As more people worry about catching coronavirus from touching cash and credit-card terminals, a onetime niche technology is roaring into the mainstream.

Use of contactless mobile payments -- services that once struggled to catch on in the U.S. -- is surging as people come to see their phones as the safer way to pay. They’re also using mobile apps tied to payments, such as Amazon Prime Now, to place delivery or pickup orders for groceries. The Treasury Department may even let people who don’t have bank accounts receive their coronavirus relief checks via mobile-payment services like Venmo.

“We shouldn’t be touching anything,” said Richard Crone, chief executive officer of mobile-payment research firm Crone Consulting LLC. He expects contactless payments to grab an additional 10% to 20% of transactions at stores and ATMs as the result of the pandemic. Person-to-person services like PayPal, Venmo and Zelle should benefit as well, Crone said.

It’s easy to see why. Even with retail stores cleaning more often than ever -- if they’re open at all -- handling cash or touching payment keypads stands out as a major risk. With contactless pay, you link a bank account or credit card to your phone and then tap the device on a contactless reader or hover over it to trigger payment.

Already, 27% of U.S. small businesses have seen an increase in customers using services like Apple Pay, according to a survey of 361 companies released in April by the Strawhecker Group and the Electronic Transactions Association. Publix Super Markets Inc. sped up its transition to contactless terminals because of Covid-19, according to the company. Starting in early April, consumers at all Publix stores have been able to use services like Apple Pay and Google Pay to check out.

“I know a lot of merchants are putting signage up at the point of sale, ‘Please use contactless,’” said Linda Kirkpatrick, a Mastercard executive who works with banks and credit unions.

Burger King released a commercial in March to encourage customers to use an order-ahead app to pay at drive-thrus.

A couple of weeks ago, retail giant Walmart Inc. tweaked its self-checkout system to go completely contactless when shoppers use Walmart Pay. Previously, you had to touch a “Pay now” button after scanning your groceries. Now, you can read a QR code with your phone to pay. Use of pickup and delivery at Walmart is growing as well.

“You are seeing customers start to use services they weren’t interested in before,” said Molly Blakeman, a Walmart spokeswoman.

Many sellers at farmers’ markets have stopping accepting cash, and are instead using apps like Venmo, which is owned by PayPal Holdings Inc. The app got it start as a way for friends to reimburse each other for dinner or for roommates to handle rent.

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