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Amazon forced to start taking cash in ‘cashless stores’ as digital divide debate widens to payments

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Amazon has been forced to take cash in its ‘cashless’ store in New York, following a growing backlash that technology-driven retail discriminates against poorer consumers and those without the latest tech, bank accounts and credit cards.

The New York Amazon Go store – the 12thin the world – is the only one, so far, to take cash, allowing anyone to shop there regardless of whether they have an Amazon account, credit card, or smartphone.

The move has been made following a growing disquiet about the widening gap between those who can embrace digital payments and those that can’t. Already in the US, the state of Philadelphia has banned cashless stores by law, while Washington, Chicago and New York are considering it.

The UK currently ranks as the most cashless economy in the EU, making £94 trillion via card and digital payments, according to a report by Merchant Machine.

However, The Access to Cash Review, published earlier this year, found that, in the UK around 8 million adults would struggle to cope with a digital-only payment system. In fact, the report believes that the UK cash system is on the verge of collapse due to the gap between those that can and those that can’t.

The report also points to Sweden, which is more cashless than many other countries and actively promotes it, where, the report claims, runs the risk of “isolation, exploitation, debt and rising costs”.

There are also issues with many in society not being able to enter into the cashless world because of other constraints. Illiteracy, physical and mental health issues.

The news from Amazon – and the reports – will come as a blow to many UK retailers who are experimenting on checkout-less and cashless shopping strategies – not least Sainsbury’s, which last week became the first UK retailer to open a till-free grocery store in Holborn Circus in London – although Sainsbury’s says that customers with only cash can pay at the help desk in the store.

Commenting on the move, David Orme, SVP at IDEX Biometrics says that: “[The Amazon news] serves as a stark reminder of the struggles to come if banks and the Government don’t work closely enough to ensure the benefits of cashless society are available and accessible to all. A solution must be adopted to bridge the gap to those who currently remain unbanked by removing the barriers that face those living with dementia or literacy challenges. Fingerprint biometric payment cards are just one way this could be done, as payment card authentication will no longer be about what you know, or what you can remember, but who you are.”

He continues: “Biometrics companies are already working alongside card manufacturers and financial institutions to combat this issue and rapid advances in technology mean that biometrics is set to make a real impact on financial inclusion over the next couple of years. Latest advancements in fingerprint biometric payment cards will also mean that enrolment for biometric payment cards can take place in the comfort of your own home. This prevents individuals from having to leave the house to visit a bank branch, meaning this solution will be accessible for all, including those who might have physical health limitations.”

Image: Amazon

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