Kroger is telling us not to worry – they’re not going to start charging credit card customers more. They just won’t charge them less.

The country’s biggest grocery chain is publicly mulling how to respond to last week’s multibillion-dollar settlement in a case pitting retailers against credit card companies. Visa and MasterCard were accused of price-fixing, in setting the fees they charged retailers to process credit card payments. Retailers were banned from passing those fees on to consumers. But under the terms of the settlement, now they can.

In theory, stores can immediately start charging you around 2% more, just for using a credit card. But many question the wisdom of that move. Instead, stores may charge credit-card users more by default, simply by charging everyone else less.  But some are skeptical that will happen.  “Does that mean you’d turn around and reduce prices across the board and then only charge those paying with a card extra?” Trish Wexler, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Payments Coalition asks the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “I think it’s much more likely that prices will stay the same, and some retailers will be looking to double-dip on this.”

But Kroger insists it’s considering all the options. “Retailers can now consider discounting for customers who use debit cards,” Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey tells Supermarket News. That way, he says, “we can begin to move consumers toward more efficient and lower cost products.” In a separate interview with the New York Times, he said Kroger was still considering how to implement such a change – whether to show two different prices on the shelves, for instance, or simply give an overall discount at the register.


The Times also interviewed other retailers and restaurateurs affected by the change, many of whom said they have no plans to change their pricing structure. “Shopping with a credit card is a convenience for our customers,” said one. “I think you have to take the hit,” concluded another. And said the executive chef of an elegant eatery: “It’s not a very elegant thing to do.”

As for customers who don’t use debit cards, and don’t want to pay for the privilege of using credit – some say grocers may want to reconsider implementing a policy that encourages customers to use cash. “You have to make bank runs every day,” Bankrate.com senior financial analyst Greg McBride tells Reuters. “What if you run out of quarters? There’s risk of theft and manpower.”

Ultimately, it could mean the return of the old checkout question, “paper or plastic?” – but this time, with an entirely different meaning.

UPDATE: Kroger posted the following statement on its Facebook page today, July 18th: “We’re looking at ways we can use this settlement (not yet finalized) to help our customers save money. Though some have boiled this complex issue down to ‘now retailers can charge you’, we’re excited about options we’ll soon have to provide the best value for our customers. For example, this settlement could allow us to offer discounts for customers who use credit cards with lower cost associated with them. We also want you to know that any changes to payment options will be clearly communicated first to you, our valued customers.”

So it could become much more complicated than a two-tier pricing structure – there might be one price for customers who use credit cards with high swipe fees, another price for customers who use “lower-cost” credit cards, another price for customers who use debit cards, cash or check, not to mention lower prices for all three if they use their Kroger Plus loyalty card. Stay tuned…

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