February 21, 2024

Consumers love debit cards—and merchants are, too. In fact, debit cards remain one of the most dominant payment methods for day-to-day transactions and everyday purchases such as groceries and gas, presenting a significant opportunity for merchants everywhere.

In a recent study sponsored by Discover® Global Network, 54% of merchants consider debit cards a very important payment method for their customers.1 While different demographics prefer debit card transactions to varying degrees, research shows that consumers prefer the convenience, ease of use and financial control that debit cards provide.

For merchants, the use of debit cards often replaces cash and check payments, providing greater merchant security and eliminating the costs associated with handling and securing in-store cash. Not only does this directly benefit merchants, but accepting debit cards is also critical to ensuring a positive customer experience.

Surveys show that consumers typically choose to debit at grocery stores, gas stations, small businesses, and more traditional point-of-sale (POS) systems for subscription services and any transaction between $25 and $100. No longer just a convenient bank card to use on ATMs, most consumers now also enjoy the convenience of withdrawing cash directly from merchants during transactions at POS machines.

While physical POS is key to many transactions, adoption of digital payments is on the rise in the global market as interest in different online payment types, including digital wallets, increases. In this ever-expanding world of digital wallets, consumers show a preference for using debit cards. In fact, 66% of consumers use debit cards as the default payment method in their preferred digital wallet.1

Transaction security and fraud protection are top of mind for merchants and consumers, especially as fraudsters have become more prevalent in recent years. When using a debit card in-store, most consumers prefer to use a PIN for authentication at the POS.

Whether it’s the preferred payment method in digital wallets or in-store purchases of all kinds, here are five top reasons why debit cards remain the leader in payments:

  1. convenient

In the past few years, consumers’ consumption preferences and shopping habits have undergone great changes. More and more consumers want convenient and easy-to-use payment options. So they’re switching to debit cards, especially for everyday purchases between $25 and $100.1 This trend is common across multiple demographics and is expected to continue. Not surprisingly, debit cards are the preferred payment method for grocery shopping ($42.07 average in-store transaction).2 Debit cards also dominated several other merchant categories, including gas stations, small businesses and local stores.

2. Safety

Both merchants and consumers care about security and fraud protection. According to a recent study, 88% of consumers surveyed rated strong fraud protection as important or very important.3 Meanwhile, another study showed that 64% of merchants strongly agree that fraud is becoming a growing problem in their industry.4 With modern advances in digital security, debit transactions offer the highest fraud protection anywhere. For consumers, payment security is a top priority. When it comes to digital purchases, the security of personal information is a top concern for consumers. When using a debit card, 73% of consumers prefer to use a PIN for authentication at the POS, providing additional assurance that their transactions are secure.1 Therefore, merchants should recognize the importance of technology, including PIN pads, necessary to ensure consumers are comfortable using their debit cards in-store.

3. Cash back

Consumers want to be able to get cash back quickly and easily, whether they’re near a bank’s ATM or not. Merchant POS offers greater convenience to consumers and is the preferred method for customers to receive cash back, with most consumers preferring to obtain cash at in-store merchant locations. Offering a cash back option at the POS is a way for merchants to generate customer loyalty. In fact, nearly one-third of consumers say the ability to get cash will significantly increase their loyalty to the merchant.1

4. cashless

Moving away from cash is another trend that is gaining momentum across multiple age groups of consumers. The use of debit cards has increased compared to cash as consumers shift from cash payments to contactless and digital transactions. According to a recent survey, 79% of consumers prefer to use a card to shop in-store, and 51% prefer contactless payment methods.5 For online transactions, debit card usage is high across all adult age groups.

5. financial control

Consumer demand for real-time payments has grown strongly in recent years. From paying bills to receiving funds from businesses, consumers are showing great interest in many practical applications of real-time payments. Not only does real-time payments attract consumers with their speed and efficiency, but instant payments to consumers’ bank accounts provide an important element of personal financial control. That’s why consumers choose debit cards not only for everyday transactions, but also for their growing subscription services and digital wallets.

1 Mercator Consulting Group, Debit Card Consumer Trends Study, February 2022.
2 Food Industry Association. “supermarket facts” Viewed March 14, 2023.
3 In Q3 2021, Aite-Novarica Group surveyed 2,046 US prepaid card users choosing to buy now and pay later.
4 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, Key Findings: Global Merchant and Consumer Payments Survey: Commissioned by Discover Global Network, completed November 2021.
5 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, Global Consumer Fintech Survey: Key Findings, August 2022.