THIS week the British Retail Consortium (BRC) announced the results of its most recent survey into how consumers are spending and the methods of payment that they use.
The survey shows that shoppers are using less cash than ever before as retailers continue to introduce new ways to shop.
The easy availability of contactless cards, express stores and self-service tills, as well as online sales, have contributed to the use of debit cards increasing to 50% of retail sales – a rise of 11% over the past five years.
Debit cards are now used for 32% of transactions, compared to 30% last year.
Cash transactions have fallen by another 3% over the past year. This begs the question: are we becoming a cashless society?
According to Mastercard, in Belgium only 7% of consumer transactions take place in cash, while in France and Canada the figures are 8% and 10% respectively. To this extent, we are still lagging a long way behind.
Shoppers here can be divided into three categories: cashless converts, cashless cautious and cashless concerned.
Cashless converts are those who have largely embraced a cashless existence; the cashless cautious are consumers who have taken some preliminary steps towards moving away from the use of cash; the cashless concerned still cling to cash as their preferred method of payment.
Irrespective of which type of consumer you are, it is more or less accepted that, by the end of the decade, cheques will be phased out, while near field communication (NFC) technology will continue to advance in terms of provision, accessibility and ease of use.
While we are still a long way off from becoming a completely cashless society, it is suggested by experts that the days of cash transactions are numbered as more and more retailers and consumers continue to embrace developing technologies and contactless methods of payment.
Sadly, in my opinion, this will ultimately lead to even greater depersonalisation of retailing, which is a rather gloomy prospect.
Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster Business School, University of Ulster