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Amazon Go: A case study in cashless retail pushback

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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by David Jones - ATMMarketplace.com

After Amazon publicly confirmed that it had reversed course and decided to accept cash at its autonomous Amazon Go stores, public officials, consumer advocates and industry experts agreed that the omnichannel retailer has recognized that U.S. consumers are not quite ready to give up cash as a payment option and that digital payment technology can still win the day without locking out an entire class of customers.

"I think this is a wise business move on behalf of Amazon and one that acknowledges that not every one has has access to credit and even those that do don't always want to use it," New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty told ATM Marketplace sister publication Mobile Payments Today by phone.

Moriarty's state became one of the first state and local jurisdictions to ban the growing trend of cashless retail and restaurants amid concerns that low income individuals and communities of color would be effectively locked out of these establishments, where customers need either a mobile payment app or a plastic credit or debit card in order to have a meal or make a purchase.

Steve Kessel, senior vice president of physical stores at Amazon told employees in March that it will allow cash payments at its cashierless Amazon Go stores, which has become a growing issue in the industry as several retailers and retaurant chains began are experimenting with autonomous retail and cashless payment models. Currently Amazon has a total of 10 stores in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco, but plans to increase that number to approximately 3,000 by 2021, in a direct challenge to 7-Eleven, Krauzer's and thousands of bodegas across the country.

"We are working to accept cash at Amazon Go," a spokesperson confirmed to Mobile Payments Today.

When asked what type of technological or labor changes would be required, the spokesperson did not directly answer the question and replied that it would would work the same way you would expect, “you’ll check out, pay with cash and then get your change.”

Policy debate

Officials involved in some of the earliest policy debates over cashless retail see the Amazon Go decision as a recognition that local and state governments will do what is necessary to protect the right of their constituents to access goods and services, no matter their socioeconomic status.

"We have not heard directly from Amazon about these proposed changes to their Amazon Go stores, so we are not sure of their intent," said Lauren Cox, deputy communications director at the office of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. "If this change is being made in an effort to take the concerns about potential discrimination against low-income individuals seriously, then we welcome it."

New York City council member Richie Torres, who led the fight against cashless retail in that city and sponsored a bill to force all stores to accept cash, said that Amazon is recognizing the public backlash against Amazon Go and restaurants with similar policies.

"Amazon saw the writing on the wall and made the right decision to start accepting cash at its Amazon Go stores," Torres said in an email statement provided by his deputy chief of staff. "Now it should extend that policy to other brick-and-mortar stores nationwide. A cashless business model is a discriminatory model that excludes the unbanked and people without access to credit."

To read the full story from ATMMarketplace.com, click here.

The Withdraw Cash Wednesday campaign is designed to promote consumer cash usage by reminding consumers to withdraw cash from the ATM the Wednesday before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday for their Christmas Black Friday shopping needs and every Wednesday for their weekend endeavors. Backed by ATMIA, the campaign is also designed to educate consumers about the benefits of cash such as using it as a budgeting tool, reducing debt and saving money by not having to pay credit card interest fees and saving time at the checkout.

You can learn more about WCW by visiting the website and cash blog.

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