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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants the high street to fight back against the might of online retailers

Billionaire Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants to arm UK independent retailers with the tools to take on Amazon and other online giants.

Also head and founder of payments company Square, Dorsey told Pocket-lint that offline commerce will never die, not least because of the humble, English pub: “No matter what moves online, the pub isn’t moving online. You’re still going to show up there, you’re still going to meet your friends, partners, colleagues. There will always be a role for the offline,” he said.

The laidback, beanie-wearing executive is in town for London Tech Week, which runs until Sunday 16 June. His main goal this year is to explain the benefits of using Square and how it can help small businesses take money when a customer only has a card or their phone rather than cash.

“I don’t think cash will ever go away, but I think it will be used significantly less in the future,” he told us.

Dorsey co-created Square when he recognised the shift from paper money to credit cards over 10 years ago. And since that time, the company’s box of magic tricks, the Square reader, has blossomed into something of great benefit to independent shopkeepers.

“It started when a friend of mine said that he lost a sale because he couldn’t take a card for a piece of art he was selling,” he revealed. 

The Square card reader combines with an smartphone to enable retailers, big and small, to take credit and debit card payments without having to sign contracts with big banks. It, said Dorsey, is transforming retail around the world, all for the cost of a 2.75 per cent charge on each transaction.

“Cash is inconvenient, it can be easily stolen, it can be lost. It is hard to store it in places. It can get dirty,” he continued. “All these things can be solved by something much more personal on your phone or on your card.

“We want to optimise that, but I don’t think we should be willing to displace completely everything – just displace the majority behaviour.”

40 percent of small businesses still don’t accept cards in the UK

A recently-published Square report highlights that just six out of 10 micro-businesses in the UK accept card payments, even today. That is alarming in comparison to almost nine out of 10 slightly larger businesses, with between 10 and 249 employees.

To combat this, Square has established partnerships with a number of cash-heavy communities across the UK, thereby helping local businesses accept digital payments.

The first, in the town of Holywell, North Wales, has resulted in 95 per cent of high street shops accepting card payments, many for the first time. That includes the local barbers; Sweeney Ted’s.

This was followed by similar initiatives in Batley & Spen in Yorkshire, Darwen in Lancashire, Bishop Auckland in County Durham, and Rochford in Essex.

But, it’s not just independent shops that are turning to Square, according to Dorsey; babysitters and girl scouts are too: “We have girl scouts using it, lemonade stands, people at yard sales selling their couch,” he added.

Square’s own research in the UK found that 47 per cent of shoppers seek to pay by card over other payment types, compared to only 30 per cent who prefer to pay with cash. In fact, the preference for paying by card rises to as high as 56 per cent among shoppers aged 25-34.

The founder believes that Square is also helping the high street fight back: “It feels like, if we fight to be similar then it’s a losing battle. But, if it’s a fight to be more unique, to be interesting, to be more specialised and warmer, I think we need to reconsider various businesses on the high street.

“While we might be obsessed with online commerce today, there is a trend of people appreciating the more specialised.”

Dorsey is naturally keen for more retailers to sign-up, so told us that he is happy for shops to experiment with the technology without worrying about committing to lengthy contracts: “Experiment with it. Every business is different, and hopefully we’ve created a solution that scales to every business. It may not work for you but you won’t know until you’ve experimented with it. And, I would encourage that it starts with the ‘reader’

“But, we have this amazing eco-system and tools that help you see your business, grow your business, and stay in business. The more chance you give yourself to experiment, the faster you can move.”

You can hear the full interview in the Pocket-lint podcast out on Friday

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