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The Clash Over Cashless: How Decathlon Curves Hard Currency—Without Discriminating

French sporting goods retailer Decathlon recently opened its first permanent U.S. location in Emeryville, Calif., after testing the waters with a “lab” store across the bay in San Francisco. Alongside tents, trainers and tennis rackets, there’s one thing you won’t find inside the sprawling new space: cash registers.

Decathlon made the trendy decision to go cashless in its first full-scale stateside store, joining the likes of Sweetgreen and Indochino that only take plastic cards as payment. The sports-minded chain with 1,500 stores across 49 countries partnered with NewStore to build a mobile-first experience that associates use to check out customers anywhere on the store floor with an iPhone and the non-cash payment of their choice: mobile payments, Apple Watch, gift card or regular debit or credit card.

For card-carrying customers, cashless stores are yet another convenience that keeps queues moving quickly. But they turn away people who for various reasons exchange hard currency for the goods and service they need. Maybe they’re kids or teens who don’t have a bank account yet; maybe they’re wage laborers paid in cash; maybe they’re homeless; maybe they’re undocumented and unbanked; maybe they just don’t want big tech and financial firms tracking their every digital dollar spent. For their part, cashless businesses stress that not dealing in hard currency eliminates or reduces the risk of robbery, and means workers don’t have to wash their hands after handling “dirty” bills that Time magazine reported carries more germs than a household toilet.

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Local governments across the country are responding to the cashless craze with a brewing backlash. Philadelphia and San Francisco banned cashless stores in March and several other state and municipal governments are considering similar legislation of their own. Amazon Go’s first New York City store is the only such location across the chain that accepts cash as the city mulls its own embargo on cashless retail. In the midst of this charged climate, Decathlon came up with a way to preserve its cashless, customer-centric approach without discriminating against people carrying wallets full of dead presidents.

Mindful of turning away “disenfranchised consumers,” Decathlon installed a GiftWise Cash-2-Card kiosk just inside the entrance of the Emeryville store. The kiosk, supplied by Self-Service Network, turns cash into a Decathlon-branded gift card that shoppers then can use to complete their purchases. Describing the kiosk company as an “integral partner,” Decathlon USA product manager Ashley Benson said, “With their help and collaboration, we’ve been able to offer a seamless cashless checkout process that allows customers to complete quick transactions. Customers who prefer to use cash at checkout have the ability to access Decathlon Gift Cards through the GiftWise Cash-2-Card solution.”

Self-Service Networks president Thomas Smith said in a statement, “Our GiftWise Cash-2-Card is our latest iteration of card dispensing innovations that help empower customers preferring to use cash payments to participate in everyday retail.”

Smith told Sourcing Journal that the Decathlon kiosk is the company’s first such offering to address cashless retail but that several other kiosk deployments are in the works. To date, consumers have activated close to 1,000 gift cards at the kiosk in the two months since the store opened, he added.

From the sound of it, Decathlon sees the gift card kiosk as a viable solution to preserving the cashless store experience while welcoming cash-carrying customers as it plans to open even more outposts across the U.S. “We hope that this innovative approach to retailing can be used for our future expansion throughout the U.S.,” Benson concluded.