San Francisco Board of Supervisors passes ban on cashless retail

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to ban cashless brick-and-mortar retail stores and restaurants, part of a growing political backlash to the increasing trend of self-checkout stores once exemplified by Amazon Go.

The bill, sponsored by Supervisor Vallie Brown, levies escalating fines, starting at between $50 and $100 for the first offense, against retailers and restaurants that fail to allow customers to pay with cash and go up to a $1,000 fine and misdemeanor offense. The vote is the latest in a growing number of cities and states moving to ban the practice, following similar bans by the state of New Jersey and the city of Philadelphia.

“For Supervisor Brown it’s imperative that all San Franciscans have access to the goods and services that are available to some San Franciscans,” Derek Remski, legislative aide to Brown said in a telephone interview.

The legislation exempts certain businesses from the cashless ban, including food trucks and pop-up stores.

Remski said that cashless stores do harm to vulnerable populations, including the elderly, communities of color and young people who are often unbanked and don’t have access to credit. He said the policies harken back to an earlier era in this country when certain populations were locked out of public accommodations.

He noted that companies like Amazon and Sweetgreen acknowledged Brown’s effort as noble because they realized that the cashless policy could reduce access to necessary services.

“The future may be cashless, but in the meantime we can’t have businesses that have a ‘no cash allowed’ sign,” he said.

The legislation gives businesses 90 days to be in full complaince.

Proving ground

San Francisco has seen a significant number of cashless businesses in recent years, in part due to the city’s proximity to major Silicon Valley companies.

The autonomous checkout movement has been largely symbolized in recent years by Amazon Go, the cashierless convenience store from e-commerce retailer Amazon. Amazon operates three Amazon Go stores in San Francisco among a dozen stores nationwide, including four in Chicago, four in Seattle, and a newly opened New York location at Brookfield Place in Manhattan.

However due to increasing legislative pressure in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York, where a cashless ban is pending in the City Council, Amazon recently relented and agreed to accept cash. However the retailer has not provided details as to when and how that change will be implemented.

The stores use 21st century technology, including computer vision, artificial intelligence and a mobile app, to let customers just take sandwiches, drinks and other quick items off store shelves and walk out through a turnstile-like exit where prices are automatically scanned and the payment card linked to the customer’s mobile account charged out without the need for a cashier. The stores do have customer service employees to help shoppers navigate the location,

Another autonomous checkout store in San Francisco, operated by Standard Cognition, also provides a fast cashierless experience for shoppers, however the company had already built into its model the ability to accept cash payment from customers.

Standard Cognition, which sells autonomous checkout technology to other retailers, told Mobile Payments Today recently that retailers had sought to use autonomous checkout, but did not want to eliminate cash altogether.

Sweetgreen, a cashless fast casual restaurant, agreed to begin accepting cash locally after the Philadelphia ban was passed, and plans to accept cash at all its locations nationwide starting in July.

Decathlon, the France-based sporting goods retailer and the world’s largest sporting goods chain, recently opened  a cashless store in Emeryville, California, after initially launching a retail lab in San Francisco to test consumer preferences.

The retailer developed the operation using technology from Boston-based NewStore, using mobile checkout stations and IPhone technology that allows associates to roam the sales floor.

Casey Antonelli, spokesperson for NewStore, said the new law would not impact the store operation, because there is a gift card kiosk designed to help customers who don’t have mobile wallets or charge cards.

“If a customer wants to pay with cash, they can insert any denomination of cash into the kiosk and within seconds the kiosk produces a gift card,”she told Mobile Payments Today, via email.

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