When the Merchant Customer Exchange LLC announced last month it is postponing a rollout of its CurrentC pilot in Columbus, Ohio, observers suspected the news did not bode well for the merchant-controlled mobile wallet. On Monday, those suspicions were confirmed as MCX told CurrentC account holders in an email that it is shutting down the pilot on June 28 and delaying future releases of the app.
Effective the same date, no further transactions will be accepted and “all active accounts will be disabled,” according to the notice. MCX has not disclosed how many account holders are using CurrentC in the pilot, which began Sept. 15. An MCX spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Digital Transactions News.
When it put the CurrentC rollout on ice, MCX hinted it plans to concentrate on cutting deals with financial institutions to link the CurrentC app to wallets they may be working on. A blueprint for this strategy was established last fall when MCX and JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced that CurrentC would be incorporated into Chase Pay, the mobile-payments service Chase is planning to launch later this year. That deal is expected to give MCX a potent shot in the arm, as it will presumably expose MCX merchants to 94 million Chase cards that are being automatically loaded into Chase Pay.
Nonetheless, some experts who have followed the CurrentC developments argue the move to shut down the pilot indicates a dark future for MCX, a consortium of 40 big-box retail companies representing some 70 major brands. Since the app was MCX’s only product to date, the move is “further evidence, as if needed, that the MCX experiment is over,” notes Nick Holland, an independent payments consultant, in an email message.
In Columbus, a city whose demographic makeup often draws consumer-goods companies to test new products, CurrentC apparently struggled to win adoption and usage. Mystery-shopping forays organized by Digital Transactions News found spotty awareness of the app among consumers as well as staff in stores. Yet some of the nation’s largest retail and restaurant companies are participating in the pilot, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Shell Oil, and Wendy’s Co. All of these companies are among the 40 members of MCX, which was organized in 2012.
The app also suffered from a limited range of payment methods, allowing users to pay by automated clearing house transfers or via Target Red Cards. Competing wallets like Android Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay include popular bank-issued credit and debit cards.
At the same time, MCX founding member Wal-Mart is in the process of rolling out its own digital wallet, Walmart Pay, which also allows users to load major-brand cards.