Typically, I’m a fan of lawmakers, activists, or whoever has some political or societal clout doing things to help businesses or regular people avoid a head on collision with the disruptive force known as Amazon. But the stories that have come out in the past week or so really have me feeling like it was the lawmakers and activists who needed the saving. First, there was the takedown of Amazon HQ2 in New York City, and now it’s the City Council in my own backyard effectively putting the kybosh on Amazon Go stores.
On Thursday of last week, the Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution proposed by Councilman Bill Greenlee that prohibits stores from not accepting cash as a form of payment. According to Greenlee, stores that only accept credit cards or payment apps discriminate against the poor.
As business models evolve we must ensure that it’s not discriminatory. Nearly 10% of Philly residents do not have credit I am happy to say @PHLCouncil just passed my legislation requiring businesses to accept cash as payment.
— Bill Greenlee (@BillGreenlee215) February 14, 2019
Having been engrained in this space for a little while now, the first thought that came to mind when I saw the ban had passed is the effect it would have on Philadelphia’s ability to host an Amazon Go store—a concern that the company itself has expressed to the Council behind closed doors. Amazon Go is a store concept that removes the checkout lane from the shopping experience, tracking customers through a system of cameras and on-shelf technology, ultimately charging the customer through an app connected to their Amazon Prime for whatever they walk out of the store with.
“Amazon did indicate they were considering Philadelphia among their options for Amazon Go, and that this bill would impede that plan,” Mike Dunn, a city spokesperson, wrote in an email to a local paper. “To be clear though, the firm had not specified the likelihood of their coming or timing.”
Greenlee has said that his bill allows for certain exceptions, including ones for “membership clubs.” That, he said, and “a few minor tweaks” would be enough to allow Amazon to bring their Go stores to town. But considering the timing of this legislation (not long after losing the HQ2 bid) and the fact that it might’ve been unnecessary for the Council to present in the first place (Pennsylvania has legislation on the books that challenges the concept of cashless stores) makes it seem like Philly is just trying to pick a fight with Amazon.
The next step here is for the bill to head to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk for his signature. According to at least one report, Mayor Kenney is a proponent of the proposed ban, but does have some concerns.
“We want businesses to be as inclusive as possible,” Kenney Chief of Staff Jim Engler said prior to the Council’s vote last week. “I think we’ve expressed some concerns, specifically through our Commerce Department, about how this would impact innovation in the retail sector, and I think that’s something we need to be conscious of. And we’ve really worked as an administration to try and get more people to be banked.”