Amazon And Bitcoin Provide Americans With Opportunity To Go Cashless And Cashierless (#GotBitcoin?)
The stores are partially-automated, with customers able to purchase products without being checked out by a cashier or using a self-checkout station. The first store, located in the company’s Day 1 building, opened to employees on December 5, 2016, and to the public on January 22, 2018. The flagship store has prepared foods, meal kits, limited groceries, and liquor available for purchase.
Amazon.com Inc. is testing its cashierless checkout technology for bigger stores, according to people familiar with the matter. If successful, the strategy would further challenge brick-and-mortar retailers racing to make their businesses more convenient.
The online retail giant is experimenting with the technology in Seattle in a larger space formatted like a big store, the people said. The systems track what shoppers pick from shelves and charges them automatically when they leave a store. Although the technology functions well in its current small-store format, it is harder to use it in bigger spaces with higher ceilings and more products, one of the people said, meaning it could take time to roll out the systems at more larger stores.
It is unclear whether Amazon intends to use the technology for Whole Foods, although that is the most likely application if executives can make it work, according to the people. Amazon has previously said it has no plans to add the technology to Whole Foods.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on rumors and speculation. Whole Foods declined to comment.
The cashierless system is already in use at seven Amazon Go convenience stores in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco. The company plans to build more of these small stores, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. Each is typically less than 2,500 square feet and sells a range of drinks, prepared foods and groceries.
Some Whole Foods customers say they don’t want to see the cashierless checkout system at a chain known for its high quality of customer service.
“They need to be careful not to break what has made that business successful in the first place,” said Dennis Keim, a 65-year-old retiree from Lincoln, Neb., who shops at Whole Foods at least once a week.
Amazon also has continued to improve the technology inside the Amazon Go stores that first opened to the public earlier this year.
“We’re new to physical space, but it’s important for us,” said Dilip Kumar, vice president of technology at Amazon Go, on a recent tour of the first of those stores in San Francisco. “It tends to build a lot of habit.”
Scott Cederberg, a 38-year-old software engineer who bought a yogurt at the Amazon Go store in San Francisco recently, said he would be willing to try a bigger grocery store using the cashierless format.
“It would be convenient not to wait in checkout lines,” he said.
Old Guard Fights Back Against Cashless
Legislation is being proposed to require eateries in New York City accept cash.
New York City Council member Ritchie Torres is introducing legislation to ban businesses from going cashless, arguing that the practice discriminates against poor communities. He has a point that some New Yorkers fortunate to have bank accounts or smartphone apps may fail to appreciate.
The handful of eateries that don’t take legal tender have their reasons, of course: hygiene, faster payments and deterring robberies. And it isn’t as if one doesn’t have thousands of options in the Big Apple , including ubiquitous street carts that don’t accept plastic, much less Apple Pay.
Wealthier New Yorkers sympathetic to Mr. Torres’s cause need not wait for legislation, though. They can vote with their wallets and avoid meals like the $12.50 Koginut Squash Bowl at Sweetgreen—spicy cashew dressing extra—grabbing some filling street meat for half the price.
Just don’t forget to bring cash.
Need To Pay the Babysitter? Don’t Even Think About Using Cash
One family, three generations and no agreement on the shift away from cash.
When Oliver Hicks finished helping his family with yard work last summer, his dad handed him $50 in cash. Oliver didn’t want it. He asked his dad to send him the money through an app on his phone.
“He was like, ‘What do you mean? There’s $50 in cash right in front of you. Why don’t you want it right now?’” recalls Oliver, a 20-year-old sophomore at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
Oliver is like many young adults and teens in that he prefers the convenience of a digital wallet to physical cash—even if it means waiting a while to receive payment. People often use mobile payment services like Venmo and Cash App to reimburse friends for office gifts or dinner. But with young people snubbing cash altogether, parents and grandparents now are being forced to join in if they want to compensate them for chores or babysitting.
“It blew me away because I’ve always felt that cash is king, but he had no interest at all,” said Oliver’s dad, Jono, a 47-year-old sales manager for a sportswear brand. “I don’t feel that old and I identify with younger people on a lot of things, but there is definitely a disconnect on this.”
Jono may have to get used to it, as more Americans move away from cash. Through March of this year, consumers used cash in just 37% of transactions under $20, compared with 46% in 2015, according to a recent study conducted by Cash App parent company Square Inc. And many businesses now don’t accept cash.
Neither Square nor Venmo parent PayPal Holdings Inc. discloses demographic data on their users, but a Square spokesman said people of all ages use the app for a broad range of purposes, from parents paying babysitters to churches collecting donations. Money can be held in the apps and the apps can be linked to debit or bank accounts so that money can be moved in and out. People can make purchases through Venmo on many retailers’ websites and mobile apps. Both Venmo and Cash App offer physical cards that can be used in stores to debit purchases from users’ balances.
