UK Street Paper Prepares Vendors for the Accelerating Transition to Cashless Payments

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Editor’s Note: The Big Issue is an award-winning weekly entertainment and current affairs magazine sold by vendors throughout the U.K. experiencing homelessness and other impacts of poverty. PayPal has partnered with The Big Issue Group to equip vendors with Zettle card readers and PayPal QR Codes to offer touch-free digital payments.

This is an excerpt from an article by Vicky Carroll in a special edition of The Big Issue detailing the partnership and the wider impacts of the pandemic on ways of working. Read the full article and support The Big Issue here.


When the UK-wide lockdown was announced in March 2020, overnight more than 1,000 Big Issue vendors were suddenly unable to sell the magazine on their pitches. Losing all income – and, crucially, the social support network of seeing customers and friends while selling on their pitches – was aterrible blow. Just as high streets were impacted, and small businesses relying on face-to-face customer contact, were disproportionately impacted financially by the pandemic as customers in lockdown turned to online retail, equally it had an enormous impact on Big Issue vendors.

The isolation was for many vendors as bad as having lost their income. “In lockdown I had nothing to do, no one to see. I was on my own, missing everyone at my pitch,” explains vendor Dave Martin, who has sold the magazine in London for nine years. “It’s not just about selling the magazine on your pitch, it’s about having a laugh and the chit-chat, which I missed.”

Dave, Big Issue
Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Dave, 59, normally sells the magazine on his bustling pitch at Tesco, Brook Green, Hammersmith. He tried his best to fill the long days playing online scrabble, doing a DIY project to turn a walk-in cupboard into a little studio to work on his art and taking part in an art college class online, and getting out for a walk every day. But he knew his customers missed him as much as he did them.

“I started a little journal, diary sort of thing, writing things down every day. But there were a couple of days I felt really low, you know. I was told by a friend ‘people are asking how are you, where have you been’ and I wanted to tell them I was alright. But I couldn’t.”

“It was a devastating moment for both the vendors and the teams. Not only were vendors no longer to earn an income through the sale of the magazine, they were also no longer to communicate with the communities that they sell within,” recalls Beth Thomas, head of Partnerships and Programmes at The Big Issue. “Vendors build a real rapport with their regular customers and the local businesses and community where they sell the magazine, and for some this can be their only contact with other people.

“Lockdown meant that vendors lost their income and their community overnight. For the teams, this was a huge blow. Everyone knows how important the magazine is to our vendors to enable them to earn an income, develop their skills and confidence and feel part of a community, and this was being stopped – immediately. People were very concerned for vendor welfare and instantly kicked into action to provide as much support as physically possible whilst in lockdown.”

Dave, Big Issue
Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

[…] Conversations were started with vendors around going cashless. Before the pandemic people were already increasingly turning to cashless transactions in the UK. And over the last year paying by tapping our cards or using our phones became rapidly just how we go about our day. Ditching cash altogether, some major retailers now accept only card payments.

“The pandemic has only accelerated the need for vendors to accept cashless payments and we began a lot of this work with some vendors whilst still in lockdown,” Beth Thomas, head of Partnerships and Programmes at The Big Issues, says. 


Before March 2020 193 Big Issue vendors were offering cashless payments. That number is now 594 and rising. And the results are tangible: vendors who offer cashless earn an average of 30% more than non-cashless – and that is only likely to increase as the already rapid pace of cashless adoption accelerates with the UK now reopening for business.

Dave was one of the earliest vendors to go cashless, so was aware of the benefits of offering contactless sales even before the pandemic.

“People were paying more by card before the pandemic, and I saw The Big Issue was getting vendors getting Zettle card readers to help their sales,” he says.

“The Big Issue helped me out, setting up my bank account and I signed up with Zettle. And it definitely helped my sales. And because of the pandemic, card sales increased a lot.”

The ability to swiftly help our vendors to make the switch to cashless is thanks to The Big Issue’s well established relationship with Zettle, a PayPal company.

“We’ve been a proud supporter of The Big Issue for years and with the impact of the pandemic, our joint commitment to creating a more financially-inclusive society has never been more important than it is today,” says Jacob de Greer, Vice President, Small Business Products and Zettle, at PayPal.

To continue reading the full story, visit The Big Issue.

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