Card payments outstrip cash for first time in Germany

Grounded in history, German’s scepticism for card payments has meant cash has long been king in Deutschland. But a gradual increase in card payments – along with growing trust in the medium – has seen them eclipse cash payments in Germany for the first time.

Card payments outstrip cash for first time in Germany
Image: DPA

Germany’s preference for cash is legendary. While in neighbouring Holland, Sweden and Finland some supermarkets will have cash-free aisles, simply paying with a card in some parts of Germany is difficult. 

But a new study has shown that growing trust in card payments – particularly among younger Germans – has tipped the balance in plastic’s favour for the first time in German history. 

The EHI Retail Institute in Cologne published a report into how Germans paid in 2018, showing that over €209 billion was spent by card. The cash amount totalled €208 billion, meaning cards outweighed cash for the first time. 

It meant that 48.6 percent of sales took place with card and 48.3 percent took place with cash. The remaining 3.1 percent was made up of invoices and vouchers. 

Read more: Will contactless payment ever take off in Germany?

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Due primarily to a desire for privacy and a passionate fear of debt, Germans have historically preferred to pay with cash. Card payments allow financial institutions and potentially others to monitor where your money is being spend, which is something that reminds Germans of the slippery slope of a surveillance state. 

German distaste for debt has halted the rollout of credit card payment in the country – the German word for debt ‘Schuld’ also means guilt – meaning that even if you wanted to pay with credit card it would be difficult. 

Up until recently, many major supermarkets and retail chains wouldn’t accept credit cards, regardless of the size of the transaction. 

The EHI has however suggested that while Germany may be slowly creeping towards a cash economy, don’t expect Nordic levels of card payment anytime soon. 

More than three quarters of the 20 billion purchases made in Germany in 2018 were made with cash.

While the amount of money spent on card may have eclipsed cash for the first time, cash is still king in smaller transactions.

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German Amazon workers strike on ‘Black Friday’

Amazon workers in Germany started a three-day strike Thursday timed to disrupt the online retailer's "Black Friday" sales bonanza.

German Amazon workers strike on 'Black Friday'
Signs for the Amazon strike in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

The strike, called by the powerful Verdi union, is set to last until Saturday and marks the latest escalation in a years-long battle with Amazon for better pay and working conditions.

“We estimate that around 2,500 people went on strike today, a higher number than in similar actions in the past and given the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic, it's a big success,” a Verdi spokesman told AFP.

To limit the risk of Covid-19 infections, the union said it was not staging any rallies during the strike.

Amazon in a statement said the walkouts were not affecting customer deliveries since “the majority of employees are working as normal”.

The stoppage affected Amazon distribution facilities in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld, Augsburg, Rheinberg, Werne and Koblenz.

Verdi has long wanted Amazon to sign on to regional wage agreements covering retail and e-commerce, and has organised numerous walkouts in recent years.

It also wants Amazon to improve health and safety at work, accusing the retail giant of not doing enough to protect staff from the coronavirus at some of its German sites.

Amazon defended its policies, saying it offered “excellent” wages, benefits and career opportunities in a “modern, safe” work environment.

The company employs more than 16,000 people in Germany and has taken on an additional 10,000 seasonal employees to cope with a boom in online shopping triggered by the pandemic.