By Daniel Hunter

Fundamental changes in the UK retail industry as customers embrace new technology and new ways to shop are producing major changes in the relative importance of different payment methods.

Customers did 10 per cent less of their shopping with cash in 2012 than the previous year. Paying with cash is still the most popular choice for customers in the UK but the pace of change in the ways people are choosing to buy is accelerating.

The major gainers have been debit cards, and newer methods such as PayPal, as online and self-service shopping grows. Increasingly people also prefer debit to credit cards as they try to manage their under-pressure finances — leaving cash and credit cards the big losers.

The British Retail Consortium's (BRC) Cost of Payment Collection Survey published today (Thursday) shows that, while over half of transactions (54.4 per cent) are paid in cash, use has declined as a percentage both of number of transactions (down 6.7 per cent) and money spent (down 9.7 per cent). This is the first time in the survey's 13 year history that both measures have seen a decline.

The survey, which covers nearly 10 billion retail payments in 2012, reveals credit and charge card use was down by 3.4 per cent as a percentage of transactions. In contrast, transactions made on debit cards were up by 3.2 per cent.

Use of alternative payment methods more than doubled on the previous year, driven by manufacturers' money-off coupons and the rapid growth of comparatively new ways to pay such as PayPal and online payments. They now account for 5 per cent of all transactions.

The survey also shows banks continue to levy unjustifiably high charges on retailers for handling card payments. The average cost to a retailer of having a credit or charge card payment processed was 25 times higher than for cash (38p versus 1.5p). Credit and charge cards account for only 10.6 per cent of transactions but over half (50.1 per cent) of costs, and total costs associated with those cards were up by 7 per cent, even though use is down on the previous year.

"New ways to pay and new ways to shop are shaping the retail landscape like never before. Changing customer preferences are driving the increase in debit card use — they're helping people to manage their money better and are a natural fit for online shopping and self-service checkouts," Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium, said.

"Cash is still the most popular way to pay, but our survey shows how rapidly alternative and emerging methods are gaining ground, with growth more than doubling on the previous year, albeit from a low base. These methods will be the ‘ones to watch' in the future, and retailers are investing heavily to make sure their customers have choice and convenience in ways to pay, whether in-store, at home or on the move.

"Against a backdrop of greater retail efficiency and innovation, the one jarring note is that charges remain disproportionately high. They continue to rise even though credit card use has fallen. It beggars belief that retailers incur average charges of 38p per credit and charge card transaction, 25 times more than for cash.

"Retailers have been arguing this in court for more than a decade now, and a resolution to the case is long overdue. The right conclusion would reduce these excessive costs for retailers and support their ability to invest and innovate."

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