The Reality of a Cashless Society

5th March 2019 by Shauna Rafferty, Account Executive

Since the card revolution, they’ve been used for larger value purchases with cash reserved for the small day-to-day amounts – the ones you don’t get squeamish about at the check-out. With the £30 limit, we’re able to tap away all of these smaller transactions, meaning that the only real necessity for cash is to store in your purse or wallet “incase of emergencies”. No doubt used on a last round at the bar or a bleary-eyed taxi home at 3am.

Over half of all transactions today in the UK were made using this ‘touch and go’ technology!

Ever been in a supermarket queue that winds all the way back to the frozen peas? Dusting frost off your shoulders, inevitably grabbing the tub of Ben & Jerry’s you’ve repeatedly told yourself you have no business buying. A member of staff strolls by and indicates the self-service check-out. You think how convenient this is! Manned tills are old news, you’re scanning at break neck speed, bagging up and out the door before the cube toes of the queue are beyond chicken nuggets. The supermarket will then show its Board that you’ve chosen self-service, that a majority are choosing this. Millennials eh? A computer’s best friend.

Now, here’s where it gets Black Mirror-esque. Are supermarkets making it impossible to choose anything but self-service? With a dozen tills, and only 1 manned, it actually leaves customers with very little option. They claim that this shift is as a result of the desire for digital, but is it actually the opposite? Breaking it down, is the cost difference for supermarkets to operate self-scanners less than it is to pay a staff member’s wages?

A debit card transaction
Debit card contactless transaction

So what’s the underlying agenda?

Do we want to go cashless? Or do we have very little choice in the matter? We are being nudged towards a cashless, digital society more than ever. I’m certainly not complaining, I’m a strictly card holder sort-of girl. I’ve done away with the purse, relieved myself of the shrapnel burden, a pocket-sized pal to store my essentials: ID, debit card, Scotrail smartcard and a too-often forgotten about Boots card.

Though, it’s definitely worth a thought – I mean, did any of us really consider cash inconvenient until we were told that we did? It’s definitely easier to tap and go, let’s not fall off the deep-end of anti-capitalism here, but worth considering that maybe we’re rushing to a cashless society too quick…or are being forcibly nudged there.

More than ever digital interactions are becoming commonplace in retail. Professor Niro Sivanathan of a London Business School claims that “parting with cash is ‘psychologically painful’, but that paying for items with a contactless card “anaesthetises the psychological pain that accompanies payment, seducing us into splashing out.”

Could this be the underlying aim of it all? We’re simply not conscious of our spending when we’re tapping and retailers are reaping the rewards. Following the installation of touchscreens in all restaurants, McDonalds noted a 30% higher average order than usually placed face-to-face. 

What does it mean for us?

This anti-cash carrying has a trickle effect more than you’d initially consider. For example, Big Issue vendor Easton Christian notes that the number of magazines he’s able to sell has taken a hit since the reduction of customers carrying cash. Consider all of the charity boxes passed by each day, with no spare change, you’re unable to make the same level of donations previously.

Thankfully, digital-minds are on the case – and we’re so glad of it! Contactless payments provider iZettle has launched trials of its technology for Big Issue vendors, a great step towards aiding financial inclusion for the marginalised of our society. In similar inclusion steps, Amsterdam based company N=5, are piloting a Helping Heart jacket for the homeless – “a warm winter coat that incorporates a payment reader and an LCD screen.” These donations are then redeemed at participating homeless shelters and organisations in exchange for food, shelter and support.

Other charities have also trialled wearable card readers to catch potential donators, with animal welfare charity Blue Cross helping to raise money by using “tap dogs” – coats embedded with contactless payment, essentially donating to cuddle!

A woman using a 'tap dog' contactless vest on a Blue Cross dog to contribute £2 to the charity
Blue Cross using ‘tap dogs’ for contactless charity donations

These contactless initiatives are designed to drive awareness of the cashless issue plaguing us as digital grows ever more popular, with Barclaycard stating that “charities will miss out on £80m a year if they only accept cash donations” – fuelling their trial with 11 charities of contactless donation boxes last year.

I think it’s safe to say that digital is here to say, with retailers acting swiftly to introduce these cashless payments, it’s now time for charities to do the same. Whether we’re being led, or we’re running towards it, a cashless society is edging ever closer to becoming a reality.