From cash to Kindles: Waiting for the world to catch up to convenience

I stuff cash in my wallet for one reason and one reason only: Dick’s.

The classic, awkwardly named Seattle drive-in serves better fries at $1.50 than four-star restaurants sell at $15. Its shakes are heaven at 2 a.m. And oh, the people-watching.

Dick’s is not the only place I pay cash. It’s the only place I tolerate it.

Call me spoiled. I call it progress. Online, the top actions and transactions take a click and track themselves. As far as I’m concerned, the real world needs to catch up. Fast. Faster.

I remember when I kept a roll of quarters in my car’s cupholder no problem. These days, if I have to use a coin parking meter I want to kick it. Why are you still here? When I board a flight by flashing the digital boarding pass on my phone, I walk tall, knowing that’s the way it should be. But when the flight attendant tells me to shut off my Whispernet-disabled Kindle mid-”Bossypants” while the woman next to me flips a page, I grit my teeth to keep from blurting something awful. Figure it out, airlines. This is getting old.

Mónica Guzmán

I am a creeping crusader for convenience — fighting convention, bureaucracy, inertia, a lack of imagination and outdated tech. Or at least getting mad at it. And so, I think, are many of you.

The good news? Convenience is turning up in unexpected places. Or at least, places we haven’t ranted about. Much.

Like the booths at Seattle’s monthly First Thursday Art Walk in Pioneer Square, where last month I saw an artist use, well, Square. I first heard about the card scanning service and iPhone plug-in when early Twitter staffer Dom Sagolla showed it off around Seattle last spring, but I figured it’d stay stuck in the geek realm because most cool-seeming new things do. Yet there it was, on the artist’s iPhone, changing the equation.

What once was silly for small vendors is now kind of smart (and kinda of cool looking). More convenience, and more business. Win-win.

But one step toward convenience isn’t always enough. Square made an appearance at the Mobile Food Rodeo Sept. 17 (at the Street Treats truck, at least, which still likes it). But as was clear from attendee tweets and posts, tech wasn’t addressing the event’s biggest inconvenience: the lines.

A flier for Yorder, a free mobile app that’s out to facilitate ordering food at live events, appeared on the window of one truck. But it may have been largely a a teaser. Yorder’s website lists only Marination Mobile as a Seattle vendor. Maybe next year?

Some attempts at convenience lose something in translation. Washington’s Puyallup Fair upgraded their paper tickets — the kind you count up, rip off and hand to the ride guy — to “FunCards” pre-loaded with a set amount of digital tickets this year. “So you don’t have to worry about carrying around a bunch of tickets, just a card!” a Fair staffperson posted about the change on its Facebook page in April.

Convenient, sure. But when I braved the Wooden Roller Coaster, Zero Gravity and other rides this month, doubting how many tickets remained on my FunCard was … no fun. When a Mom handed the card to a guy with a scanner, I felt bad for the son holding her hand. Maybe the card saves bulk. But isn’t holding and counting and tearing up tickets part of the fun of going to the fair? All this kid got was a beep and a wave.

Respect the experience, and convenience wins. I take cash on trips because, like it or not, I need it for cabs. But this month, it hit me. I’ve traveled to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New Orleans this summer, and every cab has taken cards.

Granted, the Boston cabbie didn’t like it when he stopped mid-traffic to let me out and I handed him my Visa, but that’s another opportunity for tech to take one more step. Private car services like Uber and Redmond’s Pinpoint Pickup make it easier to pick up and track a ride. Uber even lets you pay automatically, so you can hop out and be on your way. They’re not everywhere yet, but if their convenience is enough to beat out convention, they’ll get there.

And maybe give me a late night ride to Dick’s.

Mónica Guzmán is a Seattle journalist and community strategist who consults for startups and media and can usually be found tweeting away at @moniguzman. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.uhlir Paul Uhlir

    Be sure to hold onto that $5 bill or it gets sucked right into Dicks. Great post!

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      It is amazing, though, just how much Dick’s food $5 will get you.

  • Mike D.

    I don’t mind the burgers, but please do not hold the soggy, greasy, salty excuses for french fries up on a pedestal for the rest of the world laugh at. Dick’s fries are deplorable. Just sayin’…

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      Soggy, greasy and salty can be quite delicious (“nutritious” is another story). Agree to disagree :)

  • Jonah

    1)  Avoid getting behind people at security showing a digital boarding pass on their phone; takes the time to get through that the other line passes 10 people.

