Will that be cash or Dexit?

What’s a Dexit tag? It’s a small plastic square that contains a radio frequency identification chip. It clips onto a keychain or cellphone, and money can be loaded onto it from your bank account.

Dexit was launched in 2001 as a more efficient way of paying for small purchases, such as coffee, muffins and the like. When the tag is placed on a reader, signals from the terminal capture information from a microchip inside the tag and authenticate the transaction with user’s bank account.

So, never one to back down from a shopping challenge, I immediately set out to find retailers where I could spend my father’s good money. First stop: PharmaPlus, just one of the Toronto-based sites listed on Dexit’s Web site.

I run around the drug store collecting my purchases and make my way to the checkout. The cashier looks at me like I have three heads when I present the tag. Sorry, she says, I don’t know what that is. I spend a few minutes explaining, and point to the reader at her cash. She calls her boss.

“Dexit?” the boss says. “What’s that?” I go through the dog and pony show one more time.

The end result is they can’t accept the tag. Yes, the system has been installed, but it’s not working and they have no idea when or if it will be working.

Next stop is another retailer listed on Dexit’s Web site: United Express. Again, I’m met with a blank stare when I present my Dexit tag to pay for the gum and magazines I want to purchase. I decided to follow up with a phone call. The manager of the store tells me the system does work from time to time, but he can’t confirm for me on which days I might find it in working order.

Now, I’m on a quest. I go to Second Cup coffee shop listed on Dexit’s site. The woman laughs at me when I ask if I can use my tag to pay for my vanilla bean latte. She tells me the system never worked properly and they ended up getting rid of it.

On its Web site, Dexit heralds its RFID as the most efficient way to pay for small purchases, but my experience with the technology has been anything but efficient. I e-mailed Dexit requesting an up-to-date list of retailers in Toronto using the technology. No response. That’s the kind of efficiency I can live without.

Another thing: Each time you load cash onto the Dexit tag, there’s a charge of $1.50. It’s not going to break the bank, but, again, why would I pay $1.50 service charge when I get more free transactions per month with my debit card than I can ever use?

The writing is on the wall for Dexit. When it was launched, I recall thinking it was a bit late to the party, with credit cards and debit cards in mass circulation. Now, there’s another cashless payment system added to the mix, and it’s much more efficient than an RFID-based system that doesn’t have the distribution legs it needs to succeed: Loyalty cards, such as those found in Starbucks, Second Cup and other retailers who want to create a more efficient way for customers to pay for their purchases.

So, thanks for the tag, Dad, but next time, just send money.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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