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Big Data and Mobile Payments: Three priorities.

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

The three high-level goals of a Big Data program are:

  1. Collect information: The objective is to collect information that deepens the understanding of customer’s plans, intentions and behavior so the organization has a basis for decision and action. The first step is to collect and save all of the digital breadcrumbs. The challenge is, since we can’t understand consumer behavior that we don’t have, we need to collect everything. Since it’s impossible to know the future value of data we must hang on to it for a very long time.
  2. Conduct Analysis: Big Data really means Big Data Analytics. The challenge is to find relevance in an ocean of information. There are multiple trends occurring within the consumer base, some evolve quickly, some play out more slowly. The goal of analysis is to provide insight and opportunity to the decision makers managing the business.
  3. Take action: More tactically, it is what you do with the information that counts. The key to Big Data and mobile payments is the dialogue that occurs between the consumer’s mobile application and the POS during the purchase cycle. The objective of action is to promote more profitable consumer purchasing behavior.

The success of mobile payments begins with transactions. Transactions are a result of consumer enrollment and adoption. Enrollment and adoption require constant visibility and consumer incentives, in ways similar to advertising typical of the current payments paradigm. The difference is that Retailers rather than Financial Institutions are promoting the method of payment. The key to ROI is engaging consumers and creating demand using Big Data solutions during the purchase cycle. This is the connection between BIG Data, mobile payments and the POS.  Access to Big Data during the purchase cycle requires an integration that is tightly coupled to the POS at the transaction services layer.

The retailer controls payments in the mobile environment. Retailers are being very careful about who they allow into the wallet…MCX is an outgrowth of this concern. Retailers are concerned that the current card fee structure will become the standard in mobile payments. Retailers are asking, “How do mobile payments make me money or even justify the infrastructure investment”. While the current focus on mobile payments are POS enablement and transaction fees, tomorrow the focus will be driving new business through consumer engagement. Big Data is the backbone of demand generation and the POS controls how Big Data solutions are enabled.

Smart phone technology changed the expectations of consumers, merchants and eco-system partners. The smart phone has also changed the way consumers do business; integrated mobile payments at the POS is the last frontier.

Big Data, mobile payments and the connected consumer

In alternative payment, big data, connected consumer, Convenience Store, mobile payment, omni-channel, payment, Peter Guidi, Platforms, retailers, Uncategorized on March 9, 2013 at 6:36 pm

“Big Data” is a term that refers to the vast quantity of consumer information that is available both on-line through 3rd party resources and within the retailer’s environment. Connecting Big Data to consumers through mobile payments represents the commercial usefulness of the information. Thanks to more powerful ePOS, the internet and the emergence of the “information cloud” this data can now be manipulated and utilized to drive pre-sales consumer engagement and drive sales during the purchase cycle. Big Data information is more potent when it can be applied to areas unconnected with how it was originally collected. As an example, the ability to link the CDC’s tracking of the flu with promotions for cold medications, or the ability to link coupons for hot/cold drinks to National Weathers Services tracking of temperatures. The back bone of retailer performance will be connecting Big Data to mobile payments (the consumer) during the purchase cycle through “personalization” and driving consumer engagement.

Mobile payments. The integration of the consumer through their smart phone to Big Data is the technical challenge facing the industry. Leveraging Big Data in a mobile payment environment means establishing a dialogue between the consumer’s smart phone/wallet and the ePOS at the time of purchase allowing a robust exchange of data so that the consumer experiences payment, loyalty, and offers (product recommendations, coupons) in one seamless experience.

The technical requirements of serving mobile payment and the connected consumer at the ePOS during the purchase cycle will drive change in the payments processing environment. Perhaps the greatest change is the potential disintermediation of the traditional payment processor from the mobile payment. A large shift in consumer payment behavior to mobile payment means a significant drop in card transactions across the legacy payment processing network. 

The legacy payments processing network was built to handle payments at the beginning of the electronic payments era before the emergence of Big Data. The result is that the infrastructure, while highly fault tolerant and reliable, does not lend itself well to change and is not compatible with a robust exchange of Big Data between the consumer and POS at the time of the transaction. This is great for the traditional card based ISO8583 message, but severely lacking for mobile payments and Omni-channel shopping.

