Mobile Payments Hit a Setback in San Francisco

May 8, 2019         By: Steven Anderson

The notion of a cashless store is pretty much the zenith of the mobile payments concept. After all, it’s a store that not only accepts mobile payments, but to such a degree that no other form of payment can reasonably be used. After all, there’s no one on hand to make change, so what’s left? But mobile payments going that far has left some local governments deeply concerned, and recently, San Francisco joined a small but growing body of stores that say mobile payments are a fine option, but they can’t be the only one.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, according to the reports, met recently to debate the issue, and all 11 members of the board are listed as either sponsors of the ban or merely co-sponsors. Given that, it was a safe bet that the ban on cashless-only stores would take place.

The ban’s primary reason for existing, reports note, is the sheer number of unbanked or underbanked in the area. The homeless population—long a major issue in San Francisco—was also cited as a reason for bringing the ban up.

Not every business would be subject to the ban as stated, however; internet-only businesses, for example, would be exempt, because their ability to accept cash is limited at best. Temporary stores, food trucks, and ride sharing operations would also be exempt. Currently, New Jersey and Philadelphia have bans on cashless-only operations in place, and reports suggest that New York City isn’t too far behind.

We’ve said it before here and it bears repeating: mobile payments are an excellent alternative to cash and should be considered in every storefront the world over. Note the use of the word “alternative.” The problem with a mobile payments-only operation is that it essentially requires businesses to turn customers away. That’s counter-productive; businesses need access to every customer they can get, and by forbidding an entire form of payment—or several in some cases—that unnecessarily limits the scope of the market. Sure, reasonable arguments can be made for cashless businesses: better security, safer conditions for employees and so on. But throwing over a whole market—the cash-only market—doesn’t seem like a good trade-off. Moves like San Francisco’s will likely only continue to gain ground going forward