    2)  Avoid the line in Starbucks with someone using an iPhone app to pay; again, takes forever

    3)  Square has an excessive cost to its convenience (even higher than standard credit card processing services), and it doesn’t necessarily justify the risk to vendors; yes, the risk that someone might buy their product with a stolen card, under false pretenses, or just might decide to dispute a charge.  When a charge is disputed, the onus is on the vendor to prove it, so while I think Square is a great thing, there are many other considerations than just convenience.

    • Steve

      to your Point 3): Square is very comparable to other credit card transaction fees when one compares the rates across all cards. Only the most preferred card gets the low 1.xx fee, others (like rewards cards, the type many consumers use) go as high as 3.6 or 7. The average across these IS close to Square’s fee. And with instant verification and a screen signature captured, the vendor is as safe as one can be.

    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      1) Good point. One time when I flashed a digital boarding pass, the staffer had to leave and get a scanner that worked. Hope the disruptions go away as more people try it.

      2) Interesting. Didn’t know you could do that. 

      3) Acknowledged. I was encouraged when the vendor at the Pioneer Square Art Walk told me it was helping her business. The equation worked for her — or at least she seemed confident that it did. 

  • Guest

    I think I speak for everyone when I say that if a company doesn’t accept credit cards, they don’t accept money. Carrying printouts and paper notes is simply unacceptable.

    In the rare case where a place refuses my card, I instruct my companion to pay with xer cash, then I pay xem using xer Square device. Simple. So simple.

  • Nowimp7
    • http://twitter.com/moniguzman Monica Guzman

      ;)

  • JTS

    Whatever Dick’s thinks they are saving on transaction fees, they are losing double on lost sales opportunity. C’mon Dicks, being ‘old school’ here is just being out of touch.

    • Guest

      Same here. I’ve argued for literally minutes with the men at Dick’s over their classist no-credit-card policy. They actually expected me to use an out-of-network ATM, which would cost me $3, to get a single banknote bearing the picture of some racist President I don’t even respect.

      Dick’s, you’re dead to me. Tweet at me when you’re ready to join the 21st century.

  • http://twitter.com/jasonp Jason Preston

    I love cash. 

    Cash is an amazing form of money, and it is by far and away the simplest, quickest, most convenient, most universal, cheapest, and most practical way of paying for most things in life that people buy. 

    Obviously there are other ways to make large purchases like homes and cars than bringing in a briefcase full of bills. 

    I carry cash almost all the time, and I setting aside the obvious benefits to a vendor for avoiding the service charges on small credit card transactions, I believe it genuinely is the fastest way to make any transaction. By the time you swipe a card, wait for the register to communicate with the credit card server, and then sign the receipt, you could hand a five dollar bill over and get your change. 

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Dicks serves their food faster than other fast food chains in part because they don’t have to deal with credit cards. 

    The costs of using credit cards are real, of course, and in aggregate, they amount to a lot of money. If you doubt that, look at the American Express Balance Sheet (http://bit.ly/ocNaCe) . Much of that money came from fees imposed on vendors that process credit card payments from AmEx, much of which is passed on to you, the non-cash purchaser (or more accurately, all purchasers at stores which accept credit cards), in the form of increased prices. 

    Additionally, there are other, sneakier costs associated with credit cards. Your purchase history is recorded and available for purchase by those who want to buy the data from your credit card provider, or available to the government if they want to get it. 

    Your credit card affects your credit score when you use it, even if you’re not “spending money you don’t have.” Those effects are not always positive. 

    Also, I think cash is cool. It looks cool, it feels cool to buy things with it, it is cool to carry around, it is something useful that can go in your wallet, and unlike your cards, you can reduce and expand its bulk without changing its value. 

    +10 for cash ;)

    • http://www.wac6.typepad.com William Carleton

      I’m with you, Jason. I go to Herkimer almost every morning because (1) I like the coffee and (2) they are cash only and I don’t have to endure people fumbling with wallets and plastic cards and signing and/or swiping.

  • http://www.bestgeekfriend.com Matt Ebert

    Sing it sister.  Great post!

  • Brian S. Alexander

    I’m waiting for the real world to catch up because that’s the title of my new eBook!