Will Cash Still Be King?

Experts say the number of outlets where cash isn’t needed will grow in the next decade.

December 20, 2019

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Digital wallets and tap-and-pay debit cards have made buying things without cash very easy for consumers, USA Today reports. Stores like Amazon Go and other retailers allow customers to forgo dragging out their wallets. Additionally this year, Mastercard introduced a mobile gift card just in time for the holidays. But all this technology doesn’t mean cash is going away completely.

Experts say there will more e-outlets where cash isn’t necessary. “Those opportunities where you can opt not to use cash I think will increase,” said Shelle Santana, a marketing professor at Harvard who studies the cashless environment. “The question is whether there will be an increase in where you are prevented from using cash... That's the interesting dynamic to watch in 2020.”

Bolstering her view is the fact that Americans aren’t even using cash for as many small purchases as they used to. A Square survey found that consumers used dollars and coins in 46% of transactions under $20 in 2015 but used cash for only 37% of similar transactions this year.

Retailers who ditched cash said transaction speed is up, while theft risk has been reduced. However, some lawmakers have pushed back on the trend, with New Jersey and San Francisco banning cashless businesses.

“A cashless business model is discriminatory by design,” said New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who sponsored a bill that would prohibit cash-free businesses in the city. "My legislation ensures that all New Yorkers, regardless of their ability to access credit or debit cards, can purchase goods and services at all food and retail establishments.”