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Checkbook

We love little pieces of paper when they have a discount printed on them. But when it comes time to pay the post-coupon balance, we’d rather forego the paper and pull out the plastic. That’s according to a new study on how most of us pay at the grocery store.

In its annual Grocery Retailing Payments Study, the National Grocers Association found that credit and debit cards now account for more than 60% of total grocery dollar sales. Cash payments have fallen to 23%, and the lowly check has slipped to a distant third, at 8%.

That’s a far cry from the turn of the century, not all that long ago. In 2000, credit and debit cards made up a mere 30% of dollar sales, cash stood at 17% and checks led the pack by far, representing more than 50% of total grocery dollar sales.

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So in just 13 years, what was once the preferred method of payment at the grocery store has now become nearly nonexistent. And many grocery chains don’t miss it one bit. Some Whole Foods locations have actually experimented with banning checks. And small-format grocery stores like Aldi and California-based Fresh & Easy don’t accept checks at all. “Taking checks,” Aldi says on its website, “slows down the line and saddles us with bad check costs, so we don’t mess around with them.”

But then Aldi doesn’t accept credit cards either. “By avoiding credit cards, we avoid the extra time it takes to sign a slip and the hefty processing fee charged by credit card companies,” Aldi says. Many grocery stores probably wish they could avoid credit cards, and their processing fees, too – but then they could lose out on a lot of business. The National Grocers Association report says among all payment types, those who use credit cards are the second-biggest spenders, at an average of $37.15 per transaction.

Who are the biggest spenders of all then? Why, check users. They spend a whopping $63.21 on average, per transaction. The average cash user spends a mere $16.55 at a time. Of course, check users may just shop less frequently, and stock up more, while cash users stop in more often to grab a few things at a time. But any retailer who decides to no longer accept checks does so at their peril – why embrace the customer who spends just 16 bucks, while turning away a customer who spends $63?

Besides, who wants to have to count all that cash, and lug it all to the bank? Checks don’t require counting the way cash does, and they don’t have swipe fees like credit cards do. And many check aficionados insist checks are safer than carrying cash, and can’t get hacked like credit card accounts sometimes do.

So think about that the next time you’re stuck behind someone in the checkout line who pulls out a checkbook. They may actually be onto something.

2 Comments

  1. I am cash only, all the way. Love it.

  2. My credit card gives me a 1%-3% cash rebate…depending on the store. That’s like an extra 1% ‘coupon’ @ the register.

    anyway-that’s MY excuse. 🙂

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