Around my office in Southwark there are now several locations where you can buy your lunch using contactless card technology. And the numbers of users seem to be growing borne out by this news from Pret A Manger that 20 percent of its overall transactions
are contactless. And this is one situation where all the promised benefits have turned out to be true – it really is much faster and more convenient. When I bought my lunchtime sandwich yesterday the lady on the checkout commented how fast it was - “much
quicker than cash”.
But of the dozen places to buy lunch close to the office, only three have got contactless technology. It just shows how slow it is to roll out any new payment mechanism nationwide. I remember all the loud announcements that the Olympics would be a driver
to get contactless rolling out. Going further back there were articles about contactless having reached a ‘tipping point’ such as this one from 2010:
http://www.finextra.com/News/fullstory.aspx?newsitemid=21970. I just don’t see any evidence of this.
To start with, of the cards in my wallet only one has been issued with contactless capability. And none of the others are due to be reissued before 2015. So one down side of the extended life cycle for the EMV cards is new capabilities don’t get issued
to the population as whole.
Secondly I don’t think consumers have much awareness of the capability. There is now more advertising going on (especially the Barclays adverts) which hopefully will address that.
But more importantly, retailers are not suggesting that you use contactless. Surely they have a big interest in making this successful. Reducing the cash held in tills and speeding up checkout are important benefits for them. So training their staff to
let customers know they could use contactless rather than fiddling with coins and notes would be the fastest way of growing this transaction base.
Once consumers are used to using cards in this way then they can be taken on the next step, whether that is using NFC on the mobile phone or NFC on something else such as the smart watch that is being predicted (http://blogs.ft.com/tech-blog/2013/02/apple-iwatch/)
– that is one I would like.