High Street ‘saviour’ cashierless stores could disappear

04-Apr-2019

New legislation protecting minorities could stop the spread of cashierless stores in the UK before they have been fully launched.

New till-free stores could be the saviour of the UK’s town centres, saving high street retailers millions of pounds; but in a new twist to the battle of the high street, the e-commerce delivery export ParcelHero is warning a decision to ban cashless stores in Philadelphia could mean a full stop for Amazon Go and other pioneering till-less stores.

Cashierless stores, based on the technology behind e-commerce payments, could help high street stores regain ground lost against online retailers. With the likes of Tesco and the Co-op trialling the new technology, and Amazon reportedly planning to introduce its Amazon Go stores in the UK, cashierless stores had looked set to come to the rescue of Britain’s beleaguered town centres.

But ParcelHero’s head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT, is warning: ‘Fears that cashierless stores could disproportionally affect minorities from low-income households, who don't have smart phones or online bank access, have led the American city of Philadelphia to pass a ban on all cashless stores – including till-less shops. And it’s a move that could be followed across the USA and on this side of the Atlantic.’

Cashierless stores have been pioneered in the USA by Amazon. They automatically record what shoppers drop in their basket: eliminating the need for till trained staff and slashing queues. Retailers use an app which monitors which items have been taken from the store and charge accordingly.

Says David ‘Amazon Go convenience stores are being rolled out across the US and the basic concept is already been embraced by many of the leading UK supermarket chains – with trials of similar technology being held by the Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

‘But worries about the impact of the spread of such stores on elderly and disadvantaged households which don’t have access to payment apps and online accounts led Philadelphia’s mayor to sign a bill last month prohibiting cashless stores; and a New York councillor is pushing for a similar ban.’

David cautions that bans on cashierless stores may also be introduced here in the UK, even before the concept has had time to take root. ‘Concerns the vulnerable and elderly don’t have access to electronic payment methods mean the Government frequently insists on the retention of old-fashioned payment methods.

‘Many merchants are still forced to accept cheques – even though they were supposed to be phased out last year - because the UK Government backtracked on their withdrawal as they are still used by elderly shoppers. And there’s also no change to its position on small change. Against its own treasury’s advice, the government is insisting on the retention of low value coins - even though three-quarters of all transactions are now made by card. Again, this is because poorer households and the elderly may have limited access to full bank services. Clearly this approach needs updating as inflation means the 1p piece is now worth considerably less than the 1⁄2 p  was before its withdrawal in 1984.’

Concludes David: ‘The UK government has shown itself to be very resistant to any change to retail practice that might impact on the elderly and disadvantaged. In many ways this is, of course, laudable; but it could mean cashierless trials being held by well-known stores such as Tesco and the Co-op could run into trouble at a very early stage.

‘With high street stores fighting for their lives, the benefits of queue-free shopping and the considerable savings in wages cashierless stores offer retailers are exactly what is needed. But if the Philadelphia experiment of banning such stores spreads to the UK, that would spell the end of these trials.’