At the beginning of this year, one south-east London cafe made the bold move to refuse cash.
As a result, Browns of Brockley no longer has to pay staff to count pennies or lug cash to the bank – a growing concern for Ross Brown, the cafe’s owner. ‘In my day-to-day life I’d never walk around with thousands of pounds in cash,’ he says. Even in relatively leafy Brockley, two nearby businesses were burgled in February alone.
Before the change, just 20% of Browns’ customers used cash.
Brown admits going cashless has the potential to exclude lower-income customers. So far though, resistance has been ‘way less than we thought,’ says the cafe’s manager Jop Gotto (although the occasional free coffee has been used to calm irate customers). Staff have been given a 10% wage increase to replace the loss of cash tips.
It reflects a broader trend away from cash in the UK. The amount spent each day on debit cards has more than doubled in the past decade, from £17m in 2005 to £35m in 2015. By 2020, it’s reckoned debit card payments will overtake cash.
While it’s still common to see ‘cash only’ businesses like barbers and cornershops, Browns is part of a growing cohort experimenting with the opposite rule. Waitrose opened a card-only shop in 2016 to speed up queues at the cash registers, while apps like Flypay allow diners to pay bills without help from waiting staff.
Browns has also added more contactless payment capabilities, now taking American Express as well as Apple and Android Pay, and is even looking into Bitcoin.
Whether more everyday shops will take the plunge remains to be seen, but the experiment seems to be inspiring other Brockley traders. ‘“How’s cashless?”; it’s the first thing everyone says,’ Gotto explains.