The ePOS has evolved from a limited “dumb” machines built around closed systems with proprietary code to a very powerful computing device utilizing open standards. The ePOS now has the ability to communicate in an IP environment and as a result, has the ability to communicate both payment and Big Data to networks outside of the legacy payment network utilizing IP based communication.  ePOS vendors have changed their payments strategy and are moving to cloud based systems. In Petroleum all four major providers are developing cloud based payments applications that will standardize the software between the POS, EPS and Payments Cloud.

The future of Omni-channel shopping depends on the ability to communicate to the connected consumer through an IP/cloud based mobile payment with access to Big Data. Big Data is the “secret sauce” of mobile payments.

The MasterCard/Visa settlement; an alternative point of view.

In alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, Convenience Store, credit card, debit card, interchange, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees, Uncategorized on August 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Opportunities are often difficult to recognize and they do not come with their values stamped upon them. It is often hard to distinguish between easy choices and those of opportunity; such may be the case with the retail industry’s reaction to the proposed Visa, MasterCard Settlement. As it stands today the proposed “Brooklyn” settlement has been rejected by nearly all retailer associations like; NACS, SIGMA, NGA as well as multiple retailers including large national and smaller local companies and even Senator Dick Durbin has added his disapproval to the chorus of rejection. It’s fair to say that the proposal is “Dead on Arrival”. Even so, I wonder if by refusing to embrace this settlement an opportunity is being missed.

With so much opposition to the settlement, how is it possible that an opportunity may be missed? The answer lies in the fundamental assertion that retailers can compete for the consumer’s method of payment steering them to low cost payment, rather than relying on legislative price controls or judicial action that seek to control the payments industry. Core to this belief is that there is significant competition in the credit card industry, it just happens to be between banks competing for consumers, rather than between retailers and banks competing for the consumers method of payment. There is nothing unusual about this model, it’s standard platform economics. The more end-users (retailers accepting cards and consumers with cards) on either side of the platform (MC/VISA), the more valuable and hence expensive the platform. This is why banks do not negotiate fees with retailers. Their mission is adding value to the consumer to carry and use their card for payment. The result is richer reward programs that add cost and drive the transaction fees higher. The retailer’s perception is a monopolist market, when in fact, as consumers we all participate in the very same economic activity.

In today’s rapidly evolving payment landscape consumers have many payment options. Surcharging creates an opportunity for the retailer to compete with the associations and promote low cost payment options. The challenge with surcharging is that it forces retailers to compete not just for the consumers purchase, but also for their method of payment and as a result some retailers may choose to use card payment as an economic advantage. Up until the proposed settlement this concept was merely theoretical because the card association rules prohibited the activity. While some retailers had experimented with cash discounts, the concept of charging for credit or debit card use has not been tested. The reason there is no information on surcharging is because it was prohibited by the associations operating rules. The Associations prohibited surcharging because it exposes the real cost of payment to the consumer and therefore allows the consumer to understand that using their card is not free.  This capability provides a powerful new tool for retailers to steer consumer payment choice.

Now armed with the tool needed to expose this cost, retailers are more concerned about the perception and customer services issues than the costs of payment. One retailer was quoted in NACS Online as saying he wants customers “impressed by the quality of products and services they receive” lamenting that surcharges for payment may appear to penalize them for the use of the card saying “it does not make for very good customer service”. This statement tends to suggest that the current costs accepting credit cards is acceptable, a suggestion that tends to explain why the opportunity presented by surcharging may be overlooked.

It’s unlikely that we will learn the answers to these questions in the near future. The industry is committed to seeking significant concessions that go beyond the proposed settlement which means the lawsuit is likely to move forward.  Stay tuned……

What is the Omni-Channel?

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm

At some point the way the world works changed; we went from seeking information, to information seeking us. Today’s consumers are always connected. The maturation of infrastructure like wireless networks combined with the capability of mobile devices and the adoption of social media tools has given the consumer more control to make educated purchasing decisions. Today’s connected consumer expects highly relevant and dynamic information at their fingertips within a moment’s notice. How Retailers communicate with their “always connected” customers is the key succeeding in the new competitive retail environment.

