[Dave Birch] I wonder if 2008 will be the year of the contactless card? Trevor Pavey, Contactless Payments Manager at Texas Instruments has a nice turn of phrase: he says that contactless payments this year will be about three Ms: merchants, mobile payments and multi-applications. That sounds plausible, but I’m sure that in the immediate future it is the merchant take-up that is the dominant driver. While the roll-out of contactless payment cards around the world has been steady, it hasn’t been a tsunami. One reason might be that lack of customer awareness is impeding the usage and adoption of contactless payment systems. According to the research cited (by Aberdeen), 63% of Best-in-Class companies that have already adopted contactless payments at retail locations are responding to the challenge of customer awareness by defining a set of return-on-investment (ROI) objectives and goals surrounding contactless implementation. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I think I understand the big picture they outline: two-fifths of the Best-in-Class companies have implemented a contactless solution, and another two-fifths are considering implementation, which means that only a fifth are not looking at it for the time being. Of those who have implemented contactless technology, 91% have improved their total number of transactions, and ALL (my emphasis) have 80% or more of their customers extremely satisfied. Those seem like encouraging figures to me even if there is a lack of awareness.

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Clearly some consumers are aware of contactless, because forty-nine percent of the world’s consumers report they are likely to use a contactless card if their financial institution provides it, and 47% of that group cite convenience as the main reason, a KRC Research survey (across 13 countries and including 7,000 respondents) commissioned by MasterCard Worldwide suggests. The results indicate consumers’ preference for convenient payment methods, says Cathleen Conforti, MasterCard senior vice president and global PayPass product manager, who goes on to say

It’s not surprising to see the high figures because [consumers] see contactless as a more convenient method.

As of last month, MasterCard issuers had distributed more than 20 million PayPass-enabled cards and other devices, and more than 80,000 merchant locations worldwide were accepting PayPass, according to MasterCard.

There’s no reason, I think, for consumers to be going crazy about contactless across the board. But in some retail sectors, I’m surprised that penetration hasn’t been quicker. One that springs to mind (because I just had to pay TEN QUID by credit card to park at my local train station) is car parking. Car parking is an obvious candidate for conversion to contactless payments, and the announcement by Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) that its airport parking applications in North America will begin accepting MasterCard PayPass contactless payments is therefore welcome. ACS is a leader in large airport parking systems, with more than 20 current installations at America’s busiest airports, so it will be a useful barometer. If I could pay by contactless at the car park, especially without getting out of my car, I would count that as a major convenience. The car park operator wins too: when I’m paying with card (as opposed to the coins I’ve collected from various orifices in my car) then I might buy 4 hours just to be on the safe side instead of 3. As MasterCard figures show, not only does contactless accelerate transation times (it’s faster than cash) but consumer spending increases 28% to 42%.

Not everyone is convinced. In that same article, Steve Rathgaber, president and chief operating officer of NYCE Payments Network, which bills itself as connecting more than 2,500 financial institutions with more than 280,000 ATMs and more than 1.5 million point-of-sale locations in the United States, said that PayPass was a bad idea.

Just because the technology is there, it doesn’t make it a good product.

he said. Well, yes. But I’m not sure I agree with his specific reasoning about contactless: to consumers, new technology may be more confusing and less productive than older technology. I’m sure that someone said the same thing about ATMs, but if consumers are confused about contactless technology then someone hasn’t been responding to the challenges of customer awareness by defining a set of return-on-investment (ROI) objectives and goals, right?

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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