The UX of contactless payment systems

by Foolproof

As contactless payment systems enter the mainstream, more and more event organisers are using it as an alternative to cash or card payments.

The Isle of Wight Festival recently reported over a fifth of festival goers using the technology and Wireless in Hyde Park was the first UK event where all vendors offered contactless payments.

Get it right and you will be praised for swifter payments and shorter queues. Get it wrong and your customers will vote with their feet.

A festival flop

My recent trip to Poland landed me and around 32,000 Irish football fans in the middle of the fan zone in Wolnosci Square, Poznan the day before Ireland played their opening Euro 2012 match against Croatia.

We head to the nearest food stall to line our stomachs with a hot dog and a refreshing pint of Tyskie beer. But found food could only be bought in the fanzone using a prepaid contactless payment card which could be bought for 50 Zloty (£10) at the fanzone entrance. We tracked down one of the card promo girls and 50 Zloty later, off we went to make use of the balance. One hour later and with a number of other fans we left the fanzone in search of an easier method of payment.

So, why did we all have such a poor experience of the fanzone cashless payment system? 

Communication of the proposition and benefits ….onboarding

Design Principles: Like any new experience, you need to understand the customer’s needs throughout the service journey. Set expectations.

The first thing that sprung to mind was the lack of marketing and communication of this system prior to our arrival. We were all ready to make use of the Zloty we had taken out at a nearby ATM/cash machine. We didn’t want to have to go to the effort of queuing up to hand over our Zloty every time we wanted to top up the card. How much euro/GBP should we top it up by? What’s that in Zloty? Was it worth the hassle? To be fair, the promo girl did explain that using the card is more secure and cuts down on queue time and speed of the payment process.

Using the card at point of sale

Design Principles: Spell things out and keep the customer informed where they are in the process. Keep messages simple and clear with timely feedback.

Being the only one in our group with a decent understanding of the benefits of NFC and contactless payment technologies I easily understood the whole proposition and the procedures to point of sale. However, observing the behaviour of our own and other football fans confirmed a general lack of understanding of what to do with the card which does not say much for its intuitiveness. In most cases, the caterer was handed the card by the fan/customer to complete the transaction, where in fact it would have been easier and more to the point quicker if the fan knew where to place the card themselves.

One fundamental flaw in the transaction process was that you weren’t informed of your balance after every purchase. I think we even got receipts but they didn’t display the balance – as one member of our group noted it to be “incredibly stupid or incredibly sneaky?”. Aside from that, I can understand the system architecture was inherited based on use of mobile wallets where you can easily check the balance via your native phone application. However, this is in reality a “throw away disposable” credit card not a mobile wallet!

Check balance and top up? How do I do this and where can I do it?

Design Principles: Inform. Reassure. Help.

Checking your balance and topping up the card threw up a lot more questions than answers which is not a good sign. We knew we needed to top up as we only had an opening balance of about £10 on the card and were told by a vendor we didn’t have enough on the card to buy another drink.

So there we were left wondering how and where we could top up our cards. No signs pointing to a top up kiosk were within our radar. Absolutely pointless to aimlessly wander around a jam packed square so the best option was to go back to the main entrance to speak with one of the card promo girls. Judging from her reaction I had a feeling I wasn’t the only person who asked her this question. She showed the options on the back of the welcoming letter which accompanied the card.

Luckily for me I kept mine. This turned out to be a wise decision as it also had the card PIN number printed on it. The others in our group threw theirs away which meant they could not redeem any unused credit. I wonder how many others suffered the same fate? Anyhow, our options to check our balance and top up the card were hidden away in a miniscule font. Again, one could not help wonder was this “incredibly stupid or incredibly sneaky”?

As you can imagine, topping up was too much effort for little reward, especially for those with a few pints on board. It wasn’t difficult for the group to decide it was high time to leave the fanzone and revert to more “traditional” payment methods.

Conduct user research

To summarise, the fanzone experience was something that was far from the perceived benefits associated with contactless payment. For such a momentous occasion I could not help think if the organisers had conducted some customer research in advance of Euro 2012, they would have been able to avoid what in my opinion was a disappointing fanzone experience.

Surely the organisers understood a good proportion of the audience would be from another country and would have no local knowledge and time to find banks/post offices? Did they realise that fans would turn off 3G data roaming and would have no mobile internet access? Did anyone consider the implications a crowded place combined with alcohol consumption would have on the communication methods to inform and sell the contactless payment proposition? Did they look to investigate fan perceptions of partying in a branded space where prices are higher, choice is limited and the local feel is overpowered by the corporate feel?

Failing to address the above areas saw customers vote with their feet and avail of more “traditional” payment methods.

What do you think?