Online Payments Shifting from Debit to Credit Cards, Report Finds

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Consumer use of credit cards online is making a comeback, new research suggests.

Assuming new Federal Reserve Board rules regulating debit card interchange stand, total U.S. consumer payments volume from online use of credit cards will climb 63% during the five-year period from 2011 to 2016, while debit card online-payment volume will rise by just 2%, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s latest Online Retail Payments Forecast report.

“After several years of declining use, credit cards are poised for resurgence,” Beth Robertson, Javelin director of payments research, said in a Nov. 28 press release. “Despite the nation’s very rocky economic recovery, consumers appear to have halted their belt-tightening, and bank incentives to use credit cards rather than debit are gaining appeal.”

Javelin predicts a 16% increase from last year in the U.S. online market as retail e-commerce sales rise to $309 billion in 2011 and to $444 billion by 2016.

According to research firm comScore, consumers on Black Friday–the day after Thanksgiving–spent $816 million online this year, up 25.9% from $648 million the same day in 2010. On Thanksgiving, they spent $479 million, up 17.7% from $407 million last year. For the period from Nov. 1 to 25, they spent $12.7 billion online, up 14.4% from $11.1 billion during the Nov. 2 to 26 period last year.

“Despite some analysts’ predictions that the flurry of brick-and-mortar retailers opening their doors early for Black Friday would pull dollars from online retail, we still saw a banner day for e-commerce with more than $800 million in spending,” Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman, said in a Nov. 27 press release. “With brick-and-mortar retail also reporting strong gains on Black Friday, it’s clear that the heavy promotional activity had a positive impact on both channels. We now turn our attention to Cyber Monday.”

Shop.org says about 80% of retailers are running special online promotions this year centered around that day, Fulgoni said. Last year, Cyber Monday was the heaviest day of online spending ever, with sales exceeding $1 billion, “and we fully expect to see another record set this year,” he said.

Indeed, frenzied purchasing periods such as Cyber Monday can cause consumers to throw cautionary spending patterns to the wind and take advantage of the “deal” phenomenon, Javelin noted in the news release.

Online merchants have much to gain from the shift in payments share to increased credit card use, according to Javelin's Retail Payments Forecast 2011-2016: New Regulations Leave Credit Poised for a Comeback.

Credit cards typically generate higher consumer spending and greater revenue for merchants. However, this change in behavior also should make consumers more conscientious about their online spending, the report notes.

Consumers spend more on single online transactions using credit cards than when using other payment options, spending an average $82.10 with a major credit card versus $58.29 using a major debit card, Javelin’s study shows.

The research company eventually may have to change its projections if a group of retailers succeeds in litigation challenging the so-called Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act that directed the Fed to cap debit card interchange.

Javelin based its research findings on data collected online from more than 2,300 consumers. Its report also tracks the growth of online alternative payments methods, prepaid and gift cards for online purchases and identifies key drivers creating shifts in the mix of online payments.

"Nontraditional payment methods will also see growth as alternative payments make inroads on traditional payments share," James Van Dyke, Javelin founder and president, said in the news release. "While online alternative payments represent less than one-fifth of e-commerce transactions, these options are well positioned to benefit from the introduction and adoption of emerging payment environments, such as the mobile channel and social networking."

With a projected $30 billion growth through 2016, online alternative payments will hold a 19% share of online retail payments–a share that is just two percentage points below debit’s projected share, Javelin predicts.

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