How Covid-19 and digital kiosks have accelerated a cashless society

It has been more than a year since the first cases of Covid-19 emerged in the UK, and there are few areas of daily life that have been left unaltered.

The changes to our spending habits and behaviours have been well documented – and we don’t just mean the rush to buy toilet paper in the first lockdown! No, there has been a profound shift in the UK, and around the world, towards a cashless society over the past 12 months.

In this blog we look at how Covid-19 and digital kiosks have accelerated a cashless society, and the impact this might have.

Society was increasingly cashless – but Covid-19 has made it more so

The idea of a cashless society is nothing new. Indeed, we wrote about the move away from physical money in a previous blog.

China, Sweden, and Finland have all been cited as leaders in the move to become entirely cashless societies – while in its Access to Cash Review (prior to the pandemic), the UK Government announced its expectation that fewer than one in ten payments would involve physical currency by 2030.

The pandemic has accelerated this shift. The Financial Times declared the UK a majority card-based society in June last year, with some striking statistics for 2019/20, including a 62% drop in ATM use alongside a 16% increase in contactless payments.

But how has Covid-19 hurried this along?

In part, due to self-isolation, social distancing, and lockdown. Many businesses have had to close due to national and regional lockdowns, while others are no longer viable due to social distance requirements.

Vulnerable and elderly people have been encouraged to avoid physical stores even outside of lockdown periods.

All this has led to a significant increase in online shopping, mirrored by a drop in in-store purchases (of which a proportion would have been cash-based).

According to MasterCard,  82% of its users believe contactless payments to be cleaner than cash.

Their opinion is supported by the quarantining of cash returning to the United States by the Federal Reserve – and the destruction of potentially contaminated cash in China.

Head into any high-street coffee chain in the UK and expect a sign reading, “card payments only”. The pandemic has brought about a mass rejection of cash on health grounds.

And while the launch of the Covid-19 vaccination program offers some optimism for a resumption of a degree of normality in our daily lives, we wouldn’t bet on cash making a comeback. 

Contactless is on a relentless rise, boosted last April by an increase in the payment limit from £30 to £45 – a figure that is tipped to soon increase to £100. This will encourage card use, even when it is no longer necessitated by the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

How are digital kiosks accelerating a cashless society during the pandemic?

Alongside the ever-developing online shopping market and card payment options, digital kiosks play a fundamental role in accelerating a cashless society.

In almost all major businesses and organisations where transactions take place, digital kiosks are ubiquitous and facilitate cashless payments. Covid-19, however, has made them even more common-place – indeed, essential.

For example, many major supermarket chains have encouraged customers to use self-service checkouts to reduce contact with staff.

In response to this, Sainsbury’s in Milton Keynes city centre doubled its self-checkout capacity at the beginning of the pandemic, reducing potential transmission through handling of cash or proximity to employees.

Petrol stations, where possible, encourage users to take advantage of “pay-at-pump” kiosks, which remove the need for customers to make a physical payment or interact with a cashier.

Early in the pandemic, the Louvre Museum in Paris ceased accepting cash payments, while Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum introduced new digital kiosks to facilitate ticket buying without human contact or cash.

Whether at the cinema, or a gallery, it is more than likely you will now be buying a ticket via a digital kiosk, and although cash may still be accepted, the increasing preference for card use may make this less common over time.

Covid-19, digital kiosks and a cashless society

Given how quickly things have changed in the space of a year, you may wonder if a cashless society is inevitable – or beneficial? This is a question we look at in more detail in this article.

In brief, an entirely cashless society is not likely or preferable for everyone, but as highlighted by the pandemic, it does provide a safe way for the economy and businesses to continue to function.

Without doubt, digital kiosks are a key pillar in a cashless society, along with contactless cards and online payment systems.

If you’d like to discuss how digital kiosks might help make your business more Covid secure, do get in touch.