San Francisco could ban Amazon's cashier-free stores

Key Points
  • New Jersey and Philadelphia have new laws banning stores that do not accept cash, citing issues of discrimination.
  • Now, San Francisco is weighing a proposal for similar legislation.
  • A local official says cashless Amazon Go stores would be included in the proposed legislation.
An Amazon Go employee takes inventory at the Amazon Go store in Seattle.
Stephen Brashear | Getty Images

San Francisco is considering a ban on cashless Amazon stores as it weighs a bill that would make it one of a growing list of cities forbidding cashless retailers.

Just this week, New Jersey followed Philadelphia's lead in signing into law a cashless store ban. Lawmakers argue that cashless stores can effectively discriminate against low-income consumers, who may not have a bank account or credit card. But businesses say going cashless is good for consumers and reduces the risk of robbery and the ability to evade taxes.

In San Francisco, District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown introduced a bill in late February that aims to ban cashless retailers. At a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Brown expanded the proposal to include Amazon Go stores, which were originally excluded because they are automated and do not have employees that would handle cash, according to a report from Curbed.

Amazon Go stores let customers walk in, grab what they want and leave without having to check out at a cashier station. The stores are equipped with cameras that track the items a customer takes and automatically charges their Amazon account when they leave the store. There are only a small number of Amazon Go stores in operation today, but Bloomberg reported in September that the company may be planning to open as many as 3,000 locations by 2021.

"Millions of Americans do not hold bank accounts, or otherwise fall outside the non-cash financial system," the proposal says. "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; physical cash remains the most accessible anonymous medium of exchange in this country. Others may not be well situated to participate in the formal banking system, or may be excluded from that system against their will. In short, denying the ability to use cash as a payment method means excluding too many people."

If history is a guide, Amazon will likely play an active roll in lobbying officials about the proposed bill.

Amazon warned Philadelphia officials it could pull its plans to open Amazon Go stores in the city if the ban went into effect and even tried to carve out a legal workaround for its own stores in both Philadelphia and New Jersey, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the proposed legislation in San Francisco and how the measures in Philadelphia and New Jersey will affect its plans for Amazon Go stores.

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