My love-hate relationship with cashless stores

How retailers are working for and against making a profit

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Jan 24 · 4 min read
Photo credit: Jessica Lewis/Unsplash

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio is expected to sign a bill to ban cashless businesses. San Francisco and Philadelphia are already forcing brick-and-mortar stores to do the same, according to CNN. If the ban goes through, American restaurants and retail stores would face a fine for not accepting American bills and coins. I understand the sentiment — even as someone who clearly lives a cashless lifestyle — primarily because cashless stores too often throw the baby out with the bath water. Here’s why.

On MLK Day, I scheduled a Via to drive me downtown for Election Judge training. I knew I had a $20 credit after getting two new passengers to sign up, so my ride was “free.” And my tip to the driver was paid by debit card.

I stopped in Argo Tea after I got out of the Via and smiled. I completely forgot that I had a $10 credit on my account from LoyalTea points. Cha ching. Chocolate mint tea and Strawberry Banana Parfait for me — with $2 left!

On my way home after four hours of training, I’d already pre-loaded my Ventra card to jump on an el. In that entire day of bouncing from location to location, I don’t believe I touched my wallet one time other than to move it over to grab some pens. But I am not every store’s customer base.

There’s about a 99 percent chance that you’ll never catch me with more than $5 in my pocket, primarily due to a childhood experience. And for retail stores that deal with $48.9 billion in shoplifting and employee theft annually, it makes absolute sense that they want to take any preventative steps to decrease their losses. Retail stores are not only trying to get a handle on inventory theft.

There’s also minimal ways to track cash, specifically from stores with less surveillance cameras and employees sharing cash drawers. While thieving employees can still be an issue for inventory loss, they can’t very well “miscount” an electronic payment. Additionally, retail cashiers also don’t have to deal with customers holding up the line to count exact change or complain about not having enough. Magical deposits on credit cards don’t show up any quicker than money-growing trees.

For stores that are also trying to understand their target audience, electronic payments help them further understand who buys what, what items need to be restocked and which customers care about savings. For at least two years, I was a Shopkick scanning maniac, but Target’s Cartwheel made it easier to get discounts. I always check out what the Amazon Prime deals are at Whole Foods Market before I’ll even consider buying grocery items from another store. And I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for contact solution because I hoard those manufacturing coupons at the bottom of Renu boxes like they’re Tubman Twenties.

Cashless spending has helped me become a smarter shopper, who can patiently wait for a discount instead of buying items at more expensive rates. I like the idea of discounts and cashback deals, and scanning a few items while I’m already in a store doesn’t bother me. Credit card payments being linked to loyalty credits and promo deals are a win-win. And paying in cash usually doesn’t offer me those same benefits.

There’s very little that can make a consumer’s day dreadful quite like seeing an alert for a checking account overdraft. Those $27 fines add up pretty quickly, especially if you made the mistake of overestimating a deposit before a withdrawal. Consumers who prefer a cash-only lifestyle will always no what they can afford to buy. There is no gambling about check clearances and whether auto-payments can be negotiated. Even online merchant Amazon understands the important of cash-paying customers and is allowing them to make online purchases through Western Union.

Cash-only consumers can not only be smarter savers but also stress-free customers. Stores cannot question whether someone with a $20 bill has enough to cover a $19.50 purchase. Meanwhile, that customer with the credit card could create problems for stores, especially for customers who treat “pending” transactions like a race to the retail finish line.

Cash-paying customers help stores avoid processing fees and scowls from minimum-purchase credit card rules. And by accepting both cash and credit card payments, retailers avoid losing out on loyal customers who just have no interest in a checking account. Of course the typical customer who gets in a Via and drinks Argo Tea enough to get extra points probably already has a checking account. But the cash-paying customer’s money spends just as well as the person who wants to avoid minimum deposit rules from “free” checking accounts.

And if the goal is for a retailer (or food chain) is to make a profit, why should it matter how the customer paid — as long as the customer paid at all?

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Window Shopping

If you’re into retail and food news, business tips and Internet shopping, read on.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; part-time dog walker and dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 5x officer; WERQ dance and yoga enthusiast;

Window Shopping

If you’re into retail and food news, business tips and Internet shopping, read on.

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