The number of contactless and NFC-enabled payment solutions has grown in recent months, and to test the effectiveness and usability of the technology, Gemalto put together a contest that put contactless technology to the test.
Spanning 10 days and culminating on Nov. 28, Gemalto’s Contactless Challenge 2012 pit two Mobile Industry Review bloggers — Jon Choo and Ewan MacLeod — against London’s contactless payments infrastructure.
Equipped with nothing more than a Samsung Galaxy S III, the bloggers were released onto the streets of London free to make purchases as they saw fit in certain categories.
Using a point system devised by Gemalto, the bloggers were each given a checklist of activities, goods and services to be purchased using only NFC. Points were to be tallied over the 10-day span with a winner to be declared at midnight on the last day.
After the first four days of the challenge — roughly the halfway mark — it was evident that NFC was not quite as prevalent as the bloggers had anticipated. Not without its successes, the challenge saw the bloggers employ contactless payment technology in a number of retail settings across metropolitan London.
The first sign of trouble came with certain retail locations not living up to their self-proclaimed contactless capabilities. In one such case, MacLeod visited a Marks & Spencer where the NFC payment terminals were not functioning. Whether this was hardware malfunction or simply a case of an under informed clerk, it is clear that awareness for contactless payments is yet to reach maturity.
Another interesting finding occurred at a sushi restaurant, where blogger Jon Choo discovered the restaurant had discontinued its contactless payment trial because it found the £20 purchase limit too restricting.
There was promising news with regards to how contactless payments affect the device; MacLeod found that battery life was not significantly affected even after making numerous NFC payments.
Location, location, location
At the midway point of the contactless challenge, it became evident that a majority of contactless and NFC-based payments were support in the city center and that the farther one travels from London’s metropolis the options for contactless payments decreases significantly.
While this is certainly not a revelation, it is worth noting nonetheless as contactless and NFC technology must be available to as much of the population as possible in order for it to realize its true potential.
Choo reported that in the St. Albans neighborhood— just 20 miles north of London’s city center — there was a noticeable lack of NFC options. While this is to be expected with a new technology, the reach of NFC must spread if it is to have a significant effect on the payments landscape.
What to buy…
The range of available products to be bought using NFC was fairly concentrated in the early stages of the challenge as the bloggers were still feeling their way around the technology.
While items like doughnuts, sub sandwiches, shoelaces and other standard items were plentiful; the purchase of flowers using NFC was perhaps the most unique purchase made during the early stages of the challenge.
It seems that food-related purchases make up a significant portion of the contactless payment sector, as both bloggers reported buying food from either a drive-thru or at a brick and mortar restaurant. One of the men even bought groceries using his mobile device as the means of payment.
As the Contactless Challenge approached its latter stages, the contest seemed to be favoring the London-based Choo, as MacLeod chose to test his luck in Barcelona.
Logic would suggest that Barcelona would be an ideal location to put contactless payment to the test, as the city is the home for the annual Mobile World Congress. However, as MacLeod quickly discovered, the Spanish metropolis was surprisingly short on contactless options.
Notable tasks on the challenge’s ‘to do’ list that had not yet been accomplished included getting a haircut and paying for a movie at the theater.
The tenth and final day of the challenge saw Choo officially take home the top spot as Barcelona failed to provide the boost necessary for MacLeod to overtake his counterpart.
Though Barcelona is currently behind London in the NFC terminal department, there are initiatives underway to increase the use of contactless and NFC. With initiatives like Tap and Go – support for NFC in Spain is sure to make up ground.
Meanwhile, London proved to be the gold standard for contactless payments as the number of locations and options at the heart of the capitol was impressive.
As reported by the bloggers, when NFC payments were accepted and contactless transactions were made, the ease and simplicity in its use was profound. Likewise, cases where mobile payments were not accepted or failed at the point of sale, did elicit some frustration.
Some locations and businesses thrived — McDonald’s and Pret A Manger — and set themselves apart as a result of their support and integration of NFC payments.
Gemalto will continue its analysis and breakdown of the Contactless Challenge 2012 in the coming days. For additional information on the challenge, visit Gemalto’s web site.