Visa: COVID-19 payment habits may be here to stay

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Most consumers expect to be offered a variety of digital payment options in stores in a post-COVID-19 world, and small and midsize business believe that change will be permanent, a Visa study finds.

In Visa’s new global “Back to Business Study 2021 Outlook,” fully 85% of the survey’s 5,000 respondents said they expect merchants to offer digital options when paying in stores. Tapping a debit or credit card was the top contactless payment option consumers expected at 62%, followed by mobile payment app (such as a retailer's app) at 41% and mobile wallet (such as Apple Pay) at 37%. Only 16% of global respondents said they expect to go back to paying for in-store purchases with previously used methods once the coronavirus pandemic is over and vaccine distribution is widespread.

By the end of 2020, about 82% of small and medium-sized businesses, or SMBs, had adopted new forms of digital technology to meet the changing consumer shopping demands, including the addition of an e-commerce channel, according to the study. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of SMBs expected consumers to continue to prefer contactless payments for in-store shopping even after COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.

The Visa Back to Business Study 2021 Outlook is the third in a series of research conducted by the network to examine the changing nature of how consumers pay for purchases and how SMBs are adapting to these trends. In this edition, Visa in November surveyed 2,250 SMBs with 100 or fewer employees along with 5,000 adult consumers in nine different countries: Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Russia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.

Despite the rise in contactless payments, the study reported a unique finding about how consumers’ relationships with their cards have been affected by COVID-19 — 62% of respondents reported taking some steps to maintain the cleanliness of their cards. Using a disinfectant was the top approach to achieving card cleanliness at 31%.

Millennials, at 73%, were more likely to take measures to maintain their cards’ cleanliness than Generation X members (61%) and baby boomers (50%). However, boomers reported being more likely to value contactless payments at 58% than Gen Xers (48%) and millennials (47%) were.

While contactless in-store payments have been at the forefront of many shoppers’ minds during the crisis, the Visa study found that adoption varied greatly from country to country.

An average of 56% of consumers made the effort to use contactless payments whenever possible in the past three months. Several countries had higher levels of “contactless whenever possible” use such as Russia (73%), Ireland (71%), Singapore (69%) and Canada (64%), while the U.S. brought the overall average down at 38%.

SMBs have adapted to the overall shift to online sales, the study found. In the U.S., 40% of SMBs reported to be selling goods and services online for the first time in November, up from just 17% in June. In Germany, SMBs had made a similar move going from 10% selling online in June to 36% in November.

Despite the shift to selling online and adopting contactless/mobile payment options, the top area of future tech investment planned for 2021 among SMBs was payment security and fraud management software, at 47%. The next four areas of tech investment for the year were contactless and mobile payments acceptance (44%); accepting payments via mobile device (41%); adding buy now, pay later options for online payments (36%); and digitizing back-end payment operations (31%).

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