Canadian Vending

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Editor’s blog

When technology fails . . .


August 23, 2012
By Stefanie Wallace


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Aug. 23, 2012 – Visa had good intentions in implementing cashless payment technologies and removing ATMs at the Olympics, but when the system crashed, people were left frustrated.

Aug. 23, 2012 – Visa’s cashless payment systems at the Olympics made worldwide headlines. The Games’ corporate sponsor claimed that the 2012 Olympics would be the first cashless Olympics. “Electronic payments play a crucial role in facilitating tourism and meeting the needs of consumers on the go during a world sporting event such as the Olympic Games, making this an unique opportunity to showcase how technology is changing the way people shop, pay and get paid around the world,” Jim McCarthy, head of products at Visa Inc., said back in July.

More than 1,000 people were given a special Olympic-branded Samsung Galaxy S III smart phone, which, when linked with the user’s Visa information, allowed users to pay for items up to £20 (approximately C$31) by swiping the phone over a reader at the cash register of most vendors. Even without the smart phone, Visa’s PayWave contactless payment system allowed attendees to use the technology. The park was set up to accept contactless payment technology for the majority of payments, through a Visa debit, credit or pre-paid card, all of which did not require a signature or PIN code for smaller purchases. Visa cards with a contactless payment symbol on the back can be read by the same sensors the smart phones use. Cardholders were able to wave their cards in front of the reader to pay for their purchases, and visitors also used prepaid mobile applications and cards.

This was aimed to make everything quick and convenient, which is all well and good, but what happens when the system crashes due to overload? It appears that no one foresaw that problem, but the inevitable happened. Spectators watching a Great Britain women’s soccer game versus Brazil at Wembley Stadium were left frustrated and hungry when the cashless payment machines stopped functioning. Food vendors asked customers to use cash instead, but Visa had reduced the number of ATMs in the stadium in anticipation of the new systems. Annoyed fans (who apparently didn't bring any cash with them) took to Twitter to complain, and the story made news around the world.

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Following the Olympics, a British study published last week by ATM operator Bank Machine found that only 17 per cent of U.K. citizens think a cashless future would make life easier. Nearly half (48 per cent) of the 1,000 respondents said they felt most protected when using cash, and 90 per cent said cash is safer and more convenient to use than cards.
These may not be Canadian stats, but they’re important to keep in mind as our country leans toward new cashless technologies. Is it the right move? Let us know what you think.