Cash and the Pandemic 2.0

The Past 12 Months in Review

It’s been 12 months since the COVID-19 pandemic turned how UK SMEs run and operate their businesses on its head. On 23 March 2020, the UK entered a national lockdown for the first time, and since then how goods and services are sold and bought seems to be ever-changing.

In this report we look back at what’s changed in the past year, what’s new and what could be here to stay when it comes to how Square sellers in the UK manage payments.

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Staying Online

Last year it seemed uncertain whether selling online would act as a temporary plaster for adapting businesses or be more lasting. When comparing February 2020 to February 2021, the number of businesses accepting online payments with Square has nearly doubled.

50 %

of businesses are now accepting online payments.

From local bakeries to pet groomers, the business case for ordering online is likely to live beyond the pandemic.During a brief re-opening over last summer, the percentage of businesses using Square to sell online only dipped by 2%. Selling online has helped some businesses run more efficiently, improve customer reach and operate more safely.

Over the past year how businesses have continuously adapted has been top of the agenda. Of all the businesses that are currently taking online payments with Square, 21% began doing so in March 2020 or later. If we focus on just businesses that took their first online payment after the pandemic began, we see that more than half began doing so quickly – in March and April of 2020. However, this significantly dropped following England’s ‘first night out’ at the start of July. This indicates that after the immediate rush to adopt new tools and sell online, the changes sellers have continued to make are predominantly in other areas of operations, such as what services and items they sell, staffing, and cash flow.

21 %

of businesses currently taking online payments started doing so after the pandemic began.

Before the pandemic we’d never sold online before and within three minutes of offering deliveries we sold 300 boxes of our treats. Selling online means we can reach customers nationally, not just locally, and continue to stay open during the pandemic.”

–Emma Beattie
Mrs Mac's Sweet Treats, Woburn Sands

Online Sales

Share of Businesses That Accept Online Payments with Square

line graph showing the share of businesses that accept online payments with Square from Feb 2020 to Feb 2021; lockdowns 1, 2, and 3 identified

Selling Online for the First Time

Share of Businesses That Started Taking Online Payments with Square After the Pandemic Began by Month

line graph showing the share of businesses of that started taking online payments with Square for the first time; lockdowns 1, 2, and 3 identified

Adopting digital payments has helped us double our turnover which we’re re-investing to get our treats to more customers.”

–Emma Beattie
Mrs Mac's Sweet Treats, Woburn Sands

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More Businesses Are Going Cashless

In the UK, over the past 12 months, the share of Square businesses that are cashless has risen by more than 4x. This time last year only one in 10 UK businesses using Square were cashless, whereas now nearly five in 10 are cashless.

Cashless Businesses

A Trend Going Nationwide

10 %


46 %


The initial spike in businesses going cashless was likely driven by the need for them to find ways to operate with more social distancing in place. What’s interesting is the number of businesses that have remained cashless well after the initial spike that came early in the pandemic. This maintained shift suggests that this is an operating change here that will continue for many businesses even when things open up.”

–Felipe Chacon
Economist at Square

Saying No to Cash

Share of Cashless Businesses

Line graph showing the share of cashless businesses from Feb 2020 to Feb 2021 with a peak at May 2020

We’ve been cashless since 2018 and at the time it was a big transition for our local customers and community. There are so many hidden costs of managing cash so going cashless has helped us focus our efforts on improving efficiencies in other parts of the business.”

–Scott James
Coaltown Coffee, Ammanford

Two adults in a coffee shop use a white Square Register device

All industries have been affected by the uncertainty, with retail and hospitality being heavily exposed due to the restrictions on brick-and-mortar locations. At the start of last year in retail, just one in 10 retailers using Square were cashless, and that’s risen to nearly two fifths. In food and drink, the move to cashless was slightly higher with nearly half (46%) of Square’s UK sellers going cashless. Only one in 10 were cashless, which has risen to almost five in 10.

Per Cent of Cashless Businesses

As of February 2021

46 %


40 %


It’s more important than ever before that businesses of all sizes look at how technology can help them serve their customers more seamlessly.”

–Scott James
Coaltown Coffee, Ammanford


Where Do We Go from Here?

The data shows that sellers are optimising their businesses to reach their customers today, which means selling online, and choosing cards over cash to sell more safely. With government guidelines set to change over the coming months, sellers will review their operations once again to see if what’s been working will keep working. We predict many will continue to use the tools they’ve equipped themselves with, and want to keep open the new revenues streams discovered. That said, with the possibility of in-person selling on the horizon, we can anticipate a renewed interest in accepting cash as every sale will count.

Learn more about some of our sellers’ stories.

Read our methodology >