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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 11, 2017 • Issue 17:12:01

Street SmartsSM

Cash discounts: Are they right for your merchants?

By Steven Feldshuh
Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions East

Lately, I've been receiving daily solicitations to have my group sell the new cash discount programs. I believe this is one indication that we're at the beginning of a merchant pricing revolution. Why? It's a matter of economics.

Small businesses, many of which are on shaky ground, want relief. Take a small business processing a payments volume of $300,000 a year. If it transfers an average of 2 percent of that sum to consumers to help cover processing fees, that's a $6,000 savings. If the business is doing $1 million annually, at 2 percent, that translates to $20,000. Why wouldn't a business consider a cash discount program?

These programs, in essence, are simply a transfer of costs/expenses from merchants to customers. Through these programs, most or all of the expenses associated with credit and debit card processing are transferred to customers. For a large number of businesses, this makes economic sense. However, if a merchant implements such a program and loses business because it ends up charging more for goods and services than its competitors do, the program is not feasible for that business.

Cash discount programs are relatively new; there is little information on how they are faring. However, history exists in a few verticals. Many private schools have been using this type of program for years. Government offices that are not permitted to pay processing fees also have been charging fees for card processing. Some petroleum retailers also charge a flat fee for card use at the gas pump.

What merchants are saying

Now cash discount programs are available for every business. I reached out to merchant level salespeople (MLSs) in the field and received initial feedback on what they are hearing from merchants about these programs, as follows:

  • Auto body: A large auto body shop in Elmsford, N.Y., has been passing on a 3.99 percent cost to its customers for years. The manager said, "No one has ever complained. Very few people pull out a checkbook, and only a few come up with the cash."
  • Deli/bodega: Owners of a New York City deli said a cash discount program is right for them because they currently lose money on cigarette sales and on sales under $2. "We usually have to add $0.50 to a small sale anyway to cover our costs," they added.
  • Newsstand: A newsstand, deli and seller of tobacco products in Brooklyn, N.Y., said it's hard to charge more because of the high cost to begin with.
  • Liquor store: A New Jersey liquor store owner stated he doesn't know if state law permits cash discount programs, but he is investigating it. "It makes sense," he said. "People will think it is just another state tax anyway."
  • Hotel: The owner of a hotel in Florida said, "We have other surcharges. This is easy to pass on because they think it is part of a resort fee or linen fee."
  • Event ticketing: This company said it would be easy to implement a cash discount program because, "we have other surcharges for handling, etc."
  • High-end jeweler: A Scarsdale, N.Y., jeweler said he would love to implement a cash discount program, but had reservations because "people buying Rolex would frown on it."
  • Fast food: The manager of a sit-down fast-food establishment couldn't assess how a cash discount would affect his business. The manager of a 15-store chain selling pizza by the slice, however, said he loved the concept.
  • Medical offices:The manager of a medical office wasn't sure a fee could be added to a patient's co-payment. An eye doctor expressed interest in applying cash discounts to eyeglass purchases.
  • Auto rental: This proprietor said such a program "makes complete sense and can be part of multiple surcharges."

It appears that some individuals and industries will push forward immediately with cash discount implementation; others will want to do trials or let competitors be the guinea pigs. But once a few places start switching, the concept of saving money will spread.

Happy merchants mean opportunity

It may take big banks a while to develop cash discount programs ‒ if they do at all. So if you encounter big-bank merchants, their merchant services provider probably can't do cash discounts. This is an opening for you. In our industry, change generally leads to opportunity; opportunity leads to new sales. You can potentially get a smile out of a merchant who makes the change to cash discount. A smile today is huge. Not getting beat up to lower your cost by a penny or discount to 8 basis points is huge.

Will cash discounts be short lived? Will the decline in cash use by younger generations reverse? Will cardholders stray from debit and credit cards and revert to paper currency? The ease of use of mobile payments, and the continued marketing of credit card rewards, would likely be a roadblock for the return of cash. The fact that some businesses are now only accepting cards to reduce theft and robberies is also a deterrent.

Baby boomers will likely use cash when needed or will find a competitor that doesn't charge customers the percentage. But young people I've spoken with said paying for processing is just part of purchasing something they need now.

It would take a significant decline in card usage for the card brands to intervene to stop this type of program. So, for now, merchants have an opportunity to cut costs, and MLSs can help. What are you going to do? end of article

Steven Feldshuh, President of Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions East, has 18 years' experience in sales and ISO development. Directly prior to joining MCPSE in 2012, he was President of Payment Partners. In his current position, Steven devotes the bulk of his time to assisting agents in building their portfolios. Contact him by email at stevenf@mcpseast.com or by phone at 212-392-9202.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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