer who’s been holding back on making a move to mobility because of this uncertainty with NFC, rest assured, there’s no need to wait and wonder whether you should or shouldn’t act — particularly if it’s NFC that’s causing the mental block. You can take your traditionally wired business mobile right away without having to worry about the future of NFC — near or long term — because contactless NFC and mobile commerce are two altogether separate technologies. And besides, whether NFC eventually does become a dominating mode of payment or not, with flexible, universally compatible, and audio-jack-pluggable appliances such as the ones available today, you’re covered either way.

Don’t let NFC stop your move to mobile. Step up and get in the game today.

Mitchell is co-founder of AnywhereCommerce and serves as chief executive officer of the company. He has nearly 20 years of sales, marketing and high growth experiences with the last decade focusing on the electronic and secure payment processing industry.

Before founding AnywhereCommerce, Mitchell served as vice president of sales and marketing at Keystone Industries, where we worked from 1992 until the company was purchased in 2000. In 2000, he then began to pursue his own entrepreneurial objectives by starting Multi-National Corporate Publications (MNCP), a specialty web marketing company which was innovative in developing and mining databases for targeted market initiatives for a clientele ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. In 2005, Mitchell sold MNCP and began laying the groundwork for establishing a new company, which ultimately evolved into AnywhereCommerce in 2006.