The balkanization of mobile payments continues apace: Walgreens last week officially announced its alliance with Android Pay and its NFC-based platform by becoming the first retailer to integrate their loyalty programme with Android Pay via NFC. This move places Walgreens at odds with arch-rival CVS, which opted to create its own proprietary mobile payment and loyalty app, CVS Pay.
Walgreens' roughly 85 million Balance Rewards members- those with Android devices, at least- can now apply their loyalty account at checkout through Android Pay, thereby eliminating the need to separately scan or enter their Balance Rewards card. Money quote from Pali Bhat, Google senior director, product management:
"We want to make in-store payments simpler for everyone, so we've worked with Walgreens to implement Balance Rewards with Android Pay in their stores nationwide - giving customers instant, frictionless access to their loyalty card when they pay. Now, Walgreens customers can speed through the entire checkout process in as few as two taps with their Android phones."
Users can add their Balance Rewards card information to the Android Pay app downloaded on Google Play. Before payment, members hold their Android device near the PIN pad and the appropriate rewards information is applied. To checkout, members then hold their Android device again near the PIN pad for payment.
Over at Android trade web site AndroidPolice, reporter Michael Crider notes that Walgreens has long championed NFC payments:
"Walgreens has supported NFC payments for a number of years, even when other retailers were trying to fight it. They are taking it a step further by becoming the first retail store to support their loyalty card via NFC on Android Pay. There are many stores that support managing their loyalty/rewards cards in Android Pay, but Walgreens is notable for being the first to support their card via NFC."
As Crider notes, the only other NFC loyalty card currently supported in Android Pay is the My Coke Rewards card, which only works at select Coke vending machines.
The real question here, of course, is how many mobile payment apps consumers are willing to download onto their phones. A consumer out for a day of shopping might find herself pulling up Android Pay at Walgreens, Walmart Pay at Walmart, the Starbucks App at Starbucks, and so on. It's a first-world problem, and certainly more convenient than the current model of toting around a Costanza-wallet full of loyalty cards in addition to your favorite credit or debit card, or a prison guard-sized key chain to hold all your loyalty key fobs.
Still, the most convenient world for consumers would be one in which all loyalty programmes were accessible via a single mobile payment app, without the need to continue booting up different apps depending on where you are. Apple and Android are both fighting for their share of loyalty integrations - but outside of Walgreens and a few others, it certainly appears that the major retail brands are more interested in walled gardens than open fields.