What is Contactless Payment? Contactless Payment

Contactless payments have emerged as a game-changer, providing a seamless and secure way to make transactions. According to recent statistics, the adoption of contactless payments has seen a staggering rise, with a 30% year-over-year increase globally. 

If you’ve heard of touch-and-go payments, then you are closer to understanding the concept of contactless payments. 

But what exactly are contactless payments, and how do they differ from traditional forms of transactions?

In this blog, we’ll discuss the meaning of contactless payments and how it works. Let’s get started!

what are contactless payments

What is Contactless Payment?

Contactless payments refer to a secure method of transaction that allows consumers to make purchases by simply tapping or waving their contactless-enabled cards, smartphones, or wearable devices near a point-of-sale (POS) terminal. 

This eliminates the need for physical contact or the insertion of cards into a machine, providing a swift and convenient alternative to traditional payment methods for eCommerce businesses

The technology behind contactless payments utilizes radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC payments). As a result, this enables the seamless transfer of payment information between the consumer’s device and the merchant’s terminal. 

One of the standout features of contactless payments online is the speed at which transactions are processed. With a simple tap or wave of a contactless-enabled card or device near a compatible terminal, the transaction is completed in a matter of seconds. 

Contactless payments seamlessly integrate with mobile wallet applications. Users can add their payment cards to digital wallets on their smartphones, consolidating their payment methods and enabling them to make contactless payments using their mobile devices.

How Does a Contactless Payment Work?

Contactless payments work through the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC) technology. 

The process involves a secure and swift exchange of information between a contactless-enabled card, smartphone, or wearable device and a compatible point-of-sale (POS) terminal. 

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how a typical contactless payment transaction works:

  • Contactless-Enabled Device

The process begins with the user possessing a contactless-enabled card, smartphone, or wearable device. This device contains an embedded RFID chip or an NFC antenna, allowing it to communicate with other compatible devices over short distances.

  • Merchant’s POS Terminal

The merchant must have a POS terminal equipped with contactless payment for business capabilities. These terminals are designed to accept payments through the contactless method and are commonly identified by the contactless symbol (a series of four curved lines) displayed on the terminal.

  • Initiating the Transaction

When the user is ready to make a purchase, they bring their contactless-enabled device within proximity (usually a few centimeters) of the POS terminal.

  • Data Transmission

The contactless device and the POS terminal communicate through either RFID or NFC, depending on the technology used. The user’s device transmits payment information, including a unique token generated for that specific transaction.

  • Tokenization

Tokenization is a crucial security feature in contactless payments. Instead of transmitting sensitive information, such as the actual card number, a unique token is generated for each transaction. This token is a one-time code that is meaningless to potential attackers, adding a layer of security to the payment process.

  • Authorization and Payment Processing

The POS terminal receives the token and forwards it to the payment network for authorization. The payment network verifies the token and ensures that the user has sufficient funds or credit for the transaction. If authorized, the payment is processed.

  • Transaction Confirmation

Once the payment is authorized and processed, the user receives confirmation of the transaction. This confirmation may include a beep or visual notification on the POS terminal, as well as on the user’s device.

  • Transaction Completion

The entire contactless payment transaction is completed within seconds, providing a fast and efficient alternative to traditional payment methods.

5 Contactless Payment Benefits

Contactless payments offer a range of benefits that contribute to their growing popularity among consumers and businesses. 

Here are five key advantages of using contactless payment methods:

  • Speed and Efficiency

Contactless payments are known for their remarkable speed, allowing users to complete transactions in a matter of seconds. With a simple tap or wave of a contactless-enabled card, smartphone, or wearable device, the payment is swiftly processed. This efficiency is especially advantageous in environments with high transaction volumes, such as busy retail stores or public transportation.

  • Convenience and Ease of Use

The convenience of contactless payments lies in their simplicity. Users do not need to insert cards into terminals or enter PINs, streamlining the payment process. This ease of use makes contactless payments accessible to a wide range of users, including those who may not be comfortable with or able to use traditional payment methods.

  • Enhanced Security

Contactless payments incorporate advanced security features, including tokenization. Instead of transmitting sensitive information like the actual card number, a unique token is generated for each transaction. 

This makes it significantly more challenging for unauthorized parties to access and misuse payment data. Additionally, the short-range nature of contactless transactions reduces the risk of interception.

