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Retailers are disabling NFC readers to shut out Apple Pay

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Some merchants hope to launch their own mobile payments system next year

There's a lot of hype around Apple Pay right now, but not everyone is on board with the new mobile payments system. In fact, a significant number of merchants, including heavyweights like Walmart, Kmart, 7-Eleven, and Best Buy, are in outright competition with Apple Pay. The retailers, through a joint venture formed in 2012, are building their own mobile payment app, called CurrentC. It's expected to launch next year. In the meantime, these retailers have no intention to support Apple Pay.

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Following Apple's announcement last month, both Wal-Mart and Best Buy confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that customers would not be able to use the system in their stores. Earlier this week, a leaked internal memo from Rite Aid revealed that the drug store chain was modifying or disabling its NFC readers, preventing access to Apple Pay (and other systems, like Google Wallet and wireless carrier-backed SoftCard, which also depend on the contact-less technology). A representative later confirmed the news to iMore. Today, CVS followed suit and shut out Apple Pay, according to reports. Both will support CurrentC on launch next year. The companies have not immediately returned requests for comment.

Moves by Rite Aid and CVS effectively block Apple Pay in their stores

The fight for control of the mobile payments market is opening a rift between merchants and banks. Banks and credit card companies have enthusiastically supported Apple Pay, seeing it as a way to increase the number of purchases people make with their credit cards. But Apple has struggled to get merchants on board. A quick look at Apple's website explaining the service highlights just 34 retail partners that support the system. Eight of those are different flavors of Foot Locker. One is Apple itself.

Retailers are seeking to use mobile payments to cut out credit card companies

Meanwhile, not a single bank backs CurrentC. That's because the system is designed to cut out the middleman — and credit card processing fees. The app, when it launches next year, won't replace your plastic credit card. Instead, it will withdraw directly from your checking account when you pay at the cash register with a QR code displayed on your Android or iOS device. Or you can pay with gift cards and "select store debit and credit cards" (read: just the ones issued in partnership with CurrentC backers). In exchange for not using your credit card, the retailers plan to offer exclusive coupons and promotions to those who use the app.

CurrentC MCX

The notion of a widespread payment system controlled by retailers and free of credit card processing fees is very appealing to merchants. It should come as no surprise, then, that, in addition to Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, CurrentC's partners include Gap, Old Navy, 7-Eleven, Kohls, Lowes, Dunkin' Donuts, Sam's Club, Sears, Kmart, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Banana Republic, Stop & Shop, and Wendy's — as well nearly all the major US gas station chains — among its ranks.

We'll have to wait until next year to see how well CurrentC can compete in the crowded battle for control of mobile payments, but until then, don't be surprised to see more retailers follow Rite Aid and CVS and shut off their NFC readers.

Correction: This article originally stated that Apple Pay's 34 official retail partners included five Foot Locker brands. In fact, eight brands owned by Foot Locker are on the list: Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, Foot Locker Kids, Footaction, Champs, House of Hoops, Run, and Six:02.