The Trouble with Cash

By Jacqueline Nasseff Hilgert

The National Retail Federation has predicted a strong holiday shopping season. In its October survey, consumers said they expected to spend an average of $1,047, up 4 percent from what they had planned to spend last year. It’s the 10th consecutive year of increased consumer holiday spending — consumer confidence is one economic indicator that hasn’t yet lost its luster.

I don’t derive much gratification from shopping so the increased number of holiday shoppers at our local retail center is easy for me to ignore, except for the fact that my husband manages a hardware store. He regularly feeds me tales from the retail trenches.

There are the brazen shoplifters, of course. One thief recently walked out of the front door of his store with a $300 shop vac while an accomplice kept the cashier distracted. (There’s always an accomplice, I am told.)

Then there is the fight against counterfeiters, the rooting out of all those washed fives that have been reprinted in larger denominations. They use a UV pen to check all large bills now but a UV scanner would be better, he said.

Let’s not forget those fast-talking scammers running quick-change schemes on inexperienced cashiers. One trickster walked out with $100 in change after starting his ploy with a $20 used to pay for a not-quite-$2 gasket.

Most of my husband’s customers are loyal and law-abiding; they are consumers in the store seeking plumbing advice, a new barbeque set-up, or yard-maintenance implements designed to keep the quarter-acre lot nice and tidy. Big ticket items are bought using plastic, but his best selling item — biodegradable lawn bags — are mostly paid for with cash. 

The customers aren’t the problem here. The criminals are. But so, perhaps, is the imperative to have cash in the till. All this crime happens at a suburban retail strip mall in an area with good schools and nice parks and property values that steadily increase (presumably because everyone picks up their leaves). 

Our lead feature, “Cash or Change” examines the future of cash as more and more consumers eschew the currency in favor of plastic or payment apps that speed transaction time and increase security. One’s currency of choice depends on many variables, including what’s being purchased and where, and to which demographic group a consumer belongs. It’s a complicated discussion. 

I asked my husband if, given all the hassles he endures to keep retail losses low, he would consider going cashless at his hardware store? He gave my question serious consideration before offering a definitive “no.”

“We’d lose a lot of business,” he said, “given the age of our customers.”

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