Consumers: Changes in buying behavior and new payment habits

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The further strengthening of the upward trends in the payments through debit cards, is the key feature in the shopping habits of consumers during the last two years of the pandemic. To facilitate trade during the pandemic and to limit the physical contact of consumers with the keyboard of the terminals at points of sale, the limit of the amount of contactless card payments has been increased to 50 euros from the end of March 2020, as it is maintained until today, a measure that is estimated to have contributed to the acceleration of the use of card payments in Greece.

According to an analysis by the Bank of Greece (BoG), in its interim report, this acceleration is found on the basis of research on the impact of the pandemic on cash usage and payment habits on the part of consumers in the euro area conducted by the European Central Bank (ECB).

According to the results of the survey for Greece, although about half of the respondents stated that they continued to use cash as before the pandemic, 33% said that they used it less frequently. At the same time, 53% reported using non-contact card transactions more frequently, while the most important reasons mentioned for the less frequent use of cash were the greater convenience given to the use of electronic payment methods, as well as the potential risk of contamination through cash or physical proximity to the cash register, the urge from the government / public bodies for greater use of electronic payments or the difficulty of withdrawing cash during this period.

The most frequent use of card transactions is also confirmed by the payment statistics, according to which the value of domestic card payments amounted to 35 billion euros in 2020, compared to 24 billion euros in 2019, showing an annual increase of 44% (or 39% based on the number of these payments).

The use of payments – mainly debit – cards had expanded rapidly in the two years 2015-2016 due to the restrictions imposed on cash withdrawals from bank accounts in June 2015 and the subsequent introduction of relevant incentives to promote electronic transactions.

In particular, according to BoG data, in 2016 the value of domestic card payments had increased by 82% (or 128% based on the number of payments), but then by 2018 and 2019 this rate had stabilized at lower levels (of the order of 10% in terms of value and 25% in number). It is also characteristic that card payments made in person at a physical EFTPOS terminal in 2020 amounted to 28.7 billion. euros, increased by 29% compared to the previous year, while the corresponding value of those carried out remotely amounted to 6.8 billion. euro in 2020, an increase of 71% over the previous year. As a result, the cash-card ratio considered in the literature to be indicative of consumers’ preference for cash transactions over card payments, which has been declining for several years, has continued to decline sharply. rate in 2020, indicating an overall strengthening of the preference for card payments over cash during the pandemic.

In particular, the cash-card ratio, having fallen from 85% in 2015 to 63% in 2019, fell further to 52% in 2020. In addition, the average value per credit card transaction, which followed a declining trend, increased, for the first time time after 2015, to about 33 euros (from 30 euros in 2019), as, due to restrictions on mobility, consumers made purchases at points of sale with less frequency, but higher value.

The total number of active payment cards in circulation in Greece, according to data from the Bank of Greece, exceeds 18.6 million, with the debit number exceeding 15.7 million and the prepaid cards reaching 1.7 million. .

Another change in consumer habits, according to converging estimates of merchants, is that they use debit cards for contactless transactions even for small amounts of up to two euros, such as kiosks, toll booths, bakeries. A trend that has started before the pandemic and has intensified. Also during the last years in the non-bank points of payment of obligations and bills new ones are added. A typical example is the ability to pay a series of bills and tax liabilities of consumers through the network of more than 3,000 OPAP agencies, through the payment service Wallet network, a subsidiary of the OPAP group, which serves the public daily until late at night, even on weekends. Also the possibility of payments through the growing number of supermarket branches that cooperate with banks, enabling the payment of a number of accounts from their cash registers.

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