As cashless stores are getting some backlash, Amazon is correcting itself while it takes a step back. It shouldn’t sound like a big deal, but the Amazon Go store will be accepting cash now while San Francisco puts its foot down on cashless stores by banning them.
Amazon launched its high-tech Go convenience store a year ago, where shoppers can pull items off the shelf and walk out.
Now it’s adding a decidedly low-tech feature: accepting cash.
Its new store opening in New York City Tuesday will be the first Amazon Go store to do so. At its other shops, customers can only enter with an app that links to a credit card or an Amazon account.
The company, facing backlash from critics who say cashless stores discriminate against the poor, confirmed last month that it was working on a way to accept paper bill and coins.
In the new store, employee will swipe those who want to pay by cash through the turnstile entrance. After shoppers grab what they want off the shelves, an employee will scan each item with a mobile device and check them out. There still won’t be cash registers in the store.
Cameron Janes, who oversees Amazon’s physical stores, says the way it accepts cash could change in the future, but declined to give details.
“This is how we’re starting,” he says. “We’re going to learn from customers on what works and what doesn’t work and then iterate and improve it over time.”
In recent years, a small but growing number of stores around the country have gone cash-free. But some activists and politicians say that discriminates against people who don’t have a bank account.
Philadelphia became the first city to ban cashless stores earlier this year. New Jersey passed a statewide ban soon after, and similar laws are being considered in New York City and San Francisco.
It’s not clear how many shoppers will skip the app and want to pay by cash at Amazon Go. The New York store, the first in the city, is in Brookfield Place, a high-end shopping mall and office complex that houses a Gucci store and office workers from banks and credit card companies. Amazon expects many of its customers to be workers looking to pick up a lunchtime salad or sandwich, people who live in the area or tourists visiting the nearby World Trade Center.
Amazon didn’t say when its 11 other Go stores will start accepting cash.
San Francisco Bans Cashless Stores
San Francisco is about to require brick-and-mortar retailers to take cash as payment, joining Philadelphia and New Jersey in banning a growing paperless practice that critics say discriminates against low-income people who may not have access to credit cards.
The Board of Supervisors will take up the issue at a meeting Tuesday, and it’s likely to pass because nearly all 11 members are listed as sponsors or co-sponsors.
“I just felt it wasn’t fair that if someone wanted to buy a sandwich in a store, and they had cash, that they would be turned away,” said Supervisor Vallie Brown, who introduced the legislation. “We also have our homeless population. They’re not banked.”
In many ways, the legislation is an easy call for San Francisco officials, who strive to make life more equitable in a city with an enormous wealth gap.
High-paid tech workers who flocked to San Francisco to work for Facebook, Google, Uber and Airbnb may like the ease of paying by credit card, debit card or smartphone. But many low-income people, including more than 4,000 who sleep on San Francisco’s streets every night, likely don’t have money to sustain bank accounts.
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 17 percent of African American households and 15 percent of Latino households had no bank account.
Some people also prefer to use cash because they don’t want to leave a digital trail of where they have been and what they have bought.
San Francisco’s legislation requires brick-and-mortar businesses to accept cash for goods and some services. Temporary pop-up stores and internet-only businesses such as ride-hailing companies would be exempt, as would food trucks, which say they lack the resources to handle cash.
Philadelphia and New Jersey passed similar laws this year. Legislation requiring merchants to accept cash also has been introduced in New York City.
The efforts come after the rollout last year of cashless Amazon Go stores, which require customers to scan an app to enter. Whatever items customers take are automatically tallied in a virtual cart and the total charged to a credit card. The retail giant bowed to pressure and agreed to accept cash at more than 30 cashless stores last month, though it has not said when the change will happen.
Though plenty of cheap dim sum spots, taquerias and dive bars take only cash, some retailers argue that not taking cash is safer and more efficient.
Cashless restaurants are clustered in San Francisco’s Financial District and South of Market neighborhoods, where white-collar employees devour upscale salads and protein bowls.
Those now refusing paper money include Bluestone Lane, a New York-based coffee chain, and The Organic Coup, which sells organic fast-food chicken. At Freshroll Vietnamese Rolls & Bowls, which has several lunch spots downtown, signs remind customers of its no-cash policy.
Andy Stone, vice president of brand marketing at Bluestone Lane, said the company “will always comply with the laws of jurisdictions where we operate” and is awaiting the vote.
The other companies did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Some businesses appear to be getting on board as the backlash grows.
Salad chain Sweetgreen announced last month that it will accept cash at all its restaurants by year’s end, saying going cashless “had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay or can only pay with cash.”
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce did not take a position on the proposal.
Google’s AI Goes I/O
Google CEO Sundar Pichai is expected to showcase much-anticipated updates to the company’s hardware lines and artificial intelligence Tuesday during his keynote at the company’s annual I/O conference for software developers.
Google will also likely address privacy updates as concerns about data sharing continue to plague the tech industry. Facebook dedicated much of its own conference last week to addressing privacy.
Rumors suggest that Google may unveil a mid-range Pixel phone as a cheaper option to the flagship model currently on sale for $800.
Google says more than 7,000 developers will attend its annual conference in Mountain View, which is focused on updates for the computer engineers that build apps and services on top of Google technology. I/O has also become a stage to announce new consumer products.