Underbanked and Overlooked

The Thanksgiving holiday is my favorite holiday of the year. Not only do I look forward to the actual holiday itself with family gathering and the turkey dinner, I love the deals and sales the stores offer to kick off the holiday season. This year, my email inbox was inundated with offers before Thursday, and has not let up for the last two weeks. With all of the digital offers and opportunities to shop and save, I was surprised that consumers would still line up outside of the brick and mortar stores to get door buster deals. I did not see the reason or the need to enter into the retail stores to take advantage of the deals. All you need is your credit card and computer, tablet or phone to shop.

But what about those consumers who do not have a credit card or access to the internet? Approximately 23% of the US population does not have a credit card, and 13% of the population does not have access to the internet. Although 90% of Americans have a cell phone, only 58% have a smart phone. Included in this population are unbanked and underbanked consumers. These consumers may feel neglected by large and small retailers, and may end up spending more than their credit card holding, internet connected counterparts.

One retail chain has created a suite of products that cater to these consumers. In the US, two-thirds of all US consumers live within 5 miles of a Walmart store, and these stores have 150 million visitors per week. The Walmart Money Center offers cash & transfer services, layaway plans, bill paying & money order services, special financing and credit card offers and insurance products. New this year, Walmart has health insurance agents in store during the enrollment periods for Medicare and Health Exchanges. Offering these services in store, in addition to low every day prices, fulfills a need within the underbanked and insurance needy communities. Even as Walmart.com had its largest one day online orders on Cyber Monday this year, the retail chain continues to promote its in-store services.

The current holiday trends may show that shopping in retail stores for holiday purchases may be on the decline, but for some products it is still the preferred method of choice. With all of the changes in health care coverage, shopping for health insurance in store fronts may be the beginning of a new trend. Carriers such as UnitedHealthCare, Highmark and Blue Cross Blue Shield also have retail locations where consumers can speak to an agent regarding their coverage options.

In our customer centric world, where the consumer has the opportunity to dictate the when and how of all purchases, it is important for all companies to make their goods and services available through multiple channels. This includes traditional items such as electronics, housewares and apparel, as well as non-traditional products such as insurance and financial services. Even if the buying patterns are trending away from retail stores to online channels, it is important to provide options and remain accessible to all consumer groups.

As much as I love shopping online and all of its conveniences, I realized that there are still some purchases I prefer to make in person. I am thankful that I have the means to shop online or in store, and I can make that decision without worrying how I can complete the transaction. For those who do not have credit cards or internet access, I believe they are thankful that the traditional retail outlets are still available and adapting to include new products and services.