PARIS — The French retailer Carrefour Group has issued 2.5 million contactless cards since kicking off nine months ago what has become one of Europe's most-watched payments projects.

Frederic Marzurier, the administrative and financial director of the company's financial services subsidiary Societe des Paiements, said that 38% of Carrefour customers who have made purchases of less than $37 have done so using the cards' contactless capabilities.

"That's surprising for us," because the retailer has done little to promote the use of contactless payments, Marzurier said here Tuesday at the Cartes and IDentification conference.

He said consumers can now make contactless transactions at about 100 of Carrefour's so-called hypermarkets, which typically combine supermarkets with department stores, as well as 700 of its supermarkets and 24 fuel stations.

Carrefour expects to have deployed about 20,000 contactless payment terminals by June of next year.

Since Carrefour is one of Europe's largest retailers, merchants across the continent are paying close attention to its contactless program.

The dual-function MasterCard Inc. cards can be used for both debit and credit transactions at Carrefour and other merchants, and feature a loyalty program that offers cash-back rewards and discounts on purchases.

The French payments company Monext provides card management and some transaction processing services.

The retailer's "immediate motivation" for offering contactless cards was to "reduce time spent in cash lines," Marzurier said, though he also said the company is paying close attention to the rapidly evolving mobile phone payments capabilities.

"Maybe we need to prepare for the future," when near-field communication technology will be more widely available, Marzurier said, referring to the short-range contactless payment technology designed mainly for mobile phones.

There have been dozens of NFC tests around the world, but few significant rollouts, mostly because of a lack of handsets and questions about the business model.

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