Commerce Weekly: More brands throw in with Merchant Customer Exchange

MCX expands sans platform, Lemon opens its API, and QR codes stage a comeback.

Here are the commerce stories that caught my eye this week.

MCX’s mobile payment vision draws in more big names

The Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) got a boost this week as several more big brands joined the mobile payments network. Nivedita Bhattacharjee reports at Reuters that the new members include Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dillard’s and Dunkin’ Brands, bringing the total to 21 publicly traded members to date.

James Wester at Mobile Payments Today notes that a merchants mobile payment solution doesn’t yet exist and no launch date has been announced. Wester reports:

“MCX said its platform is under development and the company is trying to focus on integrating payments with offers and promotions delivered to a smartphone. But a source familiar with MCX’s effort said the consortium is still working through an RFP process to find technology vendors to help bring its solution to market.”

Wester says MCX officials described the vision for the payment solution as including discounts and promotions, and requiring little involvement from merchants in terms of equipment and technology investments. The platform also reportedly will “take a ‘hands-off’ approach to retailer’s transaction and customer data,” which is a major factor in some retailers choosing MCX over other payment options, such as Google Wallet. Mike Cook, vice president and assistant treasurer at Wal-Mart, one of the MCX partners, made it clear this week that Wal-Mart is not interested in sharing consumer and transaction data and that that played a role in the company choosing to back MCX over Google or Isis.

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Lemon opens its API, but is it aiming at Passbook?

Mobile wallet startup Lemon stepped up its game in the mobile payment arena this week, launching its developer platform “Lemonade,” or “Lemon Application Development Engine.” Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch that third-party developers now will be able to create branded interactive “smart cards” to better connect with consumers. She writes:

“Using the SmartCard Wizard, developers can customize their cards in terms of design as well as functionality. … A gift card could display the current balance, which is updated as the money is spent. Cards can also be used as mechanisms to allow the card providers to communicate with users, letting users send messages, respond to surveys, receive offers, discounts, and more. Other card add-ons might include integrated loyalty programs, coupon tracking tools, or price comparison tools. Support for tickets is also possible, and these can now be made interactive as well, alerting users to venue or time changes for the event, among other things.”

Ryan Kim at GigaOm says that opening the API “will pit Lemon against Passbook and perhaps Google’s larger vision for Google Wallet,” though he also reports that Lemon founder and CEO Wences Casares told him there are plans to integrate with Passbook. Perez reports that Lemon sees itself more as a complement than a competitor to Passbook and that the planned integration is about two months out.

QR codes breathe new life

While NFC technology continues to take hits in the payment space, it looks like QR codes might be enjoying a comeback. Apple employs the codes in its new Passbook service, and this week Target announced a new holiday shopping campaign using the codes; the idea is to steer “showrooming” consumers to Target’s website in hopes of retaining the sale.

Leena Rao at TechCrunch reports that Target will add the codes to the top 20 selling toys this holiday season. Consumers can scan the codes to purchase the toys with their mobile phones — even if they’re out of stock in the physical store — and then ship them anywhere in the U.S. for free. Rao notes this may be a preemptive strike against any holiday campaign plans Amazon may have up its sleeve — last year, the Internet retailer gave consumers a discount for “showrooming” at physical stores and then buying the products from its own retail platform.

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