As of December 2018, the most recent data disclosed, Cash App had 15 million monthly active customers in the U.S. and the U.K. Venmo has 40 million active users in the U.S. Some people, like Oliver, use both.
The shift away from cash has generated debate in the Hicks household—and some older members of the family even worry about the safety and privacy ramifications of transferring money via apps.
During a recent family dinner in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Becky Hicks asked her nephew August —Oliver’s younger brother—if she could pay him cash for taking care of her dog. August, 16, asked her to Venmo him instead. Jono shook his head once again, though he wasn’t surprised.
“August has a drawer in his room filled with loose cash. If it’s not in his phone, it’s like it’s not there,” he said. August declined to comment.
Becky, 32, employs a lot of college students at the deli she owns and is used to paying out tips through Venmo. But she only began using it in her personal life about a year and a half ago out of necessity. “I tried writing a check to a babysitter and she was like, ‘Um, is it OK if you Venmo it to me?’” Becky recalls.
Oliver and August’s mom, Stephanie, has been quicker to adapt. She sends Oliver money through Cash App to pay him for tutoring his younger sister in math twice weekly over FaceTime and to reimburse him for the cost of necessities while he’s at college, such as books and sports equipment. Oliver uses Venmo with his friends.
But Susan Levin, Oliver and August’s 74-year-old grandmother, still gives her grandchildren cash for birthdays and Christmas. It’s too hard to shop for them anymore, she said, and she never knows what stores they like, so gift cards are out. She wraps cash in unique ways to make getting to it a challenge. One year she stuffed cash into wooden puzzle boxes that her grandchildren had to solve in order to open. Last Christmas she wrapped bills in balls of yarn. This Christmas she plans to stash cash in nesting dolls.
She said there’s no way she would use an app to send them money, nor would she use a money app for herself.
“I use credit cards and I feel comfortable without cash but I wouldn’t leave the house without my wallet and only take my phone along. I would feel like I’m losing control,” she said. “Every day we’re inundated with stories about phones and accounts being compromised. It’s another way for your information to be given away.” Ms. Levin also worries that as people move away from cash, they will become more heavily marketed to than they are already, with so much spending history on file.
Has she discussed these concerns with her grandchildren? “I kind of roll my eyes and stay out of it because I’m the grandma, so what do I know?” she joked.
Cash App and Venmo say they provide numerous safety features, including encryption, account monitoring and two-factor authentication.
Oliver said he’s no more worried about the risks associated with transferring money in and out of an app than he is about anything else.
“We see how dangerous social media can be with data being leaked and yet we’re all still on social media. If you want to participate in what the rest of society is participating in because it’s more convenient, those are the risks you assume,” he said. “I could also get hit in the face with a line drive when I play baseball next week, but I still play baseball.”
That argument isn’t enough to convince Oliver’s dad to join the cashless party. “I’ll be that old guy in the rocking chair going, ‘Remember that old paper money?’” Jono said.
Cash, Plastic or Hand? Amazon Envisions Paying With A Wave
Tech giant plans terminals to let consumers link credit card information to their hands.
Amazon.com Inc. wants to make your hand your credit card.
The tech giant is creating checkout terminals that could be placed in bricks-and-mortar stores and allow shoppers to link their card information to their hands, according to people familiar with the matter. They could then pay for purchases with their palms, without having to pull out a card or phone.
The company plans to pitch the terminals to coffee shops, fast-food restaurants and other merchants that do lots of repeat business with their customers, according to some of the people. Amazon declined to comment.
Amazon, like other tech companies, is trying to further integrate itself into consumers’ financial lives, leaving banks and card networks on edge. Apple Inc. AAPL 1.11% introduced a credit card last year, and Google is rolling out checking accounts. If the Amazon terminals succeed, they could leapfrog mobile wallets such as Apple Pay while expanding Amazon’s already-extensive access to consumer data.
Amazon’s projects are closely watched both by tech and financial companies, which are increasingly colliding in payments. Amazon has been experimenting with payments at its Amazon Go stores, where customers can walk out without stopping to pay. It has also been building out Amazon Pay, a digital wallet that consumers can use to make payments at online merchants not owned by Amazon. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has stressed the importance of financial services and payments to some senior executives, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.
The plans for terminals are in early stages. Amazon recently began working with Visa Inc. to test transactions on the terminals and is in discussions with Mastercard Inc., according to some of the people.
Amazon has discussed the project with card issuers. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Synchrony Financial have expressed interest in enabling consumers’ card accounts to work with these terminals, according to some of the people.
Card companies are trying to figure out whether tech giants such as Amazon intend to be collaborators or competitors, though some believe it is safer to participate in big tech’s payments ambitions than risk being left out. Amazon, for its part, wants the card companies’ expertise in safeguarding consumers’ card accounts.
