Why Cash Remains the Best Payment Option for Retailers and Consumers During the Pandemic and Beyond

By Marlene Milczarek

It seemed like many retailers (including convenience stores and carwashes) were going cashless during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we were unsure if cash was safe to use. We were being asked by retailers to use mostly debit or credit payments as a precautionary measure, despite the World Health Organization stating cash could be handled safely if consumers wash their hands. The Bank of Canada also strongly urged (and continues to urge) retailers to continue accepting cash to ensure people continue to have access to the goods and services they need, as the risks posed from handling bank notes are no greater than those posed by touching other common surfaces, such as doorknobs, kitchen counters or handrails.

 

Studies show credit and debit cards are dirtier than cash

One may expect cash to be dirtier since it’s in circulation and changes hands; however, it’s your plastic that carries more germs than cash. A recent study by LendEDU.com, a finance website, tested various items for their germ scores and found credit and debit cards to be near the top of the list — not as dirty as New York City park benches and rental-bike handles, for example, but more so than a urinal handle at Penn Station and more than the city’s subway poles. The 41 payment cards tested by the website had an average germ score of 285, compared with 160 for various dollar bills and 136 for different coins.

 

While 42 per cent of consumers are shopping online, 72 per cent are not giving up on cash

The pandemic has created stay at home orders, lack of access to stores and created the need to shop online for new items to combat the pandemic (that may not be available in stores). Overall, 42 per cent of consumers are shopping online much more because they either cannot, or will not, shop in physical stores, and a third of consumers (33 per cent) say that they are shopping online for specific products that they wouldn’t need if not for COVID-19, according to a recent study by Paysafe.

Interestingly, even during a global pandemic, consumers are uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to access cash. Based on Paysafe’s survey of 8,000 consumers from the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Austria, Italy and Bulgaria, nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of consumers said that they would be worried if they were not able to access cash.

 

Half of consumers say cash is the most reliable in a crisis

Even with consumers shopping more online, cash remains central to the payments ecosystem during COVID-19, with half (50 per cent) of consumers in the survey stating that cash is the most reliable form of payment during a crisis. This sentiment is especially true for consumers in the US (60 per cent), Bulgaria (53 per cent), and Germany (52 per cent); over half of all consumers in these markets say cash is the most reliable method of payment in a crisis. Also, even when consumers are shopping more online due to social distancing or health concerns, this isn’t affecting their desire to use cash online. Overall, 40 per cent of consumers say they would buy products online using cash if it was easy to do so, and 36 per cent of consumers say they would shop online more if they could pay easily with cash.

FOUR REASONS WHY RETAILERS SHOULD CONTINUE USING CASH

1. No increased risk of COVID-19

Any rumors that cash is a carrier for COVID-19 have quickly been disproven by officials. According to the International Currency Association, “central banks and medical experts have all confirmed that cash is safe to use, and there is no fact-based evidence of cash transmitting the virus.”3

2. Credit and debit fees remain stubbornly high

Despite the large increase in debit and credit purchase volume, the vast majority of merchants still pay two to five per cent for credit and debit purchases. For vendors of expensive luxury products, card fees may be simply a cost of doing business. For the vast majority of low-margin businesses, card fees eat up large chunks of profits.

3. Cash provides security in times of crisis

In a time of crisis, such as the one we’re currently in, cash guarantees a level of security and privacy that cards simply cannot. We trust real currency and it’s in almost every country’s top recommended emergency items. What would happen if tomorrow, there was a power outage (like the blackout of 2003 – when 50 million people lost power across Ontario and eight U.S. states)? Cash would be the only reliable method of payment.

4. Cash is inclusive

Certain demographics may not only prefer paying with cash – their circumstances may require it (they may lack traditional bank accounts or can’t qualify for credit cards). Businesses that refuse cash put these groups at a disadvantage.

5. Consumer’s right to choose

Ultimately, the decision to use cash should be the consumer’s, according to Perativ CEO, Chris Chandler. “Consumers should have the right to choose what method of payment they want to use,” says Chandler.

Perativ a leading ATM operator under the Access Cash brand with over 10,000 ATMs across Canada, with a mission to make cash ‘accessible and affordable’ – accessible with the number of ATM locations across the country, while making cash affordable for banks to distribute, as Perativ offers a SaaS based solution that helps banks optimize their cash distribution network including cash fore-casting.

“Right now, retailers and consumers are just adapting to survive,” adds Chandler. “As we all know, crisis is the driving force behind any significant change, so I’m certain that as we emerge from this pandemic, what we’ll uncover is renewal. We’ll emerge from survival/performance mode to a more flexible learning mode, and what I continue to foresee is a ‘less cash’ society, rather than a truly cashless one, since many people continue to rely on hard currency,” concludes Chandler.

Marlene Milczarek is head of marketing for Access Cash – Canada’s leading ATM operator with over 11,000 ATMs across Canada. Learn more at www.access-cash.com or connect with Marlene on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marlenemilczarek/

Sources:

1 https://lendedu.com/blog/dirty-money-credit-cards/

2 https://www.paysafe.com/blog/how-covid-19-is-impacting-consumer-payment-preferences/

3 International Currency Association Key Messages, March 2020