QR codes, coin shortages: How the pandemic has changed the way we pay

Many retailers, restaurants, and salons in the U.S. have cautiously resumed operations this summer. To minimize contact, businesses are changing how shoppers pay.


Retailers, restaurants, and salons across the country have cautiously resumed operations this summer. To reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19, many are implementing safety precautions such as requiring masks and limiting capacity.

When it comes to your bill, you might see changes, too. Some business are adding Covid-19 surcharges to offset the costs of new safety measures, while others are changing the way shoppers can pay. 

Here are some of the differences you might see at checkout. 

Paying with your phone

Use of contactless payment, which includes paying through a mobile app or using a credit card to make an online transaction, has accelerated during the pandemic, according to a Creditcards.com report

"The theory is that many consumers are worried about germs, so they'd rather tap their phone than handle cash or touch keys on a payment terminal," says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Creditcards.com. 

QR codes, short for quick response codes, are being used more to conduct transactions. A QR code is a square bar code which, when scanned with a smartphone camera, redirects users to a business's website without the user having to download an app. Seek, a company that makes QR code technology, has seen a 600% increase in requests for codes from vendors since March, according to Modern Retail.

The theory is that many consumers are worried about germs, so they'd rather tap their phone than handle cash or touch keys on a payment terminal.
Ted Rossman
Industry analyst at Creditcards.com

Businesses may keep your payment info on file

Some businesses might ask for your card information ahead of time so they can have it on file when you want to pay. For example, a salon in Boston lets customers pay with a card the shop has on file and then tip specific stylists using Venmo, according to Pymnts.com

Others might ask you to pay later. Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, says he was not able to pay on the spot for a dermatologist appointment copay.

"The usual procedure is to pay the copay immediately after your exam," Dworsky says. "I took out my credit card, but the receptionist said that they were not handling payments now and that I would receive a bill in the mail. I was told I would be able to pay the bill online, if I wanted to at that time." 

Due to a coin shortage, you may need exact change 

Because many stores are requesting that patrons use digital payment methods, cash is being used less and America is experiencing a nationwide coin shortage.

For this reason, some stores are asking customers to use exact change. For example, Wawa is only taking cash from customers who use exact change. The store does allow shoppers to round up to the nearest dollar and donate the change to the charity The Wawa Foundation, though. 

CVS is encouraging shoppers who don't use a debit or credit card to use exact change. And, in response to the coin shortage, Walmart converted some of its self-checkout kiosks to only accept cards.

If you need to pay in cash, be aware that store might not be giving back exact change. You can also avoid a hassle at the register by downloading a digital payment app like Apple Pay, Venmo, or Cash App, and uploading your card information before you leave home.

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