ONLINE payments firm PayPal has launched contact-free payment using QR codes, a mobile phone-based technology giving retailers and customers a new way to keep their distance at the tills.
PayPal's top executive in Ireland, Maeve Dorman, said the technology would prove particularly useful for small shops with no card machines and for retailers who normally rely on cash transactions, including fast food takeaways.
Others likely to find QR transfers handy are plumbers, electricians and casual sellers on social media marketplaces.
"Covid-19 has changed the shopping experience in Ireland as we know it," said Ms Dorman, PayPal's vice president of global merchant services.
"Not only do people need security and convenience, as always, they now need to be able to sell and buy in a way that is quick, safe and involves limited social contact," she said.
"Digital payments - and this QR code functionality - allow for this and could be the means through which small Irish businesses survive during the crisis and potentially thrive in the future."
To send or receive payment from one PayPal account to another, the user points their smartphone camera at a QR code that has been printed or is displaying on another screen. All PayPal profiles include a unique QR code - the digital fingerprint for the buyer or seller.
For example, a market trader could display their PayPal account's QR code on a display table. Customers could scan that code using their phones and pay for purchases directly into that trader's account.
PayPal in Ireland is waiving fees for QR payment recipients until September 14, when its regular charge - 10c a transaction plus 0.9pc of payment value - will start to apply. This means a goods retailer or service provider receiving a payment would be charged 19 cents for €10, €1 for €100, and €9.10 for €1,000.
The product represents direct competition for traditional credit and debit cards. These currently offer 'tap' technology requiring the card holder to place the card near a reader, with payment limits currently operating in a range of €30 to €50. Payments above those thresholds require the card to be inserted physically into the reader and the user's password tapped on a keyboard, posing a risk for virus transmission.
PayPal said it has been trialling the QR system in the US since October 2019 but officially extended it yesterday to its app in Ireland and 22 other countries across Europe as well as Hong Kong and Australia. The option already has been introduced over the past two weeks in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
"The rollout of QR codes incorporates the safety, security and convenience of using PayPal in person, and takes into consideration ongoing social distancing requirements," said John Kunze, senior vice president of branded experiences.
QR - short for 'quick response' code - is a data-rich barcode initially developed in the 1990s in the Japanese auto industry.