The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on seemingly every area of our lives. That includes the way Americans prefer to make consumer purchases, pay for lunch at a socially-distant friendly restaurant, and pay bills. More and more we are opting to use credit cards instead of cash..
Of course Americans have been showing a preference for cards over cash for some time now. In 2019, 61% of all payments made by consumers were done using credit, debit and prepaid cards. And according to a recent "Psychology Today" article, 78% of people prefer to pay using plastic while just 9% prefer to pay with cash.
But the pandemic has accelerated the movement towards credit cards; so much so that a totally cashless society may now be just over the horizon.
Indeed, according to a survey of American consumers conducted by the Strawhecker Group business management consultancy firm, 50% of respondents said they plan to use less cash after the pandemic ends. Meanwhile product marketing strategist Tal Vinnik writes that almost 70% of global consumers have said a shift from cash to all cashless payments is inevitable.
There are many reasons why credit card usage makes sense these days. They begin with basic hygiene concerns. During this time when we are being asked to wash our hands as often as possible, credit cards simply make for cleaner transactions.
To put it bluntly, cash is dirty. In fact, the average cash bill has over 26,000 bacterial colonies on it. Germs accumulate as a bill is passed back and forth from one hand to another (and another and another and on and on).
Cards, on the other hand, require a minimum amount of actual physical human contact. That's important when we are also being encouraged to socially distance from one another. In most cases all you need is a card and a processing device to make a purchase with a credit card. Card usage hence helps everyone maintain safety protocols.
The pandemic has certainly complicated our lives. Nothing seems easy anymore. Which is another reason why cards have become even more popular—their convenience adds a bit of comfort in these difficult times.
For starters, card transactions are faster than cash transactions. McDonalds, for example, says their average cash transaction takes between 10 to 15 seconds. The average card transaction is 3 seconds.
And that's important. Because customers don't like to wait. Tal Vinnik, the marketing strategist, also writes that 41% of customers will abandon a purchase if they perceive that the check-out line is too long.
The ease of card usage helps explain why people tend to spend more when using a card. Studies by the Strawhecker Groups show consumers spend 83% more when using a credit card than they when paying with cash. And when it comes to payment cards in particular, the average consumer will spend $42 more per purchase than someone using cash.
The truth is carrying around cash—especially a lot of cash—is not always ideal. A Reuters analysis determined that 34% of Americans rarely pay with cash or never carry cash on them.
We've increasingly come to depend on our cards, and we expect businesses to cater to this preference. A report by Square shows that if a business establishment does not accept a customer's preferred method of card payment, 55% of shoppers will either spend less or go somewhere else.
Millions of consumers had already been moving toward eCommerce shopping before the virus outbreak. But with the pandemic now here and people staying in their homes, the trend toward eCommerce has only accelerated as more Americans discover the ease and convenience of the kind of shopping made possible by payment cards.
For example, according to the Strawhecker Group, 22% of all retail sales in the US between April and May of 2020 were made up of eCommerce sales. That's up from 11% for the same period the year before. Meanwhile almost half of small businesses surveyed by Stawhecker have seen a significant increase in customers using or asking for cashless means of payment since the pandemic started.
The numbers were already overwhelming even before the coronavirus struck. According to the Federal Reserve, more than 70% of Americans have a credit card. In fact the average American has three. In all, there are 340 million active credit cards in the United States.
At the same time, 73% of Americans surveyed before the pandemic, by the company Shift Consumer Processing, reported using cash less often.
There's more. A Reuters study shows 38% of Americans would welcome a cashless society. Also, a paper from the American Consumer Credit Counseling organization states that when it comes to younger consumers, 100% of 18-24 year-olds report using debit cards for everyday purchases. Yes, that's 100%.
No one can say for certain what the future will bring—especially given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the current pandemic. But right now the numbers are pointing toward a consumer economy dominated by payment cards.
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