I spent a weekend out in Joburg with only my smartphone to make payments – This is what happened

With the growing adoption of smartphone-based delivery and payment services, I often find myself reaching for my smartphone instead of my wallet to make a payment.

Whether I am ordering food, paying a bill, or buying a drink at a bar, my experience is always quicker and easier when paying with my smartphone.

However, smartphone-based payments are not supported everywhere – and require businesses to invest in compatible point-of-sale systems.

These have become increasingly prevalent in urban areas, especially with support for NFC payments.

NFC payments can be made when the vendor’s card machine supports the feature, and users can tap their smartphone against the card machine to pay.

Methods like SnapScan and Zapper – which use QR codes – are also popular, allowing a customer to pay by scanning a code presented to them.

As somebody who often uses their smartphone to make a payment, I set up a number of payment apps on my device and head out for a weekend in Johannesburg – my wallet and cash at home.


The set-up

To ensure all my bases were covered, I installed the Standard Bank Masterpass app, which allows me to make both Zapper and SnapScan payments from a single app.

I also installed Samsung Pay on my Galaxy S9, which was recently enabled through Standard Bank. This allows for NFC-compatible card machines to receive a payment.

Samsung Pay also supports Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), which mimics a magnetic strip on a payment card.

I also made sure to go out with friends as often as possible, relying on them to bail me out in case none of my mobile payment options worked.

Samsung Pay header


Friday

The first test was a live music event on Friday night in Kramerville, Sandton.

After ordering an Uber and splitting with a few friends, we arrived at the venue and were required to pay a cover charge.

This proved problematic, as the venue did not offer Zapper or SnapScan, and the payment terminals used by the front desk did not support NFC.

I attempted to use Samsung Pay to mimic the magnetic strip of a normal card, and while the terminal read the signal as a card swipe, it rejected the card with the message “Card Not Allowed”.

Thankfully, friends were on hand to pay my cover charge and I tallied up the cost to pay them back using my mobile banking app.

Speaking to a bartender at the event then revealed that all the card machines at the venue were the same, meaning I would need to rely on my friends’ deep pockets to enjoy the festivities.

The end of the event saw me paying back various friends using my mobile banking app.


Saturday

On Saturday morning I stopped by my local petrol station to purchase a few items.

The store’s payment terminals support NFC cards, and the Samsung Pay app worked here without any issues – although the cashier was slightly confused by my payment method.

Later in the afternoon, I headed to a pub in Craighall Park to meet a few friends.

The pub had an adjoining restaurant, and I was sure it would support either Zapper or SnapScan, or at least have an NFC-compatible payment terminal.

I was disappointed, however, as the pub only supported traditional card and bank PIN payments, causing me to rely on the generosity of friends once again.

After returning to my apartment, I prepared to host guests for an evening of Dungeons & Dragons, Rocket League, and copious amounts of alcohol drinking – where I would rely on my favourite catering solution, UberEATS.

The UberEATS app worked as intended, and I made it through an evening without relying on my friends’ bank cards (much to their relief).

NFC POS machine
The payment terminal at my local petrol station.

Sunday

I visited a friend’s house for a late breakfast on Sunday morning, saving me from searching the area for a restaurant with payment support.

We then took a visit to an ice cream store in Parkhurst, which was the first place during the weekend where I was able to pay using SnapScan.

The Masterpass app worked first time when scanning a SnapScan code, requiring my bank PIN for authentication as an added security measure.

After this, I returned home and ate my cinnamon bun and cappuccino treat.

Snapscan Paul's Homemade Ice Cream
SnapScan QR Code in Parkhurst.

Not widespread enough

While it was great to go out with only my smartphone, there was not enough support for mobile payments across businesses in Johannesburg during my weekend out.

I was unable to pay at older payment terminals, which are more widespread than I initially thought.

Uber and UberEATS are essential tools which I use regularly, making my smartphone crucial to my experience when going out.

However, support for Zapper, SnapScan, and NFC payment is not widespread enough to make leaving my wallet at home a comfortable experience.

I was forced to rely on the goodwill of friends, and will definitely hang onto my bank cards and cash for the foreseeable future.

A workaround for those who don’t want to take their card out with them, however, is to withdraw cash from an ATM using their mobile banking app.


Now read: Standard Bank launches South Africa’s first virtual card ecosystem

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I spent a weekend out in Joburg with only my smartphone to make payments – This is what happened