Are some consumers being left behind?

Taking the goods off the shelf and paying automatically: Is this what the future of shopping looks like and what does it mean for consumers?

Can older people still find their way around when they can no longer pay with cash in shops?

KContactless payment at the till in passing or with an app on the mobile phone – new payment methods are on the rise. But not all people can or want to pay for their purchases in this way. According to a survey by the Bundesbank, almost all German citizens fear that older people, for example, would no longer find their way in a world without cash. “Consumers must also in future and consistently have the choice of whether they want to pay with new technologies or prefer to pay in cash,” demands financial expert Frank-Christian Pauli from the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv).

Pauli warns of a development like in Sweden. In the capital Stockholm, signs saying “No cash payment” are no longer uncommon in shops and restaurants. In the country that is not part of the euro area, retailers and companies are allowed to refuse to accept cash. The Swedish central bank is also concerned with this development. “Basically, the structural change is positive, but it has to happen at a rate that does not create problems for certain social groups or exclude someone from the payment market,” warned the head of the central bank, Stefan Ingves.

ECB Executive Board member Yves Mersch assures that the European Central Bank is vigilant that the use of cash is not restricted – for example by charging a payment fee. “Alternative payment methods cannot replace euro cash, they can only supplement it,” emphasizes Mersch.

The Bundesbank sees greater potential in the foreseeable future, especially with contactless payment, as it were when passing the till with the giro card (EC card). “In the future … the use of contactless card payments, for example … could increase”, says board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele.

Contactless payment has so far been a niche phenomenon

Instead of typing in the PIN or signing the receipt, the plastic money is held at a terminal. This is possible – usually for smaller amounts of up to 20 or 25 euros – according to the Girocard card operator, at retail chains such as Rewe, Penny, Toom Baumarkt, Lidl, Kaufland, Aldi Süd and Nord, Norma and the dm drugstores. However, not all credit institutions have yet equipped their customers with new, contactless cards.

And so contactless payment has so far only been a niche phenomenon in Germany with a good one percent turnover in retail. But the situation is not much different in most of the other euro countries either: in 2016, according to surveys by the ECB in the euro area, only around one percent of all payments up to 25 euros at the checkout were made contactless. Above all, 25 to 39-year-olds were open to modern technology, the 65+ generation had the hardest time. And while 25 to 39-year-olds carry an average of 51 euros in cash with them, people aged 65 and over carry 84 euros.

The internet retailer Amazon and the electronics retailer Saturn are experimenting with shops without a cash register and thus without cash. Amazon opened a supermarket in Seattle in January, in which the customer has to log in with an app when entering. Its behavior in the store is then registered by countless cameras and sensors. The electronics giant Saturn recently opened its first till-free branch in Innsbruck, Austria. In the pilot project, customers can pay for the desired product directly on the shelf. This is made possible by an app that scans the price of the goods and regulates the payment process via credit card or PayPal.

But even in the new digital world, consumers must still be able to pay in cash without leaving any traces of data, demands consumer advocate Pauli: “Imagine that a provider can use the data to recognize that a consumer is willing to spend more money on certain products. Price increases for this customer could be the result. “