Within the past year, consumers have experienced numerous data breaches at major retailers. During the 2013 holiday season, Target announced a credit card breach in which credit and debit card information was stolen, affecting 70 million to 110 million consumers. In September 2014, Home Depot experienced a similar data breach which potentially affected 56 million consumer credit and debit cards. In late October 2014, it was reported that a handful of Staples stores also experienced a payment card data breach.

We turned to our polling platform to find out if the data breaches had any effect on consumers’ 2014 holiday shopping, specifically in their use of debit or credit cards. From 12/15/2014 to 12/17/2014, we polled 2,329 consumers, 18 years and older, who planned to shop and who have already started their holiday shopping at that time. We found the majority of adults used their debit and credit cards the same as in the past.

67% of consumers said they have been using their debit/credit card(s) the same amount, 14% have been using their debit/credit card(s) less than in the past, 7% have been using them more than in the past, and 12% haven’t used their debit/credit card(s) at all while holiday shopping.

Security Breaches - 2014 Holiday shopping behavior

When news of the data security breach at Home Depot broke in September, we asked consumers if the recent hacks would affect their holiday shopping plans. Consumers’ intent (which is below) is much different than the question results from above, which reflects consumers’ actual behavior. Right after the incident took place, consumers were more prone to say they would not use their credit or debit cards while holiday shopping or they would use them less than in the past.

Of the 2,676 adults that were familiar with the hack at the time and chose how it would affect their holiday purchases (excluded those who responded “I’m not sure how this will impact my use of credit cards when I’m out shopping”), 44% of consumers planned to use their credit card as much as they have in the past, compared to the 67% of consumers who were asked more recently about their holiday purchasing behavior. 22% of consumers planned to use their credit card less, only 2% planned to use their card more, and 32% planned to not use their credit card at all while shopping.

Security Breaches - 2014 Holiday shopping plans


Holiday credit card usage chart

It’s no surprise that right after the Home Depot hack took place consumers would be weary of using their credit cards around the holidays. However, when asked how they were actually using their payment cards while shopping, it turns out that the past data breaches didn’t have a negative effect on consumers’ card usage while holiday shopping. Well over half (67%) used their credit cards the same amount as usual, 14% used them less, 7% used them more, and 12% didn’t use them at all, which could be due to lack of card ownership or maybe some consumers use them only in case of emergencies.

When looking at another question we have running, which focuses on how much people like to shop at Target, there was no significant change around and after the time of Target’s data breach. Consumers’ opinions remained pretty stable and it seemed that they weren’t willing to change their shopping habits.

Consumers quickly change their minds and opinions, so having data that tracks consumer sentiment is an important piece of the puzzle. For some consumers, the convenience of using credit and debit cards may outweigh the potential risk. Either way this is why tracking consumers’ opinions and behaviors are important. In this case, it doesn’t seem the recent security breaches at major retailers changed consumers’ use of credit and debit cards.