Unleashing my inner emo with Jimmy Eat World. Note the POS devices covered in blue weatherproof plastic bags.
Do you find it frustrating when you want a tasty snack from a food stall, but then find you have no cash on you and they don’t have a card reader? So do I!

Mastercard have sponsored 2017’s Hurricane Festival in Scheessel, Northern Germany, to improve the acceptance of cashless payments in a country that is still struggling to make a full transition into the information age and catch up with its European neighbours. Mastercard is strongly interested in sponsoring similar events in the future as a music festival involves a genuine „customer journey“ from booking tickets and accommodation online to purchasing drinks on the premises.

I have attended the festival to produce a short survey on cashless payments. Marc-Oliver, in the meantime, is on his way to the upcoming Open’er in Gdynia, Poland, where electronic payments have been actively used for more than five years, and will report on the situation on his very own blog.

The three major topics we’d like to discuss are: Payment options; Access to cash; Variety and pricing of food and drink.

False advertising: Ear plug vendors‘ equipment featured Visa and Mastercard logos but with no mPOS, unable to accept cards.
Issue 1: Payment on the festival premises
A variety of cards (girocard, Maestro, Visa, Mastercard – but not Amex) was only accepted by drink booths on the festival premises proper that displayed Mastercard signage and were centrally operated by FKP Event Services, Hamburg. Mobile beer vendors and mobile earplug vendors did not accept cards. Food trucks as well as bars in the surrounding camping areas – all independent vendors – also refused cards.

Some merchandise stalls accepted cards, but were not included in the sponsorship programme. These vendors usually brought their own mobile terminals. I’ve seen iZettle or SumUp, but also more traditional mobile devices like the Atos Yoximo. Some merchants only accepted first generation debit cards (girocard, Maestro, and I’ve also seen a Belgian Bancontact sign) as opposed to all major card brands. Trying to buy an official festival merch t-shirt, my International Maestro card was rejected („Authorisation failed“) after waiting several minutes for the terminal to connect to the mobile network. As this vendor refused to take a credit card, I resorted to a local girocard debit card. The latter was accepted in an offline emergency processing mode. I was not made aware of any minimum spend by any merchant accepting cards.

Contactless payments were accepted through Maestro PayPass, Mastercard PayPass and Visa payWave. No CVM was not practiced on chip and signature cards, also CVM was required for contactless payments above €25. Girocard (the domestic card scheme) was natively accepted. VOB-ZVD acted as acquirer for girocard transactions whereas Wirecard was involved for international card acceptance and provided terminal services.

Customer signing receipt for a contactless low value payment.
DCC was not provided by the „official“ drink stalls and I haven’t observed it anywhere else either. However a UK-based merchandise seller used a terminal that debited in British pounds only to collect payments, even though pricing was in Euros. Apparently he used a currency app on his phone to determine the exchange rate. A practice that is discouraged as it means that customers can well unwittingly be stung by foreign transaction fees!

Official drink stalls participating in the Mastercard promotion used Verifone H5000 card terminals, of which about 80 didn’t survive a thunderstorm on Thursday and had to be replaced on very short notice. In fact, rugged card terminals are still a niche that hasn’t seen much attention from manufacturers. Terminals were usually facing the customer. Proprietary prepaid cards were used in the past (2012 and 2015), caused major issues and have not been popular with the revellers. Infrastructure to accept these proprietary cards is still in place and connected to the POS devices but only used as a customer facing display, potentially confusing customers interested in paying by contactless card.

Cash was accepted by any vendor.

Cashiers were not always well trained. I witnessed a cashier asking a customer in front of me to sign the receipt even though he paid with a contactless card.

Hurricane 2017: Price list for drinks.
Nevertheless cash/card ratio for drinks was 70/30. This is a very promising figure considering that Mastercard is not as present in the German market as Maestro and Visa are, about 70% of all payments in German physical stores are still in cash, and some visitors misunderstood the prominent Mastercard branding. It was not an exclusive sponsorship deal of the Visa/London 2012 kind where other card brands would be rejected!

€2 deposit for the cup could be paid by card but would always be returned in coins, not by unreferenced refund on a card.

Issue 2: Access to cash on the festival premises
ATMs were not available on the festival premises proper but only in the “playground” which was located on the other side of the main street, outside the security area, next to the Penny supermarket that provided debit card cashback through the domestic girocard scheme only.

Therefore, I was unable to assess surcharging, DCC, use of ATMs, mobile phone top-up or additional services (unlocking PIN, balance enquiry, charitable donations, receipts). Although a fully functioned (foreign) ATM with PIN unlock functionality could be a life saver for international travellers.

Use a Mastercard for €1 discount on drinks.
Issue 3: Food, Drink & Pricing
Cost of drinks – Coca-Cola: €4 (-€1 Mastercard discount, €2 deposit return for cups). Beer and water were similarly priced. Average cost of food was in the area of €3-4 for a smaller item (currywurst, fries etc), €5-10 for a main (€7.50 for a fish kebab, €8 for currywurst and fries).

A large selection of mostly traditional event food including grilled sausages, burgers and fries with various toppings, but also more exotic options such as Latin American empanadas, Swedish elk products or fish kebabs. Consumers seemed to prefer traditional, rich options over the healthier or more modern choices. According to a spokesman for FKP Concerts, the most popular food options were “Handbrot” (stuffed bread) and Thai fried noodles.

The queuing experience generally was acceptable, with a reasonable queuing time (save for a few drunk and unruly people you have everywhere). As food stalls were cash only, payment was not as efficient as expected.

Conclusion

Video instructions on accepting card payments as shown in waiting tent for bar staff.
This was a very promising first attempt at open loop systems. However, we would like to see more cashless options next year. I understand that food stall operators are not keen to adopt card payments for taxation reasons. But future contracts and tendering processes should reflect the desire to make such events safer and more efficient. Cash does come with storage and transport costs and it is not too safe to carry hundreds of Euros with you on a campsite.

I and many others at the Mastercard lounge were approached many a time by visitors asking us for the way to the next ATM or even for a cash advance on their Mastercard, and particularly foreign visitors may indeed be surprised by the payment issues. We’ve had ample opportunity to discover potential issues (including spotty mobile coverage) so these can be weeded out by 2018, and we might see wired kebab shops by then.

No cash! No problem? We’re not quite there yet. I had to shell out my emergency tenner for a currywurst and fries, but fingers crossed for next year!

Disclosure: Admission to the festival was sponsored by an agency on behalf of Mastercard.