The UK Post Office is to roll out contactless payment terminals across 30,000 counter positions in its national network of over 11,500 branches, in a move which exponents of the technology hope will help to boost awareness among a reluctant populace.
The initiative makes the Post Office the biggest user of contactless acceptance technology in Europe allowing customers to pay for transactions using contactless cards and Near Field Communication (NFC) equipped mobile phones up to a value of £20 without inputting a PIN.
The roll out starts on the 6 June in almost two hundred branches around the various Olympic sites and is expected to be completed by the end of October 2012.
It is the largest deployment of contactless technology in Europe and is expected to increase consumer awareness and usage and, through the Post Office network, put this technology within three miles of 99% of the UK population.
Mark Austin, head of contactless at Visa Europe, says: "There are over 21 million contactless Visa cards in the UK today and by the end of the year there will be more than 30 million around the country. Our research tells us that people who experience contactless payment love the convenience and speed that it enables. This announcement marks a major milestone in making that technology even more widely available across the UK."
According to Visa, the number of contactless point-of-sale terminals in the UK will rise by 50% to 150,000 this year. Supermarket giant Asda is the most recent large retailer to commit to the technology, joining the likes of Waitrose, McDonalds, Boots, WH Smith and Tesco.
HSBC recently announced plans to follow Barclays Bank by embedding contactless technology as a standard feature on all new debit cards in circulation. Other banks are following suit. Lloyds started issuing contactless cards around the London area in May last year. Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of America's card unit MBNA and Virgin Money have also committed to rolling out the technology.
Finextra verdict: Visa's research tells us that people "who experience" contactless payment love the convenience and speed that it enables. The problem is that not many people appear too interested in trying it out. The initial roll-out of terminals at fast food retailers has so far failed to inspire the public to 'tap and go', despite the millions of pounds spent by Barclays to promote the technology in its rollercoaster TV advertising campaigns. At Finextra's local sandwich shop, terminals are plentiful, but placed well below the sight line and without any signage or directions to encourage uptake. Your correspondent can dutifully say that he has yet to witness anybody use one of these machines, despite the heavy footfall. Visa reels off a list of impressive statistics, but never transactional volumes. The impression is that, despite all the marketing dollars spent, they are inconsequential. Yes, contactless is fast, and yes, it's great when it works, but the banks and card schemes are going to have to work a lot harder on the basics of retailer and customer education at the point of engagement if they are to see meaningful volumes. Perhaps the Post Office, with its nationwide reach and old-school countertop service, is just the boost the programme needs.