Amazon’s (AMZN) cashierless convenience store, Amazon Go, store is known for the cutting-edge “just walk out” technology with mobile app payments. But now it’s saying yes to cash as more cities and states start to ban cashless stores.
The e-commerce giant brought back the old-fashioned checkout method when it opened its high-tech Amazon Go store in New York City — its 12th Go store in the nation and the first one in New York — on Tuesday. The 1,300-square-foot store, located in Brookfield Place in downtown Manhattan, differs from the other Go stores by placing an unnoticeable wooden color cart with a white top at the corner, which turns out to be its cash checkout counter.
Here is how you can use cash at Amazon Go: You can’t scan on your phone to walk in like other customers. You need to talk to associates in stores wearing uniforms, who use their device to scan you in. Then you can shop as you would in any other stores and meet an associate by the checkout counter. The associate takes out a Clover device, the mobile point-of-sale system owned by First Data, to scan the products. Then a cash drawer in the counter will open. A sticker on the counter says “we do not accept bills over $20.” But Amazon Go finally accepted my $50 bill after I told them this was the only cash I've got.
When I shopped at Amaon Go on Tuesday, it was easy to pay by cash. But the Amazon Go concept isn’t designed to have the cash checkout capability, so bottlenecks may ensue if too many consumers try to pay with cash. Amazon expects to add the cash checkout method to 11 Go stores across the U.S. and said it would learn from the pilot in New York. Admittedly, using cash takes away the full experience of being able to just walk out and shop in a short period of time. It also prevents Amazon from tracking consumers’ shopping data and behavior.
New York councilman welcomes Amazon’s move
The Amazon Go store today is designed to offer a seamless checkout experience. Before shopping at Amazon Go, customers need to download an Amazon Go app and log in with their Amazon account and payment information (you don’t need to be a Prime member). The technology relies heavily on cameras and machine learning. Amazon Go attracted many people on Tuesday, who downloaded the app while waiting in line outside the store during their lunch hour.
But the idea of providing cashless checkout conflicts with proposed regulations on cashless stores by some state and city officials, who argue that such businesses discriminate against people who don’t have bank accounts. Amazon hasn’t spoken publicly about its position on such legislation, but it did send a letter to the city of Philadelphia stating a ban would impact its decision to open new stores in the city.
On Tuesday, San Francisco passed legislation on requiring restaurants and other brick-and-mortar retail businesses to accept cash as payment, joining New Jersey and Philadelphia in banning cashless stores. Currently, there are three Amazon Go locations in San Francisco. The New York City Council is also discussing a similar ban on cashless stores introduced by Councilman Ritchie Torres last year.
Torres applauds Amazon’s move to accept cash before the city passes any cashless ban. “Amazon saw the writing on the wall and made the right decision to start accepting cash at its Amazon Go stores,” Torres told Yahoo Finance. “A cashless business model is a discriminatory model that excludes the unbanked and people without access to credit.”