We're going to look back on 2020 as a point where we collectively renewed our focus on public health and hygiene. The coronavirus pandemic will stick with us as a reminder of just how easily viruses can spread, and make us all think about what we touch on a daily basis. One thing that's unavoidable is going to stores and paying for goods — whether it's your weekly groceries or a new pair of shoes. But you can reduce your risk factors here: perhaps now's the perfect time to start using contactless payments.
Early on, only a handful of banks supported Google Pay — and growth was slow. But now, it's a different story: all of the major U.S. banks are supported, plus hundreds of smaller regional banks and credit unions, and you can even pay in stores with your PayPal account. Credit or debit, big bank or small, you're extremely likely to be able to use Google Pay with any payment method currently in your wallet.
The other and bigger, pain point early on in the expansion of tap-to-pay in the U.S. was on the store side. Because we never really hopped on the NFC-enabled credit card trend like most of the world, payment terminals lagged behind in being updated to accept NFC. And early on, as stores were forced into new terminals, they didn't update their backend systems to actually accept contactless payments even though the hardware supported it.
Thankfully, the scene is a lot better now. Dozens of the biggest retail and restaurant chains in the country have expanded contactless payments to every one of their stores. And many others have rolled it out to most of their stores. And it's not just big chains — small independent stores are often the best at accepting contactless payments, as many phone- and tablet-based payment terminals, like those from Square, have it built-in. And a pro tip: even if a store only says it accepts Apple Pay, it will accept your Google Pay too!
Just about every phone out there has NFC and can use Google Pay. But if you have a modern Samsung or LG phone, you can use Samsung Pay or LG Pay for mobile payments even at old swipe-only payment terminals in addition to NFC terminals. Sometimes it comes with some odd looks from the clerks who don't think their terminals take smartphone payments, but it does work.
There's a common misconception that you actually have to "tap" your phone to the terminal as well. In most cases, you don't have to make physical contact with the payment area — just get your phone close, within a couple of inches, and it'll trigger over the air. Important to know if your goal is to touch as few things as possible.
Another trend that's particularly welcomed is the proliferation of contactless payment terminals in places that are accessed by many more people and cleaned way less often than a retail store. Transit systems, vending machines and gas station pumps are increasingly making use of contactless payments. I'm particularly excited by the NYC Subway's rollout of contactless turnstiles — better late than never!
If you haven't looked at getting your phone — or even your watch — set up with contactless payments in a while, now is the perfect time to do so. It's supported with just about every bank, and in most places you shop. And as soon as you start using contactless payments, you'll realize just how antiquated it feels to pull out your wallet and pay with a card or cash — and how much you can avoid contact with dirty payment terminals every day.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.