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Mobile payments like Google Pay are everywhere — except in small communities

Google Pay Field Lifestyle
Google Pay Field Lifestyle (Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Google has been providing a digital wallet option since 2011 with Google Wallet, and since that time the service has gone through multiple phases of evolution to what we now know as Google Pay. Google Pay has become a much more well-known product, usable in millions of stores, thanks to the proliferation of NFC adoption and, in no small part, to Apple Pay. But even with all of that growth, access to contactless payments in smaller communities is still scarce.

Living in rural Kansas, my experience when going to local retailers, restaurants, and gas stations is to expect no access to Google Pay. That's not to say that I don't come across it from time to time; instead, it's rare enough of an encounter that I have been trained to not even look for it as an option.

The "big town" near my home is about 15,000 people at best, but many of the stores either don't offer contactless payment or advertise it as an option.

In the past few years, I have seen an uptick in the places in my area that offer it, but that is still primarily businesses that are part of a larger chain. Even still, many of those don't have any signage up that would indicate that the point of sale (POS) terminals are NFC-ready. So, when it comes time to pay, I've already got my card out and ready to swipe, even though my TicWatch E3 is prepared and supports Google Pay.

When I venture to the smaller towns nearby, population 1000 and under, contactless payments are virtually non-existent. When I talked with one of the gas station owners in one of these towns, he said he'd heard of Apple Pay and maybe Google Pay. When asked if he planned to update his POS terminal to accept these types of payment options, he said, "Maybe, if I have to. But, what I have works, and it's not worth my hassle to change the equipment out."

Small Town Usa Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

It's up to Google and Apple to find ways of educating small businesses in all communities to the benefits of accepting mobile payments.

Traditionally, smaller communities are comprised of an older population or more traditionally rooted people. From their way of life to how payments are handled in the various businesses, using their phone to pay for goods and services is not the first thing they think of. However, with technology permeating deeper into these communities through the younger generations and how they're exposed to payment apps like Google Pay and the benefits it provides, these merchants will see increased pressure to adapt.

While all payments at physical retailers saw a drop during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, payments made via mobile services like Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Apple Pay saw considerable increases in registration worldwide. According to the UK Payment Markets Summary 2021 from UK Finance, the number of 17.3 million adults registered for mobile payments in 2020 — an increase of 7.4 million in 2019. Moreso, of those, 84% of them had registered at least one payment.

While it doesn't designate how many of those purchases were online versus through a mobile device, the top Android phones or Google Pay enabled smartwatch, the interest in mobile payment options is there.

Ticwatch Pro 3 Wear Os Google Pay Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

When looking at the United States specifically, a Verisk Financial Research report found that "adoption of mobile payments in the United States is making progress, albeit at a slower rate than in other developed markets, even though around 83 percent of Americans owned a smartphone at the end of 2020 (up from around 69 percent in 2015)."

On my road trip earlier this summer, I was very glad to find that nearly all of the gas stations I stopped at along the trip offered contactless payment directly at the pump. This let me simply use my watch to pay and helped keep all of my receipts in order in the Google Pay app — not to mention avoiding any potential credit card skimmers.

It's clear that larger cities, especially those with a younger or more tech-forward population, are more apt to accept a less traditional payment method. The UK Payment Markets Summary 2021 bears that out, where 89% of people who made contactless payments in 2019 were in the 34-44 age group. The lowest rate of usage was in the 65 and older age group.

Google Pay and Apple Pay

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

When I visit locally owned businesses with younger entrepreneurs, I have found that many of these businesses offer a payment option that can accept contactless payments. Interestingly, a lot of the time, the owner has opted to use a payment terminal from Square rather than one of the leading suppliers in North America like Verifone, Ingenico, or Pax.

According to a Verisk Financial Research report, "the United States has a highly developed and competitive retail banking and payments market. However, emerging payment technologies are only now displacing comparatively old-fashioned POS systems." While small business owners in more rural communities are willing to stick with the older, non-NFC-enabled payment terminals they currently have because it still works, much of the world shows a preference towards newer payment technologies.

Small Town Usa Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Retailers can obtain their POS terminal by either buying it outright, leasing it, or it gets it as part of their agreement with a transaction processing company. The cost to upgrade to a terminal that accepts NFC can range from $0 to $200 depending on the brand and company providing the hardware. For a small-town retailer, it's about more than just plugging in a new machine, it is learning a new system and terminology — and that can be offputting.

