Amazon Go is go!

The number of Amazon Go stores are set to explode over the coming years, and while the grab-and-go convenience stores are a marvel of modern technology, they also raise thorny ethical issues surrounding cashless retail. You can only use Amazon Go if you have an Amazon account, and to get an Amazon account you need a credit or debit card — something lower-income populations may not have access to.

New York City councilmember Ritchie J. Torres is so concerned about the rise of these automated retail environments that he introduced legislation last month requiring restaurants and stores to accept cash or pay a fine. In an interview with Grub Street, Torres said: “On the surface, cashlessness seems benign, but when you reflect on it, the insidious racism that underlies a cashless business model becomes clear.” He continued “If you’re intent on a cashless business model, it will have the effect of excluding lower-income communities of color from what should be an open and free market.”

But there is a startup working on a way for lower-income and underbanked people to participate in the cashless revolution. All_ebt uses a combination of Facebook Messenger and virtual Visa cards to allow those on SNAP assistance (food stamps) to shop for USDA-approved groceries online. I confirmed with All_ebt Co-Founder, Eli Calderón Morin, that by extension, All_ebt users can also shop at cashless stores like Amazon Go. In an email to me, Morin wrote:

Yes the All_ebt card in our controlled environment and under the existing USDA restrictions does allow people to shop in store at place like Amazon Go in addition to other retailers like Costco, and Walmart.

The two options available for users are:

  1. adding your All_ebt virtual card to your Apple Pay and or Google Pay
  2. users can request a physical card and use anywhere Visa transactions are accepted

All_ebt has it’s own physical retail locations (which are primarily to help people sign up for the service) and even has ambitions to build it’s own Amazon Go-like experience — but that is still a ways off.

All_ebt can’t solve all of the issues associated with the cashless movement. There are still issues surrounding access to restaurants and coffee shops that abandon greenbacks, as those may not be applicable for SNAP purchases. But for now All_ebt is providing a way for more people to participate in the cashless grocery retail revolution as Amazon Go and more competitors expand into more markets next year.

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