Shoppers are now using debit and credit cards more than ever, with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) agreeing that the amount of cash transactions and the total cost of these transactions have decreased over the past five years.
This is natural, as consumers are now being able to purchase smaller items in store on their credit or debit cards as well as having the opportunity of moving their shopping entirely online, which allows shoppers to add items to the trolley with just a click of the button. As such many studies and research have been conducted in regards to how the widely used payment methods affect consumer food choices, and subsequently the overall health of consumers.
Card payments are very convenient, as it supersedes the need to carry around cash and in some cases a wallet or purse. As such, the use of debit card payments has increased by two percent to account for thirty-two percent of the transactions made in the UK. It has also been revealed that credit and debit cards are used primarily for larger purchases, such as the weekly family trip to the supermarket.
However, studies have revealed that the use of cards increases the purchase of unhealthy and convenience foods. This correlation in food purchases and payment type is the result of a decrease in, what Prelec and Loewenstein have identified as, coupling.
Coupling is the feeling of mental connectedness between the perceived monetary value of a product and the product itself. By paying in cash, shoppers have a greater productive sense of this psychological behaviour and are therefore unlikely to pursue a purchase. The heightened feeling of coupling brought on by cash purchases can therefore curb consumer spending on unhealthy and unplanned food choices, according to Thomas and associates in their study in 2011.
This study is backed up by a study released in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2010 which suggests that unhealthy food choices are often the result of impulse, and therefore paying with cash will reduce this impulsive nature of these choices by creating that coupling sensation. While the use of credit or debit cards fuels impulsive purchases through the distant sense of coupling between the payment and the food product.
So it can be seen that the use of cash in food retail outlets is the productive choice for those wishing to reduce their calorie intake through purchasing less unhealthy foods, as well as reduce spending through unplanned and perhaps impulsive food purchases. Using cash as payment means consumers are able to better monitor and control food choices, and decide consciously whether to purchase a certain product.
On the other hand, it can be seen that using card payments improves the perceived pleasure of the product and shopping experience. In contrast to cash payments, a distant coupling provides consumers with the psychology of distancing ourselves from the money we have spent. As such for products that we wish to experience with full pleasure and gusto are appropriate choices for payment by card.
While there is the convenience and obvious benefits of paying by card such as an improvement in psychological unease that comes with a distance in coupling, the benefits of using cash payments provide the mental connectedness to observe the healthiness of food choices as well as of spending.
The best practice is therefore for consumers to determine for themselves an appropriate balance by using cash for making healthier food choices and paying for card to make sure those choices are enjoyed to their fullest. Ultimately the decision is with the consumer to decide whether opting to use cash over the convenience of card is the best option for their health and their wallet.
What are the productive aspects of cash transactions that would assist us in making healthier choices?