For Many Small-Business Owners, a Necessary Shift to Digital Payments

Small businesses are moving to cashless payments. Juanny Romero, the chief executive of Mothership Coffee Roasters, added more digital payment options after noticing customers no longer using cash.Credit...Bridget Bennett for The New York Times
Small businesses are moving to cashless payments. Juanny Romero, the chief executive of Mothership Coffee Roasters, added more digital payment options after noticing customers no longer using cash.Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

The pandemic accelerated a transition to cashless payments, forcing a reckoning among small-business owners. But there are benefits: An owner said one cashless system saved her $3,000 a month.

Gregory Schmidt

By Gregory Schmidt

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July 14, 2023

“Making It Work” is a series about small-business owners striving to endure hard times.

When Egypt Otis opened her business, Comma Bookstore and Social Hub, three years ago in Flint, Mich., the pandemic was full blown. But her neighbors welcomed the literature and art she sold in her store that celebrated people of color, as well as the community programs she hosted.

Despite the warm reception, Ms. Otis quickly found that she had a sales problem: Her customers wanted to pay with their cellphones.

“I realized that people were hardly keeping a wallet or a physical card, which limited my ability to sell and make money,” Ms. Otis said. So she upgraded her transactions platform to include tap-and-go purchases on mobile devices. “People are not carrying cash,” she said. “It’s becoming obsolete.”

The number of Americans who say they are “cashless” has jumped in the last five years. Forty-one percent of Americans said they did not use cash for their purchases in a typical week in 2022, up from 29 percent in 2018, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last October.

Small-business owners increasingly are making the switch to cashless payments for several reasons, including rising consumer demand, faster checkout, lower labor costs and increased security. Those who wait risk losing revenue, experts say.

But there are drawbacks to going cash-free, including a learning curve for entrepreneurs who may not understand how to set up digital payments, a lack of accessibility to credit cards for low-income consumers, and privacy concerns.

Signs on the window of a pizza parlor say it takes digital payments.
Signs at a pizza joint in New York indicating it takes multiple forms of cashless payments, a switch that accelerated in the pandemic.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Juanny Romero was an early adopter of digital payments for her small business. Fifteen years ago, when she founded Mothership Coffee Roasters, a chain of coffee shops in Las Vegas, she began using Square, a low-cost digital payments system for small businesses.

“​​I was a young businesswoman and not astute,” she said. But Square saved her $3,000 a month in merchant fees for credit card processing.

Even so, customer demand prompted her to return to cash sales, which Ms. Romero said are holding steady at about 11 percent of her overall revenue. She said she would go cashless if the share dipped below 10 percent.

A customer taps a phone on an electronic device to pay for a transaction at a coffee shop.
A digital transaction at Mothership Coffee Roasters in Las Vegas.Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

The pressure to adapt is growing. More that 2.8 billion mobile wallets were in use at the end of 2020, and that is projected to increase nearly 74 percent to 4.8 billion — nearly 60 percent of the world’s population — by the end of 2025, according to a study released in 2021 by Boku, a fintech company

The United States lags other countries in adopting cashless payments. Among the most cashless countries in the world is Britain, where the pound makes up only 1 percent of all transactions, according to a report from Merchant Machine, a payment research firm based in London. But in the United States, some small-business owners do not understand…

Read on…article continues HERE on NY Times’ website.

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