Cash Is Still King

Jackson Lewis, Associate Editor

HOUSTON -- Cash is still the most-used payment option, even as the popularity of digital payments increases, according to a study released by Cardtronics and Edelman Intelligence. And in convenience stores, cash is practically as strong as ever.

The Houston-based payment company and Chicago-based research firm partnered for the third year to survey 1,000 adults in the United States. The survey examined how consumers are using cash compared to other forms of payment.

Results of the survey amount to a staunch defense of a payment ecosystem with cash as its backbone while cards and digital options meet the needs of consumers when cash can’t.

Click through for more details from the study and what it said about c-stores …

Cash in c-stores

Customer in store

Cash is easily the most popular form of payment in c-stores, with 59% of respondents saying they used cash in a c-store within the past six months. Debit was the second-most used at 44%.

Snacks, a common c-store purchase, are one of the purchases that consumers use cash for the most, with 54% saying they use cash when buying snacks. The only type of purchase that consumers use cash for more is paying the babysitter.

Though these numbers indicate that consumers prefer a mix of payment methods, digital is the only method that grew in use in c-stores, albeit slightly, from 2016 to 2017. Frequency of use of all other payment methods either decreased or stayed stagnant.

Even so, digital is a long way from being dominant, as only 9% of respondents said they used it within the past six months.

Obligatory millennial slide


Like any consumer study, the survey’s findings were full of insights on how millennials approach payment. Despite the perceived notion that millennials will be the first to charge into any technological fad, the data indicated that millennials are largely loyal to cash.

A full 75% of millennials said they use cash regularly, despite the availability of other payment options. Unlike other generations, three-fourths of millennials use at least three payment options each month. The only exception to this rule is credit, which millennials seem hesitant to use. The study attributes this behavior to the generation’s aversion to debt.

Surprisingly, urban millennials seem to be the most attached to cash. “In fact, three-fourths (75%) of urban millennials think the entire payments landscape is moving too fast toward digital,” according to the report.

Strength of circumstance?

Cash in wallet

It’s possible that some survey respondents report a regular use of cash because many businesses only take cash or make it inconvenient to pay with anything else. “Over two-thirds (68%) of people prefer cards or digital payment but specifically keep cash in their wallet as a backup form of payment—and use it regularly,” the report said.

In fact, a full 67% of people said they feel “nervous” when they don’t have cash on them or in their wallet. This is even true among millennials, with 70% in agreement.

Alternatively, the strength of cash could be attributed to the purchase of less expensive items. The survey found that 82% of people agree they use cash for smaller items and other forms of payment for more expensive items. Despite a 4% decline in the use of cash overall, 68% of consumers use cash for purchases under $10.

Amazon's shadow

Amazon online shopping

It seems that not even cash can escape the influence of online shopping’s rising popularity. The report says that while it does not measure the often-talked-about shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online retailers, it acknowledged what it called the “Amazon effect” on physical retailers and its adverse effect on the use of cash.

But despite the rise in popularity of online shopping, cash remains the most commonly used form of payment. The report concludes that while cash may not be the best payment option for every situation, it’s an option that consumers keep coming back to, even as the number of payment options increases.