CVS and Rite Aid block Apple Pay as mobile wallet war heats up

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A war for mobile wallet dominance is on the horizon. Apple Pay. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
A war for mobile wallet dominance is on the horizon. Apple Pay. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Two major pharmacy chains have stopped supporting Apple Pay as merchants in the U.S. take sides on which mobile wallet platform to embrace.

Reports from a couple days ago revealed that Rite Aid had started disabling its NFC terminals, thereby forbidding the use of Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Now CVS has reportedly started shutting down its NFC terminals.

Spotted by MacRumors this morning, Apple Pay has been blocked by CVS locations around the country.

Yesterday SlashGear uncovered an internal Rite Aid memo explaining that NFC was disabled because the chain is “working with a group of large retailers to develop a mobile wallet that allows for mobile payments attached to credit cards and bank accounts directly from a smart phone.”

That mobile wallet service in question is called Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), and CVS is listed as a partner as well. “Please instruct cashiers to apologize to the customer and explain that we do not currently accept Apple Pay, but will have our own mobile wallet next year,” said Rite Aid in the memo.

MCX was in the works before Apple Pay was announced, and many big brands are part of the consortium, including Wal-Mart, 7 Eleven, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Dunkin’ Donusts, Bath & Beyond, Shell, Southwest Airlines, Dick’s, Dillards, Kohl’s, and Sears. Instead of NFC, MCX is based around an app coming next year called CurrentC. The app displays a QR code on the user’s smartphone for scanning at checkout.

While Apple Pay can technically work at any NFC-equipped checkout terminal, that doesn’t mean the merchant is on board. Walgreens for instance, is listed as an official Apple Pay partner, while Rite Aid and CVS never were. It’s a subtle but clear distinction that, in the case of Rite and CVS, draws a line between MCX and Apple Pay supporters.

Banks have been enthusiastically marketing Apple Pay, and Apple’s momentum is strong right now. It will be interesting to see if CurrentC can compete after Apple Pay has had months to roll out.