If you can at least say something positive about the current Corona situation, it is the increasing number of contactless payments and their increasing social acceptance. In the past 12 months, mobile payment has finally become part of everyday life in Germany.
A few years ago, however, this was different. I remember very well how I was able to make contactless payments at the point of sale (POS) back in 2016 with my Vodafone app and the credit card stored there. At least I tried again and again. The acceptance, or rather the level of awareness of paying with a mobile device, was very low in shops five years ago. Again and again, comments like “You can’t just put your mobile phone on it” or “I still need your signature” made me smile. Fortunately, that is now a thing of the past. Whether contactless with the giro and credit card or with the smartphone – in view of the current situation, both means of payment can hold their own against cash for the first time.
Mobile payments with smartphones
Another advantage of paying with a smartphone compared to card payment can be that you don’t have to enter a PIN if a certain amount is exceeded. I deliberately use the phrase “can” here because I have found that this is not always the case. This depends both on the app used and on the respective user settings.
But let’s take a step back and start with the payment service providers and applications that are used. So far there is no uniform standard for mobile payments in Germany. The user can choose between different offers from smartphone manufacturers, banks, payment or bonus services such as Payback. The best known are currently the big players Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, and the smartphone manufacturer Huawei recently launched Huawei Pay in Germany. In the banking and savings bank environment, Deutsche Bank Mobile and the savings bank app “Mobile Payment” should be mentioned. Near Field Communication (NFC) technology is used to trigger the payment process. With PaybackPay, on the other hand, the customer simply pays using a QR code and automatically collects bonus points in their account.
In this article, however, I would like to consciously focus on two payment options – namely Google Pay and Samsung Pay – which I have tested for their suitability for everyday use over the past few weeks.
The pioneer Google Pay
Google launched its payment service in Germany back in June 2018, ahead of Apple Pay and a long way behind Samsung Pay and Huawei Pay, which are still relatively new to the German market.
Initially, Google Pay could only be used if you had a checking account or a credit card from one of the participating banks. For all other owners of an Android smartphone, access to Google Pay was denied. However, that all changed just a few months later when Google Pay announced its partnership with PayPal. While previously contactless payment was only limited to a few banks, now practically every user with a PayPal account could pay with their smartphone. Only a few steps are necessary to link the PayPal account to Google Pay. During the later payment process, a virtual Mastercard is addressed, which was generated by PayPal during the initial registration.
Samsung Pay is following suit
In autumn 2020, the smartphone manufacturer Samsung also launched its own payment app in Germany. If you want to use this service, you need a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone or a Galaxy Watch.
The setup process differs significantly from that of Google Pay. Anyone who decides to use Samsung Pay will automatically receive an account with Solarisbank, which will be opened in the name of the respective user during the registration process. After successful registration, the customer receives a virtual Visa debit card from Solarisbank and can use it to make contactless payments via the app. Billing is then done via an external bank account, which must be held with a German bank. Alternatively, the customer can load credit onto his card account with Samsung Pay beforehand. It is not possible to deposit your own account directly with Samsung Pay.
The practice test
After successfully installing and setting up both apps, I was excited to see how they would be used in everyday life. Which app would convince me more?
Admittedly, I didn’t just recently install Google Pay in combination with PayPal, like the new Samsung Pay app, but have been using this payment method for a long time. So I was able to gain some experience here before. Mobile payment at the POS terminal is child’s play with Google Pay. Before paying at the checkout, all you have to do is unlock your smartphone. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a PIN, a pattern or a biometric process, such as face recognition or fingerprints. The only decisive factor is that the smartphone is unlocked and thus a so-called strong customer authentication is present before the smartphone is held to the POS terminal and the contactless payment is triggered using NFC technology. During the checkout process, PayPal’s virtual master debit card will automatically open on the screen and a blue and white tick will indicate when the checkout process has been successfully completed. I can also view all purchases made using Google Pay at a later point in time in the associated app. In addition, I receive an e-mail from PayPal with the transaction details after the payment has been successfully completed.
And how does Samsung Pay compare?
My first attempt to pay with Samsung Pay was not exactly successful. The problem was not the app itself, but in this case the problem was in front of the cell phone. Since I had selected Google Pay as the standard payment method using NFC, I of course paid automatically with it and not with Samsung Pay as desired. However, this was quickly changed in the settings and a day later I started my second attempt. At the checkout, I unlocked my smartphone with my fingerprint as usual and held it up to the POS terminal to pay for my purchase. But surprisingly, nothing happened at first. This was because it seems that mobile payment is not automatically triggered by bringing the smartphone close to the terminal, as is the case with Google Pay. The virtual VISA card, which is displayed at the bottom of the Samsung smartphone’s screen in the form of a transparent bar, must be actively swiped up to open the app. But even then it is not possible to pay directly. In a further step, a PIN has to be entered again or the stored fingerprint has to be compared before the contactless payment can finally be made with the smartphone.
As a loyal Samsung user, I paid with the Samsung Pay app for a few weeks, but in the end the payment method didn’t convince me personally. While I had no issues successfully completing a Samsung Pay checkout, the two additional steps along the way were crucial in getting me back to Google Pay. For me, the simple and quick use in everyday life comes first and in this point the solution from Google has the edge.
On the other hand, users for whom the security aspect is more important would probably opt for Samsung Pay, since payment via app has to be specifically initiated and additionally legitimized. Admittedly, Samsung has also solved this very conveniently by anchoring the map directly at the bottom edge of the screen and you don’t have to laboriously search for and open the app first. Samsung Pay is also a great alternative for people without a PayPal account.