State of Contactless Payments 2021 Report
COVID-19 Resources

State of Contactless Payments 2021 Report

May 12, 2021

“Contactless” appears to be a COVID-centric trend with staying power. When it comes to checking out, customers have gravitated towards quick, easy, and contactless experiences.

Any technology that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC) for payments qualifies as contactless. These methods include tapping a credit or debit card to a payment terminal, phone-based payments, scanning a QR code, and using mobile wallets such as Apple Pay.

Mastercard found that more than 50% of American shoppers now use contactless payments. 67% of retailers offer shoppers some form of contactless payment, per the National Retail Federation (NRF)

If your organization doesn’t already offer contactless payments, it should. Customers demand the safety and convenience of contactless checkout. It can also provide direct and productivity-related savings for your organization

We wanted to get to the “why” behind contactless payments’ explosion. That’s why we launched the State of Contactless Payments Report 2021.

We picked the minds of 1,000 American consumers. We found out what they like about contactless payments, what they think can improve, and what will keep them using contactless payment channels well into the future—as well as other insights.

With help from these findings, we want your organization to maximize your revenues from consumers who demand efficient, contactless payment options.

Key Findings 

Over 80% of consumers have used contactless payments in the past 12 months.  Usage of contactless payments is undoubtedly accelerating.

Convenience and health/safety are driving adoption. Convenience is a consumer demand that’s here to stay. So are safety-related expectations.

Nearly half of consumers have tried to pay with contactless payments and had it fail. Functionality is a potential pain point that all organizations must address head-on.

Bad experiences where the contactless payment solution was slow or failed is the leading reason why respondents don’t use them. A non-functional contactless payment channel is a major turn-off for shoppers and defeats the purpose of your investment in contactless technology.

57% of consumers say they are more likely to do business with those who offer a contactless payment option. It’s not just a matter of preference—many see contact at checkout as a genuine safety concern.

Part 1: Taking a Look at the Modern Consumer

The term “consumer” only tells you so much. For more context, let’s consider the attitudes of the consumers who participated in our survey.

64% of consumers worry about the cleanliness of paying with credit cards 

Cleanliness of paying with credit cards

It’s impossible to separate pandemic-driven health concerns from the rise of contactless payments. Per Mastercard, contactless payments leapt by 40% due to fears of bacterial transmission through traditional payment processes.

When it comes to credit cards, consumers may feel safer handling their own card without handing it to a cashier or having to touch a card processing machine. 

74% of consumers are concerned about the cleanliness of cash

Cleanliness of touching physical cash

Consumers are even more concerned about the cleanliness of cash, which can carry more germs than the typical household toilet

The modern consumer remains cognizant of cleanliness, even as the population receives vaccinations for COVID-19. Retail organizations can’t assume that vaccines will heal the psychological scars of the pandemic. 

Consumers may be germ-conscious for the foreseeable future, and offering contactless payments is a way to respect shoppers’ concerns. 

Section Summary:

Our respondents differed in their education levels, professions, income levels, and personal characteristics. However, there was widespread concern among respondents about the safety of checking out at brick-and-mortar stores.

Shoppers might compromise on matters of preference, but generally do not budge when it comes to health and safety. J.P. Morgan Chase’s Vice President of card issuance Rory Wilson confirms that “consumers are much more conscious of the safety benefits of contactless payments” as a consequence of the pandemic.

As an organization, you should understand that shoppers see contactless payments as more than a preference—it’s a matter of health and safety.

Part 2: Adoption of Contactless Payments

We know that contactless payments are gaining popularity among consumers. However, we wanted to home in on:

  • How consumers view contactless payments right now
  • What’s driving adoption of contactless payment methods
  • What’s preventing even more rapid adoption of contactless payment methods

Purported advantages of contactless payments include speed, security, and convenience. Do consumers agree?

Convenience and safety are the leading drivers of contactless payments

Primary reason to pay with a contactless payment option

Most respondents (47.2%) are drawn to contactless checkout because of its convenience. Using an app, tap-and-go, or mobile wallet to pay is easier for most shoppers than scanning (and possibly re-scanning) their credit card, inserting a chipped card, or counting out cash and waiting for change.

Nearly as many respondents (35.5%) prefer contactless payment methods for health reasons. Touching communal card readers or dirty cash appears unnecessarily risky when contactless options are available.

Convenience and safety have sparked massive recent adoption 

Have you used contactless payments?

An astounding 83% of respondents have used contactless payments in the past 12 months. 

We already know that convenience and safety are the leading draws for contactless payment channels. If this one-year usage rate is an indication, consumers really care about convenience and safety.

We aren’t shocked by these findings. Convenience and safety were themes that emerged throughout our State of Consumer Behavior 2021 report as well.

Consumers are consistently using contactless payments 

How often you use contactless payments when you are shopping at stores

Shoppers aren’t just trying contactless payments and returning to their old ways. The majority of shoppers have adopted the practice of contactless checkout and are increasingly abandoning traditional checkouts.

37% of respondents use contactless payments at least half of the time when checking out, while 35% use contactless payments almost every time. This is particularly striking considering that Americans have been historically slow to adopt contactless checkout—we’re witnessing a veritable groundswell in favor of contactless payments.