  • Versatility Across Devices

Contactless payment technology is versatile and can be integrated into various devices. Whether using contactless-enabled cards, smartphones with mobile payment apps (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Pay), or wearable devices like smartwatches, users have the flexibility to choose the device that suits their preferences. 

This versatility contributes to the widespread adoption of contactless payments across different demographics.

  • Reduced Need for Physical Cash

Contactless payments contribute to the decreasing reliance on physical cash. As more individuals and businesses embrace contactless technology, the need to carry and handle cash diminishes. 

This not only aligns with the trend toward a cashless society but also reduces the risks associated with carrying and managing physical currency.

6 Contactless Payment Methods

Contactless payment methods have become increasingly diverse, offering users various options for making transactions without physical contact with payment terminals. Here are six commonly used contactless payment methods:

  • Contactless Cards

Traditional credit and debit cards can be upgraded to include contactless technology. These contactless cards have a small contactless symbol (usually four curved lines) on them, indicating that they can be used for tap-and-go transactions. Users can make payments by tapping or waving their contactless cards near a compatible POS terminal.

  • Mobile Payment Apps

Mobile contactless payment apps enable users to make contactless payments using their smartphones. Examples of popular mobile payment apps include:

  • Apple Pay: Compatible with Apple devices, users can add credit and debit cards to their Apple Wallet and make payments by tapping their iPhones or Apple Watches.
  • Google Pay: Available for Android users, Google Pay allows users to add cards and make contactless payments using their smartphones.
  • Samsung Pay: Samsung’s mobile payment app is compatible with Samsung devices and offers similar functionality, allowing users to make payments using their smartphones.
  • Smartwatches

Many smartwatches are equipped with NFC technology, enabling users to make contactless payments directly from their wrists. Users can link their credit or debit cards to their smartwatches, allowing for convenient and secure transactions.

  • Wearable Devices

Beyond smartwatches, other wearable devices such as fitness trackers and payment-enabled jewelry may also support contactless payments. These devices typically incorporate NFC payment technology to facilitate transactions.

  • Biometric Payments

Some contactless payment methods leverage biometric payment authentication for added security. This can include fingerprint or facial recognition technology. Users can authorize payments through biometric verification, adding an extra layer of protection to their transactions.

  • QR Code Payments

While not strictly “tap-and-go,” QR code payments have become a popular contactless method. Users can scan a merchant’s QR code using their smartphone’s camera, and the payment information is processed through a mobile payment app. This method is widely used in various regions, especially in markets where NFC infrastructure might be limited.

Frequently Asked Questions About Contactless Payments

Let’s answer a few common questions about contactless payments.

One common example of a contactless payment is using a contactless-enabled credit or debit card. These cards have a small symbol on them, usually four curved lines, indicating their contactless capability.

To make a payment, you simply tap or wave the card near the contactless-enabled point-of-sale (POS) terminal. The transaction is processed swiftly, and you receive confirmation of the payment.

Making a contactless payment is a straightforward process, and it typically involves the following steps:

  • Ensure that your payment card or device is contactless-enabled.
  • Look for the contactless symbol on the merchant's POS terminal.
  • Hold your contactless card or device within a few centimeters of the terminal.
  • Wait for the payment to be processed, usually indicated by a beep or visual confirmation on the terminal.
  • If you're using a smartphone or wearable device, you may need to unlock the device or authenticate the payment using a fingerprint, facial recognition, or a PIN, depending on the security settings.

"Tap to Pay" and "Contactless Payment" are often used interchangeably, but there can be subtle differences in context. Generally, both terms refer to the same method of making payments by tapping or waving a contactless-enabled card, smartphone, or wearable device near a POS terminal. "Tap to Pay" may be used more specifically to describe the physical action of tapping a card or device on the terminal, while "Contactless Payment" encompasses a broader range of technologies, including tapping, waving, or even using biometric authentication.

The processing time for a contactless refund can vary depending on the policies of the merchant and the payment service provider. In many cases, contactless refunds are processed quickly, and the funds are returned to the customer's account within a few business days. 

However, the exact timeline can depend on factors such as the bank's processing times and the specific payment network involved. It's advisable to check with the merchant or your financial institution for more information on the expected timeframe for contactless refunds.


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Tiwalade Okedara-Kalu

Writer & Blogger

Hello! I'm Tiwalade Joanna Okedara-Kalu, Creative Director at PayCape. With a rich background in tech freelancing and a passion for innovation, I'm excited to shape PayCape into the ultimate fintech hub. Join me on this journey of exploration and creativity in the world of financial technology!

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