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SF considers banning cashless Amazon stores

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Amazon might have to choose between shutting down stores or putting cashiers in cashierless locales

Amazon Opens First Cashierless Convenience Store In Seattle Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Amazon opened two of its cashier-free stores in San Francisco in 2018 and has plans for a third on Market Street. But thanks to District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown, the Seattle-based online-shopping titan may have to check out of the entire idea.

In February, Brown introduced a measure that would bar most brick-and-mortar retail locations in San Francisco that do not accept cash.

She calls it an equity issue; a memo about the February proposal notes:

For many city residents (for example, those who are denied access to credit, or who are unable to obtain bank accounts), the ability to purchase goods and services depends on the ability to pay for those goods and services in cash. This is especially true of the very poor.

Millions of Americans do not hold bank accounts. [...] Some stand apart by choice, because they are concerned about privacy and do not want their every financial transaction recorded by banks and credit card companies.

[...] Others may not be well situated to participate in the formal banking system, or may be excluded from that system against their will.

According to Brown, as many as 50 percent of black and Latino households in San Francisco go without a bank account, although since the city’s most recent study dates to 2005 it’s hard to judge who might be affected by the rise in popularity of cashless stores today.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Brown announced she would expand the proposed ban to specifically include Amazon locations.

As originally written, the proposal excluded Amazon Go stores (along with food trucks, pop ups, and a few other strategic exceptions) on the simple grounds that these locations have no employees to handle cash. But after some consideration, Brown decided Amazon should hire a few people to accept cash at its brick-and-mortar stores.

“They can afford it,” she said of the company, which took in over $72 billion in revenue in the last quarter of 2018.

If Brown’s ban passes, Amazon may have to choose between shutting down Amazon Go stores or hiring cashiers for cashierless locales.