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Amazon’s checkout-free stores are planning to accept customers’ cash

Amazon’s cashless stores are making preparations to accept cash.

Amazon Go launched in 2018 and uses an array of sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence technology to track what you put in your bag as you make your way around, with your selected items automatically charged to your Amazon account as you exit the store.

The shopping experience is super-simple, but there has been increasing criticism that the system discriminates against those without a bank account or smartphone, both of which are needed to shop at the high-tech store. A 2017 study categorized around 6.5 percent of U.S. households (about 8.4 million people) as unbanked.

News of the company’s move toward accepting cash at its Go stores came via a CNBC report on Wednesday, April 10, and was later confirmed by Amazon, though the company declined to offer details of a timeline for the rollout.

The media outlet said that in March, Steve Kessel, Amazon’s senior vice president of physical stores, told Go employees that the company was planning to implement “additional payment mechanisms” at its stores, with an Amazon spokesperson recently telling CNBC: “You’ll check out, pay with cash, and then get your change.”

Amazon’s decision follows growing moves across the U.S. against cashless shopping locations. Philadelphia, for example, banned such stores in March 2019, with New Jersey taking the same step shortly after. CNBC notes that New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago are also considering banning cashless stores, while Massachusetts has had such rules in place for many years.

While the move to accept cash payments means Amazon would be able to open its Go stores in places where cashless outlets are banned, it’s likely to frustrate executives who had their sights set on offering a checkout-free experience for all of its shoppers.

For sure, future Go stores can be easily designed to accommodate checkouts, but current locations may find it more of a challenge to install such facilities — a process that’s likely to lead to some stores losing important product space to cash registers. It’ll also mean that Amazon, a company that’s been investing heavily in robot and A.I. technology to reduce its human workforce across its business, may need to employ more people to work at the registers — unless, of course, it installs self-checkout machines. Adding such facilities also has the potential to create lines during busy periods, which could impact the shopping experience.

Seattle-based Amazon currently operates 10 Amazon Go sites across the U.S. — four in its home city, four in Chicago, and two in San Francisco, though it reportedly has plans to open as many as 3,000 stores by 2021.

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