The year 2017 will be a momentous year in the world of cashless payments. Next year, the world’s first Amazon Go food store will open – with no tills, irritating queues or occasionally unpleasant cashiers. All purchases will be made using a dedicated mobile app which, incidentally, the developers say will be free. How does it work? Each customer is assigned a personal QR-code that has to be activated on the way in. Special sensors then track the products you take off the shelves and calculate the total cost. It is also possible to return purchases to the shelves, which is very convenient. The system will be tested first by the people of Seattle where the first Amazon Go store is set to open.
In 2016, cashless payment for any goods or services has become as natural as smartphones, laptops and morning coffee. Against the backdrop of rapid global development of Internet services, the growing volumes of digital transactions seem entirely logical and natural. Some countries are finding the transition quite straightforward and quick while others, on the contrary, are in no hurry to introduce cashless payments, simply out of fear of anything new. Interestingly, in the first group, both positive factors – as in Sweden – and negative factors, such as the unhappy situation in Somalia, come into play.
So what is driving society towards cashless payments?
There are just two key factors behind the popularity of cashless payments: operators and banks.
Cashless payments and, as a result, online shopping, are also tightly bound up with public trust. The more trust the public has in going cashless, the faster Internet shopping develops. At the same time, growth in online shopping naturally boosts the popularity of online payments. The overall result is economic development of the country. How do cashless payments gain popularity amongst the public? The answer is simple: convenience! If it is easy to find a service through any means of communication or device; if the interface is understandable and the standard of service is good, why go looking for cash payments when you can go cashless instead?
People in highly developed countries such as the United States and Canada are the most loyal to banking apps and services. Mobile financial services are popular in developing countries, where a large number of people do not use banking services. The highest level is in India – 46%, followed by Indonesia at 37%, and Mexico and Turkey at 34%. Non-banking mobile apps are also widely used in the countries of East Africa. A study by Nielsen has shown that a total of 2 billion people use “mobile wallets.”
According to the study, interest in mobile commerce and mobile devices as a shopping tool is highest in the developing regions compared with, for example, the mature markets of the US and Europe which are somewhat conservative in this respect. The use of mobile devices for shopping is most widespread in Asia with its well-developed social networks and telecoms infrastructure; the popularity of mobile wallets is also at its highest here – 60% of all users.
A third potential factor in the development of the cashless market is the big tech companies such as Google Samsung, Apple and Alibaba. They are still in the process of getting it together and have yet to show what they are capable of. Nevertheless, the constraining factor for the Google, Apple and Samsung payment systems – the number of physical devices owned by users – may soon disappear. These payment systems are currently being used by tens of millions of people, which is not really a lot compared to the total global population of 7.5 billion.
The situation with tech giant Alibaba is slightly different. Its payment system, Alipay, is not tied to any specific device. A quarter of the population of China – around 300 million people – currently use Alipay, and 50% of all mobile online payments in the country are made via this system. The role of the tech companies will, in all likelihood, continue to grow. The economy of each country where cashless payments are popular has its own catalysts and history, but the end result is always the same – an increase in the overall number of users and transactions.
Where would we be without examples?
In America, almost half of all purchases or service payments are cashless. According to the statistics, each resident of the country has one debit card and almost three credit cards. It’s worth noting that the Americans were pioneers in the field of credit cards, having become the first people in the world to start using them back in 1951. And with the introduction and rapid development of mobile wallets and payment apps, Americans have become too lazy to carry real wallets and notes. Why bother? And indeed, there is little point when you have Android Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Starbucks’ payment system. The statistics show that half of all adults in the US use their smartphone or tablet not to catch a new Pokemon, but to access payment systems.
In the United Kingdom, the percentage of cashless payments is three points higher than in the US, accounting for 52% of all consumer payments. But the balance of power on the card front is radically different from that in America with Britons holding 1.48 debit cards and 0.88 credit cards on average. The popularity of cashless payments reached “Foggy Albion” only relatively recently – in 2014 when buses and the Underground went cash-free and cashless transactions finally overtook cash payments by volume. Studies show that the average Briton spends just 17 pounds in cash while one in four will turn down the services of a company if it is not possible to pay by card. According to media agency Starcom, over 30% of Britons believe that cash will disappear within 15 years or so, and 73% of consumers are ready to ditch cash forever within the next five years.
In Singapore, the percentage of cashless payments is even higher than in the US or the UK – 69% (according to Mastercard), making Singapore one of the top three cashless countries in Asia and the world. The other two are Japan and South Korea. Every person in Singapore has, on average, four credit cards. And they certainly have lots of opportunities to use them, be it cashless car parks and roads, public transport, buses, trains or taxis. You can pay by card everywhere in Singapore – a fact that, in itself, makes the consumer’s daily life much easier. Thanks to some vigorous marketing strategies by local banks, one-third of the population of Singapore was actively using credit cards by the beginning of 2015.
Whereas in the countries listed above, the switch to cashless payment for goods and services was a natural development in consumer behavior aimed at making life simpler, more convenient and faster. In Somalia, mobile payments were introduced for a completely different reason. Robbers and dubious payment systems have become the main engines of progress in that country. Faced with poverty, anarchy, stagnation in the banking system, banditry and piracy, people in Somalia have simply begun refusing to carry cash, thereby encouraging the development of mobile payments. Although Somalia is one of the poorest and most dangerous nations in the world, the Hormuud company’s payment systems, EVC Plus from operator Safaricom, and Zaad from Telesom are all working successfully there. In Somalia, you can buy virtually anything by card: food in the supermarket or on the street, and even weed up an alleyway. In the same way that some vendors in Ukraine refuse to accept cards, some vendors in Somalia do not take cash. There’s a paradox for you!