[Dave Birch] An interesting anecdote from one of the contactless payment roll-outs in Europe, as reported to me from a credible source. A student was overhead talking to a friend, saying that he had got up, taken the subway into college, worked all morning, gone out to get a sandwich and juice and lunch time, worked in a lab all afternoon and then taken the subway home. On arriving home, he found his wallet on the kitchen table. Amazing story, I think. And while it certainly has some hard to believe aspects (working all morning — yeah right), the fact that the student was telling someone about this strikes me as an interesting confirmation that pockets, albeit small pockets, of cashlessness are beginning to emerge.

It’s a story from London, of course, and the student had been using the Barclays OnePulse card that doubles as an Oyster card and a contactless Visa card. The point of reporting the story here is twofold: first of all I’m naturally curious about what normal people think about the payments stuff that I spend a great deal of my time thinking about and second of all because it shows that in some parts of London, contactless coverage (the intersection of people having cards and retailers having terminals) has reached a reasonable level. Despite some of the gloom around contactless at the moment, because the market penetration is so slow, the truth is that where there is the coverage it is popular:

One shop owner said that the cards had really helped in speeding up transactions at busy times of the day, as there was no need for customers to dig around for change and no need for the shop staff to have to take cash and give change. She said: ‘We do three-quarters of our business between 12pm and 2pm. Anything we can do to help the queue move forward quickly helps us and our customers.’

[From Tap and go cards proving popular in London : Credit Card Guide]

With a million point-of-sale (POS) terminals in the U.K., it will obviously take some time to get a decent proportion of those converted to contactless. But when they are, it does make for a better experience. The numbers in the U.S. are steadily increasing as well.

The technology is rapidly gaining in popularity, with nine percent of the US population now possessing a contactless card. Last year the number of open network contactless cards in circulation reached 35 million, nearly double the 19 million in 2006.

[From HomeATM PIN Debit Blog: Contactless and Clueless]

Incidentally, I bought a coffee and a piece of cake at a coffee bar near St. James’ Park tube last week and, noticing the contactless reader on the counter, tapped my wallet, paid in millseconds, and wandered off to sit down and catch up on some e-mail. It wasn’t until later I realised that my wallet now has two contactless cards in it — because my new MasterCard arrived last week with PayPass on board — and I have no idea which card paid for my coffee (or, for that matter, why it worked at all, since the terminals are not supposed to make a transaction when they see multiple cards). Who can call payments boring, when things like this come along.

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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