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Why some top retailers are not on board with Apple Pay

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After looking at Apple Pay's supporting cast, realizing who's on the the list and who isn't, the war for virtual wallets is essentially culminating into a battle of banks versus merchants.

Apple and its banking partners have poured out onto the playing field under a shower of pyrotechnics and waving the Apple Pay banner. Apple has partnered with American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo on Apple Pay.

Apple also signed up retailers such as Bloomingdale's, Disney, Macy's, McDonald's, Nike, PetCo, Staples, Toys R Us, and Walgreen's to support its Apple Pay system when it launches in October 2015.

But there's another team in the mobile payment game and its coach is giving it an emotional pep talk before the group heads out of the tunnel, into the market to face off against Apple Pay. It's called the Merchants Customers Exchange (MCX) and its flagship product is CurrentC, a digital wallet that offers loyalty rewards and is preparing for launch in early 2015.

"Just because Apple is now responsible for us getting to this tipping point doesn't mean Apple is necessarily going to win," says James Wester, research director of global payments at IDC Financial Insights. "They've got a very cool solution that is very similar to the solution that other people have come out with, but Apple is really good at user experience and has loyal customers. ... That's something you can't discount."

MCX's CurrentC app is compatible with both Android and iOS phones, while Apple Pay only supports iPhone 6s and Apple Watches -- though Apple's wallet is expected to come to the iPhone 5 soon. Along with opening up its digital wallet to warring smartphone makers, MCX's digital wallet has the overwhelming support of merchants.

Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Circle K, Conoco, CVS, Dick's Sporting Goods, Dillard's, Fresh Market, Gap, Hobby Lobby, Kmart, Kohl's, Lowe's, Michael's, Old Navy, Publix, QuikTrip, Rite Aid, Sam's Club, Sears, Shell, ShopRite, 7-Eleven, Southwest Airlines, Target, and Wal-Mart, Wawa and Wendy's are some of the many merchants that are behind MCX's digital wallet.

"The CurrentC Network will provide merchants with unparalleled reach and resources in the mobile payments category," says MCX CEO Dekkers Davidson (PDF). "It will offer merchants new and exciting channels to engage with customers, strengthen relationships and enjoy more control of transaction data."

Comparing the current list of partners for each side, CurrentC has more support from merchants than Apple. But Apple says its digital wallet will be accepted in approximately 220,000 stores and MCX says CurrentC will enjoy support in roughly 110,000 stores.

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