Still, Amazon will have to allay the concerns of card issuers and networks, including how the terminals would detect fraud. The company will also have to win over customers wary of providing even more personal information and navigate a climate in which regulators are increasingly skeptical of big tech.
Amazon envisions that customers would first use the terminals to link their debit or credit card information to their hands, the people said. The company is weighing a few options for how to do so, one of the people said. For example, customers might insert cards into a terminal and then let the terminal scan their hands. From then on, they would only need to place a hand over the terminal to pay at a participating merchant.
Amazon recently filed a patent application for what it described as a “non-contact biometric identification system” that includes “a hand scanner that generates images of a user’s palm.”
Data that would pass through the terminals, including where consumers shopped and when, would be stored on Amazon’s cloud, according to some of the people. The company would like to integrate this data with consumers’ Amazon.com spending, those people said. That could give Amazon more leverage to charge higher prices to advertisers based on the idea they can better predict what customers are likely to buy.
The New York Post earlier reported that Amazon was testing a payments system that would let consumers use their hands to pay at Amazon’s Whole Foods chain.
Amazon has had limited success with another payments project pitching bricks-and-mortar merchants on accepting its Amazon Pay digital wallet. One roadblock: Stores didn’t want to remind their customers about Amazon and risk encouraging them to buy there instead. That could be a challenge with the new terminals as well.
In the near term, Amazon wants to nudge card issuers and networks to innovate along with it, according to people familiar with Amazon’s strategy. Some payments companies worry that in the long term, tech companies including Amazon could just cut them out.
Card companies have raised concerns about the potential for fraud with the terminals, including how to catch people who try to link their hands to a stolen card. Amazon has said it could blacklist people who use the system fraudulently, some of the people said. But that might not stop cheaters from making one-time purchases of electronics or other big-ticket items.
Card issuers are also asking how consumers would be able to add more than one account to their palms and how they would be able to choose between those cards when they pay.
Smart Rings Seen As New Frontier For Cashless Payments
As retailers around the world seek ways to make it easier for consumers to shop seamlessly without touching anything, one company in Japan is betting its technology can rule them all: a smart ring that can act as a wallet and a key.
MTG Co., a Japanese health and beauty company, has started selling the “Evering,” which it envisions as a one-stop digital wallet. The chip-embedded ring, made out of zirconia, the synthetic crystal that’s sometimes used in place of diamonds in jewelry, lets people lock their door as they step out for a run as well as pay for drinks in stores.
MTG earlier this month struck a contract with Visa Inc. for the sale of an initial batch of 3,000 rings in Japan.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made touchless payments a much more popular method of purchasing. Amazon.com Inc. is pushing into cashier-less stores and deploying technology that lets consumers enter shops and pay using palm scans. In Japan, Signpost Corp. has deployed stores that don’t have any clerks or registers in a kiosk on the platforms of a train stations. In China, technology that employs facial recognition software is already being used for payments.
“We want to make a world in which people can live with a ring,” Yoshihito Ohta, MTG’s chairman, said in an interview.
Evering users make payments by holding it over a payment terminal. Priced initially at 19,800 yen ($182) in Japan, the ring, which is waterproof and doesn’t require charging, is linked to a credit card and payment histories can be accessed via smartphones.
MTG, which went public in 2018 on Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers Market, a bourse for startups, plans to spin off its smart-ring subsidiary within months, Ohta said. The chairman’s goal is for Evering to reach a market capitalization of at least 100 billion yen, which would be higher than MTG’s current valuation of 60.4 billion yen.
The company posted an operating profit of 1.2 billion yen in the latest fiscal year, which ended in September, recovering from a 14.4 billion yen deficit the prior period due to an accounting scandal at its China unit. MTG shares are up about 34% this year, after climbing 30% last year.
“The business has potential to grow,” Ohta said of Evering. “It’s risky, but I think no other business has bigger potential than this.”
Crypto Is The Next Step Toward A Cashless Society
It will take some time for consumers to warm up to crypto, but education is the key to its mass adoption.
From QR code payments to mobile banking apps, consumers worldwide are increasingly reliant on digital payment solutions, especially as mobile technology becomes more ubiquitous.
Government-led efforts in driving cashless economies have been a key factor, with countries such as Singapore or the Philippines seeing their central banks driving the adoption of contactless payments during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, usage rates for digital payments platforms have recorded promising growth, even as high as 5,000% in the Philippines alone.
This unprecedented rise in cashless payments is also paving the way for the broader adoption of crypto, with the number of crypto users worldwide hitting around 106 million in January. While this marks an impressive 15% month-on-month growth, it is still just a drop in the ocean when compared to the 4.7 billion people who have access to the internet.
But as crypto continues to command headlines, what will it take for mass adoption to happen?
