I recently had the opportunity to vacation in Australia. With so much to look forward to — the exciting city of Sydney, great weather, the Great Barrier Reef — what I was really excited about seeing probably surprised many. I was looking forward to seeing how well ApplePay worked in what most people agree is today’s best infrastructure for contactless payment. Clearly, I am victim of having been in payments most of my professional life.
My first test was in the taxi ride from the airport and the driver had no problem at all letting me pay on his contactless terminal in the car. The next stop was to find a pub showing the final basketball game live on Tuesday at noon Sydney time. We found a pub called Cheers and for the first round of drinks ApplePay passed with flying colors. Cheers had a customer-facing terminal that clearly indicated contactless acceptance, although I noticed there was no signage for ApplePay — or any of the mobile wallets that have already launched in Australia. Australia consistently ranks number one as the country with the highest percentage of citizens aware that they have a contactless card and over half have used one. Not only is Australia one of the best markets in terms of acceptance rates at retail locations, but consumers are aware of the fact that they own a contactless card and they use it. This is only possible through consumer education.
After I successfully negotiated the first few days using ApplePay, I realized the tap-to-pay infrastructure was firmly established in the Sydney area. Regardless of location (restaurant, bar, hotel, retail shop, transit, etc.) all payment terminals accepted contactless. I also found that not only were consumers aware of the fact that they had a contactless card and how to use it, the retailers staff also knew and understood contactless tap-and-go payments.
When it came to ApplePay itself, awareness was not so high. Many times I got responses like, “cool … I have never seen that before,” “I don’t think that will work,” “that is awesome,” “I heard that was coming, but I have never seen it.” I also did not see any real signage for ApplePay indicating that the store accepted or supported it. To be fair the launch of ApplePay was fairly recent (end of 2015) and initially only AMEX cards were available for Australian customers. The good news is that from an acceptance point of view consumers from outside Australia are able to use their mobile wallets if the vendor accepts the card type stored on the phone.
The last week of vacation I was at a resort near the Great Barrier Reef and my expectation was that it would be a greater challenge to use ApplePay because it wasn’t near a big city. Once again I was pleasantly surprised to find total acceptance in all places I tried. I was even able to pay upon checkout when I asked to use a different card than the one I set the reservation on. By the end of the second week, I only left the hotel room with my phone and hotel key. Interestingly all three hotels had contactless keys so when additional services are added like hotel keys, ApplePay and other NFC mobile wallets will create a world where the phone is all you need.
Overall, it was a great experience to see a glimpse of what mobile wallets will ultimately become. While the contactless infrastructure in Australia is impressive, there remains a lot work to do around consumer education, retailer training and proper signage to make the experience even easier. The Australian payment ecosystem has removed the biggest hurdle to accelerated use of mobile wallets by having near ubiquitous contactless acceptance. It is also easy to see why adding transit, access and even identification to the mobile wallet will deliver even greater value and convenience for consumers. I would fully expect to see high adoption and use rates in Australia as the mobile wallets from the major handset makers roll out. Recently ANZ bank and Apple reached an agreement to offer their customers the option of using ApplePay. And Samsung Pay recently rolled out its services. This should really enhance the options for Australians to convert from card to mobile.
I am ready for a return trip to see if I can make it with just my passport and my phone.