PhotoIf more consumers doing last minute Christmas shopping are paying with cash, it could mean they are trying to stick to their budget in the final shopping frenzy.

Or, it could be a defensive move, an effort to prevent getting caught up in a retailer's data breach.

Thales, an IT and cybersecurity firm, reports most consumers would change their shopping behavior in some ways if they knew a particular retailer had suffered a system hack. While 20% of consumers in a Thales survey said they would avoid shopping at the store, the majority – 55% – said they would continue shopping at the retailer but would pay using cash.

The return to old fashioned currency bucks the recent trend of electronic payments that has caused some to speculate on the eventual demise of cash. But the Thales survey makes clear that consumers view cash as a firewall against their data being compromised.

Still using plastic

That's not to say that consumers have abandoned electronic payments. Far from it. The survey found that more than 90% of holiday shoppers will use a credit card, debit card, or mobile wallet to pay for at least some of their purchases.

And while mobile wallet use is on the rise, it has a long way to go to catch up with plastic, and even cash. Only 16% of shoppers said they planned to pay with their smartphones this holiday season.

In a promising sign for consumers' financial health, the survey found more shoppers plan to use debit cards and cash over credit cards. Since debit card purchases come directly out of a consumer's bank account, it suggests there could be less of a shopping hangover when credit card bills arrive in January.

Cash is still an important tool

Cash might not be king, but Jose Diaz, director of payment strategy at Thales e-Security, says it remains an important tool for consumers, not only for budgeting but in protecting against theft.

"These survey results offer a stark reminder that a serious data breach could stop many consumers from shopping at a merchant's store or at the very least move them back to cash payments," Diaz said.

As for the future, Diaz predicts greater use of mobile for both browsing and buying during the holidays. In the next five years, he also sees a sharp rise in the use of mobile wallets.

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