Skip to main content

9 Top Reasons Merchants Should Accept Debit

woman paying with debit card at terminal

There is a new consumer in the marketplace today. Facing increased uncertainty about their financial future, consumers have adopted new shopping methods and payment preferences as they seek both convenience and control.

Among the most pronounced shifts is an increase in debit card usage. Already rising steadily in recent years, debit payments surged as the pandemic spread. In store, shoppers turned to the ease and safety of contactless payment methods. In store, shoppers have enjoyed the ease and safety of contactless payment methods. But debit use is also increasing online—where people are shopping more often.

Debit’s real-time spend visibility has helped consumers more closely monitor and control spending. And given its flexibility both online and offline, consumers everywhere are turning to debit.

“ Debit is increasingly the preferred way that consumers are looking to make purchases, and it represents a big piece of the revenue picture for a wide variety of different merchant types.”1

Merchants that don’t accept all debit card brands risk losing sales not just in the short term, but in the form of lost lifetime opportunities. Here’s what merchants need to know about debit usage in 2021 and beyond:2

1. The current economy is driving debit usage to record highs

The pandemic has thrown everything we do into flux. Consumers aren’t sure what’s coming next, so naturally they want to control what they spend. To do that, they need real-time visibility into their finances. No wonder a 2020 survey by 451 Research found a striking 27-percentage point net increase in debit usage in the previous year. That’s nearly double the gain seen in 2018.

2. Everyone loves debit—especially Gen Z

Debit is among the most widely adopted payment methods among all demographics—but especially among Gen Z, whose favorite method of payment is a debit card. Fifty-seven percent of this group use debit at least once a week.3 More financially savvy than previous generations, they’ve seen older Millennials make financial mistakes and have adopted some of the more-traditional perspective of boomers as a result. That includes setting savings goals and keeping close tabs on what they spend.

3. Debit rules for moderate-size transactions

Debit is the top preference for everyday transactions and purchases in the $25-$100 range. And even for payments over $100, the preference for debit rose 12 percentage points from 2018. Except for the smallest transactions, consumers of all ages seem to be getting over their desire to fumble around with cash and coins when they don’t have to.

4. In store, debit is easier to use—and more sanitary—than cash

Debit offers the financial control of cash, with the convenience (and safety) of plastic. That’s why contactless payments with debit are up, while use of cash and checks is down. In fact, approximately one in six consumers made their first-ever contactless purchase last year, and nearly nine in 10 of those first-time contactless payment users plan to continue using contactless payments.4

5. Debit isn’t just a payment option. It can make or break the customer experience

Your relationship with customers hinges on the checkout experience. In all, 54 percent of customers who couldn’t pay with their debit card either spent less at that merchant or made their purchase elsewhere. Moreover, they blamed the merchants—not card networks, issuers, or payment processors—if they were not able to use debit at checkout. Not accepting debit is like refusing service to a large segment of your customers, with the impact reflected directly on the bottom line.

6. Many merchants already accept debit, but some are missing out

More than one in four respondents (28 percent) in the 2020 survey said they encountered a merchant over the past year that didn’t accept debit cards. That’s a frustrating experience, and seven in 10 respondents said they were unlikely to return to the merchant that did not accept debit cards. Many merchants understand the importance of debit to their customers, and by extension, see the value to their business success.

7. For everyday transactions, debit pulls ahead

Regardless of geography, preference for debit has increased in the past two years. Shoppers in rural areas prefer debit the most, but debit use in cities and suburbs is increasing, too. That’s why it’s important to accept all debit card brands. Consumers in rural areas are often customers of regional or community banks, while those in cities tend to use national banks.

8. The trend is here to stay

While the economic impact of the pandemic spurred debit usage, don’t expect the trend to reverse as the world reopens. Evidence increasingly points to the “stickiness” of e-commerce, so the rise in debit preference—for contactless and card-not-present payments both in-store and online—is expected to continue.

9. Merchants that make it easy to pay with debit win customers for life

Prominent signage that all card brands are accepted, coupled with a frictionless payment process, will keep customers coming back—increasing your revenue now and in the future. The question increasingly isn’t whether merchants should give debit their attention, but whether in the long-term they can afford to ignore it.

The pandemic has certainly contributed to the upswing in debit usage, but that doesn’t mean the trend won’t stick. Increases in contactless and card-not-present debit payments are expected to continue well into the future.

The bottom line for merchants? To increase your customer base and keep them returning, make the payment process as painless as possible. Accept all card brands and advertise this fact clearly in-store and online.

Download Article

To learn more about how Discover® Global Network can help, visit us here.


1 451 Research, January 2021. Webinar: Debit Cards Drive Commerce: Merchant and Consumer Insights on Debit Card Usage and Acceptance. Viewed 16th March 2021.

2 Unless otherwise noted, all data is from 451 Research, November 2020. Debit Cards Drive Commerce: 2020 Edition. Merchant and Consumer Insights on Debit Card Usage and Acceptance. Viewed 16th March 2021.

3 Gen Z Goes Shopping: How Payments is Shaping the Future of Commerce, Survey conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics, 2019, in partnership with Discover® Global Network. Viewed 12th May 2021.

4 451 Research, January 2021. Webinar: Debit Cards Drive Commerce: Merchant and Consumer Insights on Debit Card Usage and Acceptance. Viewed 16th March 2021.

The information provided herein is sponsored by Discover Global Network. It is intended for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.