Nothing is stopping me from swiping my card at these businesses, however, it does restrict the benefits that I can use with mobile payment services like Google Pay. Many of these services offer discount or reward programs when using them at retailers in addition to online. When you open the Google Pay app on your phone, it can show you businesses nearby that you can use the service at — for me, that's a very limited list.

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central

Being unable to use a contactless payment opinion is unlikely to cause me to choose one local business over another — at least in the short term. As risks from making payments by swiping a card through the terminal increase — card skimmers and data breaches — using a payment option like Google Pay becomes more attractive thanks to single-use transaction tokens.

I just hope that the means by which businesses in smaller communities get easier and the incentives to them become more apparent. Because while mobile payments and contactless payments aren't perfect, the choice to use these options can benefit everyone — not just those in the big city.

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Chris Wedel
Chris Wedel
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to get and stay online tricky. By utilizing his years of experience with the tech and mobile communications industries — success is assured. When not conquering connectivity challenges and testing new gadgets, he enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes.
27 Comments
  • Having been using Android since the OG Droid, I must confess, it never ever occurs to be to even look in a credit card terminal takes Google Pay. I use my phone for lots of things, but pulling it out to pay for something rather than my wallet has always struck me as a solution looking for a problem.
  • I've seen at several stores the credit card machine displays Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay among contactless pay
  • In an age where skimming is still very prominent, the single-time numbers Google/Apple/Samsung use mean that NFC payments are slightly more secure. It's why when I travel I try to use GPay as often as possible.
  • How is a single use token only slightly more secure? Your chip and mag stipe can be copied single use token is a single use token.
  • Because they all ARE contactless pay. It's just branding.
  • Its a problem looking for a solution. Your phone is in your hand, your wallet has more than one card so you have to take it out of your pocket, open it, choose your card. Whilst I've left the shop. One of those things you don't see the point, until you use it.
  • The tokenization that Google Pay offers adds an extra level of security to your cards, plus with digital wallets, you can leave your real card at home and just carry your phone and cash..which is especially useful if you live abroad like I do and can't easily get a replacement card on the way.
  • Back when Google Wallet/Pay was first introduced in 2012/2013, very few businesses had tap and pay. It wasn't really didn't become widespread until Apple Pay came out in 2018. The problem is Google doesn't get the recognition that Apple does even though Android has had NFC since 2013, but Apple didn't introduce to the iPhone until 2018. Since the pandemic last year, many businesses now accept contactless pay. Google should do more advertising.
  • Advertising doesn't make stores get new hardware the payment processors are the only ones that can force it.
  • Sadly, mobile payments are fully accepted all over Africa and started in my country Kenya yet such features like google pay and other subscription based services are not supported. Somebody please tell Google and the likes that we are more than ready for their services and would accept them. Smh. Remember Africa in your decisions about subscription based services and apps.
  • When you say mobile payments do you mean contactless or actually using an app to pay for goods/services wirelessly? Because those are two very separate things, and I could see Africa using apps over NFC just because it's one less piece of machinery that could be broken.
  • He won't mean contactless but app payments. Latin America is also just as behind as Africa. Most people still use cash even in "modern" cities like Buenos Airies cards were rarely accepted or if they were it was one machine right at the end of the bar you had to queue for. I saw NFC Contactless payments in Bolivia though, but no one was using them or knew what it was. It was one of those techie symbols you just ignore.
  • Google Pay (*) IS ubiquitous in small towns where I am. Don't think machines that don't except NFC exist in The UK now. * Contactless But despite The USA being way behind on Contactless, your Google Pay is way ahead. In The UK we've still stuck on the old version that's just a play for Contactless payments and Digital Wallet. "because it still works, much of the world shows a preference towards newer payment technologies." I believe in The UK all the banks forced them to upgrade, wasn't any option or they'd have stuck to their old terminals here too. For bigger companies the quicker you can pay the more transactions through the till.
  • You are right, in the U.K, any business that has card payments have to have contactless. While I do have Google Pay on my phone, I don't use it that often, my card is not contactless, well it was, but I made sure it doesn't work as contactless, since my bank made it difficult to get a non-contactless card.
    I hate this, we don't want your cash rubbish that is going around, use contactless instead.
    I will get some chips tomorrow from the chippy and will be paying in cash, not that I have any choice as they only take cash. :) Chips is fries for people in other countries.
  • Are you for real, you still swipe cards in America? Surely you're ready to enter your pin? Machines in the UK still have this, but it's not been a thing since the 90s. Swiping is insecure, most of our cards ship with it turned off by default.
