business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got a number of emails in response to our story about Target deciding to scrap the "smart chip" component of its Visa card, which was supposed to allow people to get discounts automatically but never really caught on.

MNB user David Diamond wrote:

…I think that the real news is the continued failure of smart cards/data on the card. Despite 20 years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars, no one has come up with anything which a) consumers actually want and b) cannot be duplicated with a “dumb card” (mag stripe or bar code) and a good reader network. Isn’t it time to surrender?

David happens to be one of the smartest people we know, so when we got this email we sent him a note back:

Someone told us that smart cards and RFID are essentially the same technology used in different ways. If this is true, does it suggest nine miles of bad road for RFID?

To which David responded:

RFID and Smart cards use similar chips – but the issue is the RFID chips do things that cannot be done otherwise – and smart cards don’t – at least they don’t do important, valuable things that other cards cannot.

RFID chip can do important, valuable things that bar codes cannot – but how much value versus how much cost – those are they questions.

I remain bullish on RFID, bearish on smart cards.

Another MNB user wrote:

Target was asking the consumer to do the work. Why not download coupons at the register (a la Catalina), and print a list on the shopper's receipt?

Another MNB user wrote:

I have a Target Smart Visa card and I liked the idea of using it to access discounts. Did I use it? No. Why? Not for the reasons you may suspect.

Like most Americans life is very busy and although it is not my intention to pay bills late, sometimes it happens. Late fees (even 1 day late) on the Target Visa were approximately $38 dollars. I couldn't afford to take a chance on a late fee to gain an in-store discount that wasn't comparable to the money I lost. I paid off the balance on the card and decided I couldn't afford to use it ever again.

On a related story, MNB user Joseph Heumann wrote:

In reference to your somewhat dismissive comment about a key ring scanner that could be used to scan the coupons in the Sunday paper and then be read at the checkout to upload the discounts to the register......


I am a frequent coupon clipper, often saving 30-50% off on my orders, and if there where a store that I could shop at and get the coupon savings without the time and effort of cutting coupons, sorting coupons, remembering to bring the coupon caddy with me to the store [the need to have the coupons with me cuts down on spur-of-the-moment shopping], discarding expired coupons, etc, etc etc, I would give them the majority of my business [price, selection, quality] being equal. I'd drive farther away for the coupon convenience.

I'd settle for a small scanner that would read the barcode and somehow interface to my PC so I could have a list of all of my coupons with me when I shop, so I don't miss on any opportunities.
KC's View: