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About


Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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June 1, 2021

The Generational Divide in Online Shopping during the COVID Pandemic

Like me, you probably have seen many headlines citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people in various demographic segments. Take, for example, age:

  • "COVID-19 hurts working mothers"
  • "Millenials slammed by second financial crisis"
  • "COVID pushes out women and boomers"
  • "Pandemic accelerates retirements"

As you can see from these headlines, no generation is unscathed.

How did people of different ages behave during COVID? Preliminary data from the 2020 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice appear to show that in 2020, millennials increased their uptake of new payments habits while boomers were slower to do so.

  • Millennials increased their share of online purchases as a percentage of all purchases by a greater margin than boomers. Boomers’ share of purchases online went from 4 percent in 2019 to 6 percent in 2020. For millennials, online purchases jumped to 21 percent from 13 percent.
  • Millennials continued to expand their enthusiastic reception of payment apps, including Venmo and Zelle.

Of course, many factors, not just COVID, are in play here. These could be a few:

  • Millennials are moving into their prime earning years. For example, they became more likely to have a credit card in 2020. Two-thirds of millennials had a credit card in 2019, and almost 8 in 10 did in 2020.
  • Boomers may be stuck in their habits. Payments choice, like many other consumer behaviors, is a habit and generally slow to change.

You can examine differences in consumer behavior by age using the interactive charts for the 2020 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice at atlantafed.org.

May 24, 2021

Mindfulness Can Ease Payments Stressors

Making a $26 purchase recently, I was surprised when my debit card was declined. My account had money in it, so I couldn't understand what was wrong. Fortunately, I had cash and prepared to pay with it. Then, the clerk pointed to a notice taped to the terminal: "No cash accepted."

Behind me, people were growing impatient, sighing, and shuffling their feet. I tried a credit card I keep for emergencies, and it went through. Relieved to complete the purchase, I left and called the bank. My account was fine; the problem was with the merchant's terminal.

Back in my car, I breathed a sigh of relief but thought about how uncomfortable I felt standing in line, having two payment methods rejected, needing to scramble to find another way to pay, and sensing the impatience of others behind me. I also thought about the alarm I felt when my debit card was declined. Had my account been attacked and emptied by fraudsters? I realized this transaction had triggered a typical stress response: increased heart rate, anxious feelings, sweaty palms, disrupted breathing patterns, all physical and emotional reactions to a simple payment transaction that almost wasn't completed.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it helps to be more aware of any stress we have while making our daily payment transactions. We are all affected by money and need it to function in our daily lives. We often take payments for granted but it's our primary method for getting what we need and want. Money, and conflicts over money, are significant stressors for people. One way to help with stress reduction is mindfulnessOff-site link, the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment, taking a deep breath, and relaxingOff-site link. In this situation, I used mindfulness techniques to reduce the physical and emotional effects I was feeling. I was grateful I had learned these techniques for staying calm and reducing my stress response.

I think about people who are having payments rejected for whatever their circumstances, whether it's due to bank error, merchant error, a fraud alert, or the merchant not accepting a payment type such as cash or check. This can be particularly stressful if you need groceries, a prescription, gas, or emergency supplies and can't get them because either you or the merchant can't complete your transaction due to each one's payment choices or available options.

This in-person point of sale issue has the power to affect you in ways you may not even recognize, causing feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, and anxiety. Payments inclusion initiatives can address some of these issues. In addition, by simply acknowledging that any of the monetary transactions we make in a day can cause stress, we can increase our awareness of how we respond to help us remain calm and reduce mistakes. When we take a deep breath and a minute to be mindful, we can reduce our body's automatic stress response, which benefits us in other areas of our lives.

May 10, 2021

Remember When...

My wife recently asked me whether I realized that if The Wonder Years was remade today it would be set in 2001. Really? The Wonder Years was my favorite show growing up and one that we recently rewatched with our kids. This coming-of-age drama set in 1968 featuring the fictional Arnold family and their awkward teenage son, Kevin, first aired in 1988. At the time, 1968 seemed like ages ago to this then 10-year-old boy.

This led me to think about changes in payments and commerce over the past twenty years and how my soon-to-be teenage son would, much like I did, think how "old" things such as payments and commerce would feel to him in a show set twenty some-odd years prior. While a whole dissertation could probably be written on the changes, I want to keep this blog post short, fun, and focused on recalling just one shopping experience I had that my son would find so foreign today.

