Payments acceptance confusion at the point of sale

Historically card acceptance in-store was fairly straightforward. You knew if shops took cards because they had a sticker in the window; if they took cards you were safe with Visa and MasterCard and if you were lucky they also took American Express.

The arrival of contactless payments brought greater payments convenience at the point of sale but also confusion. Consumers were now faced with a new way of paying with cards and having to determine if the option existed in their store of choice. Sometimes the card reader has a contactless label on it, sometimes the LCD display shows contactless acceptance, sometimes it’s necessary to ask for contactless to be enabled for the transaction, sometimes the card reader looks like it’s a contactless terminal but contactless hasn’t been enabled on it. What’s happened to taking friction out of payments?

Recently I discovered another twist in the contactless acceptance story. Some stores that accept American Express, do not accept American Express for contactless; it’s Chip and PIN only. And it’s not just small stores where this is a problem; I recently discovered this in WH Smith after battling with a self-serve contactless terminal.

The arrival of Apple Pay in the UK has further highlighted the chaos around card acceptance in stores. Displaying the Apple Pay logo in-store should mean that consumers can always pay with Apple Pay; however to make an Amex Apple Pay payment, the store must also accept Amex cards and accept Amex for contactless. Plus, thanks to Consumer Device Cardholder Verification Method, Apple Pay does not need to be restricted by the £20 contactless limit for cards; however so far it seems that only Apple’s own stores and Pret a Manger have lifted this limit. Other stores will do so over the next few months but again it’s a muddled landscape for consumers.

I guess this all makes perfect sense to people in the payments industry but to the consumer who just wants a simple way of paying in-store? Definitely not. It’s confusion like this that sets back the case for moving away from cash and cards for in-store payment. The payments industry needs to do more to take the friction and frustration out of payments by removing point of sale confusion around product acceptance.