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Over 80% of total retail spend now on cards but BRC calls for fees to be regulated

Tom Bottomley
22 September 2021

Debit and credit cards now account for more than four in every five pounds spent, according to a Payments Survey published today by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Total retail spending on debit or credit cards in 2020 was 81%, up from 78% in 2019. However, retailers spent a whopping £1.3bn to accept card payments from customers in 2020, with the BRC calling on the government to intervene in such “anti-competitive behaviour” by regulating card scheme fees and abolishing interchange fees, both of which end up hitting consumers in the pocket.

The pandemic and “digital shift” means that cash use now accounts for just 15% of total retail spend, down from 20% in 2019. But it still accounts for 30% of individual transactions, highlighting how it remains vital for many people who do not have access to other payment methods.

The survey also reveals that the pandemic has changed the way we shop, not just how we pay, with consumers making fewer but bigger shopping trips. While the number of transactions fell by 13% (from 19.1bn in 2019 to 16.7bn in 2020), consumers spent on average 20% more per transaction. Therefore, the average transaction value increased from £20.16 in 2019 to £24.15 in 2020.

Andrew Cregan, Payments Policy Advisor at the BRC, said: “The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards card payments, with more than four in every five pounds spent in retail now made with credit or debit cards. Basket sizes also rose, as customers made bigger, but fewer purchases. While cash use has declined in importance, it remains vital for many people who do not have access to other payment methods.

“Despite the general movement to card payments, retailers are being punished through the soaring cost of accepting such payments. Parliament needs to urgently intervene in this anti-competitive behaviour by regulating card scheme fees and abolishing interchange fees, both of which ultimately hurt consumers. Card firms are abusing their dominant market position, and this must come to an end.”

Debit cards, which accounted for over half of all transactions (54%) in 2020 for the first time, have seen transaction fees rise by 22% (to 7.2 pence per transaction). Against a backdrop of mounting costs from Covid, Brexit, global supply chain disruption and rising commodity prices, such excessive card fees add further cost pressures to retailers. Equivalent to £46 per household per year, these additional costs can translate into higher prices for consumers.

The BRC, along with other business groups, has long been calling on Parliament to intervene and tackle anti-competitive practices in card payments to protect British businesses and consumers from spiralling costs. Just last year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that card firm interchange fees were unlawful, yet the BRC says the UK’s Payment Systems Regulator five-year strategy delivers nothing to resolve the issue.

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