The Lox Bagel Shop and Winan's Chocolates + Coffees have experimented with operating cashless businesses.

In a world of one-click Amazon purchases and digital wallets like Venmo, it can seem like cash is the way of the past. Though the shift towards a cashless society has been much slower in the U.S. than in countries like Sweden, there is a debate over retail businesses that operate cash-free. Critics argue that a card-only policy discriminates against low-income people who may not have a bank account or be able to secure a credit card. Proponents praise the convenience and safety of operating cash-free.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 29 percent of U.S. adults make no purchases using cash in a typical week, up from 24 percent in 2015. However, 29 percent of low-income adults in the U.S. use cash for almost all of their purchases.

As of July, the city of Philadelphia made cashless retail illegal. Here in Columbus, The Lox Bagel Shop opened as a card-only business in 2018 but started accepting cash this spring after facing criticism.

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The South High Street location of Winans Chocolates + Coffees also went cashless in August. Joe Reiser, the co-owner of the Piqua, Ohio-based confectioner and coffee roaster, says the decision to go cash-free at the Downtown shop was spurred by a store manager, who pointed out that only 15 percent of sales were in cash. After Winans gave its customers a six-week lead time, the switch was considered a nonevent with only one complaint.

There are many perks for Reiser, who is considering expanding cashless operations to his other Columbus-area locations. For one, the demographics work. Professionals are his primary customers, and they’re used to carrying cards for lunch or garage parking.

Secondly, Reiser says there are hidden charges associated with cash, including the labor involved in counting drawers and depositing cash. For him, it’s the same as credit card fees, and Winans associates can get home more quickly after a shift.

Safety tops his list of reasons for moving to a cash-free model. “It’s always a factor anytime you have the visibility of cash coming in and out of your store,” he says. Over the years, burglars have broken into his stores, and the only thing stolen is cash. “There’s not a black market for used chocolates that I’m aware of,” he says.

None of the above reasons are persuasive enough for Mark Swanson, president of Cup O Joe and Stauf’s Coffee Roasters. “If I’m open for the community, that means that folks who don’t have credit can come and shop at our stores. We are for all people,” he says. For Swanson, it’s a societal issue, and he has no plans to change his operations until there’s a cashless solution for people without access to banking, credit cards and debit cards. “If you choose to not take cash, it’s your choice as a business person, but folks can vote with their dollars,” he says.

For Reiser, however, cashless retail is the future. He plans to give the model a trial run before expanding to other locations. “It’s ongoing until there’s a negative. And we have no plans to stop it,” he says. But even then, he has a plan for those without credit or debit cards. “We have an unwritten policy in the store that if people don’t have cards … we will work with them,” Reiser says. “We have processes in place to help them.”