MyChip - grounded with no pocket money in Japan

With projects in 13 markets, our lucky STS team gets to see some interesting places and people. Tokyo definitely tops the list of places to visit: the culture is amazing and we have some wonderful, supportive partners there. Tokyo also provides an insight into our future technology - what you see in Japan today, we see elsewhere tomorrow. From the Shikansen bullet train to the sights and sounds of Akihabara a.k.a. Electric Town, Tokyo is definitely an eye-opener for innovation.

However, my recent experience in Tokyo was not such a happy one... well until Japanese technology came to the rescue! The PA had just announced a 14 hour delay due to a faulty aircraft. (I won't mention the airline this time as they're one of our customers.) Picture a plane load's worth of passengers, all tired and hungry, desperate for food, drink and rest: you can imagine we were all very unhappy campers!

The distress heightened while haplessly hunting for a cash machine to pay for food. Finally locating a machine that took cards, we pressed endless buttons in response to a multitude of menus only to successfully purchase fully-comprehensive insurance on our next trip to Fiji (better make that 14 markets). It was then that I had my 'Aha!' moment.

Drearily drifting past the cafe as the hunger pangs grew, I suddenly spied a little contactless card reader alongside the cash register till. Bingo! Amazingly, this reader accepted my Suica card, which I had obtained earlier to travel the JR line in Tokyo. Much food and drink later, the problems of the late flight had passed into oblivion.

But this all got me to thinking, what was it about this experience that had made contactless payments successful? Step #1, I already had a reason to have a card. For anyone who has ever tried to use a paper ticketing machine in a foreign language, they will know that having a transport card safely tucked in the wallet is a must. Be it Hong Kong's Octopus Card, London's Oyster or Tokyo's Suica card, they all provide convenience for the foreign traveller. Where was I? Ah yes, step #2, I could use the same card in a nearby shop. Step #3, I was very hungry.

It all joined up: I had a reason to have a contactless card - transport, a place to use it - food shop and a need, well a desperate need - hungry and penniless.

It then became obvious to me (my second 'Aha!' moment) that for the UK to see a successful rollout of contactless payments, these three conditions must be simultaneously satisfied - 'reason', 'place' and 'need'. Only then will we see the decline in cash predicted by APACS a few weeks ago.

Monday, March 2, 2009