My typical day begins at St Albans. This is where I live. The main railway station is manned by First Capital Connect, also known as one of the worst railway network in Britain, but never mind that. Here, anyone who doesn't own a season ticket but wishes to go into London has to buy their tickets from either the few self service machines dotted around, which does not accept contactless payment yet. Mind you, with the daily peak time travelcard costing more than £20 so you wouldn't be able to pay using contactless anyway.
So I went to the counter and asked the gentleman behind if they accept contactless payment. Blank stares. Uhm, wireless payment, NFC etc.? What, he quipped? Finally, I whipped out the phone and waved it around the payment terminal (I will be doing this a lot this week). His facial expression changes from confusion to realisation - I guess he's probably seen one of those Galaxy S III ads - and with a firm 'No', that was that. 'Kay.
|Sorry phone, no NFC here|
WHSmith and AMT Coffee do operate from inside the station on the other entrance which I only use that other 1% of the time. These two stores do accept contactless payment (at least their PR claims so), so I will be making my way the longer way sometime this week. A small coffee shop called Pumpkin Cafe operates on platform one of the station and this was where I made my first ever purchase using contactless payment. Hurrah and progress! Incidentally, this small railway station coffee shop is the only store I have stumbled that has a clear, large and informative sign indicating that contactless is an acceptable form of payment.
|First blood: Pumpkin Cafe|
By now I was getting slightly hungry, and thought I could do with a late lunch. I decided to pay the YO! Sushi branch at St Pancras International Station a visit. I notice Ewan is highly competitive on twitter and bagging YO! Sushi would give me 10 points! In any case, if there is a chain that would accept contactless payment, it must be this surely! They are massive - in fact I call them the McDonald's and Starbucks of sushi. No sign outside the restaurant claimed that they accept NFC, or indeed any form of plastic. I asked to speak with the manager, who kindly informed me that they have no idea what I was talking about!
|Large, clear and informative sign. How it should be done!|
How wrong I was.
By now I was slowly beginning to recognise the tell tale signs of a shop that does accept contactless payment. The clues are in the PDQ terminals. They tend to look all new and shiny, with a large screen. The ones at this Post Office looks as if they have been built in 1999! Sorry Gemalto, your postcard will have to wait but I promise when it arrives, it will be epic!
|Barclaycard's confirmation screen: success!|
So not much luck so far today. I thought about buying some flowers for my partner, but as she is away in Norwich for the next two days I do not think she would appreciate that! Luckily for me, an enterprising fellow on Twitter @rayleee challenged me to top up my mobile via NFC. Top up my mobile by paying with my mobile? This is as meta as you can get. Vary not to be confident now, I strutted up towards a WHSmith looking for signs that they accept contactless. It was busy and I did not want to hold up the queue that will inevitably form behind me.
|PDQ terminals with large screen tends to equal NFC|
Back in St Albans, realising that I have not got lunch, let alone dinner yet, and with the lady away, I reckon I could explore the town's shops and cafes. Unfortunately I forgot about St Albans' knack for shutting down almost everything by 5.30pm! By 6.45pm, the only store still open was the local Tesco and so it was the only store I could sneak in a TV dinner. Such is life living in a commuter town. At least Tesco accepts contactless payment via their self service terminals, even if they have no signs on the entrance indicating so. Still, dinner for £2.59, a snip at this frugal times!
|First contactless payment on a self service terminal. Hurrah!|
One thing I did learn is that more venues and retailers than I imagined are now using NFC but the technology hasn't gained widespread awareness and acceptance within customers and the people manning the tills themselves. I imagined a similar period of adjustment during the early days when chip & pin was introduced. As the week goes by I am quietly optimistic that I will be discovering more independent retailers who has accepted this convenient technology, and that initial feeling of rush when making a payment will be replaced by a sense of normality.
15 Points - Social suggestion: Complete a challenge issued by one of your social media followers
(?) 10 Points - Wildcard: Spotted a new venue using NFC? Take advantage immediately and share your find online!