Using a Visa credit card to pay for bread, milk, steak and other foods is second nature to many American shoppers. But now, they may need to pause before pulling out the plastic.
Grocery chain Kroger plans to stop accepting Visa credit cards on April 3 at 142 Smith’s Food & Drug supermarkets and 108 gas stations in seven states. The move is an expansion of another ban in August, when Kroger stopped accepting Visa credit cards at about two dozen locations in California.
At the time, the nation’s largest grocer said it could expand the ban, which stems from a beef over high fees – and that could force customers to use cash or competing cards.
Here’s what you need to know about the flap:
What is Kroger doing and why?
Starting April 3, Kroger will no longer accept Visa credit cards at its Smith’s locations in Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Arizona. Previously, Kroger banned Visa credit cards at 21 of its Foods Co. supermarkets and five gas stations in California. Kroger says the move is to save on high costs associated with Visa’s “interchange rates and network fees.”
Smith’s Food & Drug stores: Kroger expands ban on Visa credit cards in 7 states
Smith’s stores and Foods Co. stores will still accept all debit cards, including Visa debit cards, as well as MasterCard, American Express and Discover credit cards.
What’s the rationale behind Kroger’s move?
Merchants like Kroger simply think these swipe fees – which can range between 1 percent and 3 percent – are too high, said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards.com, which is owned by mortgage lender LendingTree.
“(It is) basically a power move to try and force Visa to knock those fees down,” Schulz told USA TODAY in August. “The battle over swipe fees has been brewing for some time and this move by Kroger shows that it is about to escalate.”
Retailers pay an estimated $90 billion in swipe fees annually, Bloomberg reported, and Kroger is concerned that Visa’s rates and fees are among the highest charged.
Kroger’s move follows Walmart’s decision last year to end its card agreement with Synchrony Financial after failing to come to an agreement over terms.
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Will eliminating use of high-fee cards result in lower prices?
Kroger has argued the ban will save customers from higher prices. In general, despite the convenience of credit cards, “retailers argue that the (swipe fees) raise the prices of their items because the cost gets passed on to consumers or the retailers have to eat the cost themselves,” which cuts into profits, especially in low-margin businesses like groceries, says Kimberly Palmer, credit card expert at personal finance site NerdWallet.com.
But while shoppers would be thrilled to pay lower prices at checkout, that’s not always the case, according to Schulz. “There’s no guarantee,” he said, noting that when regulations drastically reduced debit card swipe fees, a subsequent decrease in prices didn’t materialize. “So there’s little reason to think it will happen in this case,” he adds.
Is there a risk Kroger will lose customers?
Not having the option of using a Visa credit card could be viewed as a big enough inconvenience to drive shoppers away, analysts say. The trend in the industry, of course, is a shift away from cash payments to electronic transactions.
“Consumers want choices, and they end up losing if they don’t have the option of using their Visa credit cards to buy items,” says NerdWallet’s Palmer. “Some consumers might even decide not to go to Kroger as a result of that inconvenience.”
A big benefit for people who use credit cards is the reward benefits that come with using their plastic to make purchases.
The less they use their cards the “less lucrative their rewards,” Schulz said.
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