Since the coronavirus put New York under lockdown, I’ve completely changed my buying habits.
I haven’t swiped my credit card in at least a month, relying on online payments and Apple Pay with curbside pickup.
I actually prefer paying this way, and I don’t see myself paying with cash or card anytime soon, although I know this isn’t an option for everyone.
The coronavirus has changed just about every part of my daily life. The biggest change is that I now work remotely, and rarely leave my house. But when I do leave my house, it’s also changed my relationship to money. Namely, I almost never touch actual cold, hard cash anymore.
In March, when the US only had a few hundred known cases of COVID-19, the World Health Organization said that paper money could be a method of transmission for the virus, so contactless payments like Apple Pay or Google Pay were safer.
Contactless payments are starting to look like the way of the future, and companies are strategically promoting how safe their own versions of this system are. As early as the beginning of March, delivery apps like Postmates, DoorDash, and Instacart were adding options for contactless dropoffs for services where customers already pay and even tip within the apps.
Mastercard and Visa are increasing value limits on contactless payments in several countries, and the coronavirus pandemic might be the push needed to make contactless payments, which are already popular in Europe, the norm in the US, according to a Business Insider Intelligence briefing.
Grocery chain Publix enabled Apple Pay and Google Pay, while Walmart added a Walmart Pay contactless checkout option. Restaurants are asking customers not to pay with cash, and even Burger King released a commercial encouraging customers to order ahead and pay through its app. The change isn’t limited to national chains, either — Bloomberg reported that small businesses have seen a 27% increase in customers using contactless payment options.
I was an infrequent Apple Pay user pre-pandemic. I got an Apple Card back in the fall for a review, and while I liked it I tended to stick with my physical cards. Often enough, when I did try to use Apple Pay, stores either didn’t have the capability, or cashiers sometimes didn’t know that they had it, and it was easier to just not deal with it. Once coronavirus came, though, it seemed worth the extra minute of explanation.
Now, when I (infrequently) leave my house to buy things, Apply Pay is my default. While I haven’t been in a store for weeks, my siblings and I occasionally go through the McDonald’s drive-thru for milkshakes to break up the cabin fever.
In the past using Apple Pay in a drive-thru has been more of a hassle than it was worth. The norm used to be having the cashier take my phone to bring it to the scanner — not a big deal in the pre-coronavirus days, but something that now seems fraught now that I understand how long the virus can live on surfaces. Luckily, restaurants near me now seem fine to bring out Apple Pay scanner and hold it up to my phone out the window.
Paying with my phone is great, but ordering and paying ahead of time is even better. The less time interacting with strangers, waiting around for my order and potentially sharing germs, the better. On the Dunkin’ app, I can order before I leave my house and slide right through the drive-thru.
Best of all, though, is a curbside pickup. At my local liquor store, for example, I put items in my virtual cart, pay with my Apple Card easily through my phone, and call the store when I’m there. Within a minute or two, I have my order with minimal danger. Buying this way is better in more ways than one — I have time to browse and decide what I want without feeling pressured, and I also don’t throw in some impulse buys I might in person.
Using Apple Pay and curbside pickup has been convenient for me and I actually prefer it, but it’s not workable for everyone. I’m coming from a place of privilege, where I have a home to shelter in and a car to pick up necessities, not to mention the fact that I have a job I can do remotely. Stores and restaurants that have gone drive-thru only, and businesses only accepting contactless payments, have added an extra barrier to people without cars, and the more than 14 million Americans who remain unbanked.
Those are problems that need to be fixed. Because as of now, I’m prepared for a future where I never pay cash again — and I think it would be safer if everyone else could do the same.