The Green Sheet Online Edition
January 26, 2015 • Issue 15:01:02
The very point of sale:
Retail, why bite the brand that feeds you?
The long marriage between retailers and payment card brands hit the rocks in 2005 when a group of retailers filed a class action suit against Visa Inc. and MasterCard Worldwide, seeking damages for the fees they paid to accept credit cards. The virulent language of the filing sent shock waves throughout the payments industry.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., and other high-profile retailers led the revolt. They questioned the legality of the interchange pricing structure and suggested that the card brands were engaging in price fixing and acting like a monopoly. Many were dissatisfied with the $7.2 billion dollar settlement, as evidenced by the rising tide of appeals from retailers that want to see more specific guidelines in place to prevent price increases in the future.
Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) have long defended interchange by educating merchants and attempting to redirect the conversation away from price by focusing on value. Bill Pirtle, Regional Sales Manager at Mainstream Merchant Services, edited and published Credit Card Processing for Sales Agents, an anthologized collection by industry professionals on a variety of payment-related topics.
Pirtle’s chapter, “What merchants are paying for,” examines the multifaceted value proposition of credit card acceptance and suggests that benefits outweigh the costs of accepting credit cards, including:
- Additional sales: If they don’t see the familiar logo of their favorite card brands on the door, many customers will keep on walking. Pirtle wrote, "It’s important to remember that the fees that the merchant pays for processing [create] the opportunity to increase sales and gross margin.”
- A loan: A credit card transaction is a loan to a business until the customer is satisfied with the transaction, a reminder that chargebacks occur when “the product or service is not as the merchant promised,” Pirtle noted.
- A funds transfer: Credit card transactions involve more than moving money from Point A to Point B. They all also involve significant risk. In fact, a customer’s “open-to-buy” is not the same as available cash; it’s available credit. “When the terminal batches, the card issuers are creating money and placing that money through a vast computer network into the merchant’s checking account. It is not simply moving cash,” Pirtle stated.
- Fraud prevention: “Interchange and Assessment fees charged on every credit card transaction also pay for the ever-expanding fraud prevention tools, which are necessary to keep up with changes in technology and to stay ahead of the criminal mind,” Pirtle wrote.
George Sarantopoulos, Director of Marketing at Access One ATM Inc., suggested retailers may be part of a larger epidemic of non-transparent pricing by sellers, combined with unrealistic expectations of buyers.
“Think about the experience of booking a hotel online," he said. "Consumers compare different properties and find an $85 hotel room. Then when they click through to book the hotel, they find resort fees and taxes that totally overshadow the base price. The same can be said for airline fuel and baggage charges, or prepaid cards with transaction fees that undermine the dollar value of the card.”
He pointed out that MLSs sometimes need to remind merchants who complain about rate, that “I’m the guy who was there for you at 1:30 in the morning on Saturday when you had a problem with your POS device.”
The card brands should borrow a page from the MLS playbook, redirecting the conversation by repositioning their companies and brands. MasterCard is more than a card brand. It’s a leading technology company that is committed to making a difference in the world through a number of strategic initiatives including educational outreach, community involvement and using technology solutions as a force for good.
Visa is more than a card brand. It’s a payments technology leader and global network that connects thousands of institutions with millions of merchants and cardholders focused on improving lives and economies around the world through its products, know-how and philanthropy.
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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