Ring Up My Bill, Please

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The promise of phones that double as digital wallets is not new. Consumers in many Asian and European countries have bought everything from convenience store trinkets to subway tickets using their mobile handsets for years. But the idea has largely been a gadget geek’s fantasy here in the United States.

Only recently have American banks and wireless companies begun developing mobile payment products. Now, the next wave of technology could wash ashore within two years.

The biggest push is coming from big banks and card companies, which hope to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new transaction fees to offset a slowdown in credit card use. And with prepaid plans, the companies hope to reach new customers and younger customers who may own a phone but lack a checking or credit card account…

… Still, banks and card companies are enthusiastic that mobile payments can increase purchases. They also hope the phones can enhance their loyalty programs by offering real-time customer awards.

Using a cell phone as a subway pass or airline ticket is one area the card companies are exploring, a service already available in some European and Asian countries. In Japan, for example, nearly 10 million cell phones have prepaid swipe chips, and subscribers can use the devices at hundreds of train stations as well as thousands of small convenience stores. Among the other ideas are text messaging receipts and using interactive poster ads to beam virtual coupons for discounts at nearby shops.

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Source: The New York Times (link opens in a new window)