The most significant opportunity in this connected world is the ability to communicate to the consumer through the “Omni-channel” or “Multi-Channel”.  Lately there has been a lot written about this concept, yet I’ve noticed that many retailers are still trying to grasp what it means; what is the Omni Channel?

The simplest explanation is that the Omni-channel represents the convergence of multiple business silos into one interdependent activity. For retailers, this means that multiple business silos; catalogs, online or retail, are now one sales channel that is converging with marketing and advertising in a real time one-to-one relationship with the consumer. The way the Omni-Channel plays out is easy to see. A consumer sees a TV advertisement during their favorite show.  He thinks; “perhaps will I buy this new TV”. The first step is to research prices and service reports about the TV’s online. Armed with this research the consumer posts a question about the TV on Facebook and 25 “friends” provide comments offering their experiences with TV’s. Having made the decision to purchase he visits the store for a “hands-on” look and while at the store the consumer scans the UPC or QR to compare prices. Finally choosing to purchase, our consumer finds a better deal from Amazon having just received a push discount based on his price check, along with an offer for free shipping. For today’s retailer the question is; where was the consumer shopping? at home, in the store? The answer is; in the Omni Channel. Winning that TV sale requires a new more robust capability to compete within the Omni-Channel. MediaPost news reports that “According to a new study from Deloitte, the “mobile influence factor” (or effect of smartphones on in-store sales) on retail purchases will increase to $689 billion (or 19% of total store sales) by 2016, up from the current influence factor of $159 billion (or 5.1% of sales). (Mobile sales, meanwhile, are only expected to be $30 billion at that time.) Further evidence suggests smartphone shoppers are 14% more likely to make a purchase in the store than non-smartphone users.” Understanding and leveraging this maturing consumer behavior is the primary challenge retailer’s face when leveraging the Omni-Channel.

A few weeks back, I was delivering a presentation where we were discussing the evolution of the communication and what it means to the retailer/customer paradigm when I made this observation. There were six of us at the conference table, each with their tablets, PCs and Smart phones in front of us. I said; “I’ll bet right now each of us has some actionable event occurring in real time on our phones”. I pointed out that while we engaged in this conversation, “each of us is actually engaged in multiple real-time conversations”. The group around the table seemed to have an epiphany, because they realized this was true. Like their customers, all of us are now connected and information is constantly seeking us. And so there it is; the Omni-Channel is not just about our customers it’s about our lives. What is your plan?

New Bank fees set the stage for Merchant Issued Debit and Rewards.

In alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, Coalition Loyalty, Convenience Store, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Petroleum retailing, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees, Uncategorized on October 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm

The stage is set for an epic battle between the merchant community and the financial industry to win the consumers method of payment (MOP).  This week, BoA joined the list of financial institutions announcing either fees, or cut backs in consumer rewards programs, for debit card use .  Senator Dick Durbin sounded surprised when he said of BoA’s actions; “It’s overt, unfair” adding that “Banks that try to make up their excess profits off the backs of their customers will finally learn how a competitive market works”. Many in the industry had long predicted that this would be the immediate result of the regulation (see my June 13, 2011 Blog).  Regardless of the merits of the regulation, or the banks reaction to it, one immediate result is that merchants have the opportunity to steer consumers to a lower cost form of payment (debit): the question; will they be able to leverage this opportunity, or will the payments industry adjust their payments offerings steering consumers to unregulated forms of payment with higher fees i.e. credit, pre-paid cards, etc.

The pivotal decision for merchants is how to recapitalize the anticipated saving from swipe reform and use that money as an incentive for consumers to choose a lower cost form of payment.  Many merchants, particularly in the petroleum and grocery industry are already actively competing for method of payment by offering ACH decoupled debit card programs (merchant issued debit) or cash discounts. For these merchants, and vendors offering alternative payments  like PayPal or National Payment Card Association, the Durbin Amendment is living up to expectations providing them with a strong tailwind to the merchant and consumer.

