NFC Payments: Still for Patient Payments Geeks Only

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18 October 2012
Zilvinas Bareisis
Recent launch of the iPhone 5 made me decide that it was time to upgrade my old iPhone 3GS. I knew I was going to stay with my current telco provider (Orange, or as they are now known, EE), so I just went into an Orange shop to discuss my options. To cut a long story short, instead of buying a new iPhone 5, I ended up getting Samsung Galaxy S3. Among the reasons for getting an S3 was the fact that it was one of a small but growing number of NFC handsets in the UK market and I knew that Barclaycard and Orange have just made their Quick Tap wallet available on the S3 and I was keen to try it. Here are some observations based on my first-hand experience: 1. Telcos could and should do a much better job at marketing the new services, such as NFC, and need to ensure that their front-line staff are properly trained. An example of my conversation with an Orange salesman: - Me: "This (S3) does have NFC, doesn't it?" - Salesman: "NFC?? Oh, I am not too sure, let me check." ... - Me: "And how do I sign up to the Quick Tap wallet?" (followed by me explaining to him what a Quick Tap wallet is) - Salesman: "Oh, I think you probably have to call Barclaycard to get it set-up, I don't really know." As it happens, both Orange and Barclaycard websites had a description of the wallet, but I didn't see any links or suggestions how to obtain it. Finally, I downloaded the app from Google's PlayStore and followed the relatively straightforward steps in the app to register and link a card. Only when I got home I realised that my phone packaging box had a sticker on it saying "Hold your phone here to get started with Quick Tap", but I didn't notice it at the time and the salesman didn't point it to me either. In other words, I knew what I wanted and was able to get it; someone less determined than me may not even realise their phone had these capabilities. 2. The experience of using NFC seemed to get better over time. Armed with my new mobile wallet, I set out to try paying with it (you see, unlike a "normal" customer, I actually think about payment!) I went to my local town (Bromley) and into the Boots store, as I knew it was one of the early adopters of contactless terminals. My suggestion that I was about to pay with my mobile phone was met with visible excitement from the cashier staff - there was no queue, so two of them came over to take a look, saying "How exciting! We've seen contactless cards, but not the mobile phone payments yet!" However, the first transaction was actually quite painful - I touched the phone against the terminal and nothing happened; I thought perhaps I needed to log-in to the app (the answer is, I don't), so I did that, and the result was the same. Finally, after a few times of trying, there was a beep and much to our relief, the transaction went through. However, the second transaction was better (only took a few taps) and the third onwards have been absolutely smooth - literally, "tap and go". I don't think I was doing anything different and I even went back to the same merchant, so perhaps the phone needed "to go through the motions" to properly activate the NFC chip? Again, I am a patient geek and I want this to work, so I persevere; the question is, how many "normal" customers would have had the courage to try it again if their first transaction was anything like mine. 3. There are more merchants accepting contactless than we think, but they could do a better job telling us about it. I knew I would be able to pay contactless at Boots, Pret-a-Manger and a few other well publicised merchants. I was positively surprised that I could actually pay in a lot more places than that, including small independent merchants, such as my local independent CD store and my local fishmonger. The "where you can pay" feature inside the Quick Tap wallet showed that even a cafe at my Virgin Active gym was accepting contactless. More visible signs of contactless acceptance at the counters would be helpful though - some terminals are obviously different, but others look just like regular card terminals, so I couldn't really tell if I could use my phone without asking about it. 4. Merchant cashier staff are crucial to shaping customer opinions and should become "the ambassadors" for new technology to succeed. When buying breakfast and coffee this morning at Pret-a-Manger I again tapped the phone to pay, the cashier's response stunned me - "Do you realise that if someone gets hold of your phone, all your money is gone?", he asked me. After I regained my speech, I said, "is this what you tell all your customers?" Unfortunately, the overly emphatic "No!!!" could only mean, "yes, I do"... How does that help the already security-anxious consumer? Overall, I've enjoyed tapping my phone over the last few days. Having said that, more often than not I reached for my actual wallet only to remember to take out my phone (old habits die hard!) While the experience now is easy - literally, "tap and go", it's not really a step change from paying by card. And there are no additional services for now, other than the summary of transactions I get on the phone. It's enough to excite my inner payments geek, but my experience seems to suggest that we are still some time off from a mass market adoption of NFC.


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