Even before COVID-19, contactless payments have seen a significant rise in use globally. But for the U.S., it’s taken the pandemic to really cause the trend to take hold.
In pre-pandemic years, the U.S. had been relatively slow in adopting contactless payment methods. Disinterest may have had to do with the lack of benefits contactless payments offered. People who adopted this payment method usually just benefited from only a slightly quicker checkout process.
Security misconceptions have also been a major obstacle for contactless payment growth. Fear of fraud has led to distrust among consumers.
Since the rise of COVID-19, however, behavior towards contactless payments has significantly changed.
31 million Americans used either a Visa contactless card or digital wallet in March 2020 — a 19% increase since last November. And since March 2019, the overall use of contactless payments in the U.S. has increased by 150%.
Mastercard has seen a similar surge in use of contactless cards. A recent global consumer study revealed that almost eight in 10 said they use contactless payments. In between the months of February and March, contactless transactions have increased twice as much as non-contactless transactions in grocery and pharmacy purchases.
“What we’re really seeing during this crisis period is a consumer behavioral shift to leveraging contactless products,” said Linda Kirkpatrick, president of U.S. issuers at Mastercard.
The possible hygienic benefits of paying through contactless cards could be behind the sudden change. 79% of the consumers surveyed in the Mastercard study believed contactless pay to be the cleaner and safer alternative to cash.
With contactless payments increasing at such a fast rate, the future of cash is looking more uncertain.
“Cash is not going to disappear,” said Morten Jorgensen, director of RBR, a consulting firm specializing in banking technology. “But it will continue to decline, and COVID is accelerating that trend.”
But even with the use of cash predicted to decrease, contactless payment’s future as the successor is uncertain. There still remains some hesitation among consumers.
While 18-24 year olds were the most likely consumers to use tap-to-pay methods of the participants interviewed, 26% of that age group said they were unlikely to switch to contactless payment.
Only 55% of the participants ages 25-44 said they were likely to use tap-to-pay methods of payment, leaving 45% of that age group either unlikely or unsure.
Consumers’ remaining skepticism has to do with concerns regarding security and fraud protection, which continue to influence people’s attitudes towards contactless payment methods.
“Security concerns have continuously registered as a top factor throttling adoption,” said Jordan McKee, research director at 451 Research. “Just one in four consumers believe that digital wallet transactions are very secure, and little more than one in three think they are more secure than traditional credit cards.” According to McKee, educating consumers about security methods behind contactless payments is crucial to obtaining their trust.
Even with increased understanding, though, there is also the matter of financial inclusion. As payment methods continue to become more digitized, poverty and lack of access and education may stop many people from taking part in this transformation. For those who rely mostly on cash withdrawals to make ends meet, adjusting to a world of digitized payments can become a daily struggle to stay afloat.
“A founder of a payments startup I spoke to a few years ago put it perfectly: “Until I know I can go to the gym without my wallet, and know I can buy a bottle of water on my way home, people are still going to use cash/card.””
Fintech Lead, OurCrowd
“You know what would really accelerate contactless payments in the U.S.? A consistent point of sale experience. Seemingly every terminal has a "right place" to tap, you can't easily tell if you can tap and people behind the counter are under trained on process.”