Square—the mobile payments venture launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey—has partnered with Whole Foods Market to let customers pay for certain items with Square’s mobile point-of-sale (POS) system. The deal, announced last week, will also allow customers to scan their own mobile devices to complete a purchase, using Square’s mobile payment app Wallet.
Whole Foods will equip certain in-store venues—such as sandwich counters, juice and coffee bars, pizzerias, and beer and wine bars—with Square Stand (an iPad-based POS) and Square Register (the associated iOS app). The idea is to alleviate congestion at check-out lines and allow for a quicker purchasing experience for customers. Certain Whole Foods locations in Austin, New York City, Florida and San Francisco already use Square Stand.
“Together with Square, we’ll deliver options to expedite checkouts, and we look forward to developing new concepts to further simplify and improve grocery shopping,” said Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, in a statement. “Square’s forward-thinking vision and technology makes them an ideal partner to create a convenient, responsive experience for our customers.”
“With Square, Whole Foods Market will enable commerce in more parts of their stores with easy, accessible tools that showcase the best of what’s achievable in the service of retailers and customers," added Square's Dorsey.
Some locations will also allow customers to use the Square Wallet app, which generates random QR codes linked to a personal credit card. These codes are then scanned by a POS to process a payment, much like fellow mobile payments service LevelUp. Square Wallet can already be found in many Starbucks locations.
While each of these services will launch with limited availability, they mark a significant victory for Square, which is trying to position itself as the leader in the intensely crowded mobile payments space. Everyone from major telecoms providers to financial services firms is vying for a slice, and last month the Wall Street Journal reported Apple is gearing up for its own offering.
The competition is so fierce it has caused some stagnation in the industry, as major players refuse to collaborate in developing transaction standards, preferring instead to try and lead the market with proprietary services. For example, ISIS—the joint telecoms venture launched by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—is banking on near-field communications (NFC) to process mobile transactions.
However, this requires phones to be manufactured with NFC chips—a technology that is currently absent in iPhones. Services like LevelUp and Square, which rely on software-based QR codes, counter that such a hardware-based infrastructure is counter-productive to the rapidly growing demands of the mobile payments space.
However mobile payments are processed, the market is headed in one direction; the only question is how tech firms will meet consumer demand. Last year, BCC Research predicted that the total value of “mobile wallet”-style transactions will reach $655 billion by 2017—an annual growth rate of about 142 percent over 2012. That explains why the market is so fierce.