Merchants are understandably cautious as they approach payment.  While technology, investment and ramp time look like the heavy lift, the real challenge is to understand the economics.  Traditionally merchants have relied on the bank and card associations to deliver payments.  During the lead up to regulation one argument was that; “there was no competition for payment”. Merchants’ successfully argued this point, irrespective of the intense competition between banks for consumers. What was missing from the debate is that the reason consumers use one form of payment over another is often rewards. These rewards had been paid by the issuers of the card using interchange fees (as much as 50%), and now with regulation, that funding source has disappeared.  Therefore merchants can provide consumers with the same incentive to use a low cost form of payment by offering merchant issued rewards.

Finally, there is a saying “He who enrolls; controls”. Issuance or enrollment is a critical question for merchants choosing to compete for MOP using rewards. Assuming that the merchant chooses to offer rewards for a specific MOP, which MOP should it be, cash, PayPal, Google, or perhaps a merchant issued debit card.  The smartest strategy might be a flexible approach to payment where rewards are based on the costs associated with the method of payment, regardless of whether the rewards are paid for by the merchant, or a 3rd party.

Durbin’s Catch -22, Merchant Issued Rewards.

In credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Petroleum retailing, Platforms, swipe fees on June 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Merchants have won a battle, but the question is: can they leverage the advantage and win the war for the consumer’s method of payment?

The phrase “Catch-22” means “a no-win situation” or “a double bind” of any type. In the book, “Catch-22”, Joseph Heller describes the circular logic that confronts an airman trying to avoid combat missions by saying that his claim of insanity is the proof of his sanity. With the passage of Durbin, retailers are faced with the same circular logic. The Catch 22 of Durbin is that consumers must choose debit if retailers are to save on interchange fees, and consumers will only choose debit if offered rewards or to avoid bank fees. Today consumers choose debit in large degree to earn signature based debit reward or because PIN debit does not have bank fees as opposed to credit cards where there are annual fees and interest.  Durbin will change that paradigm as banks make up lost revenue by eliminating signature debit and adding fees to, or eliminating, pin debit cards. If those changes occur then retailers will need to fund consumer debit rewards to promote debit payment. Because merchant issued debit rewards erode Durbin’s potential cost savings, the potential is that total debit transactional fee may be higher than those during the pre-Durbin era…Catch-22.

Durbin’s challenge to Retailer’s is how to influence the consumer’s method of payment. Just because consumers are choosing Debit today, does not mean they will be choosing Debit tomorrow. The reasons why consumers choose one form of payment over another (Debit, either signature or PIN, cash, credit, check, prepaid etc.) are complex, but “Rewards” plays a large role in the process. In fact, nearly 50% of all interchange dollars are used to fund reward programs. A quick review of Bank advertising for Debit will show that Debit Rewards is tied to Signature Debit, not PIN Debit; “rewards are ” Pen, not PIN”.  Rewards for Signature Debit, plus “No Fee” PIN debit has created significant consumer demand for debit products. The banks loss of signature debit interchange fees means that these reward programs will disappear and consumers will begin paying fees for PIN debit. The result is that Durbin will change both the Debit and Payment Card market, not just the fees.

Look for these results:

1. Look for more pressure on retailers to install Pin Pads. Signature debit will go away as Financial Institutions will not longer offer signature debit. The whole point of signature debit was capture credit card like interchange fees. Debit rewards programs are funded by credit card like interchange fees and at Durbins mandated +/- 12 cents there is no “rabbit in that hole”. The reason retailer’s implemented PIN pads (3dez) were to move consumers from Pen to PIN. If Merchants are to win from Durbin, PIN Pads will play a large role in that success; otherwise there will be no debit at retail. Durbins “$10 Billion” exemption is a wild card. If smaller institutions introduce aggressive signature debit programs at the expense of larger institutions then Durbin will prove to have cost retailers more than they will save.

2. Financial Institutions will seek ways to replace lost revenue. The most immediate impact is likely to be fees on both dda accounts and perhaps the use of debit cards either as a transaction fee or monthly fee. Banks will discriminate against Debit making it less attractive. One of my associates added “Issuer’s already have plans to discontinue issuing debit cards and returning to ATM only cards.” He adds “other issuer’s are going to place a transactional cap on debit cards instead of taking them away.  They will only allow a transaction for $50.  If the transaction is $51 – then, another $1 transaction will have to run.”  Say good-bye to friendly debit transactions.

