Is Bluetooth, *Gasp,* A Viable Mobile Checkout Alternative?Written by Evan Schuman
In the world of in-aisle mobile checkout, device size and convenience are critical, given that today’s typical associate ships with only two arms. That would certainly argue against associates having to carry two devices, synched via Bluetooth, to perform a checkout. But the almost-having-cornered-the-market nature of iPads and iPhones in in-store mobile checkout, coupled with Apple’s new and incompatible Lightning connection port, may force some inconvenient near-term options.
When Apple rolled out its new hardware in October, along with its Lightning port, it created an annoying short-term problem for retailers, because the Lightning adapter it sells interferes with the card sleds retailers use. Until Lightning-compatible sleds start shipping, chains have to improvise. And even when those new sleds ship, the inventory of existing sleds will still require workarounds.
On Monday (Dec. 3), a European mobile and E-Commerce payments and POS card reader vendor (Adyen) introduced a device that can handle both magstripe and EMV, which certainly makes sense for Europe. The interesting part, though, is that the Adyen approach uses two units (a reader/scanner and the Apple or Android smartphone or tablet) connected by Bluetooth. That’s a lot of hardware for an associate to lug around in the aisles, but it’s apparently necessary (at least now) for the EMV functionality. It also nicely—if unintentionally—sidesteps the Apple Lightning problem. Indeed, Bluetooth would theoretically avoid other interface upgrade issues, too. Is the trade-off worth it?
As a practical matter, the Adyen approach requires at least four hands. Typically, customers would hold the 4.2-ounce (about 118 gram) card interface device (roughly 3.9 inches long, 2.7 inches wide and about 0.75 inches deep) in one hand while holding (or swiping) their payment card with their other hand. Meanwhile, the associate uses one hand to hold the mobile device (typically a tablet) and the other hand to type.
Speaking of trade-offs, the Adyen approach also raises an interesting EMV question for the U.S. When Adyen contacted us about its rollout, company spokesperson Eric Sokolsky said: “Adyen is looking to the future when EMV cards will be the standard format in the U.S.” That is undoubtedly true, but the company is apparently looking with quite a powerful pair of binoculars, as it made this announcement with three simultaneous rollouts: London, Amsterdam and Berlin.
Sokolsky said Adyen is not even offering this approach for U.S. retailers at this time but would if any retailer requested it. Although that is hardly a rousing endorsement of U.S. retail EMV enthusiasm, it’s probably a realistic one.
Adyen is “focusing on Europe for now, because that’s where the EMV action is,” Sokolsky said, adding that the company will roll it out to other geographies based on EMV market maturity. “That said, should a major retailer contact Adyen asking for the device, we will work with them on an individual basis.”
Although the card brands are pushing readers to be able to handle EMV in the U.S., not many retailers have embraced EMV—for some very good reasons. There’s a fine chance that a healthy number of readers will be able to handle EMV in a couple of years, but will consumers have such cards anytime soon? The changes within mobile payments are sufficiently up in the air that most chains want to see those events play out more before committing to EMV.
That all said, two U.S. issues may make EMV mobile card swipe capabilities more interesting than their countertop-based older cousins.
First, there’s the age-old border issue, given that Uncle Sam is surrounded by two EMV strong supporters. As Walmart argued more than two years ago when it first tried pushing U.S. EMV, if you have to support EMV for Canadian and Mexican customers coming to stores in northern Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, North Dakota, southern Texas, California, Arizona or New Mexico (among other border states), you might as well standardize EMV chain-wide (as Walmart has done).