Posted: 10 Oct. 2020 2.5 min. read

The decline of dirty cash

At a time when hand washing is central to public health messaging, consumers are not just thinking about where they spend their money but how they spend their money. It seemed inevitable that the pandemic would accelerate the decline in the use of cash yet new research shows that British shoppers are yet to embrace the idea of cashless or cashierless shops.

Cash doesn’t have a lot going for it. As reported in the Financial Times, the short-term impact of COVID-19 saw ATM transaction volumes fall 62% in the UK and as much as 90% in Spain.[1] The long-term trend is pretty similar. A decade ago cash made up 60% of payments, but in 2017 debit cards overtook cash. Even before the impact of COVID-19, cash was set to make up only 10% of payments by 2028 [2].The decline is now likely to be faster as a result of the pandemic. The only things considered more unhygienic than handling cash, according to European-wide research from a credit card company were sharing toilet seats, tissues or toothbrushes[3]. That’s pretty revolting!

I’ve never much liked cash. It smells, it’s inconvenient, it makes holes in my pockets, I never have enough of it, never need it and as the research from the credit card company attests, I think it unhygienic. So I was very surprised to learn my views differ from the general public. And yes, market research 101 is not to project your own biases, so I am definitely guilty there.

Deloitte Digital’s recent study sampling 2,140 UK adults between 22nd and 26th May on how consumers see the future of shopping and personalisation in a post-COVID-19 world, and attitudes towards cash, made surprising reading for me.

Consumer attitudes to cashless stores

From the research we found that more people disliked rather than liked the idea of shopping in cashless stores, with 33% of respondents liking it and 36% disliking it. The inevitable early adopter versus laggard principle applies with 45% of 16-24 year olds liking the idea compared to only 25% of respondents aged over 55. And also, perhaps unsurprisingly, the ABC1 demographic group was more likely to like it (38%) compared to C2DEs (26%).

Consumer attitudes to cashierless stores

Things don’t get much better for consumer attitudes to cashierless stores either. What could be more convenient than frictionless payments, you might think? Well maybe consumers appreciate the human touch, the personal experience, the reassurance that there’s someone there. More than half of respondents (55%) would not like to shop in cashierless stores, with only 24% liking the idea. A similar distribution across age and demographic groups applies and, whilst men have a slight preference to cashierless stores than women, there’s not a lot in it. So a quick in and out isn’t to everyone’s taste! And perhaps this is amplified more so with COVID-19 where people have been more physically disconnected than ever before and are now longing for more human interaction.

Facial recognition technology in retail

There’s a similar story too for use of facial recognition technology in retail, with six out of ten respondents (63%) disliking the idea of shopping in stores that use facial recognition technology for payment and checkout. Of course the younger the consumer the more likely they are to embrace it but the attitudes are clear. So why the discontent? The use of facial recognition is prevalent in our daily lives, from logging onto our phone or apps to speeding through passport control.

Maybe there’s a value-exchange gap in retail for consumers where the benefits to them are less clear than the commercial benefits for the retailer. And maybe, some consumers don’t even realise that it is already a feature in their everyday lives. Sadly for most of these consumers, the change to a cashless world is coming and now approaching faster than ever, not just with the growth of ecommerce but also cashless and cashierless retail. Sorry, that’s just the case.

Whatever the answer, there is clear appetite, with a growing number of the population for cashless stores, cashierless stores and more innovative forms of cashless payment. However, a mix is needed during the transition to enhance the human experience and the value proposition needs a bit of work. But overall it seems to be, for now at least, more a case of “dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you… woh-oh.”


[1] Coronavirus accelerates shift away from cash Pandemic encourages more businesses to move to contactless payments, FT, May 27 2020. Link here.
[2] Coronavirus accelerates shift away from cash Pandemic encourages more businesses to move to contactless payments, FT, May 27 2020. Link here.
[3] ‘Consumers’ views on dirty cash’, Mastercard. Link here.

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William Grobel

William Grobel


Will is a Director in Deloitte Digital, specialising in sales and marketing digital transformation. He works in the Consumer Business industry, helping clients increase customer engagement and sales by optimising marketing and sales activities and process through the provision of strategies, innovations and digital solutions. He is Chartered Marketer and has experience primarily across CPG, Retail sectors.