Good news: Japanese consumers are using less cash and more cashless payments. The winners are smartphone contactless apps like Mobile Suica (NFC) and PayPay (QR) which saw use rates grow from 16.4％ to 28.6％ in the August 2019 to January 2020 period. The CASHLESS Rebate program has clearly lifted all cashless methods which it was designed to do. The bad news? We have no idea where the economy is going in the coronavirus crisis with the Tokyo Olympics in the balance.
The growth of smartphone payments makes sense because it’s one the easiest ways for users to enjoy the benefits of the CASHLESS Rebate program with multiple payment choices, and most convenience stores offer an instant 2% rebate for cashless purchases. The next challenge is how cashless payment trends play out after the rebate program ends June 30.
Mobile Suica has been under a lot of stress this week. The cloud service almost went down under a heavy load on November 26, at the same time the Suica App has shot up in the App Store Japan rankings, briefly touching the top 3 which is unusual. At first I scratched my head then remembered that Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTickets become available 30 days in advance, and that means the New Year vacation period. But the unexpected Mobile Suica load and Suica App downloads signal something else: more first time Suica App users than ever before.
Even though Mobile Suica Shinkansen eTicket purchases are not eligible for CASHLESS rebates, it looks like more Japanese are taking the opportunity to go cashless this year with many first time users signing up for a Mobile Suica account and going all in with Apple Pay Suica/Google Pay Suica. Discounts on some advance Shinkansen eTickets are also pretty good.
In other news Kyodo reports that JR East is developing a new ‘touchless’ walkthrough gate with an overhead antenna design that lets users keep Suica in a bag or pocket. No more waving cards and devices over a reader. It’s also big help for left handed people, Apple Watch Suica users and wheelchair users. Field tests are expected to start in 2020 with a rollout in 2~3 years. It sounds like a perfect match for the new eTicket system that JR East will launch in April 2020 and Super Suica coming in April 2021. It will be Super Suica all the way, we are entering the final years of magnetic strip paper ticketing.
It would be great fun if a few JR stations near Tokyo Olympic venues could have a few walkthrough Touchless gates installed for inbound Apple Pay Suica users to try out. Great for travelers with both hands full. Look ma, no hands! Take that QR Code fans.
UPDATE It looks like Kyodo News is playing somewhat loose with their reporting. Ever reliable IT journalist Junya Suzuki contacted JR East for confirmation. JR East confirmed the basic story that they are developing a Touchless gate but have not committed to a rollout schedule. The picture that ran with the Kyodo piece is an older photo of an exhibition demo unit and not necessarily the Touchless gate, or the Touchless gate technology in development.
November 5 was JRE POINT CASHLESS rebate pay day, a grand total of ¥178. Big whup. After a month of using the CASHLESS rebate program, I can say that most of my Suica CASHLESS rebates are the convenience store instant transaction variety that do not use the JRE POINT system. I have also gotten more points out of the JRE POINT yellow logo 2% rebate campaign because I frequent Becks Coffee Shop and NewDays on the daily commute. Most of my cashless rebates are via my plastic Docomo dCard/Mastercard at the local COCOS Nakamura supermarket (the bento selection is real good, as is the fish).
Still, I’m glad to report that the system works as advertised. All the rebate points for October are in. My only wish is for more eligible stores to join the program while the deal lasts.
The JAPAN CASHLESS rebate program has been up and running for a month already and the first batch of Suica JRE POINT rebates should be coming this week. One of the interesting aspects of the program is how it favors smaller family owned businesses with larger 5% rebates to encourage cashless payment uptake on the cash register side. Large chains like AEON and SEIYU (Walmart) are excluded altogether.
Finding a supermarket with CASHLESS rebates isn’t easy but fortunately for Asagaya area residents there is one: CoCoS Nakamura that just opened a store last year. They offer 5% CASHLESS rebates for purchases made with Mastercard and VISA cards, JCB is ‘coming soon’ (no contactless options), there are other CoCoS Nakamura stores in the east part of Tokyo. 5% off everything, effectively the rare 3% ‘jackpot‘ consumption tax rate until June 30 which is nice and a big cashless shopping incentive, I just wish there was more of it lasting longer.