If intent signifies future action, Americans are about to embrace mobile payments in a big way — and not just because of the coronavirus, though it appears the pathogen is certainly helping to pave the way for the technology to take over.

As of Q2 2020, three percent of Americans say they use mobile as their main form of payment. As the chart below demonstrates, both cash and debit cards have ticked downward over the years, with credit cards picking up the pace.

But the big takeaway? Forty-five percent of Americans say they would be likely to download an app that lets them interact with PIN pads or scan items as they shop – in other words, use mobile payment apps. The tech is currently in use with intent to use present as well.  The tipping point for mobile payments to become a dominant way (or “the” dominant way) to pay for goods and services is here.

Users & Intenders

Young adults (ages 18 to 24) are in the driver’s seat when it comes to using mobile payment apps. Not only do they lead significantly in using mobile payments as their main way to buy items, but they are leaps and bounds more likely to use cash than any other generational cohort. Likely new to the workforce without any established credit, credit cards are not often seen as a primary payment method for those under 25. Where previous generations started out with debit cards before moving to credit cards, there is every reason to believe 18- to 24-year-olds — already in dead last by a wide margin when it comes to debit card usage — will jump to mobile payments and forgo the debit route.

This notion is thrown into even starker relief when breaking the age groups down further. Look at those ages 13 to 17 — nearly half use cash as their main form of payment, but 8% use mobile apps as their main option. 

Among people who aren’t using mobile apps for payment but might in the future, security checks the box as the main reason why a person wouldn’t want to use the tech. This is an issue that will recede in time — after all, remember the first time you entered credit card information on a website? It was fraught with anxiety, undoubtedly.

The current dominance of the youngest adults in the mobile payment space might not last much longer: more than half of 25- to 34-year-olds say they’d be likely to download an app that lets them interact with PIN pads or scanning of items, and 35- to 54-year-olds are right there with both cohorts. It’s the over-55 crowd, however, who is more than happy to stick with traditional forms of payment.

Women — who already use mobile pay apps at a higher rate than men (11 to 9 percent) —  are 24% more likely to download a similar app in the future.

Looking at more immediate concerns, people who are comfortable going back to stores soon — or right this very second — despite the coronavirus risks are significantly less likely to say they want to download an app that helps them avoid high-traffic surfaces.

And those numbers above? Incredibly, they’re a stand-in for how someone perceives themselves politically. Everything is tribalistic these days, and whether someone wants to use a mobile app while shopping is no different. The chart below — political leanings and likelihood of using a mobile payment app — is virtually the same as the shopping-in-a-time-of-coronavirus question above.

One area certainly ripe for Apple Pay, Visa Checkout, and startups like Skip is social media. Americans who say social media influences the items they buy are nearly 60% more likely to download a mobile pay app then people who keep their own counsel when it comes to shopping.

Clearly, there is a wide gulf between Americans who are actively using mobile pay options and the number of people who are open to downloading mobile pay apps. The coronavirus may be the accelerant to get more people to go this route, but it’s clearly looking like mobile payment is en route to becoming an important — if not the preferable — way for Americans to buy their stuff.