Retailers Could Charge New Credit Card Fee

Credit cards

The next time you make a purchase using a credit card, take a good look at the receipt.

You could be paying a new fee. Retailers now have the option to pass on to consumers the fees that credit card companies charge for processing transactions.

Under a settlement last summer between U.S. retailers and major credit card firms Visa and MasterCard, merchants now can pass on the cost of the "swipe fee" that they pay the credit card company -- usually 1.5 to 4 percent of the purchase -- by charging the customer a new "checkout fee" equal to the "swipe fee."

Sunday was the first day retailers could begin charging the fees.

Several large retail chains, including McDonald's, Target and WalMart, have said they will not add surcharges to credit card purchases. And judging from reactions by several local retailers, the region likely won't be hit with new "checkout fees" anytime soon.

For years, scattered filling stations across the metro area have been charging a higher price for fuel to credit card customers than those paying with cash.

The trend has risen along with the price of gasoline over about a decade and the difference is often roughly equivalent to a "swipe fee." But station owners have typically characterized the price differentiation as a "cash discount" rather than a "swipe fee."

Most local retailers, however, say adding a "checkout fee" would be a poor way to build or retain customer loyalty in a highly competitive sector.

"Passing [the swipe fee] along? We're not going to do that," said Gary Fitzpatrick, who with his wife, Molly, owns Learning Express toy stores in metro Toledo and Ann Arbor.

"I just don't think it's worth it for the amount of money involved," he said, noting that the fee is a dime or less on small transactions.

"The chatter on the Learning Express Web site showed that some other stores in other states were talking about it. But they're not going to do it either," Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

"In fact, I haven't seen anybody who has said they're going to do it. It would generate more ill will than benefit."

At the Appliance Center in Maumee, sales manager John Nickoloff said he couldn't see the store adding the fee.

"It's all part of the way we do business. We've offered free delivery for decades. People say, 'How do you stay in business? And we say, 'Well, we've just always offered free delivery. It's how we do business and treat our customers.' "

Rob Armstrong, vice president of Bennett Enterprises, which owns area Ralphie's, Frisch's Big Boy, and four area hotels including the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg Township, said although credit card costs are an increasing concern, passing them on to consumers would not be good business.

"Credit card fees are a growing cost to retail and hospitality businesses as merchant processing services charge ever-increasing fees and consumers increase their use of plastic versus cash," Armstrong said.

"In 2012, credit card processing fees were 1.5 percent of revenues for our Ralphies, Frisch's Big Boy, and hotel operations. This is roughly the same amount we paid for water and sewer services at our twenty-four locations."

Nonetheless, "we have no intention of trying to pass any of this cost on to the consumer in new fees and doubt that it would be well-received by the consuming public for any merchant who does."

The Andersons Inc. is like-minded, said Debra Crow, spokesman for the Maumee firm, which includes general stores.

"We are very much focused on our customer relations. It's not worth damaging a relationship with a customer that you have established over the years just to recoup a couple of bucks," she said.

Barry Greenblatt, owner of Barry Bagels restaurants, said the "swipe fee" issue is "almost a nonevent" from a retailer's perspective.

"I don't think it's anything we're going to do," he said.

"If everybody were to start doing it, I guess we would say we'd revisit it then but even then I don't know about that," he said.

"It's tough enough to stay afloat, and you've been paying this [swipe fee] for 40 years, and all of a sudden you're going to start charging your customers for this?

"I don't think so," Greenblatt said.

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