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Apple Pay’s halo effect evident in Subway Softcard partnership

September 17, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 12.17.44 PMThe excitement around Apple Pay is helping to shine a new light on NFC-enabled mobile payments solution Softcard – previously known as Isis – which had been languishing, as evidenced by a new deal to support mobile payments and loyalty at Subway.

In what the restaurant chain is calling the largest NFC deployment in the United States, Subway is launching Softcard-branded NFC payment terminals at more than 26,000 locations nationwide. Since Subway is also supporting Apple Pay, chain is likely buying into NFC as a mobile payments mechanism more so than it is getting behind any one particular platform.

“The Subway deal with Softcard gives Softcard something to talk about in the wake of the Apple Pay announcement last week,” said Drew Sievers, former CEO at mFoundry and now founding partner at fintech investor Operative Capital.

“Keep in mind that Subway was also one of the prominent logos featured in the merchant list for Apple Pay,” he said.

“Ultimately, Subway probably doesn’t care which NFC wallet wins. They simply want to support any NFC wallet that doesn’t diminish their margins.”

Mobile loyalty
The Softcard mobile payments program will kick off at Subway on Oct. 1. The sandwich chain also plans integrate its loyalty program into the Softcard mobile payments application in the near future.

Softcard is a joint venture created by AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless. It was previously known as Isis but decided to rebrand to avoid any association with the Islamic militant group whose English name forms the acronym ISIS (see story).

Softcard as well as Google Wallet, which is also NFC-enabled, have been slow to catch on but could see a boost from an increased interest in NFC payments following Apple’s announcement of its own payments solution based on the technology.

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Subway and Softcard are teaming up to deliver offers via the Softcard app.

For example, customers who pay via the Softcard app using their American Express Serve card will receive $1 back on every purchase over $1 made through the end of the year.

Subway initially partnered with Softcard in 2013 on the payment platform’s pilot in Salt Lake City.

Meeting customers’ needs
Looking ahead, the Subway Card Rewards Program will be integrated into the Softcard app. Members who load their Subway rewards card into the app will be able to tap their phones to NFC-enabled terminals to earn and redeem rewards.

The Subway mobile payments strategy is the latest example of how quick-service restaurants are embracing mobile payments technology to meet the needs of their target audience, with four in 10 young adults saying they would likely pay for their quick-service restaurant orders via mobile or wireless device if they could, according to the National Restaurant Assoc.

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McDonald’s, which has also gotten behind Apple Pay, has been trialing a number of different mobile payments solutions around the world (see story).

Burger King has built a new digital platform to help it scale up quickly in mobile payments and offers (see story).

Softcard currently enables payments are more than 200,000 locations and is available on more than 80 devices, including being preloaded on 30 of these devices.

The Apple advantage
Despite these numbers, Apple Pay could quickly gain on Softcard.

“Apple Pay will likely blow past Softcard in adoption within the first few months of its commercial availability,” Mr. Sievers said. “This says more about the demographics of iPhone buyers than it necessarily does about the attractiveness of Softcard.

“With Apple’s support of NFC, it’s now clear that NFC will become the de facto standard for retail mobile payments,” he said.

“In some ways, it’s an “all boats rise” scenario since languishing NFC wallet players like Google and Softcard will likely see a surge in adoption as rabid iPhone 6 owners push forward the mobile payments industry.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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