In A World Of “Free”, Money Takes Center Stage At SXSW


SXSW (South By Southwest) Interactive is notorious for giving everything away free t-shirts, free food, free drinks, free apps, free, free, free. It’s practically your “right” as a show attendee that you shouldn’t have to spend money on anything; except maybe a pedal-cab ride. This year, however, it’s not the big new free app that’s capturing everyone’s attention, it’s money.

Everywhere you turn in Austin there’s another way to buy, sell, get a deal or somehow exchange payment. There have even been more than a handful of sessions on mobile payments. The speakers are claiming that “now” is the time for mobile payments to really take off. With options from gamified payments to payment within well-known apps to NFC, it could make your head spin. I haven’t honestly seen one super-standout app, but I’ve downloaded quite a few options to give them a try. And I’ve spoken to the others to find out what makes them tick.

Payment Apps (no NFC required)

GoPago is doing their part to connect small businesses with their increasingly mobile customers. They’ve done an interesting job of giving a small business, for example a food truck, the ability to put products or menu items right into their section on the app. Then a customer can preselect and order items and commit a secure payment. The vendor can then send push alerts to acknowledge the order and even notify you when its ready to pickup. If you hate lines and waiting, then this app could save you some unnecessary grief. The registration process is quick, and they have a really nice UI that works to ensure you step through the process painlessly. Available on iPhone and Android, with BlackBerry and Windows coming soon. Merchants need an iPad.

Tweet-a-Beer is a Twitter and PayPal mashup that allows you to send a tweet to any user that includes a link with $5 for their PayPal account. It’s not an actual beer, but if you can’t quite break through the noise to get someone’s attention then I’m pretty sure sending them a “beer” through twitter will do it. Available for any device - must have PayPal and Twitter user accounts.

LevelUp is a mobile payment tool that leverages a QR Code to increase security and speed up transactions. They present the app as a way for merchants to better engage with repeat customers as well as attracting new ones. Users get deals and savings for using the service too. It’s a clever combination of 2D barcodes, mobile and payments. LevelUp works on Android, iPhone, Mobile Web and via a physical card.

RetailMeNot (pictured above), is an online discount/coupon site. But at SXSW this discount powerhouse is running a trial of what they call “card-linked coupons.” They’re calling it a quick and easy way to redeem coupons at some of your favorite businesses. Rather than using yet another mobile app, they’ve gone the route of linking your credit card to your RMN account. Then, all you have to do is buy from the vendor using that credit card and the coupon discount is automatically applied. No extra buttons to push. To find they discounts, they’ve built a very nice jQuery mobile website that ought to work on pretty much any mobile device.

TabbedOut allows customers to open, view and pay their restaurant or bar tab with their phone. Tabbed has created some serious POS integration tools to make it a seamless addition for vendors, which is a key part to driving growth and acceptance. Their recent addition of PayPal as a payment source will likely make them even more appealing to users. Since I’ve seen nearly everyone re-charging their smartphone at some point during this event, the question for TabbedOut will be does your phone still have power at closing time? Available on iPhone and Android.

Payment/Deals Inside Another App

Foursquare is a social, location app where users can discover and check-into places. Previously users earned badges and virtual street cred for check-ins, but with a growing partnership with American Express users can get specific discounts if they claim the deal on Foursquare and pay using an Amex card.

SCVNGR is a social, location app that turns ordinary, daily events into more of a rewarding challenge. By applying game mechanics, users can create or participate in local ‘challenges’ to earn points, rewards, deals or just social interaction. SCVNGR has worked hard to pitch their tools to more brands and businesses, so that the brand creates the challenge and the reward and the users get more engaged through it. With more and more rewards appearing all the time, it might just pay to give this app a try. Play on Android, iPhone or via SMS.

NFC Payment Apps

ISIS is an NFC mobile payment joint venture of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. These three mobile carriers are hoping that together they can put enough momentum behind NFC phone payments to finally get it beyond tiny trials and into mainstream use. ISIS won’t roll out until this summer, and even then only in Austin, TX and Salt Lake City. Ryan Hughes, ISIS CMO, highlighted three demos at the show: a grocery store scenario where a user adds in their loyalty card, selects an offer and then “taps” to pay at checkout; a vending machine payment; and a “smart poster” where users can tap their phone on a marked area to view an offer. They just announced BarclayCard, Capital One and Chase as financial partners for launch. They claim on their site that their mobile wallet will be available on a “variety of the most popular phones.”

Google Wallet is an NFC mobile payment service available now. Google, being Google, is working tirelessly to get businesses to sign on and support GW. The downside is that they only support one phone currently, the Sprint Nexus S 4G. Expect to see a lot more hardware shipping with NFC chips in the near future, though.

If nothing else, it is apparent that the process and idea of payment, as we know it today, is going to change forever. This is only a subset of all the players attacking this market space. I didn’t even get to Dwolla, Square’s Card Case or the many others. I’d say we’re in for a bit of a bumpy ride while this industry shakes up, but thankfully from what I’ve seen so far the attempts at improving mobile payments are pretty clever, fairly simple to use and probably stand to provide some really great value in the local, small business markets in particular. Buckle up, and keep that phone charged!

Author bio:

Andy Rosic (@arosic), Founder of SelfPubd a co-op app publishing movement, spent five years in the mobile payment space launching the first point-of-sale solution on BlackBerry and as part of the team that built and sold the iPod-based checkout system to the Apple retail stores worldwide.

  • Charles Caruso

    They just announced BarclayCard, Capital One and Chase as financial
    partners for launch. They claim on their site that their mobile wallet
    will be available on a “variety of the most popular phones.”

  • Free From Debt

    Nioce post.You have shared great news that we shouldn’t have to spend money on anything; except maybe a pedal-cab