NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As the big-spending holiday season approaches, shoppers are increasingly apprehensive about the rise in credit card breaches at major retailers and adjusting their shopping behavior accordingly. But the October launch of Apple Pay won’t quell anxiety: consumers are gravitating toward cash, with men and younger consumers more likely than women and older consumers to say that they would use cash rather than credit or debit cards at retailers that have had a security breach, according to a new survey from TheStreet conducted by GfK.
And even though last holiday season’s hack of Target, and the breaches at the likes of Michaels and Home Depot, heightened consumer concern with regard to how they pay, most shoppers are set in their ways and won’t be terribly inclined to adjust their spending behavior. The tweaks Americans do make can be categorized in three ways, ascribed to consumers’ gender and age and the attendant psychology governing certain demographics.
1. Men Are Bigger Fraidy Cats Than Women
In light of security breaches at major retailers, the GfK survey found 66% of consumers are concerned that their information will be stolen. Men were much more likely to be fearful compared to women, with 71% of men expressing concern compared to only 61% of women. To boot, 58% of men compared to 47% of women would pay with cash instead of credit card in light of the recent breaches.
Though men might stereotypically be intractable in their behaviors -- unwilling to alter their course -- experts say their atavistic sense trumps personality in how they are willing to adjust how they spend.
“Men, by nature, since the days of cavemen, are the hunters and the protectors,” said Robert Siciliano security expert with BestIDTheftCompanys.com. “In their minds, using cash is being ‘protective' of their cards/data.”
Part of this male concern may also more about brandishing an informed bravado about financial happenings.
“Perhaps this is rooted in a macho feeling of being ‘in the know’ and is really more a reflection of what the respondents view as the correct answer then an actual reflection of behavior,” said Russ Spitler, vice president of product strategy at AlienVault, a technology security provider.
By contrast, women are programmed for optimal efficiency to focus on maintaining the hearth and the children, Siciliano suggests.
“Women, on the other hand, are the caretakers, raising babies while the men hunt food, and they didn't, and don't, have much time for anything else,” he said. “Standing in line today and seeing anyone pay by cash or check, I watch women who I know will pay by credit shake their heads and grind their teeth as their kids are pawing at them impatiently. They just want to give their card and get out.”
Marina Adshade, author of Dollars and Sex (Chronicle Books, 2013) and economics professor at the University of British Columbia, agrees that women’s inclination to maintain credit card use stems from practicality, even in the face danger.
“I would think about who is doing the shopping,” said Adshade. “It is easy for a man who drops into a store an buys a liter of milk to say he would switch to cash, but if the women are going to the store and spending hundreds of dollars, using cash is not that feasible. In fact paying with cash does not come without its own risks, especially if you are picking up $300 worth of groceries…Personally, I haven’t had any cash in my wallet in well over a year. I just find it totally impractical, and I never know where it all goes, which frustrates me.”
2. Switching to Cash Is More Likely Among Millennials
As men adjust their spending behavior, so too do Millennials, with 61% of 18- to 24-year-olds more likely to use cash compared to only 49% of those 65 and older. But it’s not the evolutionary instinct dictating consumer dynamics here; rather Gen Y’s use of cash may just be a generational fear of the responsibility credit cards require – with all the attendant bill payments and account check-ins.
“Millennials…in the past year have been defined as children until 25 years of age,” said Siciliano. “Their parents are still paying for their phones, often they live at home and many don't even drive. Having a credit card is something adults do. They aren't ready to grow up.”
It also has to do with the economic fears that pervade Gen Y.
“This age group grew up during the recession so that might be why they are cautious about credit,” said Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie (Career Press, 2013). “I also think that many in this age group have student debt to pay off. I'd have to think that would be incentive to limit the possibility of debt in another area. It's scary enough to have student debt when you're young. Adding credit card debt would be a disaster for many young folks who are at the point of starting careers.”
3. Digital Wallet Resistance
And though credit card security has proved inadequate to protect consumers at the point of sale, only 20% of Americans would feel more comfortable paying with new mobile wallet alternatives, according to the GfK survey. Younger consumers, of course, were more likely to adopt digital wallets: 28% of 18- to 24-year-olds would feel more comfortable paying for items with a mobile wallet over a credit card, compared to 9% of those 65 and older.
That's despite the increased use of the digital wallet.
“Undeniably, mobile payments are on the rise,” said Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association. “Mobile based transactions in the U.S. have grown 118% per year for the last five years.”
Still, consumers are not flocking to digital wallets for the security, even though Nilson reports more than four out of every five smartphone and tablet owners use these devices for shopping activities and Juniper Research says the number of contactless transactions via mobile handset will exceed 9.9 billion globally by 2018, up from 3 billion expected this year. Increasing popularity, indeed, won’t guarantee adoption or safety.
Instead, some experts are stressing the importance of adopting EMV cards, the pin-and-chip technology that could replace the magnetic stripe platform we currently use in the U.S.
“Criminals today are extremely savvy, and if we had a pin and chip system like most other advanced countries, we’d have a much better shot at protection shoppers financial information,” said Kathy Grannis, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation.
But EMV might not even be enough to ensure security; the digital wallet could provide an elevated level of protection, despite consumer hesitance to embrace the technology.
“EMV is technology that is incrementally more secure than credit cards; however, it still has many of the same shortcomings of traditional credit cards,” said AlienVault’s Spitler.
EMV simply provides better protection for the credit card data, as it is transferred from the point of sale to the credit card processor.
“However, it is still just a layer of encryption on top of a static 16-digit number which uniquely identifies a credit card account,” Spitler said. In other words, consumers are still vulnerable if they’re shopping online.
“Digital wallets and systems such as Apple Pay actually represent a generational step forward,” Spitler said. “Payments are made in a manner that is completely safeguarding the end consumer from compromise of their account details. Furthermore it can support secure transactions on Websites as well.”
Of course, the infrastructure has a ways to go in order to change and make digital wallets an integrated part of how consumers shop.
Words to the Wise, Ahead of Holiday Shopping
Until that infrastructure changes, the paranoia – and switching to cash – may not be so necessary.
“Some consumers may feel the need to pay more with cash this holiday season in light of recent data breach announcements, but overall we feel most holiday shoppers will be vigilant with their credit statements and use of their actual bank accounts,” said the NRF’s Grannis. “Retailers want their customers to feel safe shopping with them, and shoppers should know that there are many safeguards in place to protect their personal information.”
Also, if you are paying with credit cards, increase your vigilance.
“The best practice is for folks to check their credit card accounts online every day, or at least a few times a week, and look for fraudulent purchases,” Harzog said. “Also check your free annual credit reports and look to see if any fraudulent accounts have been set up in your name. The current hackings are a good reminder that we all need to be proactive when it comes to our financial well-being.”
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet