Cash Use Still Common Despite Widening Payment Options

Survey finds many consumers still prefer cash

December 1, 2017

When it comes to payments, cash may no longer be consumers' first choice—though it's still a widespread and even preferred option for many, depending on the type of transaction.

A study from ATM network Cardtronics found that 91% of internet users said that they used cash either to make a purchase, or to give money or get money from another person. This was a decrease of 4 percentage points over 2016.

But the inverse of that measure is telling. According to the study, nearly one in 10 respondents said they had not used cash at all in the previous six months. 

Interestingly, Cardtronics found that debit card usage for such purchases or P2P payments had actually declined during that time period, from 78% to 72% of internet users polled.

"Digital" was the only payment option that showed a year-over-year increase, as more than half of the respondents said they had made a digital payment in the preceding six months, compared with 44% a year earlier.

Overall, roughly a third named debit cards as their preferred payment method, followed by cash (27%) and credit cards (22%). Digital was the preferred mode for just 15% of internet users.

Like other research in the past year, the Cardtronics survey underscores the fact that new technologies do not necessarily replace previous ones. Rather, the options tend to exist side-by-side, and consumers pick and choose based on the situation.

Still, the findings show that cash is now less central to the overall consumer experience. American Express data from earlier this year made this point more forcefully. A fifth of digital buyers polled in May said they were not carrying any cash in their wallet.

However, while 46% of respondents to the survey said they "rarely" or "never" use cash for purchases, then the reverse is also true: Some 54% do use cash regularly.