Keep Calm, Cash Is Still King
In April 2017, Amazon, the Seattle eCommerce giant, shocked the online commerce industry by announcing that all Americans can now shop online with cash.
Wait…What? Amazon? Accepting cash? In modern-day America? Huh? You’re not alone. It came as a complete surprise to many people.
Why on Earth would I want to shop blissfully online and then stop in the middle, go to the store, and extract a wrinkled green paper note from between my beloved plastic payment cards?
I have a full house of Visas, Mastercards and American Express but I would choose to hand this note to the poor young cashier and say, “Buddy, please scan this barcode and load my Amazon balance with…Ummm…100 dollars,” Then, and only then, I would return home to complete my purchase online?
This sounds like a nightmare to all shopaholics (yours truly included). But since Amazon’s US announcement, the eCommerce giant has rolled out a similar service in the EU and the UK. These markets have a high penetration of banking cards. So what does Amazon get out of this deal?
Well, as it turns out, approximately 27% of the US population (a staggering 90 million people) are either unbanked or underbanked, according to the FDIC. Cash is their primary instrument of payment and, for this group, Amazon’s new service has serious appeal.
But Amazon did not invent the idea of accepting pre-paid cash for online goods. In Latin America and Asia alike, cash payments are highly popular among e-shoppers. When the news of Amazon’s cash feature traveled across the ocean, these shoppers weren’t surprised at all. In fact, most of the eCommerce retailers in these regions started accepting cash payments many years before Amazon — and not just in the form of cash on delivery (COD). But in Europe and the US, where the perception is that plastic reigns supreme, why would any retailer roll out cash payments in the first place?
The truth is, even though the eWallets and contactless cards are aimed to reduce the amount of cash we all carry, these services don’t reconcile the issues of the unbanked.
Statements such as “CASH IS DEAD,” “CASHLESS SOCIETY,” “KING IN THE NORTH,” (Ahem, seriously? You call that a finale?) are over-exaggerated and premature.
More and more eCommerce companies view cash in the exact opposite light and are developing capabilities to accept it. They certainly do not think that cash is dead and, in the end, they are probably right.
According to the World Cash report by G4S, close to half of the population in almost all countries carries cash and uses cash in-store. Even in Europe, in this digital age, cash remains essential. According to Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, over three-quarters of all payments at points-of-sale in the European area are made in cash.
If you operate a marketplace or an eCommerce website, ignoring such a large swath of the population means leaving money on the table.
Even if a non-cash holder, like myself, would find this service redundant, it’s a gateway to financial inclusion for billions around the world.
It does not matter if you’re from California, Jamaica, London, or Kuala Lumpur: cash is a common denominator in every market. Even in the era of progressive online payments, Cash is King.
Omer Priel, VP Global Business Development