A New Model Of Financial Accessibility
Today, billions of people worldwide are unable to access even the most basic financial services via traditional means, and thus are unable to save or manage their money securely. In times of economic devastation, such as this past year in which global economies have been staggered by the impact of COVID-19, the vast gap between rich and poor has become abundantly clear.
The global pandemic has only perpetuated the absence of inclusive financial infrastructure, which has led to approximately one-third of the global population having no financial safety net to fall back on.
With crypto wallets, however, anyone can transfer their crypto internationally without needing to maintain a minimum balance in their account, as long as they have an internet connection. As crypto applications are built on decentralised blockchains, transactions are performed on a peer-to-peer basis in the absence of traditional intermediaries such as bankers or brokerage houses.
This results in significant savings in transaction costs, as traditional cross-border remittance fees for small amounts can be as high as 7% after taking into account intermediaries’ fees on both the sender and recipient side. Meanwhile, the same fees for cryptocurrencies are often less than 1 percent — regardless of transaction amount.
Furthermore, highly decentralised platforms are permissionless, meaning that anyone with a crypto wallet and internet connection can lend, remit or trade their crypto without validation by a central authority or intermediary.
Instead, transactions are executed by smart contracts, which automate them as long as pre-encoded conditions are met. Beyond the cost savings, consider the time savings as well. Remittance transactions can take several days to be processed, whereas cryptocurrencies can be transferred in mere minutes.
However, most crypto platforms still ask for some form of formal identification as part of their identity verification and Know Your Customer (KYC) process. This can range from a phone number to photo ID to proof of residential address.
Some platforms adopt a multi-tier approach in which the more information that users provide, the more services they can access. While necessary for KYC and Anti-Money Laundering compliance, this poses barriers to users who do not own any formal identification documents.
Having said that, some decentralised exchanges, or DEXs, still honour the principles of anonymity and trustless working by not enforcing KYC on their users. The elimination of account verification and waiting time for approval has drawn many towards these types of DEXs — such as PancakeSwap, Uniswap and DeFiChain’s DEX — and has made finance truly accessible and inclusive for all.
Beyond simple transactions, recent innovations in the crypto space promise a much more equitable financial system where the unbanked and underbanked can access more means to build wealth. While DeFi products, such as token holding and staking on a DEX, might be a little too advanced for this group of users at the moment, simplified centralized decentralized finance (CeDeFi) services and improvements in financial literacy over time will help to open the door to these inclusive wealth creation opportunities.
Education Is Key To Crypto Adoption At Scale
Widespread adoption of digital payment technologies, such as QR codes and biometrics, is definitely a promising sign that consumers have become more digitally savvy than ever before. In the Asia Pacific, more than 90% of surveyed respondents said they would consider at least one new payment method in the next year.
In addition to new payment technologies, the proliferation of retail investing has led to a paradigm shift in the investment landscape, with trading activities doubling over the past year. User-friendly platforms such as Robinhood and their well-known crypto counterparts — such as Coinbase — have made investing much more accessible to non-institutional investors.
This historic rise in cashless payments and retail investing saw the public gain more exposure to different asset types. However, in the United States, a staggering 84% of adults are either uninterested in cryptocurrencies or have never heard of them. While this could be attributable to the seemingly intimidating technicalities involved, we are now in a good place to gradually transition towards a more crypto-forward society.
For now, there’s much more to be done to help mainstream consumers gain a better understanding of crypto. Crypto projects, for one, would do well to invest more resources towards creating educational content to bridge the knowledge gap — whether through guides or detailed explainers.
Meanwhile, taking on a more transparency-focused approach that looks to debunk misconceptions and ensure that users are aware of the risks associated with crypto, will enable those users to navigate their entry into the space with greater ease and confidence.
Crypto Is The MVP In The Cashless Drive
As conversations on cryptocurrencies evolve, governments are taking note. While cash will not be eliminated any time soon, as many as 86% of central banks around the world are looking into central bank digital currencies in their quest to go cashless.
The world’s first central bank digital currency (CBDC) — the Sand Dollar — was announced by the Central Bank of the Bahamas way back in 2018 and officially launched in October last year. The technology team behind this project was led by U-Zyn Chua, who went on to co-found DeFiChain.
Although CBDCs will be regulated by a central authority, their adoption will send a profound message to market participants on the legitimacy of digital currencies. The introduction of CBDCs is thus a much-needed springboard to catalyse large-scale crypto adoption.
In the short term, crypto is not going to replace the existing financial system, but will instead carve out its own ecosystem that is fit for a new generation of digital-first, financially savvy users. While it will take some time for consumers to warm up to crypto, the nascent technology will prove its worth in due time by offering cheaper, safer and more inclusive financial services for all.
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Monty H. & Carolyn A.
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