If you're going to think twice before touching anything outside of your home once the coronavirus outbreak is beat, you're not alone. Ernst & Young's most recent EY Future Consumer Index survey said 45% of consumers think their shopping habits will be permanently altered, at least to some degree. A recent poll performed by shopping rewards program operator Shopkick indicated that among consumers who were doing more online shopping due to COVID-19, 60% of them will continue to do so once the pandemic winds down. 

Take these numbers with a grain of salt. Lots of consumers say they're going to do things differently in response to a particular event, but not all of them do.

Still, given the sheer depth of this particular scare, it would be naive to say most consumers aren't going to do the easy things they can do -- and have learned to do -- once the coronavirus is gone. That's shopping in a store without touching anything, including cash and credit card swiping machines. The golden age of contactless payments is upon us, and that's good news for fintech-friendly names like Visa (V 0.90%), PayPal (PYPL -1.68%), and Global Payments (GPN -1.79%).

Smartphones being used to make a contactless payment for a cup of coffee.

Image source: Getty Images.

A brewing opportunity

Americans love to use their smartphones in a variety of ways. But there's one glaring exception. Despite many phones having the capability to do so for years now, we're not big on using them as digital wallets. CreditCards.com reports that as of last year, almost half of all U.S. adults still use cash to pay for relatively small purchases, whereas 16% use credit cards. The 35% in between prefer debit cards.

As for how many of those purchases were made with contactless technologies like tap-and-pay or near-field communications, the estimates vary. Some peg the figure at 3%, and others even less.

That's largely an American phenomenon, however. Visa says that outside of the U.S., more than 40% of transactions it facilitates only require a tap, as opposed to a swipe and/or a signature, jibing with numbers from rival MasterCard (MA 0.45%).

The disparity translates into an opportunity in a post-coronavirus world. While U.S. workers only make up 5% of the world's population, the Office of the United States Trade Representative says they earn more than 20% of the world's income. The trick? Steering new spending habits in a way that favors your spin on the idea.

Among the winners

PayPal is already well-positioned to help shape the next era of U.S. consumerism. It too is largely an American phenomenon, with more than half of last year's revenue being driven by United States consumers more than familiar with the name that's been supporting online shopping almost since its infancy. Perhaps more importantly, PayPal already offers several digital wallet options that wouldn't need to be tweaked to draw interest. For instance, PayPal accounts work with Alphabet's Google Pay or Android Pay, which turn smartphones into virtual cards that only need to be in the vicinity of cash registers equipped to connect with consumers' devices.

And yes, the right hardware is finally coming. Juniper Research predicted late last year that the number of contactless-enabled point of sale devices would more than double between 2019's tally and 2024, growing from 78 million to 161 million (mostly in the U.S.). By that time, an estimated 94% of all POS hardware will be able to accept contactless payments. Swedish market research firm Berg Insight predicts a similar growth pace.

Global Payments is one of the premier companies that will help make it happen. 

Online shopping carts and brick-and-mortar cash registers are a crowded, competitive arena. But Global Payments is poised for more than its fair share of growth by offering a wide array of business services. These include tools that let merchants accept true card payments, mobile wallet payments, and online payments. But the company makes itself even more marketable by combining those technologies with services like email marketing and analytics of a retailer's customer data. The company can even facilitate business loans.

As for Visa, it will largely be doing the same thing it's done for years. It will just be doing considerably more of it.

The proverbial war on cash was already going well for digital wallets, save in the United States where around half of all small transactions were still handled with cash. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve says about one-fourth of all purchases of all sizes in the U.S. are still done with cash. That's not a whole lot of room for relative growth of contactless payments. Given that the United States' consumer-centric GDP stood at more than $21 trillion as of the end of last year though, the shift away from cash spending presents a huge opportunity for the companies that make it happen. Remember, Visa scrapes off a tiny piece of every transaction it handles.

And it doesn't hurt that Visa has already been offering tap-and-pay cards for a while. It's also got existing partnerships with Google, Samsung, and Apple that let its account holders use the mobile payment features built into those brands' phones and apps. There's just been no urgent need to utilize those tools until now.

Patience will pay off

Certainly, these three names aren't the only companies that will benefit from the growing interest in contactless payments. But they're among the names capable of offering solutions. Indeed, all three already offer solutions.

It's also not a movement likely to boost sales and profits overnight. Many consumers -- and many retailers for that matter -- still have much to learn and accept about contactless or tap-and-pay payments. It will take time to see results.

It will be worth the wait, though. Last year, McKinsey reported the global payments market was worth just a tad less than $2 trillion, and growing at a sustainable 6% clip. Between the advent of contactless technology and the ease with which COVID-19 spread, the best-positioned companies in the business have a chance to not only plug into that growth but grow market share as well.