In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, grocery stores remain at the top of the list of “essential services.” Despite the implementation of safety practices and precautions, public access to grocery stores presents challenges.
In response to these challenges, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) has issued recommendations to protect grocery workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has expanded on the more general legacy protections for employees in the workplace by issuing detailed guidance on the implementation of new protocols due to pandemic specific risks. Specifically, OSHA’s protocols encourage employers to implement engineering solutions to protect employees from the COVID-19 virus, which market operators have implemented to address the spread of the virus to employees – e.g., use of signage cues to encourage social distancing, installing plexiglass shields at check-out counters, and providing store workers with personal protection equipment.2 In addition, as the virus may be spread by touching the nose, mouth, or eyes after first touching a contaminated object, the CDC recommends that grocery stores minimize the handling of cash and credit cards through the deployment and promotion of touchless payment systems.3
As the name implies, a touchless payment does not require physical contact between a consumer and the grocery clerk.1 Based on technology used at EMV chip enabled transaction terminals, touchless payments are typically conducted through mobile wallet smart device applications (e.g., Google Pay, Apple Pay), or a bank issued credit card/debit card with touchless payment capability. These touchless options allow the consumer to waive their card or mobile device application over a reader at the point of sale (“POS”) and the transaction occurs without having to physically touch anything.
An added, but less publicized, benefit of touchless payments is that the risk of fraud is significantly lower than physical card payments since the transaction does not involve the consumer’s name, card number, or three figure security code.
An added, but less publicized, benefit of touchless payments is that the risk of fraud is significantly lower than physical card payments since the transaction does not involve the consumer’s name, card number, or three figure security code. Instead, the card sends a one-time code with information that does not expose account details. Each time the card is used, a unique code is sent. Even further, using a mobile application for touchless payments often requires an additional level of security in order to access the service, such as a fingerprint scan or other sign in technology.
Touchless payments maintain the high EMV security standard, providing fraud protection for consumers and merchants alike, while also minimizing physical contact for consumers and grocery workers.4 While concerns have been raised that card data could be electronically skimmed by someone standing near the cardholder, and then used to create a fraudulent card, the instances of such actions are quite rare.5 When a touchless enabled physical credit or debit card is stolen or lost, the risk typically lies with the issuing bank, and not the consumer, as long as the card status is reported in a timely fashion. There can even be some protection for prepaid gift cards loaded onto a mobile device, though that risk varies based on the mobile wallet provider and the gift card issuer.
The roll out to consumers of touchless payments has taken some time to gain traction, predominantly due to the need to upgrade POS systems and issue touchless cards to consumers.6 Despite these practical obstacles to broader adoption, MasterCard recently announced that touchless payments were up forty percent during the first quarter due to the pandemic. More consumers are looking for “a quick way to get in and out of stores without exchanging cash, touching terminals or anything else.”7 Clearly, consumers are clamoring for touchless payments, and such systems are yet another engineering tool to meet the legal guidance issued to protect essential grocery workers at the POS. The COVID-19 virus may be the impetus near term to move markets and card issuers into further adopting this technology – to the physical and financial benefit for all involved.
- “What Grocery and Food Retail Workers Need to Know About COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 13, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/grocery-food-retail-workers.html.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2020). Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, (OSHA 3990-03-2020). Retrieved from osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
- “What Grocery and Food Retail Workers Need to Know About COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 13, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/grocery-food-retail-workers.html
- “Contactless Payments Security Questions & Answers.” Secure Technology Alliance, accessed August 17, 2020, https://www.securetechalliance.org/publications-contactless-payment-security-qa/.
- See, Hill, Simon. “RFID-blocking products are practically worthless. Here’s why.” digitaltrends, May 3, 2019, https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/are-rfid-blocking-products-worth-your-money-we-asked-an-expert/.
- Rubin, Ben Fox. “Coronavirus is making touch-free shopping a necessity.” C|net, April 15, 2020, https://www.cnet.com/personal-finance/coronavirus-is-making-touch-free-shopping-a-necessity/
- Rooney, Kate. “Contactless payments jump 40% as shoppers fear germs on cash and credit cards, Mastercard says.” CNBC, April 29, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/29/mastercard-sees-40percent-jump-in-contactless-payments-due-to-coronavirus.html