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Women lead push towards cashless society: poll

Are we inching towards a cashless society? The results of one retailer's joint customer poll would have you believe we are and women are leading the charge to digitize their wallets.

Three-quarters of Canadian women (76 per cent) typically carry $50 or less in their wallet compared to 66 per cent of men, according to the results of a recent RBC/Shoppers Drug Mart poll.

In comparison, men tend to use bank machines up to twice a week (41 per cent) to keep cash in their wallets, where only one-third of women (33 per cent) will hit up an ATM. The poll also finds that almost three-in-10 women (28 per cent) say they rarely or never withdraw cash, compared to 22 per cent of men.

"We're evolving towards a cashless society but I do think cash will continue to play a role in society for a period of time yet. Patterns are changing substantially and people are increasingly using alternatives to cash," says Wayne Bossert, executive vice-president, Canadian Banking, RBC.

Last February, a highly respected Massachusetts Institute of Technology magazine published an article on the subject of the possibility of a cashless society arguing it will never happen because "the arguments against cash are rational, but our attachment to it isn't."

More moving to mobile payments

"Alternate payment solutions are going to accelerate the movement towards a cashless society though I'm not convinced we'll get there overnight," Bossert remarks. "Cash will continue to play a role as a payment instrument but that role will diminish over time."

Among those alternatives, the Near Field Communication (NFC) standard for smartphones and other mobile devices -- so-called digital wallets or e-wallets -- seems to be gaining traction.

A recently released report by Nielsen surveying 5,000 U.S. mobile users finds consumers are increasingly using smartphones to shop. Interestingly, smartphone users are choosing retailers' mobile websites to do so versus accessing a company's official mobile app.

The study also states that the preference for mobile websites over mobile apps is almost the same among men and women, with men only slightly more inclined to give the mobile app route a go.

Rewards programs becoming important for consumers

"Some of the key things we learned from the report is the difference between men and women and how they use cash, and the importance of rewards in their shopping patterns," says Bossert

The RBC/Shoppers Drug Mart poll also finds:

  • 89 per cent of women are part of a rewards program, slightly more than men (80 per cent).

  • The majority of women (83 per cent) say their rewards programs are important to them 10 percentage points higher than men surveyed (73 per cent)

  • 43 per cent of women say their rewards program memberships are more important to them in the current economic climate, compared to 31 per cent of men.

"Women are often the primary shoppers in the household and so in an economy that's a little uncertain, they are looking for greater value for money," he says. "The role that rewards points play is becoming increasingly important."

Spending habits depend on age

Michelle Warren, principal, MW Research & Consulting in Toronto, says in general teenaged consumers will shop with a mix between debit cards and cash, 20-somethings will shift towards debit, and 30- to 40-somethings are likely to gravitate toward using bank cards also. But 50-something consumers tend to migrate more towards paying cash versus using plastic.

"The security risks with using cards are increasingly known amongst consumers. But cards, debit and credit, do offer a layer of protection which is valuable when it comes to cash management," she says. "Perhaps Shoppers' customers use more cards than cash, but it doesn't cater to all sectors of our society.

"Shoppers Drug Mart also sells birth control pills and drug prescriptions, for example. I can't believe that all people, all of the time, will want those purchases tracked."