Keep your distance has been a mantra for 2020. To limit the spread of COVID-19, people are reminded repeatedly not to get too close to others, but it’s hard to stay away when you need to hand over cash or a card for payment. Fortunately, technology exists for contactless payments, and businesses have been embracing this option this year.
“We’ve been doing this for seven years, and the uptick in the last six months has been off the chart,” says Ralph Dangelmaier, CEO of BlueSnap, a company that provides contactless payment solutions.
While not all retailers and businesses are set up for all contactless payment methods, here are seven options that can be used across a variety of industries.
- Buy online.
- Use a chat app.
- Order ahead.
- Tap to pay.
- Scan a QR code.
- Pay by link.
- Sign for a loan at home.
Online shopping is one of the most familiar and accessible ways to make a payment without any contact. Large retailers such as Amazon have made it mainstream to buy everything from groceries to electronics online and have purchases delivered to your doorstep. However, in the face of the pandemic, even small, local retailers have begun putting inventory online and are willing to ship items to shoppers.
Use a Chat App
Traditional e-commerce calls for customers to enter payment and shipment information on a business website. Chat commerce, also known as conversational commerce, simplifies that process by allowing businesses to facilitate payments using mobile apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
“You already have a chat app on your phone,” says Pieter de Villiers, CEO of Clickatell, a global technology company that provides chat commerce solutions. Businesses that are set up for conversational commerce can process orders and even take payments while chatting with customers in an app. It’s a convenient and secure way to make a purchase, according to de Villiers, who says, “Cash in the pocket is far more risky than cash in a digital wallet.”
Customers can use contactless payments at many establishments even if they need to pick up an item in person. National brands, such as McDonald’s, have rolled out apps that allow people to order and pay without ever making contact with an employee. Then, purchases can be collected via curbside pick-up to eliminate the need to go inside a restaurant or store.
In some areas, local shops have followed suit. While they may not have apps, these businesses will take orders over the phone and provide either curbside or walk-in options to pick up items.
Tap to Pay
When paying over the phone or internet is not an option, tap to pay can eliminate the need to touch a payment terminal. This payment option requires that a retailer have a sales terminal equipped with near-field communication, or NFC, technology and that a customer have a compatible credit card, smartphone or smartwatch. Then, the customer taps the terminal with their device or card to complete the payment.
Information sent by the card is encrypted and tokenized to keep data secure. That makes these transactions as safe as swiping or inserting the card into the terminal.
Scan a QR Code
The use of QR codes is common in Asia, de Villiers says, but American businesses are just warming up to the practice. Retailers and restaurants that use this method provide a QR code – also known as a quick response code – for customers to scan using their smartphone. Payment information can then be added or confirmed on the phone so no cash or card needs to change hands.
Pay by Link
Like QR codes, paying with a link sent via email or text is still in the early stages of adoption, but Dangelmaier thinks it will eventually catch on with both businesses and customers. “I think that’s a real emerging trend,” he says.
It may be particularly useful for in-home service providers, such as plumbers and electricians. Sending a link to customers for payment can streamline the process and minimize a technician’s time in a home. Dangelmaier notes, “We just think that’s the easier way to do it.”
Sign for a Loan at Home
Even large purchases can be made nearly contactless, thanks to electronic signature services such as DocuSign. “A customer can ultimately (buy a vehicle) without going to a dealership,” says Jonathan Chariff, CEO and president of South Motors, which operates dealerships in South Florida.
“Our goal and the goal of the industry is to provide as much information as possible online,” Chariff says. Once someone has a vehicle in mind, a sales representative can deliver it for a test drive. Then, the buyer can complete paperwork online at home. To comply with banking requirements, a representative may need to meet with a buyer briefly at the close of the sale, but this too can be done in a person’s home. The ability to buy a vehicle with minimal contact has advanced significantly this year, Chariff says, and he expects it to continue to evolve in the months ahead.
The same can be said for contactless payments in general. To meet demand for smooth and seamless transactions, new technologies may become more widespread. For instance, de Villiers sees some businesses in Denmark utilizing Bluetooth low energy, or BLE, technology, which doesn’t require customers to even take their phone out of their pocket to pay.
Contactless payments will likely be popular long after the coronavirus pandemic becomes a thing of the past. According to Dangelmaier, “I think once people get a handle on contactless payments, (they’re) not going to want to go back.”