The recent pandemic and subsequent restrictions of trade and movement has brought into sharp focus the very real shift away from handling actual cash. Not that long ago, when clearing out an old cupboard, we found a mechanical card swipe machine circa 1990 (the ones that used carbon slips). Younger members of the team were aghast at such Flintstone era tech – “looks like a torture device” said one. 

Ten years ago cash was used 6 out of 10 times in day to day transactions. These days I’d go so far as to say 4 out of 10 times people are paying using their phone or watch, never mind a card. There is a certain security to the card transactions and not just the transfer of money, but in this Covid-19 world the card is quick, often contactless and above all clean. 

I was recently stumped when having sold some redundant bikes (online, naturally) the buyers paid me in cash. “PayPal, bank transfer?” I offered them. “Cash” came the answer – cold, hard, dirty cash. I then walked around with this in my back pocket for several days before discovering that the Post Office deposits your cash free of charge into any UK bank. It felt so strange, although given the “stay at home” message, at least I wasn’t worried about being mugged. My only regular cash usage is the scramble for bus fare for my teenage kids on the days Dad’s taxi is not available, and even then I usually end up transferring cash into the older one’s bank account for her to use her card or go via an ATM. These days you don’t even need a bank account with the growth of providers like Revolut.  

During the lockdown closure we took the opportunity to relaunch the RZSS Webshop and chose Shopify as the platform. It comes with a number of “out of the box” solutions like integration with Instagram, Facebook and others, and is of course cashless. The new platform gave us an instant boost in sales, way beyond expectations, it also provides all the backend functionality you could want. We are even investigating a click and collect option for use within the Zoo where visitors can buy and donate having scanned a QR code on an interpretation panel or adjacent to an enclosure. More sales, less queues, less cash. It’s all progress.

So what’s the point of cash and how long will it be around for? Re-opening post lockdown has meant 100% online ticket purchases, and whilst at Edinburgh Zoo we do still take cash, we do everything we can to discourage it. It’s only in one till, and we don’t signpost cash but actively signpost cards – a crude bit of nudge theory but it does work. 

Cash hasn’t completely disappeared though. A sizeable part of our audience still use it, and whilst they tend towards the older demographic, it can make the odd notable appearance – like the RZSS member who handed us a large donation in cash just last week. Cash isn’t without its advances too. Fraud is getting harder, with the advent of plastic polymer notes making fake notes easier to spot. 

Card transactions are not perfect however. They rely on internet access, power, IT security and the dreaded third party supplier software. Whilst the banks’ tech rarely fails, and we generally see the headlines when it does, the user end tech can fall over all too quickly without power or internet. If that was to happen right now, advance ticket purchase is a bonus, but if you are a free to enter attraction who relies on merchandise or catering spend to boost funding, you’ll definitely need multiple safeguards such as GPRS, battery backup and offline modes in tills. 

Suddenly we’re all reminded just how reliable cash is … and it’s not dead yet. Now where’s my nearest ATM?

Bruce Ritchie
By Bruce Ritchie
Bruce Ritchie is Head of Business Operations & Visitor Services at Edinburgh Zoo. Bruce has a broad background having worked within venues as diverse as Luxury golf resorts, Conference Centres, Stadiums and Racecourses as well as Heritage sites. He is also an ASVA board member. His remit at Edinburgh Zoo encapsulates retail, admissions, events, soft FM and security and he is primarily responsible for the commercial output of the zoo as well as the visitor experience.
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