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Bonking payment by NFC doubled by Olympics splash

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As an Olympics sponsor Visa used the London games to highlight pay-by-bonk technology, successfully doubling the number of contactless payments across the UK while taking a fifth of the transactions within the park.

In the ten weeks leading up to the games the number of bonked payments doubled, hitting six times last year's total for the period of the games themselves, demonstrating that punters will use NFC if they know about it. Visa isn't sharing the overall value passed over NFC connections, but at NFC World Congress the company did reveal some comparisons and growth rates, as reported by NFC World.

Not that the majority of users were willing, or able, to tap a card on the counter. Even in the Olympic venues only 20 per cent of payments under £20 were made with a bonk, four out of five customers still slotted their card and entered their PIN in the traditional way despite the surrounding advertising.

Visa reckons that's in line with the proportion of cards equipped with NFC, denoted by the little radiating logo. The fact that payments at the Horse Guards venue hit 25 per cent shows just how popular the technology is, apparently:

The higher on-site transaction figure demonstrates consumer enthusiasm for using the technology when it is made easily available.

Last month Barclaycard announced it was processing a million contactless payments a month, which would seem to mesh with Visa's figures for a process with which users are getting more comfortable. Neither company breaks out the proportion of payments made using a phone (or a sticker in the case of Barclaycard) but it's safe to assume that traditional cards make up the overwhelming majority.

Visa did say that the 700 or so Galaxy SIII handsets it issued to athletes and journalists got heavy use, averaging fifteen transactions each, but the novelty (and the pre-loaded credit) probably accounted for most of that. Then if iPhone 5 sales are as huge as seems probable (the iPhone has no NFC) smartphone adoption won't become massive for a good while yet.

Nonetheless the industry firmly believes that the only thing preventing the use of contactless payments is lack of familiarity with the process, which can be addressed through advertising. Assuming they're right, the retailers will save money on cash handling and the customers can save time typing in their PINs: and (most importantly) the payment processors like Visa can start clawing back some of those savings in their transaction fees. ®

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