3. Watch for growth in closed loop debit card, particularly ACH Decouple Debit.

In the short term, Merchants will realize a windfall as consumers who use Debit maintain that method or payment. Debit usage will drop off unless Merchants introduce “Merchant Issued Rewards”. Merchant Issued Rewards are another name for loyalty. I can offer more on that if requested. The question retailers need to answer is: If you must offer rewards to promote debit, why not promote your own debit card? Durbin will increase the importance of loyalty rewards as merchants compete with FI’s for the consumer’s method of payment (i.e. PIN Debit).

4. Watch for more aggressive Credit Card and Pre-Paid card offerings with lower credit card fees, easier credit and more aggressive rewards. Pre-Paid is apt to be the next place the FI’s push for consumer adoption and fees. As the economy strengthens, and consumer debt drops the structural issues negatively impacting credit will lesson. Financial institutions can impact the consumer’s attitude towards credit by being more consumer friendly. The loss of signature debit will hasten this activity.

5. One “Wild Card” is the DOJ lawsuit on credit card interchange fees. There has not been a lot of press on this, but there will be soon.

 

 

Who gets to choose? Durbin’s provision on “multi-homing” and the prohibition on network routing exclusivity.

In credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, Peter Guidi, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees on January 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Here is the question:  When considering Durbin’s requirement prohibiting exclusive debit transaction routing arrangements, does the merchant or issuer choose which second unaffiliated network is available to route transactions? The answer is unclear and its implications impact both the intent of the regulation and the technology required to implement the rule.

Thus far, the majority of interest in Durbin is focused on the impact of interchange fee regulation with little attention on the second aspect of the provision; network exclusivity and transaction routing. Durbin has two provisions, the second of which says “that neither the issuers nor network may restrict the ability of merchants to direct the routing of the transaction”.  The rule is intended to foster competition between networks. The concept being that when at least two unaffiliated networks compete for transaction routing, the price merchants pay will optimize.

The Board is requesting comment on two alternative rules prohibiting network exclusivity: one alternative would require at least two unaffiliated networks per debit card, and the other would require at least two unaffiliated networks for each type of transaction authorization method. Under both alternatives, “the issuers and networks would be prohibited from inhibiting a merchant’s ability to direct the routing of an electronic debit transaction over any network that may process such transactions.” Some have suggested that the answer to this question lies in the currently available least-cost routing selections available to consumers between PIN and Signature debit. In this scenario debit cross-routing is the solution to network exclusivity. One expert suggests that “one such solution would be Visa for signature debit and Maestro for PIN debit. They are not affiliated, and thus fulfill the requirements of the first alternative.” The existence of the second alternative makes it clear that the Fed has not yet decided whether signature and PIN debit are one market.”

The contradiction is between the intent of the regulation and the Boards’ rule making process.  The differentiation between routing based on a transaction or a card may delineate the type of routing available, but it does little to foster routing competiveness. The intent of the regulation is to foster competition between networks.  Allowing the Issuer to choose the second network by pitting the PIN and Signature networks against each other is a weak proposal. On the other hand, if merchants choose the second network from a multitude of routing options competition will emerge, but how does that work? In order for the merchant to have a choice between a variety of networks, Issuers would have to support routing on all networks. In this scenario merchants might choose different networks on a location or regional basis? Implementing this type of network routing matrix will mean substantial changes in the infrastructure and business rules. The time and effort to create such a system is currently unknown. If competition between networks is the congressional goal this seems to be the correct interpretation.

The alternative interpretation is for the Issuer to offer the merchant a choice of two networks. In this case every Issuer would be forced to offer two networks for processing a transaction.  As an example, Visa and MC may have to route each other’s transactions. The merchant would be able to choose which of the two available networks to route the transaction.  Presumably, creating competition. As a result the merchant would choose the cheaper of the two. However, this scenario does not assure the merchant choice and adds the possibility that the Issuer could offer a second network with higher fees. In this case the second network would be the more costly option resulting in no opportunity for merchant savings.

How a two-network solution is allowed under the final version of the regulations remains unknown. It does seem that merchant choice fits congressional intent more clearly than Issuer choice, even if the technical challenges and costs to develop such a system are currently not contemplated or that the rule making process appears to miss the point.

