Legal trouble for Amazon Go and others?

The rise of cash-free stores is being opposed politically: certain American governments want to make it illegal to refuse cash, since not all customers can afford a credit card. What is the situation in the Benelux?



Several new retail concepts are getting rid of the traditional cash register and force their customers pay through a mobile app or at a machine with a credit card. The goal is to accelerate the flow in the stores and to speed up the shopping process. Safety is also an argument. Amazon Go is the world's most renowned example of these cash-free stores, but similar stores are being opened in Europe: Albert Heijn is testing a 'tap to go' concept store in Amsterdam, Casino opened a register-free supermarket in the heart of Paris, Sainsbury's is trying out the same concept in the United Kingdom and soon Carrefour, Auchan and Saturn will be opening their own cashless outlets.


Cash payment is often impossible in these types of stores and the city council of Philadelphia is calling a halt to the practice: it wants to forbid retailers to refuse cash or to charge extra for cash payment. The state of New Jersey is thinking along similar lines.


Proponents of the ban argue that cashless stores discriminate against poorer consumers who do not have access to credit cards or bank accounts. This is particularly relevant for a city like Philadelphia, with one of the highest poverty rates in the country. The administration does admit that such a ban can only ever be temporary, and agrees a cash-free economy can not be avoided in the future. The ban's opponents argue that such a measure would be detrimental to the city's competitive position. Getting rid of cash also leads to lower costs and as a result, lower prices.


Legal in the Benelux?

In Belgium, cash is considered to be a legitimate form of payment that can not be refused – as long as the amount is proportionate to the form of payment: if you want to pay for a bottle of soda with a 200-euro note, the store proprietor is not obligated to accept that. Cash-free stores are therefore still illegal in Belgium - even though even some government services only accept electronic payments in some cases.


The situation is somewhat different in the Netherlands, where merchants and administrations are free to refuse both cash and credit cards as long as they clearly state it in advance. Still, the MOB (an institution that regulates payment) says that the complete refusal of cash goes too far. There is still a considerable amount of people who can not or do not want to pay by card. For them, cash should remain an option, the MOB concludes... but Albert Heijn's cash-free 'tap to go' stores are entirely legal.