Taking a closer look at cashless stores

Michael Finney Image
Thursday, April 18, 2019
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7 On Your Side's Michael Finney takes a closer look at stores with a "no cash" policy.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- When Amazon Go launched in San Francisco, there were no lines because there were no cashiers. Customers downloaded an app, picked up the items they wanted and just walked out.

To many, it seemed like the logical next step, even if they felt a bit queasy. One customer told ABC7 News reporter Matt Keller, "It felt weird. It felt like I was stealing from Amazon."

The store's cashless policy was pitched as "new and cutting edge," but cashless actually has a history in the Bay Area.

Nine years ago, in May, Diane Campbell tried to buy an iPad at the Palo Alto Apple store, but was turned away because she only had cash. No credit or debit cards.

RELATED: No cashiers - Amazon Go opens up first California store in San Francisco

When I told her story, she spoke directly to the top of Apple, "Mr. Jobs, give a sister a break." Campbell continued, "OK, I'm not going to go sell my iPad."

The story went viral. The next day, I spoke with Ron Johnson who was an Apple Senior Vice President at the time. "We want to make sure it's as fair as possible for people to get iPad," Johnson said.

Apple had put the "no cash" policy in place. Johnson said, it's an effort to be more fair, but it didn't work out like that.

"About a month ago," Johnson told me: "We said we'd like you to use a credit card when you buy your iPad, and that was the best way we could think of to make sure that people only bought two per individual."

"And then it came to our attention that Diane, through your story, was very interested in buying an iPad with cash, and we made a decision today to change that," Johnson said.

Apple still takes cash, but now we have stores like Amazon Go that do not accept it.

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Restaurant chain Sweet Green is not accepting cash either. Here's the sign on its front door.

Even food trucks are saying "no" to those trying to use legal tender. "We are cashless."

This has sparked a backlash. Not just here, but nationwide.

Philadelphia became the first city to ban cashless stores, followed by a statewide ban in New Jersey. Now it is being examined in San Francisco.

San Francisco Supervisor Vallie Brown has introduced a ban on most cashless brick and mortar stores and restaurants.

"We have a large equity and wealth gap here," Brown said. "We should be looking at ways to make it easier for people to live here."

Brown's ban would exempt food trucks, pop-ups, rideshares, and many professional services. But most stores and restaurants would be required to take cash.

"I always say cash is king, and if you have cash, you should be able to go anywhere you want," Brown says.

A vote on the ban is set for May and is expected to pass easily. Massachusetts has had a "must accept cash" law for nearly 40 years. The Federal government has no laws requiring any payment type, including cash.

Take a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.