'It's just the way the world is': Blackpool businesses being crippled by card machine fees and a cashless society

Many shops have a minimum card payment
-Credit: (Image: Manchester Evening News)


When it comes to shopping, the UK is heading in a very distinct direction.

In 2021, just 15 per cent of transaction were using old-style money, such as notes and coins. A year later it was is predicted that by 2031, that could fall to as low as just six per cent.

Whether it's paying for a shopping centre car park, a bite to eat or food from a market stall, the move towards a cashless society has been rapid - 'card only' signs are becoming more commonplace.

Yet with convenience, comes obstacles. Some that are particularly keenly felt by independent businesses who say they are subsequently stung by hefty transaction fees.

In figures that will have been welcome to many, cash actually rebounded in 2022 - when it accounted for 19 per cent of transaction in the UK. And retailers in Blackpool told LancsLive its a trend they are desperate to see return.

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Across the seaside resort, these businesses have experienced a fair share of the struggle common on high streets throughout the UK. Once vibrant streets are now populated by boarded-up storefronts after bearing the brunt of changing shopping habits and a cost of living crisis.

Carol Hancox has run her café for over 20 years
Carol Hancox has run her café for over 20 years -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Some fear a cashless society will be another nail in their coffin.

Bond Street was once a hot spot for shopping outside Blackpool's main town centre. Now as less people visit, the businesses that remain fear for their future. Carol Hancox has run The Potter-inn, a family café, for over 20 years.

An initial query about card payment fees was greeted with a knowing look.

"I lose out," Carol said frankly. "I can't pass that charge onto a customer, because it's illegal to do so. I can't say I'll charge an extra per cent or whatever, because they're paying by card.

"So I'm actually losing money that way. You're better off having cash, because then at least you get the full amount."

At The Potter-inn, Carol owns the card machine herself, meaning she avoids paying rent on the device. She says this saves money throughout the year, but there's a 1.68 per cent charge on every transaction made.

"It's one of those things, you have to accept card because the younger generation are a card nation," Carol explained. "It's all on their phones. The older generation are a bit more, 'I've only got cash in my wallet.'" Carol says the percentage adds up over the year and for every £20 spent by a customer, she loses around 34-35p.

Jim Mitchell says the shop had to start taking card after the pandemic
Jim Mitchell says the shop had to start taking card after the pandemic -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Talking about other expenses the business has to absorb, Carol also says she'll visit her local supermarket every night and the prices continue to rise. When asked if she would consider rising the prices on her menu, the café-owner said no, as this would also have a negative effect.

She added: "To be honest with you, no. No because with how the cost of living is, you've got to really watch your prices.

"They'll walk around every single café to see which is the cheapest to start with and it's that quiet, you can go in anywhere. When I started trading on this street, I would open up at 10 and you'd be lucky to get a table all day long.

"I've seen it go from the busiest street in Blackpool, to the quietest."

Jim Mitchell has worked at Greasy Joe's Burger Bar, a small kiosk selling hot dogs, cheeseburgers and doughnuts on South Promenade for over 20 years. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the stall didn't take card payments.

But, Jim says, this had to change when the world did.

In September, UK Finance published research stating 21.6 million Britons used cash once a month, or not at all. This was a slight decrease from the previous year of 23.1 million which they say reflects the use of cash amongst people who use it to manage a limited budget as the cost of living crisis worsens.

Rick owns the Regent Cinema, a institution of Blackpool which opened in 1921. He says "nobody carries cash anymore" which ultimately, has a detrimental effect on businesses like his.

"It's just the way of the world, that you see it now," Rick told LancsLive. "If nobody carries cash, you're not going to say 'oh there's a cash machine, come back' are you?

"Especially if we might be selling something for £2 to £3, they won't come back will they? It's not like a big item, where you think I will come back it's really worth it. These are impulse buys a lot of our items."

Martin Jones says his situation is a little bit different
Martin Jones says his situation is a little bit different -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Martin Jones was working in his wife's business, Jackie's Shop on Waterloo Road when LancsLive visited. The business uses Square for their card transactions, a system they believe works in their favour.

"I think it charges us 1.5%, which is nothing really," Martin said. "We haven't got any monthly fees on that either.

"For the amount of card payments we take, it pays to have it. To have card, to take card. They'll say oh I'll go to a cash machine and then you never see them again."

Jackie's Shop sells toys, games, decorative household items and handmade models. When asked if the type of shop and the price of items may affect views on card transactions, Martin said: "Possibly, but I think with a lot of places, they get someone come round to them, a sales rep and they'll try and sell them the latest system.

"This does cost a lot but as soon as they come in and say, have you got Square? They're out the door. Plus the payments come in on the next working day into your bank account, so it's really quick to use. You can transfer it straight away, they charge you 1% on that but if you're in desperate need for the money to be into the account, it's nothing."

He added: "I think do charge way too much, but then others like Square are practically nothing. It pays us more to have it than not."