In 2011, only about 9% of all transactions made using credit and debit cards in India happened at a “point of sale" (through the swiping of the card at a merchant location), with the remaining 91% being accounted for through ATM withdrawals.
In August 2016, the latest month for which data is available, this number had risen to 17%. In other words, Indians have gotten significantly more comfortable swiping their credit and debit cards at points of sale in the last five years.
There are two factors that have contributed to this trend.
First, the use of credit cards (seldom used at ATMs) has gone up in this period. While the absolute number of credit cards in circulation has only gone up by about 50% between April 2011 and August 2016 (from 18 million to 26 million), their usage has increased by nearly a factor of four, from Rs7,100 crore in April 2011 to Rs26,000 crore in August 2016.
Looking at it another way, each credit card in circulation was used an average of 1.3 times a month in April 2011, a number that went up to 3.2 times a month in August 2016.
Second, the usage patterns of debit cards has changed in the last five years. In April 2011, less than 3% of all debit card transactions (by value) was at a point of sale, while in August 2016, this figure had gone to nearly 8% (by number of transactions, the corresponding figures are 5.3% and 14.7%, respectively).
Interestingly, as the usage of debit cards at points of sale has gone up, average per-transaction value of a debit card swipe has actually gone down over time.
In other words, people have over time become more comfortable with using debit cards for small transactions.
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Coming back to the overall use of credit and debit cards at points of sale (relative to usage at ATMs), the months where Diwali has occurred in the last five years show an interesting pattern. In four of the last five years (barring 2013), the usage of debit and credit cards at points of sale relative to ATMs has been higher during the Diwali months than in the following months.
While it is hard to draw any causation from this limited data, it suggests that customers are more willing to pay (and merchants are more willing to accept) using credit or debit cards for Diwali purchases. Why this might be so is anybody’s guess.