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Waitrose self-checkout

A newly-opened grocery store says it has just about everything you need. But in order to shop there, there’s something you’re going to need – a credit or debit card, or your phone. Because this store doesn’t have cashiers – and it doesn’t take cash.

Britain’s Waitrose grocery chain has become the country’s first major supermarket to open a completely cashless store. Customers use the store’s mobile app to scan their own items as they shop, then they stop by one of five self-service checkouts to pay by card or with a mobile device. Coupons will reduce your total, but slow you down – since they will have to be handled by one of the store’s attendants.

It’s all about convenience in the small, 1,400-square-foot store. But it’s also something of a move toward what some say is the inevitability of our transformation into a cashless society.

So could this be an idea that catches on in the U.S.?

Not necessarily.

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Earlier this year, Bloomberg’s editorial board called on the country to bid good riddance to cash. Paper bills and metal coins are “dirty and dangerous, unwieldy and expensive, antiquated and so very analog,” they wrote in an editorial entitled “Bring On the Cashless Future”.

But in this era of data breaches and digital concerns, cash is actually making something of a comeback. According to the National Grocers Association, credit and debit cards made up 47% of total grocery dollar sales last year. But that was way down from a high of 61% just two years earlier. Cash made up 32% of total sales, considerably higher than 2013’s figure of 23%.

The move away from plastic cards and toward paper money came as a third of those surveyed for the study said security concerns had prompted them to use cash more frequently.

As recent coupon redemption figures show, just because something can be done digitally, doesn’t mean most shoppers prefer to do it that way. Even though digital coupons are all the rage, for example, the most recent figures from Inmar show that they made up less than 3% of all coupons redeemed so far this year, compared to 36% from the Sunday newspaper.

So plenty of American shoppers who are still fond of good old-fashioned paper might not be so thrilled with the idea of a grocery store that doesn’t accept cash.

But it’s only one store for now, and a small one at that. So Waitrose’s experiment isn’t affecting a whole lot of people. But for proponents of a truly cashless society, in which our payment methods and coupons all live on our phone instead of in our wallet – it’s a start.

Image source: Waitrose

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