  • Small town, small county (18K population) but lots of tourist traffic. Any place that is just a few years old is probably using square or something similar. Most of the gas stations have put in new pumps in the last few years too, and they come with contactless payment (and video commercials). When the chip cards required new hardware for their point-of-sale systems most places went with the contactless payment option on the boxes, but some didn't actually turn on the capability until the Covid rules meant lots of sanitizing and their customers didn't want to have to touch anything. The hardware store and drug store where I shop don't but just about every other place I shop does, including the groceries. Then again, far too many of the clerks who look younger than my grandchildren seem surprised to see someone pay with a phone. Some even comment on how great it is to be able to do that. And even when I pay my bill with the phone, I prefer to tip in cash.
  • Interesting read. The uptake of card payments has been pretty marked in the UK in rural areas recently due to the number of local bank branches that have closed, making handling cash a real pain for businesses. By default the card terminals have supported chip and PIN and contactless for years so there's not been any extra hassle for retailers. Most are still contactless card payments but more and more people are now paying by phone. My parents have only got into it over the past year but find it amazingly handy now.
  • I don't see an awful lot of people using phones to pay, I have now and again, but it is only now and again, but most people I see uses their card. I suppose if they have a loyalty card, they have to go into their wallet/purse anyway, so they may as well take out their card.
    I have a fitbit watch and I got myself a curve card and added my debit card to it, I thought I would give it go and pay by my watch, it is like Sci-fi, but it is not always ideal, because some stores have their terminals in awkward places., so twisting your wrist to get the watch onto the terminal is a pain, certainly since my wrists have problems anyway. Worse now with the co-vid shields in place, with a small hole where the terminal is, makes it difficult for phones as well.
    I tend to try and pay in cash, I know some shops are not happy about it, but at the end of the day if they want my custom then they will accept it, if not I can always go elsewhere.
    Our local shop went to contactless a couple of years ago, before that they just had chip and pin, so not really years ago. What bothers me with this cashless society that we are being pushed into is that the people who can not get a bank account will suffer and there is also the privacy issue, i know a lot of people use Loyalty cards, so their privacy is gone anyway, but I really don't want companies or government for that matter being able to keep an eye on where I have been, bad enough online with it happening, but at least i can do some things to cut down the spying online.
  • I live and work in a central region of a city near a college campus, and the number of people who just wave their phones at our payment pads on the assumption that we have mobile payments (we don't) is astonishing. I'd have said they're living five or ten years ahead of reality. Though the system upgrade that will bring payment terminals that do have contactless, which they were promising us since before I started with the company almost three years ago, is finally going to happen in the next week.
  • A POS doesn't have to explicitly say that it supports "Google Pay" in order to accept NFC payments. That contactless payment logo (the generic white one with three waves) is all you need to be sure that it supports NFC payment.
  • I live in a country where Google Pay isn't "officially" supported but I can still make NFC payments thanks to that white contactless payment logo on payment terminals here in Panama.
  • This is why I loved it when Samsung Pay simulated the swipe. It would work in these towns. I live in one. There are a that still does but have any type of contactless payment.
  • I use my phone or watch unless I can't. More secure and easier. A benefit is that many vending machines now take NFC payments. Doesn't mean a lot around home, but on trips, it comes in handy.
  • small communities is where samsung pay mst comes in handy. too bad they are dropping it on their newer phones.
  • Unfortunately Apple Pay seems to be more accepted when shopping online and even at NFC terminals in shops and supermarkets, I see the Apple logo. But Google Pay is just as much accepted in shops and supermarkets as Apple Pay which actually launched first here in the UK before Google Pay and Samsung Pay took even longer. Having used all 3, I can say that Apple Pay is more reliable than Samsung Pay which was terrible ony S20 FE and Google Pay is better but unfortunately Apple Pay has proven to be most reliable with both Google and Samsung galaxy especially being very finicky.
  • I guess I live in a small town (Los Angeles, California) because not every store takes Apple Pay/Google Pay. I use Samsung Pay almost everywhere (and it's so much fun messing with the retailers who are insistent that my "Apple Pay" won't work with their terminals). Good thing Samsung decided to get rid of the MST technology in all new phones because it's no longer needed... Dear Samsung, by getting rid of MST in your phones, Samsung Pay no longer has an advantage over Apple Pay/Google Pay (and yes, I'm aware that MST will continue to exist in their watches, but not everyone has or can use one). Where's my incentive to buy a new Sammy when my S10 dies? (You got rid of expandable storage, 3.5mm headphone jacks, heart rate/SpO2 sensors, MST... Seriously, why should I buy another Samsung phone when what made you unique is gone.)
  • Is it me or did they get rid of the pay for gas feature?