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The Edinburgh Fringe is a great example of getting contactless right

(Image credit: Image Credit: Centtrip)

The cashless age is increasingly upon us. In 2017, a staggering 5.6 billion contactless payments were made in the UK – a rise of 97% on 2016. In fact, 3.4 million Brits did not use cash to pay for anything at all, with the UK Finance forecast predicting contactless will account for a third of all transactions by 2027. Naturally, this is changing the face of UK business, particularly the events industry, where quick payments are the key to reducing queues and improving the customer experience. 

There was a time when forgetting to take cash to a festival was to accept that you were going to have to queue for two hours at the site’s one ATM (and paying for it), while getting sunburnt and missing your favourite acts. By comparison, this year’s Mighty Hoopla festival, where headliners included the likes of TLC, Lilly Allen and Melanie C, was a cashless oasis, with contactless terminals at every bar and food stand.

Another event set to be transformed by contactless payments will be this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. For the first time, buskers and street performers at this year’s festival can pass around a machine after performing in order to encourage contactless donations from the audience. According to the Fringe’s head of marketing, Olly Davies, it will be as simple as passing around a hat. 

As a former comedian, I’ve performed at The Edinburgh Fringe festival three times, staying on the Royal Mile for my 27-night run in 2007. Every morning I was awoken by a chorus line singing ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ hoping to build an audience for their show. 

This new use of technology represents an exciting move which will allow performers to generate revenue from their work – and could spark future developments that will allow people to market and sell tickets for their shows in new ways too.

This is an important step for other reasons as well. People aged between 25 and 34 are the most frequent users of contactless payments and with younger crowds crucial to creating festival buzz, organisers will be acutely aware that offering contactless is now part and parcel of a modern event.

These are busy times too, which makes the speed of making a contactless payment an attractive option for time-strapped Brits. Offering contactless could be the difference between making a sale or donation or losing out on one. And with 3.4 million Brits not using cash at all, failing to offer a contactless system at your event can appear like you’re living in the past. The reality is contactless is now a crucial step in the digitisation journey. 

We’re rapidly heading to a future where it isn’t just cash that’s on the way out, but plastic too. Contactless technology will increasingly be found in anything from watches to keys and other wearable items. Card payments are experiencing a ‘black hole’ moment and will soon disappear just like CDs have done. Ultimately, why carry around a piece of plastic - whether it’s a CD or a credit card - when your smartphone can double as a payment device just as easy as it can double as a music player, thanks to the likes of Apple Pay and Spotify?

Yet the inevitability of contactless domination doesn’t mean organisations should jump into it blindly. In a major city, contactless use is a lot more common, but in a small town, where the average age is a lot higher, cash could still be a lot more prominent. Organisers will therefore have to ease older customers into making the switch, increase their trust, and give them the confidence to embrace the idea of contactless. 

For business owners who deal in bulk purchases or premium items, contactless isn’t the nirvana it’s been made out to be either. Contactless still has a £30 purchase limit due to fears over fraud or the ease in which a thief could make purchases using a stolen contactless card or device. 

More than half of UK retailers would like to see this £30 limit upped, but the police are standing firm and refusing to do so. The reality is that contactless works best where consumers can make quick fire purchases, so it’s not going to be as high on the agenda for a Michelin-starred restaurant as for a corner shop.

Implementing contactless is best for businesses that are fast-paced. The charity sector is a great example, with Brits simply not having time to stop and chat with a charity worker in the street for 10 minutes anymore. Introducing a contactless ‘tap and go’ system at a charity can have a transformative effect. Last year, Barclaycard worked with 11 charities, including the NSPCC and the RNLI, to trial contactless donation boxes. 

The NSPCC recorded an average of £3.07 – much higher than the average it usually receives through spare change. This is a great example of getting it right.

Even if some sectors fit better than others, contactless is still something that companies can’t afford to ignore. A recent YouGov survey found that 34% of Brits think the UK will be cashless within the next 20 years. That means it’s a good idea for organisations to get their houses in order and start making plans right now, to ensure the transition to becoming a cashless business goes as smoothly as possible. 

Jim Bowes, CEO and Co-Founder of Manifesto 

Image Credit: Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Jim Bowes
Jim Bowes is the CEO and co-founder of Manifesto - the award winning digital agency specialising in digital transformation, technology, content and strategic experience design. Jim set up the London based business in 2011, designing digital services and products around the needs of users, working with health, housing, travel, charities and third sector organisations. Jim has worked in digital or digital content for the last 19 years, and co-hosts a monthly technology podcast, AlexaSTOP! about how technology is changing people’s lives, and presents a weekly tech show, de:code, on Hoxton Radio.