Walmart is jumping into the mobile payments business, the first US retailer to make its own push for consumers to use their smartphones as mobile wallets.
The world's largest retailer on Thursday announced the launch of Walmart Pay, a proprietary mobile payments system for use in its stores. The app, which is getting its start at stores near the company's Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters on Thursday, will work with both Apple's iOS and Google's Android mobile operating systems, as well as major credit and debit cards.
"We made a strategic decision to design Walmart Pay to work with almost any smartphone and accept almost any payment type -- even allowing for the integration of other mobile wallets in the future," Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart US, said in a statement. "The result is an innovation that will make the ease of mobile payments a reality for millions of Americans."
Walmart is the latest company looking at mobile payments as the next big service. While the idea of paying for goods and services with smartphones has been around for years, Apple Pay helped ignite consumer interest in the area late last year, followed by Google's Android Pay and the Samsung Pay systems.
Smartphone payments at retailers are expected to surge to $118 billion by 2018, according to market researcher eMarketer, a dramatic increase from the $3.5 billion tallied last year.
Companies are also eager to push mobile payments in the belief that the additional service will build consumer loyalty. Apple Pay users, for instance, could potentially be more likely to keep their iPhones if they can store their payment data and use the device to buy everyday goods like shampoo, beer and gum.
Walmart said the payment option is expected to launch nationwide by the first half of 2016.
The company has also been working with a consortium of major retailers backing a mobile-payments effort called CurrentC. The system, created by Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX, has the backing of other major retailers such as Target and Lowe's.
Walmart said that Walmart Pay was developed independently of CurrentC and that it remains committed to the MCX service.
Thursday's launch comes a little more than six months after Walmart said it was partnering with Alipay, the financial partner of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, to bring mobile payments to 25 Walmart-owned stores in Shenzhen, China. Walmart said in May it expects to expand the service to more of its roughly 400 Walmart and Sam's Club stores in the country, giving the retailer an opportunity to boost its sales in the massive Chinese market.