Another Chink in CurrentC's Armor: Target Wants In-store Apple Pay

When MCX came out guns blazing for the unveiling of CurrentC, it looks like it was firing blanks because yet another big-name parter is now openly embracing Apple Pay. Target CEO Brian Cornell says he wants to expand beyond Web-only orders for Apple Pay and plans to bring the wireless payment system to stores.

CurrentC's latest kick in the pants: Target wants in-store Apple PayCurrentC's latest kick in the pants: Target wants in-store Apple Pay

Speaking at Code Conference, Mr. Cornell said he's on board with bringing Apple Pay into Target's retail locations, and that he's discussed doing so with Apple CEO Tim Cook. "I'd love to have Apple Pay in our system right now," he said.

CurrentC gained notoriety when Apple Pay launched along side the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last year. Retailers with CurrentC contracts had to disable their wireless payment systems to comply with the exclusivity terms MCX included with those deals, upsetting customers wanting to pay with their new smartphones.

In some cases, iPhone 6 owners were able to pay with their smartphones until retailers shut off the feature

Apple Pay uses near field communication, or NFC, for credit card transactions. It reduces the risk of stolen card numbers because it hands off one-time tokens for transactions while keeping your account info encrypted and out of the purchase process. CurrentC sidesteps credit card companies by giving merchants direct access to your bank account, and it relies on barcodes in an app on your smartphone instead of NFC.

Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and several other retailers were on board with CurrentC when it was announced, although the companies still committed to supporting the service while blocking Apple Pay is shrinking. Target has been supporting Apple Pay for online purchases for months, and Best Buy recently announced it will support Apple Pay soon. With Target now saying it will support Apple Pay pulls another big name retailer out of CurrentC exclusivity and chips away at whatever perceived value the service has.

While CurrentC precludes retailers from accepting other platforms for wireless credit card transactions, it doesn't prevent them from ending their contracts. The presumption is that if a retailer announces plans to support Apple Pay, they're turning their back on CurrentC because of the exclusivity clause. If so, the stable of CurrentC supporters is getting smaller as MCX gets closer to finally launching its service.

For retailers who otherwise could accept Apple Pay, but are still bound by MCX's contract, the fact that CurrentC hasn't even launched yet has to sting. They're watching competitors draw in customers who want to use Apple Pay—or any other NFC-based payment system—while they sit on the sidelines waiting for MCX's cumbersome alternative to eventually roll out.

For Target, Apple Pay has apparently been successful enough with online sales to make it attractive for in-store purchases, too. That won't, however, be coming soon. Mr. Cornell said Target needs to finish its transition to chip-and-pin credit card support before moving on to Apple Pay. "Our focus is on getting chip-and-PIN in place in time for the holidays," he said, which means Apple Pay won't be showing up in your local Target until 2016 at the earliest.

By then, it's likely even fewer retailers will still be committed to CurrentC. My prediction: CurrentC will launch with Walmart as the key big-name player and will remain essentially a niche payment system for its own customers.