Payments in a Pandemic

There’s a theme in payments media and marketing that contactless payments are growing as a result of the ongoing pandemic to protect both cashiers and customers. Indeed, Mastercard and Visa both reported increases in contactless cards and usage since March.

A cursory look at the data suggests that, like many trends, the pandemic is speeding up increases that were already established. The Bank of International Settlements agrees, in a chart titled, “Contactless cards payments were rising already in the past.” So does a survey by Mercator Advisory Group, which reports increasing contactless transactions among U.S. consumers before the pandemic.

It’s also clear that consumers and small retailers are concerned about making payments safer, and cards are still the king of payments in the U.S. My hairstylist has the simplest system I’ve come across: a Square chip reader that she holds while I put in my card, and a new plastic bag placed over her iPhone so I can finger sign safely.

The Cat’s Eye Wine Bar in Ottawa, IL, invested in a Square Terminal. The server who presented it to me so I could pay the check loves it.

Walmart has a line in red about contactless payments using Walmart Pay, also promoted on banners in the store.

My wife and I are on a short holiday in Galena, Ill., as the economy here continues to open. Needless to say, we did some shopping. (Most of our purchases, in fact, were things to remedy problems we encountered in the home and kitchen over more than 100 days of sheltering in place.)

I noticed a clearly new POS system at Isabella’s Interiors. Her decision to invest in a Square Register POS system, a decision solidified by the pandemic.

“I decided to invest so I wouldn’t have to turn the iPad (on the older Square system) over to the customer for a signature,” owner Shelly McCoy told me. “I was the first merchant here to start using Square here seven years ago, and I’d have to replace the iPads as they wore out.”

Customers insert the chip card below the screen pictured below, which displays their purchase information. If they have Apple Pay wallet open, the device accepts the payment immediately. (I tried that. If you are like me and don’t use it that much, it’s awkward, but that’s another story.)

“It was expensive, but worth it,” McCoy said. “We are not going back to the way we were before, and it was time.”