Amazon’s latest store proves the cashless dream is dead

A receipt from a cash transaction at Amazon Go's store in New York.

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A receipt from a cash transaction at Amazon Go’s store in New York.
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Dennis Green/Business Insider

  • Amazon‘s latest Go store accepts cash, and it emphasized that upon its opening on Tuesday.
  • It’s the latest news to indicate that cashless stores are not the future and that the dream of a cashless society is already experiencing some serious hiccups.
  • Cashless stores are increasingly coming under scrutiny for excluding populations that can’t or don’t want to use credit or debit cards for their purchases.
  • San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to bar stores from refusing to accept cash.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Flying cars, robot butlers, and cashless stores: Only one of these things that were promised by retro-future cartoons and sci-fi movies actually exists today.

And it’s already on life support. The future for cashless stores looks increasingly bleak. Supporters of the cashless model say that the group of customers actually using cash to make purchases is so small that it makes sense to cut out the time-intensive process of carrying and giving change to customers.

The latest Amazon Go store to open in New York City accepts cash, and it emphasized that upon its opening on Tuesday. Business Insider even tested out its cash-acceptance feature and found it was thought-out and worked adequately.

Read more: Amazon just opened a new breed of Go store as backlash against cashless stores grows. Here’s what it’s like to shop there.

It’s not exactly the Amazon Go experience Amazon envisioned. Most customers will likely be using the dedicated app to scan in and shop around without checking out. But the existence of the cash cart is a key admission that cash isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“Adding more payment methods enables more customers to shop in the store. And that’s great for customers and great for us,” Cameron Janes, Amazon’s vice president of physical stores, told Business Insider.

“We’re learning. We’re going to see how it goes, iterate on it based on customer feedback, and then eventually roll it out to all our stores,” he added.

Amazon Go New York

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Dennis Green/Business Insider

Cashierless operations such as Go have been under scrutiny from state and local governments for excluding the ability to pay in cash, which would not allow the unbanked – those without a bank account or credit card – to shop in the store.

San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted on Tuesday to bar stores from refusing to accept cash, following similar measures enacted by Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, the last of which did so decades ago. New York City’s city council is considering a similar measure.

And Amazon isn’t the only one with a cash contingency plan. The salad chain Sweetgreen went cashless in 2016, only to announce this year that it would be bringing back cash for all of its stores by the end of 2019.

“Going cashless had … positive results, but it also had the unintended consequence of excluding those who prefer to pay or can only pay with cash,” Sweetgreen said in a Medium post in April.

Read more: The cashless revolution is fizzling out as trendy salad chain Sweetgreen and Amazon backtrack following backlash and regulation

A large part of the US population is unbanked. Roughly 8.4 million households, or about 6.5% of all households, did not have access to a bank account in 2017, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Though they are likely not the real or intended customers of Sweetgreen or Amazon’s stores, exclusion – however unintentional or theoretical – can have real, potentially painful effects.

Allowing for cash purchases is also smart business for retailers dealing with smaller transactions. Almost two-thirds of US customers told Cardtronics and PYMNTs that they would prefer to use cash for purchases of less than $10. Cash still accounts for a large part of spending, measuring a declining – but still significant – 11.2% of the US’s GDP by 2021, according to forecasts.

The cashless future is all but dead. The best we’re going to get now is mostly cashless.