Service Lets Customers Buy with a Phone Number

Retailers in the Boston area are experimenting with a truly contactless payment method that uses a cell phone number to deliver payment, loyalty and CRM.

When customers step into a cab from the Hello Taxi company in Brookline, Mass., they dont have to worry about fumbling in their pockets for cash, or about swiping their credit card in a moving vehicle, or even about finding their wireless fob to wave in front of a reader. To pay and tip the driver, passengers just say the last four digits of their cell phones, and then they can run.

Hello Taxi is one of about 80 merchants in the Boston area working with a creative means of payment processing from a company called MobileLime. MobileLime CEO Bob Wesley says the service is much more than a payment method, as it also gives retailers real-time marketing, a cardless loyalty program and a CRM (customer relationship management) package.

The program uses the customers phone number in a few different ways. First, the customer has to establish an account with MobileLime, which includes having a credit card on file. Thats how the payments are actually processed.

The phone number identifies the customer. For anti-fraud and advertising purposes, customers must identify the merchant they want to use about an hour before making a purchase.

That phone number also gives the merchant a way to send real-time text messages to that customer, perhaps touting a one-day sale on an item the customer has previously purchased or maybe alerting them that the store has only two of a particular product remaining.

"One of the main reasons we signed up was to send promos to cell phones. Its like free advertising," said Amid Elkhoury, owner of Hello Taxi, who added that he appreciated being able to limit his messages by zip code.

Elkhoury also offers customers discounts for using the service. "Our coupons could be, lets say, $2 off the next ride. And someone who received that coupon on their phone could even forward it to a friend without the first person losing their coupon," he said.

One retail customer said she was intrigued because of the services ability to track the ROI (return on investment) of her marketing investments.

"We can measure the effectiveness of the messages within days. If a special goes for one week, we can see if theres heavy activity on a certain product. It gives us the ability to track everything to the day," said Chryssa Georgalis, marketing manager at the Super88 grocery chain.

"Marketing is always a challenge. We do retail advertising in newspapers, but its difficult to track. You cant be specific. With MobileLime, we can look at the history of activity for an item and see a 20 percent increase and know where it came from."

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