Do Customers Prefer Cash?

Despite a plethora of payment options, from virtual wallets and ecommerce to mobile payments and online banking, 79% of U.S. customers still make monthly cash payments.

Retailers face pressure to offer new and expanding payment options to keep up with the competition, but Packaged Facts found many customers are still comfortable with cash.

In fact, in important ways, cash remains king, according to key insights published in “U.S. Consumer Payments Outlook Through 2020,” a brand new report by market research firm Packaged Facts.

In the wake of the great recession, consumers increasingly shifted to cash payments. Yet by 2014, the pendulum had begun to shift back. Still even today, consumers use cash more prevalently than any other payment option. Packaged Facts estimates that in 2016 some 79% of consumers made monthly cash payments despite the wide range of plastic and virtual alternatives.

Packaged Facts also found that a wide variety of Americans prefer cash, and even those who prefer another payment option still use cash frequently. Among the most interesting findings was that notoriously tech-trendy Millennials in the important 18-24 year old demographic comprised the largest share of people who prefer cash, at 38% based on Packaged Facts’ survey. Nearly a quarter of every other age group selected cash as their primary preference.

Debt management, privacy, and security were among the primary motivators many consumers cited in Packaged Facts’ survey for using cash. Many consumers also wish to avoid payment/card fees. Meanwhile, less than 10% of Americans use cash because they cannot quality for credit.

Further, cash is often favored for its versatility and convenience, especially for specific use cases such as P2P transfers and small-value transactions. Just as important, the average value of cash holdings—or the amount of cash a person is carrying with them—has grown.

“Even more so than checks, cash is confined to the physical world. Consumers do not use cash for online or automatic bill payments or online non-bill payments,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “It may be faster to swipe or tap a card. It’s arguably easier to press a button on your cellphone or keyboard. But cold hard cash still has its place, and it’s an important one that consumers not only use but also trust.”

So where and when is cash most likely to be used? According to the report, cash is among the most used payment for:

gifts and transfers to people

government and non-profit purchases

food and personal care supplies

auto- and vehicle-related purchases

Among the notable challenges for cash is that consumers are making fewer and fewer small dollar payments with cash—though cash remains popular even in many of these instances and cash still dominates small value-transactions. Packaged Facts estimates that cash is used for more than 50% of transactions under $25 and for more than 60% of purchases under $10.

The popularity of credit cards also proves a challenge. However, though many consumers prefer cards, cash remains the most preferred backup payment instrument. When asked what payment instrument they preferred if their primary option was unavailable, 55% of people who prefer checks, debit cards or credit cards chose cash.



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