But last week, I was at Heathrow Airport, desperate for a coffee. So I joined the (long) queue at Caffe Nero, which was taking an age to edge its way along the counter. Watching what was going on, it was obvious that the main reason for the delay was the payment process – at least half of the customers were paying with cards, all Chip & PIN, and each transaction involved the passing back and forth of chunky PIN pads on long wires, a lot of peering at tiny screens, and waiting.
So I reach the front of the queue, and spot a contactless pad. I give my order, and watch the resigned look from the guy as I produce my card. He brightened up when I pointed at the contactless pad, then asked me to wait while he turned it on. After a couple of taps on the till, a light came on the contactless pad, I flashed my card and ‘APPROVED’ came up almost instantly. Success! The guy was clearly pleased, mostly (I think) because of the speed of the transaction, and shouted to his boss ‘Hey, this thing works!’.
The lessons? Well, first is that contactless is great for so-called ‘quick service’ retailers, not necessarily because it displaces cash, but because it’s so much faster than Chip & PIN – a key issue, when more and more people, including me, try and use a card for EVERY transaction! Secondly, the transaction was slowed by a few seconds because the contactless pad isn’t on by default. As the cards become more prevalent, this is going to become ever more of an issue.