Touch and go

​​​Austin and Salt Lake City were the first US cities to try a new mobile wallet pilot scheme. What were the results?

[Article written by Kathy Chin Leong, and published in The Revi​ew, February 2013]

Salt Lake City and Austin seem as diverse as two cities can be​​. One is a university community with a vibrant music scene, while the other is a largely conservative town in an arid valley. Nevertheless, both serve as the state capitals for Utah and Texas respectively and support a balance of large corporations and small businesses.

Softcard, the joint mobile commerce venture between AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, allows consumers to pay for goods and services with their Softcard Ready™ smartphones instead of using physical cash, credit or debit cards. The launch is further cementing the ever-changing mobile payment landscape in the US and providing a secure, trustworthy option for adopting this technology.

Since the The pilot’s launch in October 2012, the adoption rate has been steady. Merchants report that a growing number of customers use their Softcard Ready phones at the checkout stand each day. Consumers in Austin and Salt Lake City can use the The Softcard Mobile Wallet at hundreds of locations across both markets, including nationwide retailers such as Macy’s, Aeropostale and Foot Locker, as well as independent local partners.

For sure, the cool factor is real. Chip and PIN hasn’t made it to the masses in the US yet, so most folks slide their credit cards on a traditional sales terminal. Softcard users simply tap their phones on the terminal to make the transaction.

Here’s how it works: to pay for an item, the customer enters a four-digit PIN on his phone, touches the phone screen to select his type of payment card and then taps his phone on the terminal. The phones must be equipped with NFC (near-fie​ld communication) technology, which allows devices to wirelessly connect and exchange information within a short distance.

To date, 20 Softcard Ready smartphone models are available, with more coming to market this year. Users can also load offers and loyalty ca​​rds on to the wallet.


Smoothe​r smoothies


Softcard Infographic showing use case

Brittany Hansen, who manages a Jamba Juice in Salt Lake City, notes that a steady number of customers use Softcard to buy their smoothies. Those customers, she says, have shown confidence when navigating the simple transaction. The benefit for those on the other end of the cash register is that the transaction is about five seconds faster.

The nearby Beehive Tea Room also sees Softcard customers using their wallets for payment daily. According to server Cylie Hall, these early users are thrilled to see a transaction completed.

Softcard is also making headway in Austin. At the Zeus Barber Shop, manager Matt Spencer says his store will soon receive an Softcard Ready terminal. “They showed us how to use it, and it will be easier for us to track customer data,” he says excitedly.

At optometrist Pinnacle Vision, the Softcard Ready terminal is also ready for users. “People who see it are curious, and they ask about it,” says office manager Pam Stodgll. But some customers still worry about security."

Security education


Addressing that security question is paramount for Softcard. It has therefore made YouTube videos and TV ads explaining why this technology is safer than using a traditional plastic card. If the Softcard Ready phone gets stolen, the user makes a single phone call to the carrier (AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon) to freeze the Softcard​ Mobile Wallet so no information, especially credit card and other data, can be abused.

Security concerns aside, it will take time for mobile wallet technology to replace the physical wallet. But could this pilot herald the coming of a cashless society in the United States, which has been slow going and is all the more surprising in the nation of tech innovation? The timing seems right. The market is vast: Softcard can reach a total of 230 million combined customers from Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile alone. Between them, the three companies also operate more than 20,000 retail outlets in the US.

“This is simply the beginning,” says Ryan Hughes, Chief Marketing Officer for Softcard. “We are pleased with the results of our launch in Austin and Salt Lake City and look forward to what the future holds for mobile commerce.”