Who won the Contactless Challenge – the Brits or the Americans?

Last updated: 20 March 2014

As you may well be aware, Gemalto recently wrapped up the US edition of the Contactless Challenge, a  follow-up to the highly successful UK event, held in November last year. In each Challenge, competing bloggers were given a contactless payment-enabled mobile phone loaded with funds, along with a list of challenges to complete, which were to be paid for solely by their phones. The task was tough, and the stakes were high.

In the UK Contactless Challenge, Mobile Industry Review’s Ewan MacLeod and technology expert Jon Choo were let loose in London. For the US edition, technology blogger and entrepreneur Josh Kerr and mom/adventure blogger Kathy Dalton represented their hometowns of Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

In the UK, both Ewan and Jon encountered successes and setbacks, the most significant one being location. While Ewan had little trouble finding places to pay contactlessly in West London, 20 miles north of central London, Jon found St Albans to be somewhat trickier, and Ewan struggled to find garden centers, cinemas or other outlets that accepted contactless payment in the suburbs. However, both challengers did manage to complete the majority of the tasks. Food and drink were readily available using Near Field Communications (NFC) in central London and, according to Ewan, the battery life of your phone wasn’t affected by using it to make purchases – excellent news for frequent shoppers!

US bloggers Josh and Kathy also had fun making contactless payments throughout their cities. Kathy learned more about the security behind contactless payments when a payment failed and ISIS customer service stepped in. From then on, Josh and Kathy were surprised at how quick and seamless the mobile payment process was. Both bloggers made good use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Instagram to engage with followers and encourage them to share tips for completing the challenge tasks. The bloggers took a short break from shopping on Day 3 to participate in a Twitter chat and discuss their experiences using NFC. The highlight of the week was on Day 4 when 228 Salt Lake City and Austin residents attended Kathy and Josh’s contactless events to learn more about NFC and mobile payments and test it on the bloggers’ phones – the free dessert they received was just a bonus!

The experiment was more than just a fun shopping spree. The challenges in both the US and the UK drew attention to some key points to consider when using contactless payments in everyday life.


  • Paying is easy

Kathy found that redeeming an Isis coupon was easy. Josh said that he’s almost ready to ditch his wallet for a mobile one and mobile payment is so fun and easy, an eight year old can do it! Kathy also liked the fact contactless payment via your cell phone saves you having to carry your handbag around.

  • The set-up process can be complex

Josh used the Samsung Galaxy S IV on the Verizon network, while Kathy used the Motorola Razr HD also on the Verizon network. Set-up complexity varied with phone model and the training of phone shop staff, and there was also a slight delay in authenticating use in a different city.

  • Retail employees aren’t familiar with the technology

Education is needed on how to know if contactless payment is accepted and multiple retailers do not offer contactless payments. There’s room for improvement in the knowledge of retail staff too.

  • When it works, it is really simple (and impressive)

When the technology worked seamlessly, everyone was very impressed. Josh tweeted that other shoppers appeared to be dumbfounded!

  • Successful crowdsourcing

The contactless challenge was extremely successful in raising awareness and audience reach.  The challenge reached a total of 1,000 people on Facebook, with 36% growth in average post reach during the challenge.  There were 2.2 million Twitter impressions during the contactless challenge, new followers, and 332 mentions from 51 users.


  • Urban areas have more places to pay

Jon found shopping outside the city centre difficult, and in most cases large scale retailers such as McDonalds and the Post Office were capable of contactless payments, whereas smaller chains and standalone stores weren’t.

  • More education is needed

Ewan and Jon highlighted the fact that signage in shops was not clear enough regarding contactless payment in stores as many customers didn’t know that they were able to pay using NFC there. Also, in some cases where it was available, staff in-store were at times unaware that they even offered the system.

  • Restrictive spending limits

The maximum you are able to spend using contactless is £20. This is great for impulse buys, but a meal out or larger purchases would prove difficult. YO! Sushi discontinued its contactless payment experiment as the limit was found to be too restrictive.

  • Service providers are showing interest

When the Coca-Cola vending machine didn’t work, the company contacted Ewan to let him know that they were interested in the contactless challenge proceedings and would like to know how he could help them improve their vending machine technology.

  • International Issues

As Ewan found out on his trip to Barcelona, the home of Mobile World Congress didn’t offer him the opportunities to use contactless technology. However, as with most emerging technologies, this is to be expected as it can take time for people and companies alike to fully embrace it.

It wasn’t about UK versus the US, but the experience on both sides of the pond resulted in vital lessons learned. We hope the challenges have spurred more people to explore their contactless functions on their cell phones. We also hope that more retailers, transport operators and other merchants will take note of the opportunities that NFC payments offer to facilitate a secure and convenient digital experience.