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Pay-by-mobile plan taps up UK consumers

Turning every high street store into a showroom

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Britan got a new pay as you go mobile provider this morning, which will put paying for things other than mobile service at the centre of its business model.

Simply Tap is backed by Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy Europe, but is part of an explosion in ways of paying for stuff that's coming our way.

The service will be run by the Mobile Money Network, a company set up by Carphone Warehouse and Monitise, which (the Guardian tells us) has just acquired a new chair in the shape of Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose.

But despite the name, customers of Simply Tap won't be able to pay for things with a tap, or even a wave, of the phone – though integration of such capabilities is obviously on the cards. The idea is to provide codes for products, to be displayed on billboards or posters, or even in store, so the user texts off the code and the goods are delivered direct to the home.

In fact, it's very reminiscent of an m-commerce application Swiss Telecom trialled more than a decade ago: in that version you just dialled a phone number printed on a poster, caller ID was used to identify your address and dispatch the goods, and the cost appeared on the next phone bill. The problem was that such a system required a monopoly, and unfettered access to customer details, both of which fell out of favour around that time.

Simply Tap will get round that by requiring that users pre-register, providing a delivery address and payment method (credit or debit card). The company will try to get the shops and businesses to attach Simply Tap codes to their products and services, ideally accompanied by the same data as a QR Code, so it can be read with the smartphone apps Simply Tap will provide.

But smartphone users are just as likely to go to Amazon, which already provides an application to scan the barcode of a product and send the product to one's home address with a tap to the screen, providing (to the user) a very comparable service without having to negotiate with retailers to attach new codes to their products.

Amazon doesn't sell everything of course, and retailers might appreciate linking directly to their stores, but over the next 12 months we're going to be awash with companies offering to process payments for us and our retailers.

Over in the US, American Express has just unveiled its own scheme: Serve. Serve attacks PayPal as a peer-to-peer transaction service integrated with Facebook, as well as offering access to the American Express network of terminals and cash points to access money paid into the account.

In the UK, O2 Money (launching later this year) and Orange Cash (already up and running) work much the same way: one pays money in up front, which can then be used to pay for stuff using the internet or a phone or even a plastic card, with NFC to follow at some point. The advantage is touted as greater control, but that control comes at a price.

All this activity in payments is really about getting rid of cash, which is expensive and difficult to handle. But with so many people trying to scoop up some of that saved money, one wonders if there will be any savings left to pass on to the end customer who is going to have to use all this stuff. ®

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