clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Walmart Pay Is Here and These Three Companies Can't Be Happy About It

Retailer consortium MCX is at the top of the list.

Jan-Otto / iStock
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Walmart added more chaos to the mobile payment landscape on Thursday when it announced Walmart Pay, its own phone-based payment system that shoppers will be able to use in all of its U.S. stores by the middle of 2016.

The payment feature will be added to Walmart’s existing app, which already has more than 20 million monthly users, and will let customers pay by scanning a QR code displayed on checkout equipment rather than paying with plastic or cash.

There are still a lot of unknowns right now, including whether Walmart shoppers will actually use the app instead of existing payment methods, but the announcement on its own is unwelcome to at least three companies. Here’s the who and the why:

Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX): This consortium was announced in 2012; its purpose was to produce a mobile payment and coupon app that would eventually work across a host of big retail chains from Walmart to Target to Best Buy. Walmart and its payments boss Mike Cook were the masterminds behind this group, and they hoped its app, now called CurrentC, would lead to more customers paying via store cards or their bank accounts rather than credit or debit cards, which cost more for Walmart and other retailers to process.

Fast forward to today, and CurrentC is still only available in Columbus, Ohio, after delaying a planned wide launch scheduled for this year. And now, the driving force behind MCX, Walmart, is creating its own competitor.

Walmart and MCX are saying publicly what you would expect them to: Walmart is still part of the CurrentC pilot and this doesn’t change Walmart’s commitment level to MCX. The former is technically true, while the latter is very, very hard to believe.

“It’s pretty clear that this is a big blow to MCX,” said Craig Maurer, a partner with Autonomous Research. “If your running assumption was that Walmart was in staunch support of MCX and was going to contribute value to the MCX proposition, I’d say that Walmart Pay takes that off the table.”

Chase: Chase just unveiled its plans for the Chase Pay mobile payment app in October, but is already facing a big hurdle it wasn’t expecting: Its launch partners, MCX and CurrentC, have been hit in the gut by one of their other partners, Walmart. Payments industry insider Tom Noyes, who runs a blog that is almost always spot on, reports that Chase has already struck a one-off deal for Walmart to accept Chase Pay, only to have Walmart turn around and slyly launch its own service. Ouch.

A Chase spokeswoman stressed that “customers will be able to use Chase Pay as a standalone app, within CurrentC, or within individual merchant apps.” But the more MCX and CurrentC look like failed experiments, the flimsier Chase Pay’s launch strategy becomes.

PayPal/Paydiant: PayPal spent around $280 million earlier this year to acquire Paydiant, a tech startup that licenses software that retailers use to add payment and loyalty features to their own apps. One of Paydiant’s biggest clients was MCX, whose future seems cloudier than ever in the wake of the Walmart Pay news. What’s more, Walmart isn’t using Paydiant technology to power Walmart Pay.

The one bright spot? If you believe, as I do, that Walmart Pay increases the odds of MCX’s demise, that could mean more retailers will have to figure out their own mobile strategies. Some may then turn to Paydiant and PayPal for help. Maybe not enough good news there to call it a silver lining — but perhaps bronze.

“Walmart’s recent Walmart Pay announcement is a clear indication that merchant Apps will play a critical role for retailers when it comes to improving the shopping experience for their customers in-store,” a PayPal spokesman said in a statement. “We anticipated this shift at PayPal and our strategy is to remain supportive of retailers’ efforts to deliver the best commerce experiences to their customers.”


Update: I finally got a Walmart executive on the phone and the most relevant takeaway from the conversation was that Walmart wants us to believe that some of the above-mentioned payment types may someday appear as payment options within Walmart Pay.

“We’ve designed Walmart Pay with the specific goal in mind that it has the ability to integrate” with mobile wallets such as CurrentC or Chase Pay, Walmart’s Daniel Eckert told me. Eckert, however, wouldn’t commit to which, if any, Walmart will integrate, or when.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.