Consumers' use of credit and debit cards continues to increase at Northwest Indiana shops, gas stations and restaurants.
"It's a huge change and a dramatic change," said John Barney, president of Barney Enterprises. "And it's climbing all the time."
And already companies like Barney Enterprises, owners of four Wendy's restaurants in the region, are bracing for the next wave, he said The company is now spending an average of $22,000 per restaurant for cash registers that can handle smartphone purchases.
"You know many hamburgers we have to sell to pay for that?" Barney said.
The Wendy's owner made his comments in response to a question from Luke Oil President Tom Collins Sr. at a recent meeting of the Times Board of Economists, at Innsbrook Country Club in Merrillville.
While the recession has caused Americans to reduce their credit card debt overall, it doesn't seemed to have dampened enthusiasm for using the cards to pay for things. The U.S. Federal Reserve estimates that by 2012 there will be more than 1 billion credit cards in circulation.
Americans with outstanding balances on their credit cards today have run up an average individual tab of $15,422, according to Federal Reserve data.
And the smartphone wave is building. According to a J.D. Power and Associates survey released in August, 7 percent of credit card holders now use their mobile phones to complete transactions, up from 4 percent in 2011.
Collins noted that in his business, which is the Luke chain of gas stations and convenience stores across Northwest Indiana, credit and debit card use has gone from 50 percent of all purchases five years ago to about 75 percent now.
"I don't know if it's a sign of a weakening economy and everyone borrowing everything, or if it's an indication credit card companies are just getting really good with their marketing," Collins said.
Car dealer Tim Roper, CEO of Smith Auto Group, said the answer can be had just by going shopping with younger shoppers, even teens.
"The answer to that is just the age of your buyers today," Roper said "... today's kids, take teenagers, they never carry cash."