Sweetgreen scrapped its cashless policy after some backlash (Jahi Chikwendiu/Getty Images)
Take a penny, leave a penny… just don’t pay with one. As Americans’ cash usage declines, more shops are refusing to accept physical currency. With no federal law saying a business must accept cash, cities that want to keep cash flowing have to pass legislation. This month, lawmakers in LA proposed a ban on cashless businesses, arguing they exclude people with low incomes, older adults, and unbanked communities.
Cashless-biz bans have already passed in cities like San Francisco, NYC, Philly, and DC.
Cash made up only 20% of all US payments in 2021, a steep drop from 31% in 2017. As of last October, 4 in 10 Americans weren’t using cash at all in a typical week. Square said that in the first year of the pandemic US cashless businesses more than doubled.
Paper or plastic: Cashless businesses say the lack of paper currency discourages theft and is more efficient (picture: no cash transport and storage costs).
Cashless has other biz perks… Studies show that customers paying with a card tend to spend more. Credit-card companies, which earn a transaction fee on every swipe, have (unsurprisingly) encouraged no-cash trends: in 2018 Visa held a cashless contest, paying $10K to 50 businesses that stopped accepting real currency. Card and digital payments (like Apple Pay) also give merchants data on consumers, which can be used for targeting your latte habits.
Fast change can leave some short-changed… As cashless transactions take over, large populations could be excluded. Some groups still rely heavily on cash, like unbanked populations (7% of CA), older people who haven’t transitioned to digital payments, and kids or teens who aren’t old enough to get a credit card.