Contactless payments. Source: ING on Flickr

“An easier way to pay in stores”

It’s a typical day in march. While waiting for my train, I decide to purchase a snack at the station’s small convenience store. After grabbing a sandwich off a shelf, I walk to the unmanned cash register, scan the item, hold my wallet against the payment terminal and walk out of the store, to my train, which has just arrived.

No cash was involved in this transaction. No swiping cards or PIN, not even a fingerprint scanner. And yet it worked flawlessly, like it always does. The secret is in my debit card, which has been upgraded last year to work with contactless payments, as have most payment terminals in the country. This move makes paying for things truly effortless, and because of a daily limit it doesn’t trade in too much security. Even if the card was stolen, the criminal wouldn’t be able to spend more than the limit of €50 before having to enter the code anyway, a sum that the banks have guaranteed to cover whenever this happens. Almost all the major banks have teamed up and built support for this technology into their debit cards, which are the default method of paying here. If a store supports the tech, and a lot of them do, that fact is clearly indicated using standardized iconography, and even my grandparents know how to use it.

It might not be surprising that I often feel some pity when reading about Apple Pay and similar systems. The public doesn’t know what it is and how it works (“Apple Pie?”), and those problems will only become more frequent when other systems like Android Pay start getting some traction as well. Why should there be several platform-specific payment services, each with their own little oddities? It doesn’t provide any value to the customer, and will just be a major source of frustration, because cashiers generally do not know nor care about the latest fads in payment technology. Also, adoption is dependent on having a flagship smartphone, something a lot of people can’t afford or simply don’t need.

Although Apple Pay is rumored to soon be launching in The Netherlands, it just feels like it’s too little, too late. The ship for effortless payments has sailed here, and even having to authenticate with a fingerprint seems like a step backwards, since it’s a process consisting of two steps, as opposed to one. I don’t think not having to have your card with you is worth the trade-off of doubling the effort needed to make a payment. Will Apple Pay ever take off here? Maybe, but I’m not buying it.

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