They’re fast and easy to set up and use. Here, everything you need to know about shopping with electronic wallet apps.

Ever notice how lineups at retail aren’t as long as they used to be?

Perhaps this has something to do with the growing popularity of electronic wallet apps, which work with your mobile device – such as a smartphone or smartwatch – so you can pay for something with a simple tap or wave at a checkout counter.

Also referred to as mobile payments, these electronic wallets (e-wallets) are not only fast and easy to set up and use, but they’re widely accepted, secure and offer other benefits to the shopper and retailer.

How does it work?

The premise is simple: Canadians can use a compatible smartphone or smartwatch to make a purchase at supported retailers – even if they’ve left their cash or cards at home.

Phones can serve as an e-wallet if they’re embedded with near field communication (NFC), a short-range wireless radio technology that lets you simply touch a merchant terminal – the same ones that support those tap-and-go contactless credit cards like Visa’s payWave and MasterCard’s PayPass, which also use NFC technology.

Purchases usually get capped at $100 or so, but no PIN is required to complete the purchase – a convenience boon for both the customer and retailer. (Since your phone requires a code or fingerprint to unlock, your account is safe if you lose your device.)

Most mobile payment solutions today are tied to an app provided by a financial institution, with most of Canada’s major banks onboard.

Plenty of options You can use your smartphone or smartwatch anywhere contactless payments are accepted, which means thousands of merchants across Canada.

The process is similar between the big mobile payment providers, such as Apple Pay (for iPhone), Samsung Pay (for Samsung devices) or Android Pay (for Android phones). If it’s not already preloaded onto your device, you download the app and then scan your credit or debit card (or type in the details).

For purchases more than $100, e-wallets usually require you to validate yourself at point of purchase. With Apple Pay, for example, you’ll place your finger or thumbprint on the iPhone’s circular Home button to prove it’s you (“biometrics authentication”) or have your face scanned with iPhone X (since the Home button is gone). Other solutions may require a PIN code.

These major players do not disclose anyone’s financial information; it exchanges a unique numerical “token” instead of actual credit or debit card numbers with the retailer. And there is no cost for shoppers to use these mobile payment solutions.

If you’re intrigued by mobile payments but would rather dip your toe in the water than dive in head first, try buying something inexpensive with your smartphone the next time you’re out, such as a cup of coffee or magazine, and you’ll see it’s a fast, convenient and secure way to pay.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Zoomer magazine with the headline, “Mobile Payment 101,” p. 52.