Are contactless payments set to go mainstream?

16 Jul 2009 View Comments
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Barclaycard contactless payment card
Mangiagalli: “2009 is the year of contactless in coffee shops and next year its use will be much more widespread”

Two years ago this month, Barclaycard announced the launch of OnePulse, a combined credit and contactless payment card that promised to revolutionise the way shoppers pay for low-value goods.

A high-profile TV advertising campaign ensued, featuring a OnePulse user sliding through water chutes as he waved his card at retailers’ readers.

Further reading

However, contactless payments are still far from mainstream ­ but that could be about to change.

Barclays and Barclaycard are replacing their card portfolios to incorporate the touch-and-go feature and up to seven million new cards are expected to be in circulation by the end of the year.

“For us, contactless is no longer a trial ­ it is how payments are going to happen in future,” said Richard Mould, Barclaycard’s head of card innovation.

Attitudes are also changing among merchants, said Mould, as businesses realise that rolling out contactless technology is simpler than chip-and-PIN.

“Whenever you introduce new technology, it poses challenges, but as contactless is built on [interoperability standard] EMV, it is more like a tweak in the infrastructure than a massive change,” he said.

Even with firms facing financial pressure, sectors such as parking and vending machine operators are realising the benefits of contactless cards, said Kevin Coles, Lloyds TSB Cardnet head of business enterprise.

“People are going through a period of technology change and see contactless as a key business differentiator, especially in areas of retail where convenience and speed are necessary,” he said.

Some 600,000 Lloyds TSB contactless debit cards will be in circulation by year-end, though the process has stalled due to the bank’s merger with HBOS.

The industry is “finally getting its act together” and collaborating to create a market differentiator instead of driving isolated efforts, said Coles.

“In a year’s time, contactless will be a lot more visible and there will be more consumer awareness of this payment method,” he said. According to Visa Europe’s head of new channels, Guido Mangiagalli, adoption of the new cards is going to plan.

“The rollout of contactless is in line with what we expected ­ any product that has an impact on businesses’ IT infrastructure takes time to be fully embraced,” he said.

“Over the next few months, you will see more retailers taking up the technology ­ 2009 is the year of contactless in coffee shops and next year its use will be much more widespread.”

Mangiagalli said discussions are taking place with “all the major high-street names” on trials to begin this year and that growing consumer acceptance will enable further mobile payment developments.

Concerns over the technical challenges of contactless payments should not put off businesses, said Rene Batsford, head of IT at coffee shop Eat, an early adopter of the technology.

“People often look at the downsides of contactless, which tend to concern technology, but the integration is not that difficult and possible challenges can be easily overcome,” he said.

Following a successful rollout of contactless terminals, Eat will extend the technology across 95 shops nationwide. But not every early adopter is pressing ahead. Reading FC trialled a contactless system for one season but postponed the project due to financial constraints.

“We found a few pitfalls by being an early exponent of the technology, which was a huge success ­ despite reservations from fans ­ and reduced queuing times from 13 minutes to about three minutes,” said Garry Hanson, the club’s IT manager.

“This caused newer issues we had not considered ­ fans used to filter out five to seven minutes before half time for food and drinks, but as their confidence grew, there was a rush at the half-time whistle instead,” he said.

“I am always looking at driving the technology forward at the club. However, like at many clubs, the money available to push these projects has been reduced during these hard times.”

Contactless payments to overcome pockets of resistance

  • There are currently some 9,000 contactless payment points of acceptance in the UK.
  • It is estimated that about 1.1 million cards are already in circulation.
  • Visa expects five million contactless credit and debit cards will be issued by 2010.
  • Barclays is providing contactless cards to up to three million customers this year and expects the majority of cardholders will have received them by 2011.
  • Boots is the first high-street retailer to roll out the technology, following the lead of coffee shops Eat and Pret A Manger.
  • The 2012 Olympic Games has been a catalyst for contactless projects sponsored by banks, including schemes aiming to speed up the payment of cab fares and parking tickets.

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