Cashless payment concerns rise as some businesses start to go cash-free

PITTSBURGH — Going cashless is a newer concept for many Americans, spurred by the pandemic and gaining popularity due to its convivence for both customers and business owners.

“Here in the U.S. we are kind of behind other countries like Japan and China, (that) have been cashless for many years,” said Duquesne University professor Dr. Risa Kumazawa.

According to data, e-commerce accounted for $3.5 trillion of worldwide sales in 2019. Experts predict Sweden will eliminate cash as a payment method by 2023, and that all of their transactions will use a digital payment method.

“A lot of the transactions that people do, they do on their phones,” said Kumazawa.

“You don’t have to worry about running out of receipts, and you also don’t have to worry about running out of change,” said Kumazawa.

Regionally, more companies like Cedar Point and Hershey Park announced they are opting to go cashless this summer.

Business experts say there are a lot of benefits in using cashless payment options for businesses, especially for small business owners — speed, tracking, protection against theft and safety f contactless payment options, but there are also concerns.

“With 20% of Americans either not having a bank account or not having or ready access to a bank, this seems like a discriminatory practice,” said Nicole Molinero, CEO of the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

In 2019, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed off on the law prohibiting most retailers from refusing to take cash or charging cash-paying customers extra, making Philadelphia the first major U.S. city to ban cashless stores.

The reasoning behind the ban was that the city found that the practice was, in fact, unfair and discriminatory. Now other cities like San Francisco and New York City have also enacted bans of their own.

“We want to make sure everyone can pay at every store that they go into,” said Molinero.

Advocates and business experts agree that cashless stores often disproportionally impact vulnerable groups like young people, lower-income people, elderly people, trans people, those with language barriers and survivors of domestic violence.

“Anytime that you use one of these electronic ways to pay that can be tracked in real-time, it can present a danger,” said Molinero.

Molinero explained how each domestic abuse survivor’s financial recovery journey can look different following intimate partner abuse, but said on many occasions, cashless stores will only further add another daily obstacle.

“We are dealing with all these different groups that may not benefit from this, that’s why we (America) have been reluctant as a whole,” said Kumazawa.

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For over 45 years, the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh has been a leader in providing safety, shelter, support and guidance to all survivors of domestic violence.

Their 24/7 hotline is 412-687-8005.