Mar 2, 2019

The battle against cashless stores

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Led by big chains like Amazon Go, Sweetgreen, and Shake Shack, U.S. retailers are fast eliminating cash sales. But cities and states across the country are fighting back.

The big picture: They're moving to outlaw cashless stores because, they say, they discriminate against millions of Americans, mostly the poor, elderly and immigrants, who don't use credit cards.

Driving the news: In recent weeks, New Jersey and Philadelphia have passed laws prohibiting cashless stores, and four more cities — Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — are contemplating doing so.

The backdrop: As we've reported, the world is racing to speed up checkout — with China far ahead. Over the last two years or so, Chinese tech giants Alibaba and JD.com have wholly eliminated checkout in hundreds of stores. American counterparts Amazon and Walmart, meanwhile, are only starting to debut such technology in a few flagship locations.

  • But unlike in China, local U.S. movements are working to keep cash alive. The trend was first reported by Tim Carmody's Amazon Chronicles.

The big picture: The U.S. still leans on cash. Around 30% of all U.S. business is still done in cash, not credit cards — some 14 million Americans have no bank account.

And the move to cashless stores — among them, Dos Toros, Bluestone Lane, and Milk Bar — has miffed officials in places like Philadelphia, where city councilman Bill Greenlee says it's fundamentally undemocratic.

"[Killing cash] creates 'us and them' places. I could walk into a coffee shop and pay with my credit card. Someone standing behind me in line with the same amount of money in their pocket, but in cash, cannot buy that product. That seems wrong."
— Philadelphia Councilman Bill Greenlee

What's happening: The anti-cashless laws require all retailers and restaurants to accept cash — with some loopholes.

New York City is watching Philadelphia and New Jersey. There, Councilman Ritchie Torres in December proposed a similar ban, and its supporters believe it will pass within the next six months.

Sweetgreen and Amazon declined to comment. Shake Shack did not respond to an email.

What to watch: "We're not going to see the end of cash anytime soon," says Natalie Bruss of Fifth Wall Ventures.

  • Instead, Bruss sees a workaround — an open lane in which shoppers can avail of reverse ATMs that accept cash and spit out pre-paid cards. Therefore, such stores won't be cashless.
  • A startup, Zivelo, led by a former eBay executive, is already adding such lanes at fast food chains and pharmacies around the country.

Go deeper: Amazon wins a cashless ban carveout

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 5,375,648 — Total deaths: 343,721 — Total recoveries — 2,149,412Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 1,639,872 — Total deaths: 97,599 — Total recoveries: 361,239 — Total tested: 13,784,786Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

White House announces new coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Trump, March 19, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

The White House announced that beginning at 11:59 pm ET on Thursday, President Trump would suspend entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days in an effort to stop the imported spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Brazil has reported nearly 350,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the second-most in the world behind the U.S. — and has emerged as a Southern Hemisphere hotspot as other heavily affected countries in Asia and Europe have managed to get their outbreaks under control.

Trumpworld's plan to brand Biden

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

Trump's advisers relish the contrast between his public appearances and Joe Biden's lack thereof. The former vice president, following the guidance of public experts, has eschewed public events and stayed home for months now. Trump, meanwhile, is out and about — masks be damned.

What we're hearing: Watch for plenty more mask-free outings from Trump, hyping the reopening of the economy and avoiding discussions of social distancing and death counts.