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There is no truce in transaction fee war

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The war between retailers and credit card companies over transaction fees continues.

The latest battle in that war began on March 1, when Kroger Co. announced that its Smith’s Food & Drug Stores division will be the company’s second banner to stop accepting Visa credit cards as a form of payment, beginning on April 3.

Foods Co. Supermarkets in California, another Kroger banner, stopped accepting Visa credit cards in August 2018.

“Visa has been misusing its position and charging retailers excessive fees for a long time,” said Mike Schlotman, Kroger’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. “They conceal from customers what Visa and its banks charge retailers to accept Visa credit cards. At Smith’s, Visa’s credit card fees are higher than any other credit card brand that we accept. Visa’s excessive fees and unfairness cannot continue to go unchecked. That’s why, starting April 3, Smith’s will accept all forms of payment except Visa credit cards.”

Kroger said no other banners are taking the same action yet, but the company is considering its ­options.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association has weighed in on Kroger’s behalf.

“RILA firmly supports Kroger’s decision to challenge the anti-competitive actions of VISA, which continue to drive up the cost of accepting credit cards in the U.S. market,” said Austen Jensen, the association’s senior vice president of government affairs. “Technology has made credit card transactions faster and cheaper to process — yet the fees Visa imposes on these transactions paradoxically grow higher every year.”

Jensen said that Kroger’s action reinforces the need for federal regulators and Congress to “address the anticompetitive forces present in the payments market which drive up costs for American merchants and their customers.”

RILA submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission in August 2018, encouraging the agency to use its regulatory authority to promote competition in the payments ecosystem.

Meanwhile, in January a U.S. district court gave preliminary approval to a $6.2 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit that had been filed by retailers against Visa and Mastercard about 14 years ago. A previous settlement was reached in 2012 but was opposed by most big retailers; that case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the retailers. This settlement will likely stick, although some big retailers are expected to opt out, which they can now do without scuttling the deal.

And the war goes on.


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