ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Finding enough coins to make change for customers was a common challenge during the early days of pandemic in 2020, and now, some retailers are once again reporting that coins are scarce.
In June 2020, the U.S. Mint resumed operating at full capacity to boost the availability of coins, and the Federal Reserve placed a temporary cap on the coin orders placed by depository institutions to ensure the supply was fairly distributed. However, with coin supply still below pre-pandemic levels, the Fed reinstated those caps in May.
“Where we’re located, our local bank is out of change completely,” said Bill Decker, general manager of Davis Travel Center in Stony Creek, Virginia. “They have no idea when the shortage of coins will end. They’re frustrated, [as are] the [businesses] they serve.”
Financial experts say the current problem is not an actual shortage of coins but an issue with coin circulation. Because Americans are shopping online more frequently and paying with credit and debit cards, coins aren’t flowing back into the economy at their usual rate. Of course, the best way to return coin circulation to pre-pandemic levels is to spend coins, which puts them back in circulation and makes them available to businesses and other shoppers.
Through mid-July, financial institutions deposited about 15% fewer coins at their local Federal Reserve banks than they did during the same period a year ago, according to a Wall Street Journal report, citing the Fed. What’s more, coin deposits by banks were down by 45% compared with 2019.
Shoppers who usually pay with a card may not have noticed the issue. But according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), 5.4% of American households (roughly 7.1 million total) are unbanked. They don’t have a credit or debit card and rely solely on cash.
The issue has inspired some retailers to post in-store signage asking shoppers to pay with coins or requiring exact change. NACS serves on the U.S. Coin Task Force, a group dedicated to identifying and promoting strategies to get coins moving again. The task force has created signage templates as part of its #getcoinmoving campaign. They are available at no charge for retailers to print and use. The page includes additional resources for both retailers and financial institutions.
“We do have signs at the registers,” said Decker. “Some guests are OK with this, and of course, some are not. We try and encourage guests to use their debit card for their purchases regardless of the amount.”
“Half of America stops by a convenience store every day, and the average in-store transaction is $7.34,” Anna Ready Blom, director of government relations, NACS, told NACS Daily. “The ability to make change for our cash-paying customers is imperative.”
To read more about the coin circulation challenge spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, read “Short-Changed” in NACS Magazine.
Don’t forget to register to attend the 2021 NACS Show October 5-8, at McCormick Place in Chicago and take advantage of the education sessions on daily operations, including the sessions Meeting Consumers Where They Are—Everywhere on October 5, as well as Moving Forward in the Post-Pandemic Economy on October 6.