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Amazon Payments heads into meat space

The NFC gate swings both ways

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Amazon plans to take its payment platform into the real world, using NFC tags to identify goods for purchase from the online store, but who attaches those tags is not clear.

The service, which Bloomberg reports based on conversations with "two people with knowledge of the project", involves the customer tapping their phone against a product in store to buy that same product from Amazon instead, which sounds great ... until you start to wonder why the store would agree to let Amazon NFC-tag its products.

A very similar service was launched in the UK earlier this week. Simply Tap is backed by Carphone Warehouse and involves much the same process, but using QR Codes instead of NFC. But Simply Tap links to the store's online presence, motivating them to stick the tags on their products, while Amazon's version seems to provide no such incentive.

The example suggested by Bloomberg, of a consumer who can't find the right size of jeans in the store and so uses the NFC tag to order from Amazon, is also flawed – if the right size of jeans isn't in the store, then the correct NFC tag should not be present either. That's unless all sizes of jeans have the same tag, which would make the technology useless for stock control – generally considered the killer application.

Which brings us to what the Amazon project is much more likely to be: another way for the online retailer to take business away from high street stores. Amazon already offers a barcode reading app, so one can browse the books in a store, then scan the codes to get a cheaper price from Amazon delivered the next day.

It would be trivial to enable the same functionality using NFC, so that the store then puts NFC tags on everything for stock control, and Amazon then scrapes the data for price comparison purposes in much the same way it does with barcodes today.

From there it's still a significant step to using one's Amazon account to pay for goods over the counter: that's not to say it won't ever happen, or that NFC isn't a mechanism that makes such a thing possible, but it's not going to happen in the next year or two at least. ®

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