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Brass in pocket

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While I was at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, back home in the UK IMRG and ForeSee published data, respectively, that showed that m-retailing has exploded and that consumers are finding the m-retail sites almost as easy to use as ‘traditional’ websites. In fact, while I was enjoying tapas and Estrella, back in the UK m-retailing has been lauded so highly. Even eBay announced that it was looking at doing $20billion in mobile sales this year.

Funny, then, how there was little or no focus on m-commerce at congress – well not in any great sense. It was covered, I believe, in the conference, but on Thursday… the day that everyone (me included) typically heads home vowing never to return.

Instead, the show was dominated by Apple and Google not being there (you’d think it wouldn’t be possible to be dominated by something that isn’t there, but there you go) but this was the talk of mobile town. And, while the BBC managed to cover it by looking for who was going to be the number three handset maker, it seemed odd that the two biggest companies that have shaped the modern mobile landscape weren’t there.

But we soldiered on and found that instead of focusing on mobile commerce – and retail in particular – that the big news centred on mobile payments. In particular, Visa and MasterCard became the doyens of the show, making big announcements around how they are rolling out enhanced mobile payment tools worldwide.

Interestingly, they are both pinning their mobile success on NFC. Now, I am sure that in five years time I will be waving my NFC enabled handset around to pay liberally for things, but right now its just not there.

Ably demonstrating this at Mobile World Congress was Mobile World Congress itself. It set itself up as an NFC paradise, with NFC readable signposts to help delegates navigate the massive exhibition centre and cafes on site and in the city that would take payment using NFC.

Sadly, no one has an NFC enabled phone so the GSMA – the organisers of the event – handed out 3500 Sony NFC phones to a select few (bearing in mind there were more than 70,000 people there in total) preloaded with €15.

This showcased marvelously why NFC just isn’t, right now, the ticket: no one has the phones and no one has the technology to ‘read’ the phones in stores.

As I said, I have no doubt that NFC will come to pass, but right now it is not the way to get people spending money on mobile phones. Let’s face it, until Apple sticks NFC in the iPhone no one is going to really take note.

But one thing that did come out of this NFC-fest in Barcelona was that Samsung’s next generation of phones will be NFC enabled. Will this kick start an interest in NFC? It would be interesting to hear from retailers about what their views are on mobile payments in general and proposed NFC roll outs.

Internet Retailing Expo – which is just ten days away – will provide a platform to discuss this, not least at the mobile payments panel on the afternoon of 20 March where we aim to look into what retailers really want from mobile payments – with an actual retailer who is using m-payments, but not NFC – as well as some cool alternative mobile payments vendors. See you there. Oh, and unlike Mobile World Congress, you can pay me in cash…

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