(http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterguidi)

2010 in review, I’m looking forward to 2011!

In debit card, Peter Guidi on January 2, 2011 at 8:09 am

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 3 times

In 2010, there were 22 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 35 posts.

The busiest day of the year was October 27th with 27 views. The most popular post that day was Competitive opportunity in a post Durbin world: richer debit rewards as the unintended consequence of the $10 billion exclusion..

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were linkedin.com, bigextracash.com, twitter.com, pymnts.com, and WordPress Dashboard.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for closed loop payment system, open loop payment system, coalition marketing, peter guidi, and reasonable and proportional.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Competitive opportunity in a post Durbin world: richer debit rewards as the unintended consequence of the $10 billion exclusion. October 2010
2 comments

2

What decision factors should retailers use when choosing between an open-loop vs. closed-loop alternative payment solutions? April 2010
2 comments

3

Does regulated debit “Swipe Fees” mean the end of cobranded debit card programs? June 2010

4

“Reasonable and proportional”, is issuance and the cost of reward programs a part of the “incurred payment processing costs”? June 2010

5

Orwellian market principals; is legislation regulating interchange fees a harbinger of greater merchant acceptance of government control over industry? March 2010

The Final Frontier: the death of cash as a payment and the merchant’s role in the battle plan.

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers, Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm

MasterCard and Visa have identified the enemy; CASH! They have devised the final battle plan, the pre-paid reloaded card. VISA’ ReadyLink and MasterCard’s various solutions including a Wal-Mart payroll card are the weapons. The objective is clear; destroy paper currency and extend the reach of the platform and resulting fees over the last bastion of disintermediated transactions. The result will tax every dollar earned and spent by consumers.

The plan is cloaked in platitudes like; “serving the under-severed” or making the product “Green”. Like lambs off to the slaughter, Retailers have joined in the strategy with 7-11, Marathon and Blackhawk introducing Visa’s pre-paid reloadable card, ‘ReadyLink” to their customers. 

The core of the plan is to attack the enemy at its source, payroll. The concept is simple; prevent cash from ever reaching the hands of the consumer. The most efficient route to achieve the goal is to assure that consumers never receive cash by loading their payroll on a pre-loaded card, rather than receiving a payroll check. Say good bye to the check cashing business! When consumers load payroll onto a card the platform has captured the cash and will now earn fees on every purchase or payment made using the card; this is a brilliant strategy and is classic example of creating network effects. The growth of mobile payments and the preference of the “E-Generation” for electronic media is the sound of the bells ringing the death tome of cash in the future.

Acting is the work of two people-it’s only possible when you have the complicity. VISA estimates that there are 80 million underserved consumers receiving $1 trillion dollars in annual income that rely on cash for everyday transactions. Retailers will look back at their participation in these programs as a tactical error in the fight against transaction fees.

(http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterguidi)

73rd NPECA Annual Conference – What is alternative payment

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers, Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm

There are at least two possible ways to answer the question; “What is alternative payment?” one practical, one academic.

Practically, any payment solution that is not MasterCard or Visa is alterative payment. This is true because up to 90% of all card acceptance fees occur at the pump and these two associations, along with AMEX and Discover control a monopolistic percentage of the payment market. Practically, any payment other than the major card associations is an alternative payment. An Academic approach to the question is more elusive.

Suppose that “alternative payment” is a payment where the payment relationship is between the retailer and the consumer. If so, then cash is the ultimate alternative payment?  But what about all the emerging payment systems like NPCA or PayPal, Bling or BillmeLater? Are they alternative payment? What if we changed the meaning to say that: “alternative payment is any system that creates disintermediation between consumers, retailers and their financial institutions”. Does eliminating the network roles and captured costs of the current payment processing network define alternative payment or is there more?

For the convenience petroleum retailer alternative payment is a system that disintermediates the transaction while enhancing the customer relationship. Alternative payments systems allow the retailer to focus on the “Demand-Side” of payment using incentives and tracking data to influence the consumers “Method of Payment” and enhance customer loyalty. The result should be lower card acceptance costs and increased sales. Retailers using this definition will find the final answer to the question, alternative payment is one that delivers additional profit, rather than additional cost to the retailer.