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When you go to the store, chances are you pay with plastic or cash. But dozens of enormous companies, from Starbucks to Wal-Mart, would like you to try something else: your phone.
NPR's Steve Henn explains why so many firms are so eager to replace wallets and cash registers.
STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Omar Green is the director of strategic mobile initiatives at Intuit. Intuit owns the little personal finance website Mint. It makes TurboTax and Quicken. And recently, it's been selling a little attachment for a smartphone called GoPayment that lets almost anyone, anywhere accept a credit card.
OMAR GREEN: It became very obvious to me that there was a grand sea change in the payment space when the Girls Scouts started using Intuit's GoPayment.
HENN: So, like a couple of Girl Scouts?
GREEN: Oh, it was like one Girl Scout troop was using GoPayment and...
HENN: Did they just totally clean up?
GREEN: They just - boom. I mean, it was crazy how much money these little girls were bringing in with Girl Scout cookies. And so it hits me, oh, my God, we've got little 8-year-old girls who are now not just consumers but merchants. And so the next year, we went after the Girls Scouts, like, in a major way.
HENN: Five years ago, getting set up to accept credit cards was a big, giant hassle. You needed to get something called a merchant account, a special machine, and then there was a tangle of fees you were charged by banks and card processors.
JACK DORSEY: It's time to rethink these models.
HENN: Jack Dorsey is best known as one of the co-founders of Twitter, but his other company, Square, has blazed new ground in mobile payments. It developed one of the first little plug-in fobs that transformed a smartphone into a tiny little cash register. And it's created an app that lets consumers pay for products, like my favorite ice cream - could I get Bacio - at participating stores, simply by walking up to the counter and saying your name.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Your name came up. Stephen Henn?
HENN: Steve Henn. Even though only about 10 percent of the American public has ever used an app like this, the mobile payment space is getting crowded.
GREEN: God. It's huge.
HENN: Omar Green.
GREEN: Everybody who thinks they can build you a mobile banking solution is building you a mobile banking solution.
HENN: Google, PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint just to name a few. And yesterday, more than a dozen of the nation's biggest retailers announced they're joining forces to build their own mobile payment network.
JEREMY MULLMAN: Wal-Mart and Target are among those.
HENN: Jeremy Mullman is a spokesperson for the group called MCX.
MULLMAN: Sears, CVS, Lowe's, Best Buy, Publix, 7-Eleven.
HENN: These companies have more than $1 trillion in sales and pay billions of dollars in payment fees.
MULLMAN: We think that if you have a common set of standards in mobile commerce, you can eliminate a lot of those costs, and that's obviously, you know, that's very important.
HENN: And with so much competition right now to build a digital wallet, there are some signs that payment fees for merchants could actually fall. Today, Jack Dorsey at Square announced a new plan for small businesses that would fix monthly fees they pay for credit card and mobile purchases at $275.
DORSEY: We want to focus with this on small businesses, so we wanted to make it even simpler.
HENN: And cheaper for merchants. But some think digital wallets will never really take off until there's something serious in it for consumers too. Steve Henn, NPR News, San Francisco.
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