Customers may want a quick, pain-free, experience at the tills but recent history suggests that the reality is far different. All too often contactless terminals are lost amongst so much other point-of-sale collateral on the counter space that the inclination is to avoid or ignore them.

Customers may want a quick, pain-free, experience at the tills but recent history suggests that the reality is far different. All too often contactless terminals are lost amongst so much other point-of-sale collateral on the counter space that the inclination is to avoid or ignore them.

In my experience, the devices also usually require staff intervention to ensure transactions go through. The end result is a poor experience and without concerted action, consumer cynicism about contactless cards at the point of sale will set in. 

After all, if the above scenario continues to play out consumers will remain nervous, believing that the technology is unreliable, at best, and unsafe, at worst. Marks & Spencer was last week found to have been accidentally charging customers when their cards were in their purses further away than the 4cm contactless machines require they are held at.

Ultimately this means that the onus is on merchants to develop a clear collections strategy, a simple and trustworthy payments process, and staff who are trained in both. Put simply, effort at the industry level will make a huge difference.

It is a disappointing reality, because the benefits of contactless technology are clear. Customers value convenience and simplicity. Merchants benefit from higher throughput at points of sale, shorter queues and fewer ‘walk offs’. All this adds up to higher satisfaction and greater revenue – a real ‘win-win’ for retail.

Current statistics also show that customers want to use contactless cards and there is growing evidence that some leading merchants are moving toward it. Visa, for example, reports 5.3 million contactless transactions in March 2013 and the UK Payments Council has highlighted a number of significant merchant contactless initiatives, most notably Transport for London.

The organisation is currently reporting good progress in its journey to replace the familiar Oyster card with open bank debit contactless cards. This will make the London ecosystem familiar with using contactless bank cards via transport and will be a real game changer for the proposition.

If the proposed new economic regulator for payments wanted to make a quick and easy instant impact on the payments market, instigating an industry initiative to make contactless payments a ubiquitous reality at the point of sale would be an obvious place to start.

In a society dominated by hyper-connectivity, customers are demanding instantaneous transactional information, together with the ability to speed up the payment process. Where ‘pay as you go’ once meant payment for short-term expenditure, it is taking on a new meaning now as customers want to ‘pay on the move’. 

Near field communication offers exactly this, but unless it is implemented correctly and glitches in the system are ironed out, the benefits of the technology will be lost and risk being displaced by movement in the mobile marketplace.

Mark Hale is head of payments at KPMG