During March, as many countries in the Middle East imposed necessary restrictions on social distancing, a majority of consumers turned to contactless payments for necessary purchases.65 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia say they are now using contactless payments, citing safety and cleanliness as key drivers. Consumer polling by Mastercard, studying changing consumer behaviors in 19 countries around the world, paints a picture of accelerated and sustained contactless adoption.
The act of running to the store for groceries, medicine and other necessities has changed dramatically. Shoppers around the world have had to adjust to social distancing measures and other new challenges when buying everyday supplies for their families and loved ones. This shift in consumer behavior is particularly clear at checkout as people express a desire for contactless and voice concerns over cleanliness and safety at the point of sale, according to the new Mastercard study.
In fact, findings from respondents in Saudi Arabia show:
“Social distancing is very important right now, and the government of Saudi Arabia has shown great leadership in keeping citizens and residents safe. As well as staying at home, social distancing also applies to publicly shared devices, like point of sale terminals and checkout counters. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority’s decision to increase card payment limits, and its instruction that all local bank transfers be free of charge, show strong commitment to the local economy which Mastercard fully supports. Saudi Arabia is adequately adopting contactless technology as part of its response to the pandemic,” said J.K. Khalil, General Manager, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Mastercard. “Contactless offers Saudi consumers a safer, cleaner, faster way to pay, as well as better control over human-to-human interaction during this critical phase.”
Contactless Tipping Point
Mastercard has been spearheading the worldwide shift to contactless for years, championing the simple, safe and fast way to pay. As consumers increasingly seek out ways to quickly get in and out of stores without touching terminals, Mastercard data reveals that the number of contactless payments as a proportion of all face-to-face card payments, was more than 2X higher in March 2020 than in March 2019 across the Kingdom. Globally, 80 percent of contactless transactions are under $25, a range that is typically dominated by cash.
Ziad Al Yousef, Managing Director of Saudi Payments said 95 percent of the market’s POS terminals support near-field communication for contactless transactions. “In Saudi we have reached excellent adoption rates for NFC payments and around 82 percent of processed monthly transactions are performed through this mode. We have recently raised the transaction limit for which no cardholder verification method is required to SAR 300 on all POS devices in the market, and we estimate this would cover 93 percent of transactions. We strongly believe this will further benefit the growth of hygienic payment experiences.”
While countries worldwide are at different stages of contactless deployment and usage for daily shopping habits, Mastercard’s insights on grocery and pharmacy trends – two areas where many day-to-day essentials are being purchased – showed that nearly all regions experienced significant spikes in February and March. Further, reinforcing changing behaviors and consumer checkout preferences, Mastercard saw the number of contactless transactions grow three times as fast as non-contactless transactions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at grocery stores and pharmacies.
Just last month, Mastercard announced commitments to increase contactless payment limits in more than 50 countries worldwide, including Saudi Arabia, where the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority raised the limit to SAR 300. Limit increases were part of Mastercard’s global effort to make sure consumers, merchants and small businesses have the resources to safely pay, receive payment, and maintain operations during the COVID-19 crisis.