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6 reasons cash-free retail stores are bad for consumers, according to the ACLU

6 reasons cash-free retail stores are bad for consumers, according to the ACLU
[Photo: Sikander Iqbal/Wikimedia Commons]

There’s a war on cash in this county, and some cities are fighting back against stores like Amazon Go and Sweetgreen that were built on cash-free transactions. Now they have a powerful new resource on their side—the ACLU.

While retailers like the smooth transactions and lower chance of theft, according to the ACLU and government entities, cash-free stores discriminate against the approximately one in 15 U.S. households (6.5%) that are “unbanked,” aka have no checking or savings account and no card with which to stock up on goods at Amazon Go. (Amazon, for its part, may be changing its cash-free tune, and Sweetgreen has promised to start accepting cash nationwide by the end of this year.)

If you’re not convinced that cash-free is problematic for many communities and bad for privacy for everyone, the ACLU has just published a blog post laying out a six-point hypothesis that would make any seventh-grade English teacher proud. The points include that cash-free stores are:

  • Bad for privacy. “When you pay cash, there is no middleman. . . . When a middleman becomes part of the transaction, that middleman often gets to learn about the transaction—and under our weak privacy laws, has a lot of leeway to use that information as it sees fit.”
  • Bad for low-income communities. “Participation in a cashless society presumes a level of financial stability and enmeshment in bureaucratic financial systems that many people simply do not possess.”
  • Bad for people of color. “84% of white people in 2017 were what the Federal Reserve calls ‘fully banked,’ only 52% of Black and 63% of Hispanic people were.”
  • Bad for the undocumented. “Facing a lack of official identity documents, not to mention all the other obstacles mentioned above, undocumented immigrants can have an even harder time accessing banking services.”
  • Bad for many merchants. “Merchants pay roughly 2-3% of every transaction to the credit card companies, which can be a significant ‘tax,’ especially on low-margin businesses.”
  • Less resilient. “If a hacker, bureaucratic error, or natural disaster shuts a consumer out of their account, the lack of a cash option would leave them few alternatives.”

Convinced yet?

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