Remember when we stood in line, or perhaps even camped out overnight, to buy concert tickets at a Ticketmaster outlet? The concert venues usually had a ticket office but there were also different Ticketmaster outlets throughout town, often in record stores, and my group of friends would strategize about which location might have the fewest people in line before ticket sales launched (usually at 10 a.m. on Saturdays). My favorite location for finding the shortest line was a Piggly Wiggly, a grocery store chain found in the South. As far as my payment type for concert tickets, it was always cash. If I bought extra tickets for friends, they always paid me back in cash. The payment type wasn't the only thing that was paper. The tickets were printed at the time of purchase, and a paper ticket stub ultimately became a memento of the event.

I find myself using "remember when" more and more as I get deeper into my middle-aged years. If you find yourself uttering those words, I'd like to encourage you to add to the blog by sharing your own experiences by using the comments feature. Or, email me and I will be happy to compile a list to share with our readers.

If you would rather not share a personal past commerce or payment experience that today's kids would find unbelievable with the Risk Forum, I encourage you to check out this websiteOff-site link, where you can find payments data from the Federal Reserve Payments data dating to 2001. While the website might lack anecdotal stories that have today's kids going "wow," it's chock full of data and just might leave you thinking, "wow, remember when..."

February 1, 2021

How Have Our Own Payment Habits Changed?

During our December webinar, Nancy Donahue, Jessica Washington, and I spent a good portion of the time discussing how the COVID-19 environment has changed how consumers shop and pay. In September, I reached out to my fellow Risk Forum colleagues and asked them if they had experienced or noticed any changes in their own shopping and payment habits during this year of the panedmic. While this was far from a scientific survey or sample, I found my colleagues' responses interesting and want to share with you how their payment and shopping practices evolved during the past year.

S: Shopping every weekend was a pastime for me and my best friend and has been for years. Since COVID, we have not set foot into a mall, which consequently cut my spending to $0. I have purchased a few necessary items online such as gifts or medications but have focused solely on paying off debt and saving during this time. Haircuts and styling have also been excluded—those usually occurred every 6 weeks and were my only cash transactions.

C: Grocery shopping has switched to completely online. I used to go to the pet store to buy dog food and treats but once the pandemic started, I switched to a subscription service, where they automatically deliver the food to the house every two months. I used to never buy clothes or shoes online because I wanted to try them on first. I've made some clothing purchases online over the last few months and so far, they've all worked out great. I may never step foot in a shopping mall again even after the pandemic ends! I have been tipping much more at salons and restaurants (with my card because I never have cash on me).

N: I have quit using cash completely and was previously a heavy cash user for daily purchases. I haven't had any folding money for six months. This change in behavior was not the result of COVID concerns per se, but more a lack of need for pocket change when my movements are largely confined between the bedroom, home office, and kitchen. Online shopping has increased exponentially to include groceries and restaurant takeout and all other home goods.

J: A dramatic reduction in gas expenses and card use owing to it. We previously went out to eat only occasionally, but now look for excuses or opportunities to do so. These opportunities aren't numerous as many of our favorite restaurants have limited to no capacity for dine in. We tip heavily when we do eat out, always with folding money.

M: I am shopping less for all categories except food. Grocery and carryout spending have increased. My tipping for restaurant carryout has increased. I try to keep a stash of $5 and $10 bills for the tipping. Prior to COVID, tips were usually included on the card charge.

D: Less frequent in-person grocery store visits and increased online ordering. Also, generous tips to food service personnel at our favorite restaurants where we are doing takeaways.

C: I stopped taking mass transit, so I have been tapping to pay less often. Instead of ordering in person and paying via mobile app (QR scan) at my favorite coffee shop, I have been preordering and tipping in the app. My grocery shopping habits are unchanged as I had been buying groceries online for the past five years.

D: I have been using contactless payments with the digital wallet on my phone substantially more often and am using it wherever it's offered. I have also started to use online shopping and delivery for groceries, although I still find myself making multiple trips to the grocery store each week.

It's pretty obvious that the Risk Forum members are behaving like many of the rest of U.S. consumers, with a major shift from in-person to remote shopping Adobe PDF file format. One area where this is especially true is in grocery shopping. Just as many of us have shifted to (or maintained, for the early adopter among us) buying groceries online, this has been a significant shift for many American households. One surveyOff-site link found that as of June, over one-third of U.S. households had used online ordering to buy some of their groceries. I also love the human touch that my colleagues have shown during this time through actively increasing their tipping to the service individuals who are serving them.