Orange and Barclaycard have been promising contactless payments in phones for over a year. They finally launched the UK’s first NFC phone last week. It will first be available on a Samsung Tocco Lite on both pay as you go and monthly and the payment facility (called Quick Tap) can be set up by Barclaycard or Barclays Debit Card customers. NFC works much like an Oyster Card (for those of you who’ve travelled in London), whereby you top-up your account with up to £100, and can make single transactions up to £15. In essence it’s like cash, but without the pocket full of coins. The contactless payments can be used at 50,000 stores, including Pret a Manger, EAT, Little Chef, Wembley Arena, Subway, Wilkinson and McDonalds.
Consumers often raise the issue of security with NFC. Could someone just brush past and deduct a payment? No, because the data is encrypted and can only be read at terminals. In fact, the NFC chips have been available on Barclaycards for some time, and there are no examples of that security being compromised. What if someone looses their phone, could someone just spend the money? Not really. If you lost it will all £100, once you tell Barclays the payment facility is cancelled and the money refunded. If you went out with £100 cash and lost it, you’ve lost £100. That doesn’t happen with contactless.
In spite of that, there are understandable consumer concerns about security, which is why users can add a pin number, making the contactless facility more like a traditional chip and pin. Will contactless catch on? Certainly Orange and Barclaycard have massive confidence in the scheme, and will be rolling out other handsets shortly (lets hope one of them is a decent smartphone). The potential of contactless as both a payment and marketing channel is there, however there is one big but. Consumer adoption. In spite of large investments in mobile NFC by banks, operators and handset manufacturers, there is little evidence that consumers are demanding contactless payments. Pushing technology to consumers does not a promise of success. The world of mobile is littered with failed technology (mobile TV, video calling, any Nokia phone in the last three years …). What is disappointing with the Orange/Barclaycard offer is that neither the handset nor many of the brands involved are exactly cutting edge (contactless in a Little Chef???). True, you have to start somewhere, but this isn’t going to reach the kind of social opinion formers who will evangelise about the technology. Maybe it will all happen with a contactless iPhone 5!