I’ve edited scores of stories about mobile payments, but as long as I had my older model cellphone, it was a world I was left out of. So when it finally gave out and I had to get a replacement, I knew that at last, mobile payments would be at my fingertips.
I chose the newer version of the phone I already had, the Samsung Galaxy S7, and decided to dive in headlong, rather than tiptoe.
My goal: Go a week using only Samsung Pay.
The Samsung Pay website touts that it works “almost anywhere you can use your card.” Unlike Apple Pay and Android Pay, which can only be used if the merchant has an NFC-enabled payment terminal, Samsung Pay uses NFC and Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology. MST technology emits a signal that mimics the magnetic strip on a traditional payment card, so you should be able to pay by tapping your phone on any kind of terminal, even the old-style magnetic-stripe readers.
Of course, you have to meet certain criteria first. For instance, only six major banks work with Samsung Pay now. So, equipped with the right phone, the right mobile carrier and the right bank, I was ready to go.
It required about three minutes to set up, including the time it took for me to realize my card was downstairs, wish my dogs were trained to fetch very specific things, and finally go grab it myself.
You take a photo of the card you want to use, type in the three-digit CVV on the back of the card, then use your finger to scrawl in a signature, just in case a merchant ever wants to see it to verify you are the cardholder. Your thumbprint serves as your payment authorization, so if you haven’t yet stored your thumbprint on your phone, you’ll need to do that. Mine was already stored in my phone.
Once set up, you don’t have to access the app each time. A transparent bar appears at the bottom of the phone screen. When the screen is locked, it says “Samsung Pay” and when you have your screen unlocked, it’s just a thin bar under all your icons. To access it, you touch the bar for about a second, then a virtual card slides up the screen. No further steps needed – that’s the screen where you pay. You put your thumb on the home button, touch the phone to a terminal and the transaction is completed.
On Day One, I made two purchases. One was at a restaurant, and I had to hand over my card. I was disappointed that my first purchase into this challenge had already met a barrier.
I got my chance with my next purchase. I went to H-E-B, our local grocery store, and got my phone out, ready to pay. I had a small hiccup when I realized that the mag-stripe reader and the area where you could use a contactless card were two different things on this particular reader. The cashier was ready to help, though, and quickly told me to place the phone on the mag-stripe reader. I held my thumb over the home button, and the transaction was complete within a few seconds.
I used Samsung Pay smoothly at the movie theater, a gas station (inside) and at H-E-B several times over the course of the week. Some cashiers seemed a little irritated, judging by the obvious eye rolls I got. Maybe that was just because paying with a phone is still new.
However, a trip to The Home Depot proved more difficult. This time, my husband wanted to pay with his phone using Samsung Pay. No dice. He tried twice, then I tried, since I had already had success using Samsung Pay on my phone. The cashier was getting frustrated with us, to the point that I had to explain that I was on a work assignment and that I wanted to try everything possible before I gave up.
After an unsuccessful try on my part, my husband swiped his physical card. I wondered whether the problem with Samsung Pay could have been due to the fact that The Home Depot is one of the few stores in our area that has already upgraded to terminals that read EMV chip cards. Maybe Samsung Pay didn’t work with EMV terminals? I vowed to visit Target, another store that’s already implemented chip card readers, later in the week.
I have a Target debit card (with EMV chip), which I tried to load into my app, to no avail. I tweeted Samsung about the issue and they said that Target is not on their list of compatible cards, but they’re working on adding more cards later this year. I decided to try to buy something with my regular debit card using Samsung Pay at Target.
At first, the cashier was skeptical that it would work. As soon as I pulled my phone out, she was quick to tell me that Target was “behind the times” and that “people ask us all the time about using Apple Pay and we have to tell them sorry.” (I later spoke with a family member who is a Target manager and he said he has never seen anyone have a problem using either Samsung Pay or Apple Pay in his store. Whether this discrepancy is due to the fact that I’m in Austin, Texas, and he’s in Washington, D.C., or due simply to an inexperienced cashier at the store I visited, I don’t know).
When I insisted on trying Samsung Pay anyway, the cashier flagged down another Target employee who explained that Samsung Pay would work if, instead of holding the phone still over the terminal, the user made the same kind of swiping motion used with a regular mag-stripe card. The payment went through without a hitch, disproving my theory about chip-card readers not working with Samsung Pay.
I tweeted Samsung Pay to ask about the swiping motion and had responses so quick, it was more like instant messaging than tweeting, which I thought was great.
“The Magnetic Strip Reader can be in different locations depending on the type of payment terminal,” Samsung Pay tweeted. “For device placement terminals, you can visit this link.” I replied to verify that this meant that the swiping motion made sure that the phone communicated with the right spot on the terminal, which the representative said was correct.
There is often some friction in dealing with cashiers when using Samsung Pay. Many were quick to tell me that they weren’t sure if the phone payment would work, and more than ready to have me hurry up and swipe my card already. Some seemed a little irritated that using Samsung Pay took a bit longer than swiping or even dipping a card, even though it was only a few extra seconds. Others just seemed wary of a payment that wasn’t guaranteed to work, and clearly hoped I wasn’t going to blame them or cause a scene if it didn’t.
Bottom line: Samsung Pay will likely be my go-to method, as long as it continues to work as smoothly as it did this week. Nine times out of 10, my phone is much more easily accessed than my card. My phone is already out at most checkouts anyway, because I use store apps for coupons, so it’s actually faster for me to switch apps than to dig around for my wallet. Bonus: At the time of this experiment, Samsung was offering a $30 gift card to any Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge users for making a purchase (anywhere, any amount) using Samsung Pay, so I got to take advantage of that, too.
Samsung, you’ve won over this customer.