Again, this reinforces that shoppers will change their habits if the change provides greater convenience and/or safety. They’re not necessarily loyal to the old way of doing things.

There’s a caveat, though: your contactless payment channels have to work and work well, in order for shoppers to use them.

About half of consumers have had contactless payment channels fail them

Have you ever tried to use contactless payments and had it not work for you?

When it comes to contactless payments, it appears that about half of consumers have justifiable trust issues.

To be fair, these consumers might have had only one poor experience and many successful contactless checkouts. However, if that poor experience happens at one of your stores, then it could forever shape the shopper’s perception of your contactless payment offerings.

Forbes explains the importance of your contactless payment software integrating well with your existing systems, from inventory management to POS and other features of your stores. 

Giving too little consideration to selection and maintenance of contactless systems can cause avoidable headaches and reputational harm.

Shoppers avoid contactless payment when it’s slow, not functional, or overly-complicated 

Most common reason for why you would not use contactless payments

Consumers said they’ve avoided using contactless payments because of past experiences where:

  • The contactless payment process was unreasonably slow (20% said this was the leading reason that they would avoid contactless checkout in the future)
  • The contactless payment process did not result in a successful checkout (20.1%)
  • They lacked faith in the security of the contactless checkout process (21.2%)

When convenience is the key driver of contactless payments, you simply can’t afford to have slow contactless checkout channels. Furthermore, your contactless payment channels must work if you expect your customers to use them in the future.

Security is a well-documented advantage of contactless payments. Tap-and-go helps customers avoid card skimmers, while each contactless transaction is authenticated to avoid fraudulent purchases. It’s your choice of whether, and how, to make your customers aware of these security benefits.

The keys to further adoption: availability, education, and security

What would make you more likely to use contactless payments more often?

Some say the best ability is availability. If you don’t have contactless payment channels in your stores, then customers can’t use them.

If more organizations install them, 30% of customers said they’ll use contactless checkout more often.

27.4% of customers said clearer explanations of how contactless technology works will spark additional use. Explanations may include:

  • Whether you offer contactless checkout
  • What specific contactless options are available
  • How to use each specific option

Simply offering contactless checkout is not enough. Many customers need additional guidance.

If you can instill confidence in the security of your contactless checkout, then you virtually guarantee that customers will give your systems a try. 24.7% of consumers said security was the linchpin for them to increase their use of contactless payments.

Section Summary:

We’ve answered some key questions for anyone hoping to increase contactless payment usage and corresponding sales. Those questions and answers include:

Are customers using contactless payments? Often and increasingly.

Why are customers adopting contactless payments? Convenience and safety.

What is the key to further adoption? Availability, functionality, education, and guarantees of security.

Part 3: Outlook For the Future of Contactless Payments

Along with trends like buy online, pickup in-store (see our State of BOPIS Report 2021), contactless payments is an integral feature of brick and mortar.

Uncompromising demand for convenience and safety make contactless payment a must-have feature of in-location experiences.

Survey respondents confirmed that they see contactless payments continuing to flourish. They said that:

  • They’ll choose where to shop based on the availability of contactless checkout
  • They anticipate using contactless payments more frequently in the coming year
  • They believe society is headed towards cashlessness

With millennials driving the trend towards contactless-only payments, expect these trends to deepen over time.

Most shoppers will choose a store with contactless checkout over one that does not have contactless checkout 

If a business offers contactless payments, are you more likely to do business with them than a business that does not offer contactless payments as an option?

More than 57% of shoppers will choose another organization’s stores over yours if you fail to offer contactless checkout. 

Remember that many customers see contactless checkout as a safety issue. This may explain why they’ll form shopping decisions around your contactless offerings or lack thereof.

Customers anticipate using contactless payments more frequently in the next 12 months

Frequency of contactless payments use

44% of consumers project a significant increase in their use of contactless payments over the next year. 

This may indicate that customers expect contactless checkout to be more widely available in the future. Other customers may have only recently realized the benefits of contactless checkout and plan to embrace those benefits going forward.

Another 30% of shoppers anticipate a minor increase in their use of self-checkout. These shoppers may like using contactless payments, but may also have tempered expectations about the increasing availability of these options.

Less than 4% of respondents anticipate using contactless checkout less frequently. The contactless payment trend is not going to reverse itself so long as shoppers have their way.

Four in ten consumers see shopping going cashless sooner than later

Physical cash use in the future

About 40% of respondents believe they’ll shop in a completely cashless manner in as little as a decade. Though this may be inconceivable for the remaining 60% of those shoppers, it falls in line with the accelerating trend towards contactless checkout.

Conclusion

Consumers have spoken: contactless payment is an essential feature of the in-location brick-and-mortar experience.

Kevin Phalen, Global Head of Business Solutions at Visa, confirms our findings:

With greater hindsight into 2020, we can clearly see that the digital payment experiences that excelled the most…were driven out of necessity and have become more habitual in people’s daily lives at a pace not often seen,” he said, mentioning contactless payments specifically.

The pandemic led some retail organizations to go “card-only” at checkout counters, at least for a period of time. This might be a glimpse into the future, when cash is increasingly rare (and, given enough time, eventually gone altogether).

Even on a shorter timeline, your organization will want to embrace contactless payments if it is to maximize its potential. That is, at least, if you believe that the customer is always right.

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