COVID leads to 400 million extra UK contactless payments for Visa

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·3 min read
Contactless card payment at a take away in Dublin during Level Five COVID-19 lockdown.
On Wednesday, March 23, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Visa also hit 1 billion additional touch-free transactions across the continent, marking a milestone for confidence in contactless and PIN number-free sales. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Less than a year after contactless transaction limits were raised across Europe in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Visa (V) has processed an extra 400 million payments in the UK. 

The payments provider said on Wednesday it had hit 1 billion additional touch-free transactions across the continent, marking a milestone for confidence in contactless and PIN code-free sales. 

Consumers and merchants are increasingly turning to contactless payments as a more COVID-safe way to shop — two-thirds (65%) of consumers say they would prefer to use contactless payments as much as, or more than, they do currently, Visa said. 

Back in March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised people to use contactless technology instead of cash as banknotes may be spreading coronavirus.

The infectious COVID-19 virus could be carried on the surface of banknotes for several days, the WHO warned at the time. 

The Bank of England also recognised that banknotes “can carry bacteria or viruses” and encouraged frequent hand washing.

Research released in January also found some 95% of banknotes are covered in harmful bacteria that can cause a variety of serious illnesses, including MRSA, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and even anthrax.

A study by Gambling.com in conjunction with microbiologists, swabbed 20 of the most-used currencies from around the world. 

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Contactless remains one of the most secure and convenient ways to shop following the limit increasing in some countries by as much as 50% last year, and the announcement that the UK contactless limit will increase to £100.

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Growing demand for contactless transactions is evident across Europe, with over 80% of in-store Visa payments now contactless. 

In France and Germany, the number of contactless transactions has increased by two thirds and almost half respectively year-on-year. 

The popularity of e-commerce is also surging across Europe, with over 15 countries experiencing a 40% or higher increase in e-commerce transactions in December 2020 versus the year before.

With many businesses having to operate under restrictions and keep up with changing consumer behaviour, merchants are increasingly moving to online operations and embracing digital and contactless payments. 

Charlotte Hogg, CEO, Europe at Visa, said: “The demand for touch-free payments indicates that contactless has become the norm for European consumers and retailers.

“Today’s milestone demonstrates how consumers and retailers now rely on digital solutions to make everyday payments," Hogg said. 

"Enabling contactless payments will be key to Europe’s economic recovery and while raising contactless limits alone won’t revitalise the European economy, it is a step in the right direction, giving consumers the confidence to spend, and providing shops, restaurants and other retailers a boost just when they need it most.”

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