[Dave Birch] Back looking at Japan again, but this time thinking about the non-bank entrants to the payment space, other than DoCoMo of course.  There was a detailed story in Card Technology covering the transit side of things.  Mobile Suica, the mobile version of the JR East Suica transit card, has got off to a slow start.  There are 19 million of the contactless transit cards in circulation but after its first year only 350,000 people signed up for the mobile version.  In addition to the mobile implementation, JR East have started to extend the e-purse usage to retailer, but there are only 10,000 POS locations in Tokyo where it can be used.  Not for long, though, because JR East, DoCoMo, JCB and bitWallet have announced that they have agreed to share a common platform so that all of the payment brands (Suica, iD, QUICPay and Edy) will work in the same POS.  There are currently about 100,000 contactless POS terminals in Japan.

Why the slow take up?  Akio Shiibashi, director of the Suica Systems Department at JR East is quoted saying that the registration process has been "difficult" for many prospective users.  Sounds like a common problem for "traditional" business moving into the mobile space: a generation accustomed to instant messaging and interactivity colliding with a multi-page application forms and postal services.

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According to the Card Technology article, DoCoMo now has 2.6 million contactless credit customers, although transaction rates are still low, plus some 4 or 5 milion contactless e-purse users (ie, people who have activated the purse).  In total, DoCoMo has sold some 30 million phones with contactless interfaces so far and are on target for 40 million by March 2008.  They’ve just introduced their new premium DCMX GOLD credit card.  Like the regular card, it is compatible with iD mobile platform and customers will be issued a standard Visa or MasterCard stripe card for use overseas or at shops in Japan that do not have contactless terminals.  And it has a reward programme as well.

If there has been a slow start (and 2.6 million customers in such a short time doesn’t sound particularly slow) it isn’t putting other people off: the Seven & I Holdings Co. have just started electronic payment services called "nanaco" at some 1,500 Seven-Eleven convenience stores in Tokyo.  This is more interesting than "yet another e-purse", because it’s the first Japanese retailer to issue e-money.  The company will gradually expand the number of stores where the e-money can be used. At the end of May, the electronic payment services will be available at all 11,800 Seven-Eleven stores in Japan

So now there are banks, mobile operators, a transit operator and a retailer competing to provide e-money.  No wonder we’re fascinated by developments there.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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