Amazon launched its high-tech Go convenience store a year ago, where shoppers can pull items off the shelf and walk out.
Now it’s adding a decidedly low-tech feature: accepting cash.
Its new store opening in New York City Tuesday will be the first Amazon Go store to do so. At its other shops, customers can only enter with an app that links to a credit card or an Amazon account.
The company, facing backlash from critics who say cashless stores discriminate against the poor, confirmed last month that it was working on a way to accept paper bill and coins.
The backlash against cashless is growing with the city of San Francisco about to require brick-and-mortar retailers to take cash as payment.
New York City is considering similar action. Philadelphia and the state of New Jersey have already done so, according to the Associated Press.
“I just felt it wasn’t fair that if someone wanted to buy a sandwich in a store, and they had cash, that they would be turned away,” said San Francisco Supervisor Vallie Brown, who introduced the legislation. “We also have our homeless population. They’re not banked.”
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 17 percent of African American households and 15 percent of Latino households had no bank account.
Some people also prefer to use cash because they don’t want to leave a digital trail of where they have been and what they have bought.
In the new store, employee will swipe those who want to pay by cash through the turnstile entrance. After shoppers grab what they want off the shelves, an employee will scan each item with a mobile device and check them out. There still won’t be cash registers in the store.
Cameron Janes, who oversees Amazon’s physical stores, says the way it accepts cash could change in the future, but declined to give details.
“This is how we’re starting,” he says. “We’re going to learn from customers on what works and what doesn’t work and then iterate and improve it over time.”
In recent years, a small but growing number of stores around the country have gone cash-free. But some activists and politicians say that discriminates against people who don’t have a bank account.
Philadelphia became the first city to ban cashless stores earlier this year. New Jersey passed a statewide ban soon after, and similar laws are being considered in New York City and San Francisco.
It’s not clear how many shoppers will skip the app and want to pay by cash at Amazon Go. The New York store, the first in the city, is in Brookfield Place, a high-end shopping mall and office complex that houses a Gucci store and office workers from banks and credit card companies. Amazon expects many of its customers to be workers looking to pick up a lunchtime salad or sandwich, people who live in the area or tourists visiting the nearby World Trade Center.
Amazon didn’t say when its 11 other Go stores will start accepting cash.