A cashless society experiment in the United Kingdom resulted in mixed reactions from merchants on June 21, 2014. The project took place in a shopping district in Manchester, England, where electronic-only payments were the stated preference. On that day, Beech Road boasted the moniker of being the United Kingdom’s first-ever cashless shopping area. The exercise was the brainchild of Handepay, a card payment processor.
Some business owners and managers liked the prospect of a cashless society while others did not. Some displayed signs informing customers they had opted-out of the experiment. Others, however, felt the eventual elimination of cash in society to be inevitable, adopting an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude toward the event.
It is not known if any businesses specifically refused to take any cash at all on that day; however, the pre-publicity did seem to have an impact. At the Horse and Jockey pub, general manager Claire Lockhart reported that her business took approximately 10 percent less cash than usual. “People were all talking about it,” she said, revealing that overall they seemed eager to be involved. “This certainly seems to be the way things are heading,” she said.
Other businesses plainly rejected the cashless society experiment, displaying signs for all to see that they had no plans for involvement. A manager at a restaurant called The Lead Station expressed the pointlessness of the exercise, emphasizing, “We were never going to turn away customers with cash.”
Alicia Herhenteris said that she and her colleagues at On The Corner, a cafe and juice bar were completely opposed to the cashless society experiment. The fact that the project was initiated and organized by a card processing company meant, “it wasn’t something we wanted to be a part of,” reiterating that neither her customers nor her business would have benefited from the self-imposed restriction.
While the “let’s give it a try” experiment on Beech Road could be characterized as light and breezy, a truly major change will occur next month south of Manchester, in London. Beginning July 6, that city’s buses will no longer accept cash payments. Riders will instead be required to use something called an Oyster card, a pre-paid ticket or a contactless payment card. Contactless cards utilize electronic chips and embedded antennae with radio-frequency identifiers to authorize payment. Rather than sliding their cards through a slot in the machine, contactless cardholders never touch a payment machine. Instead, cards are passed over a reader at the point of sale. Some suppliers claim that transactions can be twice as fast as conventional cash, credit, or debit card purchases.
The unorthodox idea of refusing cash is not limited to businesses in the United Kingdom. At least one retailer in the United States, the brick-and-mortar store of GoLite, an athletic apparel brand in Boulder, Colorado, refused a recent cash payment. An employee confided that, because a low percentage of the store’s sales had been paid with cash that “it wasn’t worth it.” In an attempt to gain more information, telephone and email messages to the company’s headquarters were left, but went unanswered by the time of publication. A call back to the store, however, confirmed the policy.
Privacy advocates see the elimination of cash as a nefarious step toward the abolishment of anonymity. The revelations provided by Edward Snowden last year made it known that the National Security Agency of the United States had been involved in sweeping “up the entire haystack” of card transactions, having obtained such information directly from the credit card companies.
Mark Latham, who works for Handepay, the card processor responsible for the cashless society experiment in Manchester, expressed delight that “so many independent businesses took the opportunity to engage their customers about how they like to spend.” Latham’s company – and others – has an indisputable interest in seeing a greater proportion of merchant transactions placed on cards; businesses such as his receive a percentage of every transaction. Latham says that faster transactions with contactless cards enable transactions that are “now as fast as the pace of our lives.”
By Gregory Baskin