Nationwide measures have already been introduced to encourage payment without contact. From 1 April, months earlier than originally planned, the British Retail Consortium raised the national contactless card payment limit from £30 to £45, a move welcomed by UK Finance CEO Stephen Jones, who said: “This will give more people the choice to opt for the speed and convenience of purchasing goods using their contactless card, helping to cut queues at the checkout.”
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the popularity of contactless was booming, with it accounting for 50% of all debit card payments last year for the first time. Now faced with the threat of Covid-19, the major food stores have taken additional steps to protect staff and customers by minimising contact at the checkout – for example at M&S. “You can use our Mobile Pay Go app in some stores,” says M&S corporate communications co-ordinator Emma Brown. “We’re asking people to take advantage of the increase in the contactless payment limit – and to use their loyalty cards differently too. We’re asking them not to scan their Sparks cards in store, but to go on to the website to add their loyalty points when they get home.”
To prevent further unnecessary close physical contact, M&S is positioning staff outside stores to greet customers and manage numbers entering stores, has put up ‘sneeze guards’ around the tills and extended its exchange-and-returns policy to 90 days to stop customers coming in with non-food-related queries.
At Sainsbury’s, customers are asked to use cards at tills and only use cash at self-service checkouts, where notes and coins go directly into a secure machine. “We will be closing every other payment point in our supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol filling stations,” says communications manager Ellie Denison, “so that we can keep people further apart.”
Most major retailers are also recommending shoppers use phone payment apps such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay, which have no spending limit unless individual retailers impose one – and no major UK supermarket does.
On many petrol forecourts you can already pay for fuel remotely – BP, Shell and Esso all have payment apps that were designed to save motorists the inconvenience of entering the shop or even paying at the pump. But those apps could now save lives, too, by combining this new technology with an old-fashioned, hitherto outdated service: a petrol pump attendant.
“We are asking all customers to stay in their vehicles and wait for our forecourt attendant to fill up their cars,” says Martin Holmes, who runs JS Holmes service station in the village of Wisbech St Mary, Cambridgeshire. “That way only we touch the pump and you won’t even need to get out of your car. It’s the best way to keep everyone as safe as possible.”