We're probably at the point where there's not much Starbucks could to surprise us anymore.

They bought Teavana, only to shut the whole thing down. They changed their menu like they hadn't done in decades. They opened a new Starbucks within the restroom of an existing Starbucks.

Okay, that last one's actually a joke from The Onion--but this isn't: Starbucks announced recently it's going to see whether they can run a store without accepting cash.

For now it's only one store out of more than 27,000 worldwide. Regular customers showed up recently to learn that their money wasn't good there anymore. Starbucks said it's making the change in order to test things out and get feedback from customers and baristas. 

Local television station KIRO 7 sent a reporter to check out the reaction. Verdict: Mixed.

On the pro side, a customer called Ambarish De told the station, "I don't carry cash anymore either. It's just easier, card and all the receipts, are in on place. I know how much I spent." 

On the not-so-pro-side: "I think it's kind of limiting. It's assuming everyone is going to be using a smartphone or a credit card, customer Sean Smith said. 

Sean's right on, that's exactly what Starbucks and other companies are assuming, or at least predicting. Companies love tracking your purchases; all the easier to get you to spend more and maybe even sell your data. And one would think no cash means fewer opportunities for crime--at least, of the violent or low-tech varieties.

So yes, while it might have seemed crazy just a few years ago to say, pick up a tall Pike Place and put the $2.03 on your American Express card, it's second nature now. About 20 percent of all Starbucks purchases are already made via the company's payment app. 

(And that data is more than a year old; it's probably gone up since then.)

By the way, it's not totally clear that going cashless it totally legal, at least not everywhere.

An article in The Boston Globe in 2016 about the no-cash trend said there's actually a state law in Massachusetts against the idea. But it's not clear it's actually being enforced. 

Maybe it's one of those laws leftover from the colonial era, when people were skeptical of using currency minted by the brand new United States of America. In other words, a peek at the past, instead of the future.

The truth is, going cashless eliminates one of the biggest pet peeves I've always had had about buying small items: stuff priced "just over" an even dollar--so when you get your change, you walk around with three quarters, two dimes, a nickel and two pennies in your pocket for the rest of the day.

But that's just me. Honestly, it seems people get more annoyed by the opposite policy: stores and restaurants that only accept cash--no credit cards or anything else--especially in big cities.

So this is probably what the future looks like. If you want to see it yourself, the test store is located in the Russell Investments Center, a Seattle skyscraper about two miles from Starbucks world headquarters. 

Published on: Jan 19, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.