[Dave Birch] Well, the Olympics (©IOC 2012, all rights reserved) are almost here. So naturally, our thoughts turn to implementing efficient retail payments throughout the event. There was a letter in The Telegraph (16th June 2012, p.27) from Sir David Tang, who wrote

At the three Olympics that I have been to, I noticed that long queues formed at the food and beverage outlets because items were charged for in amounts that required change.

Now I notice that the same is going to happen in London. This is a recipe for long queues, especially when cashiers nowadays are not exactly numerate. It would be so much more sensible if retailers had to charge in round figures.

What would be so much more sensible would be the retailers not accepting cash at all and forcing all transactions under £20 to be contactless only. Then we could all reap the dividends: faster lines, higher sales, no security, no cashing-up. It seems trivial to me so sell pre-loaded contactless cards with, say, £50 on them to start with and allow reloading via mobile phones or have reload points dotted around. My splendid O2 Money card would seem ideal for the purpose, frankly, and for the lucky few with NFC phones life would be even better. I suppose readers might think it a reflection on my rather dull life that with the greatest sporting event on the planet only a week ago, I’m focusing on payments. But, I’m happy to say, I’m not the only one.

There has been an increased interest from our clients and press in the Olympics-related payments topics as well.

[From Celent Banking Blog » Payments and the London Olympics]

Actually, the Olympic© payment topics are modest. A few more contactless terminals, a few more contactless taxis (that charge you a premium of 12% for using it) and a few special NFC phones for VIPs. I should imagine the vast majority of people who go to the Olympics will go home none the wiser about contactless: I’d lay a pound to a penny that the majority of spectators couldn’t even tell you if they have a contactless card in their wallet or not! (I hope the industry PR person that I was arguing with about this will forgive me for mentioning that she herself insisted that she didn’t have a contactless payment card, but when I forced her to open her purse and show me it turned out that she did!

We should have set the bar higher! Cash-free counters in MacDonalds, contactless-only vending machines, no cash zones and so on. If the Sziget festival in Hungary (with 385,000 visitors per week) can go completely cashless, then why can’t the Olympics(™) especially when they’ve had seven years to get ready for it in a country where there are something like 25m contactless cards already in circulation (albeit hardly used).

Cashless events are surely one of the next big things. Although a few years behind the Hungarians, swinging London has been dipping a toe in the waters around cashlessness. The Wireless Festival in Hyde park this year had cashless areas, although not on the scale of a festival in a developed country (see, for example. Roskilde in Denmark).

PayBand is free, it works well, it’s secure, and it ought to keep those festival cash disasters at bay. As with any near-field (NFC) payment system, however, it’s the lack of any one uniform acceptance going forward that leaves a question mark lingering. This system would be great at future festivals, and beyond, but it requires co-operation between stall holders, festival sites and sponsors.

[From Barclaycard PayBand at Wireless 2012: We test the ‘cashless festival’ concept – Pocket-lint]

Ah. Co-operation. Perhaps that’s not our strong point. The merchants seemed to like it though. I’m very interested in the views of a “Premium Sausages vendor” on most things (especially premium sausages) so I was especially delighted to see that they are getting behind my campaign to #endthecashmenacenow.

“To tell the truth it’s going absolutely swimmingly, it’s so fast because usually, like, our till is opened and closed all the time and now obviously we’re just keeping the receipts to the side. So definitely the wristbands makes our life a lot easier.”

[From Wireless Payments Trialed in Hyde Park | NewsOK.com]

A lot easier than taking a cash payment and making change, certainly. And in such a closed environment, with all of the benefits of reduced costs, increased revenues and lots of lovely data, there’s really no reason not to take the first step. What all of these guys really want, though, is mobile. Whether in combination with contactless or not, there’s no doubt that paying using the ubiquitous smart phone is what transforms the experience for retailers and consumers alike.

For the first time ever I was tickled by the act of paying for something.

[From The death of cash – Fortune Tech]

That’s a good way of putting it.This is why if banks want to stay in this business they need to find a way replicate this frisson of excitement. Tapping your contactless card in MacDonalds just isn’t exciting enough, so without some mobile magic the sector’s growth will remain sluggish. Will tapping a contactless phone instead make a difference?

At a Fortune event earlier this year, CEO John Donahoe said NFC stands for “not for commerce.”

[From NFC isn’t ready for prime time – Fortune Tech]

That’s a bit harsh, I think. My NFC phone works jolly well. The problem is that there aren’t that many of them around! And the ones that are around don’t have Visa or MasterCard applications in them. (Maybe that will change when the rumoured Google Wallet UK launches.) It’s too late to turn the Olympics into the contactless showcase that they should have been — especially given the presumed importance of transit and transport in contactless take-up — but maybe we can still use them as a springboard into a new generation of retail payment. Yesterday in London I used a contactless phone to nip into Boots and buy some Lemsip and a contactless card (my splendid Barclaycard “One Pulse”) to buy coffee and a snack at Pret. In both cases, everything worked just fine. But… I still can’t leave my wallet and home and jus take my phone. Due to the rather odd rollout of contactless in the UK, my dry cleaner has a contactless terminal but Woking station and my bus don’t. The bus probably never will, because they now have their own mobile app where you can buy your ticket by iPhone (I use this all the time). That just leave the train (remember, my splendid Barclaycard One Pulse has an Oyster card built in) as the last piece in the jigsaw. This set me thing…

Would I rather buy my train ticket by queuing for a machine at Woking station and then tapping with my phone to pay contactlessly to get a paper ticket which I then use at the gate or while I’m sitting on the bus on the way to the station and then just tapping my way through the barrier? The latter, obviously, because that’s mobile magic. Think about what has to happen to make this dream a reality though! The phones, the SIM, the apps, the standards, the gates, the back-office, the settlement rules, the help desk. By the time all this is in place my South West Trains ticket will be in my Apple Passbook and I’ll be billed at the end of month according my GPS track. Unless “the industry” pulls its finger out, the legacy infrastructure isn’t going to be rejuvenated by NFC it’s going to be bypassed.

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of 
Consult Hyperion or any of its clients or suppliers

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