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Paper or plastic? That’s the stereotypically iconic question that was asked of many a shopper as they checked out at the local grocer in the past. These days, with the increasing move toward more eco-friendly decisions, the question is becoming less relevant. When I make my way down to Bellingham, Washington to pick up a few things at the supermarket, for example, plastic shopping bags aren’t even an option. They’ve banned them, so you either bring your own reusable bags or you pay for their eco-friendly paper bags.

And then we may be inclined to think that the more relevant context for the question of “paper or plastic” would apply when it comes to paying for your eggs, milk and bread. You could pay with cash (paper) or you could pay with your credit or debit card (plastic), but again, you’ll find that so many people are moving toward a more paperless existence and this includes paying for things.

Mobile Payment Systems Enter the Mainstream

More recently, we’ve seen the rise of even more alternatives beyond the physical debit card or credit card. While it certainly wasn’t the first mobile payment system, Apple Pay is definitely making a big splash in the marketplace and it’s helping to popularize the notion of paying by tapping your smartphone.

We’ve also seen some of the newer ambitions from the Starbucks app, for instance, that could extend that humble app beyond your lattes and cappuccinos at the local coffee shop. The very nature of paying for your stuff continues to change from the consumer’s end of the equation, just as it continues to evolve for the vendor.

Online and Offline, Together at Last

Yes, online shopping is decidedly far more popular today than it has ever been before and e-commerce certainly isn’t going anywhere. But even with physical kiosks and brick-and-mortar stores, things are changing. The old clunky cash register with its clunky buttons and ringing bell are making way for far more flexible and compact point-of-sale alternatives like the iPad-based POS from Shopify. What’s great here is that the physical inventory at the physical store is kept in sync with the vendor’s online inventory for the online store too. It’s seamlessly integrated, just as it should be.

Sure, it can encourage the paperless direction that the market is moving by asking if the customer simply wants to have a receipt e-mailed to them, but there is the option of having a receipt printer too. Sure, it is digital by nature, but it can connect to a traditional cash drawer for a paper-based transaction too. That works just fine.

The Road Ahead

This also means is that as tap-to-pay solutions like Google Wallet and Apple Pay (in addition to MasterCard PayPass, Visa payWave and INTERAC Flash, among others) gain in popularity, this forward-thinking way of accepting payment can move right along with it and stay ahead of the curve. The next time you pull up to a grocery store to grab a few things, the question may no longer be “paper or plastic?” It could be “tap or swipe?”

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