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Touch n Go

Melissa Chua | May 6, 2009
Will contactless payment take off in Singapore? Its all in the hands of the consumer…

Tap, beep and youre done. The majority of Singaporeans are used to the concept of contactless payments.

Commuters have been paying their fares the contactless way for years, via a nifty piece of plastic commonly referred to as the EZ-link card; and at least one local bank has implemented a contactless form of credit card, valid at select merchants, for purchases that fall below a stipulated amount.

More recently, the Network for Electronic Transfers (NETS) announced plans to launch a contactless stored value payment card that can be used to pay for a variety of goods and services. Think road tolls, transport fares, cab rides and even your cartload of groceries.

NETSs announcement certainly looks set to spice up the local contactless payment scene. With the Infocomm Development Authoritys recent decision to standardise contactless e-payment applications across the island, consumers can now look forward to using either their NETS or EZ-Link cards to perform payment transactions.

NETSs proposed entry into the public transport arena, currently dominated by EZ-Link, spells competition. NETSs CEO, Poh Mui Hoon, declared the intention the seize 50 per cent of this lucrative market, at a recent press conference.

Will this 50 per cent of the public transport market share come to pass for NETS? Its hard to say.

Netizens on local forum questioned why anyone would want to take up NETSs offering, when commuters had already been used to the EZ-Link card for years.

Some netizens pointed out the all-in-one convenience of NETSs new offering, due to its potential ability to cover road tolls, grocery bills and perhaps even meals at the neighbourhood food court. But others said they were already used to using credit cards or cash for such transactions. Besides, forum writers said, nobody really knew if a large enough pool of merchants would be supporting the contactless payments, to warrant getting NETSs new card.

Still others brought up an issue I thought long forgotten: a virtual boycott-NETS campaign that started back in July 2007, when NETS hiked its transaction fees for retailers by nearly four-fold, sparking anger from both retailers and consumers. Small businesses worried about staying afloat, in the wake of higher transaction costs.

Though retailers were technically not allowed to pass the increased costs on to consumers, many believed the hike would contribute to inflation in one way or the other. True enough, creative retailers began offering a discount on cash payments instead, as a way to lower their operating costs, a practice that has carried on till today.

Meanwhile, certain individuals who believed in the boycott-NETS campaign tried their best to avoid that particular payment method, choosing instead to withdraw larger amounts of cash from the ATMs. Some forum writers have apparently continued to stick with that habit.


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