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Mobile payments battle brews around small shops in big countries

Stephen Lawson | June 25, 2013
While developing countries embrace new services, small businesses have incentives to attempt change.

The impending change opens up space for startups with mobile variations on the current credit-card infrastructure or totally new payment systems, Schropfer said.

Much of the battle of payment systems will be fought over small, local merchants, according to three startups represented in a panel discussion at the conference. Dwolla, PayDragon and Groupon's Payments division are targeting small businesses that they say are paying more than necessary for the ability to accept credit cards.

"The cost of payments is too high for most merchants. ... It's really not fair, in my opinion," said Sean Harper, director of product management for Groupon Payments. It's true that small businesses typically pay higher fees than big chains, just as they pay more for commodities, because they don't have the negotiating power of retail giants, Schropfer said.

Small businesses looks to be where much of the disruption of mobile commerce will happen, Groupon's Harper said.

"They don't have any allegiance to their existing payment system because it's not serving them very well," he said. Groupon takes a smaller share of each sale than regular credit-card companies, and it can also use data about payments to help businesses attract customers, Harper said.

To sell consumers on changing their payment habits, businesses and vendors in advanced countries will have to offer discounts or other benefits, analyst Schropfer said. In that sense, mobile commerce today is like a vast laboratory of experiments to find what will motivate users to try something new.

PayDragon thinks it's found a way to give consumers something they can't get with other methods of payment. One service it offers is the ability to pay for food at a restaurant while standing in line and looking at the menu, in order to save time at the checkout counter.

But PayDragon has to get the restaurant to adopt its system first, then attract consumers one step at a time, said Hamilton Chan, the company's CEO.

"It's a very, very tricky and daunting task to make all of this happen," Chan said. Consumers have to know about the company and have an Internet connection to download the app, then create an account and associate a credit card with it, and then make a purchase and get in the habit of using the system, he said. "Going down that funnel is extremely difficult."

 

 

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