Most UK Apple Pay Retailers Cap At £20, But Pret And Bill’s Show Transactions Can Be Limitless

Apple Pay officially arrived in the UK earlier today, and with it, we’re now getting more details on how the mobile payment service will work. Most of the 250,000 physical locations that will accept Apple’s contactless payment service will work with a £20 cap on transactions, as some had been reporting prior to launch, but it turns out this is not the full story. At least two businesses, eatery chains Pret a Manger and Bill’s, are accepting limitless transactions.

Yes, this means that at lunch today you can go and buy your crayfish & rocket sandwich, cauliflower/sweet potato quinoa hot pot, roasted beet and feta salad, two packets of popcorn, hot soup, coffee, mineral water, carrot cake and yogurt all in a single Apple Pay transaction.

(Provided of course you are set up to use Apple Pay, and are using iOS 8.3 on an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus; or an Apple Watch paired with iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, or iPhone 6 Plus, loaded with a supporting card from a participating bank. Also, no guarantee provided that you will be awake through the afternoon hours after that motherlode of a meal.)

More generally, UK banks and businesses have been working around a £20 ($31) limit on contactless transactions to minimise fraud with contactless cards, which do not require any PINs, signatures or picture ID to let users buy items. That limit is due to rise to £30 ($46) in September.

But regardless of whether it is £20 or £30, this is largely a self-imposed cap. The Apple Pay system, which links a card up with a specific user and his/her TouchID authenticated device, is seen as a more secure method than using a card on its own. Apple Pay has no transaction limit in the U.S., and as Apple explains here, there is a way for a merchant to extend or remove a limit in the UK if it so chooses.

Limitless transactions will be embraced by some retailers is because it help lower the barrier to spending more money. The iPhone seems to drive more commerce in apps, where people as a rule spend more than they do using Android: The big question is whether uncapped Apple Pay transactions will encourage people to do that in physical payments, too.

No Apple Pay love (yet)

watch pay undergroundEven though the UK is smaller than the U.S., the 250,000 locations that are providing Apple Pay support at launch is higher than the 220,000 locations that supported the service at launch in the U.S. last autumn.

Part of the reason for this is that NFC-based terminals have been in use for some time already — with one big push happening as far back as 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics.

This also means you should be able to pay with Apple Pay at any retailer with contactless payment abilities (within transaction limits).

Nevertheless, there are a number of notable names absent from Apple’s list of partners.

As expected, the UK’s three biggest grocery chains — Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA — are not on board with Apple Pay at launch and do not appear to have any plans to change that.

A spokesperson for Tesco tells us that it has no plans or even official statement about future plans for Apple Pay. The grocery giant does have contactless terminals in selected stores, which means that in theory Apple Pay will work in some places.

Sainsbury’s also confirmed to us that it is not looking at Apple Pay — but that may also be because it hasn’t even yet implemented any kind of contactless technology in its stores. “We’re not looking at using Apple Pay at the moment,” a spokesperson said. “We’re currently looking at technology to support contactless payments in our stores.”

ASDA is perhaps the least surprising of the three. The chain is owned by Walmart, which has also been a very high profile passenger absent from the Apple Pay train.

Mobile payments may still be in their very early days, but today is a good reminder of how charged the atmosphere is over who will own the space in the longer term.

In the long list of banks whose cards will be supported within the Apple Pay wallet, either from its debut today or later this month, one very notable name absent from the list is Barclays.

Barclays was reportedly staying away from Apple Pay negotiations in part because it has been building out its own contactless payment technology by way of a partnership with VocaLink’s Zapp. (Sainsbury’s and ASDA are also working with Zapp.)

Barclays confirmed to us today that is going to keep working with Zapp, but also made it clear that it would soon also be supported within Apple Pay.

“We are really excited about the launch of Apple Pay and can confirm that we will bring Barclays debit cards and Barclaycard credit cards to Apple Pay in the future,” a spokesperson for Barclays told TechCrunch.

“Our aim is to offer consumers and retailers the broadest possible range of options to make and receive payments. We will continue to work towards that ambition through both our own initiatives and via partnerships with other innovators in the payments and/or technology sectors.”

This is not unlike Amex and its decision to develop its own wallet-like payment solution, which will work alongside services like Apple Pay to provide choices to its users.

Having a large bank like Barclays scrambling to get a statement of support out underscores how some will perceive its absence as a sign of how the bank is not as forward thinking as some of its competitors. That is potentially leading some to use it as a reason to bank elsewhere.

The rush to demonstrate support comes from more than just Barclays. Apple Pay has yet to work with PayPal in the physical retail space, but the two are working together on enabling Apple Pay payments in apps, just as in the U.S.

Takeout food ordering app hungryhouse, Just Park, YPlan, Bar Pass, Top10, Bizzby, Mr & Mrs Smith, StubHub, and HotelTonight are among those working with Braintree to take Apple Pay transactions in their mobile apps.

Here is a full list of the banks and physical businesses accepting Apple Pay as of today:

Banks will include

  • American Express, MasterCard and Visa Europe
  • At launch, many of the UK’s most popular banks are accepting:
    • NatWest
    • Nationwide Building Society
    • Royal Bank of Scotland
    • Santander
    • Ulster Bank
    • MBNA
  • Later in July:
    • HSBC
    • first direct
  • Other major issuing banks will follow by this fall:
    • Bank of Scotland
    • Halifax
    • Lloyds Bank
    • M&S Bank
    • TSB Bank
Merchants include the following:
  • Bill’s, Boots UK, BP, Costa Coffee, Co-op, KFC UK, Le Pain Quotidien, Liberty, LIDL, Marks & Spencer (M&S), McDonald’s UK, Nando’s, Post Office, Pret A Manger, SPAR, Starbucks, SUBWAY stores, TfL, Wagamama and Waitrose, among others
  • Some other merchants who have committed to supporting Apple Pay later this year include:
    • Screwfix, Wilko, EAT, Costcutter, Five Guys, JD Sports, Dune, New Look, among others