Bling Nation turns your phone into an NFC credit card

Photo showing Bling Nation's Bling Tag working with the Bling Box and an iPhone. Wireless NFC payments get real.
Photo showing Bling Nation's Bling Tag working with the Bling Box and an iPhone. Wireless NFC payments get real.

So, for years and years I’ve been talking about how Japan has been using NFC (near field communications) technology to turn all those Japanese featurephones into electronic wallets, but only now are we seeing the beginnings of this tech making its way Stateside. While it’s still not the ideal phone-as-wallet setup that we’d like to see, Bling Nation is taking the first steps to make the prospect of using your phone to pay for real-world goods a reality. And, now that Bling Nation has teamed up with Paypal to push the Bling Tag to more consumers and retails stores, we’re poised to see the mobile payments space really come into its own.

What is Bling Nation and the Bling Tag? It’s simple, really. Bling Nation is the Palo Alto, CA.-based startup behind the Bling Tag, which is just an NFC-enabled sticker that you stick to the back of your mobile phone. Think of the Bling Tag as a replacement for your credit card. The only difference between your credit card and the Bling Tag is that you don’t need any identification for the Bling Tag and paying with Bling is as simple as tapping your phone onto a merchant’s Bling Box.

The technology sounded so simple that I had to go try it out for myself. I made my way to downtown Palo Alto, where Bling Nation is headquartered, and found Bling Tags available at a few local shops. The Tag itself is free to everyone, and setting it up is simple. Just stick the Tag to your phone and you’re halfway done.

The first time you pay for goods at participating merchants, you’ll need to jump through one additional hoop (more on that in a bit), but it’s a very simple process. When checking out at the cashier, simply tap the Tag on the Bling Box, which is like a credit card machine, but cooler. The cashier will ask you for your phone number and use that to authorize the purchase. Within seconds, you’ll get a text message with a verification code that you relay to the cashier. The verification code is only required on your initial purchase, after which you’ll be able to tap your Tag on a Bling Box to speed through the checkout process. The beauty here is that you don’t need a smartphone – any phone that can accept SMS text message will work just fine.

The Bling Tag is tied to your credit card, so purchases are automatically charged. And, to help foster adoption, Bling is offering a $20 credit to first time users. When you register your phone number with the service, Bling will credit your account with $20. After that, you’ll be offered an additional $20 credit for linking your Tag to your Paypal account, which should have a credit card associated with it. The free $20 credit is the reason the initial setup process is so simple – there’s no need to setup a Paypal account or enter credit card details, since the money is waiting for you when you activate the Tag. The idea here is to drive adoption and encourage people to use Paypal as the method of payment for the Tag.

You can also connect your Bling Tag to your checking account at the following participating banks:

  • American National Bank, Guaranty Bond Bank (Mount Pleasant, TX)
  • First Federal Savings Bank (Clarksville, TN)
  • Valley National Bank, Community State Bank (Lamar, CO)
  • Bankers’ Bank of the West (Blackhawk, CO)
  • The Adirondack Trust Company (Saratoga Springs, NY)
  • Park State Bank & Trust (Woodland Park, CO)
  • The State Bank (La Junta, CO)

Overall, the idea of using the Bling Tag to pay for goods in real life is really appealing to me. I’d rather not have to use Paypal as a middle man between Bling and my credit card (if you’ve ever dealt with Paypal customer support, you’ll understand my position here), but it’s worth getting a total of $40 for free. Setup is simple, using the Tag is easy, and because it’s tied to your phone, the Tag is as secure as a wallet in your pocket or purse. The only problem that I can see with the service is that there are very few merchants out there that support Bing Tags.

You can find a Bling Tag at participating merchants – find them here.

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