Riding a wave of public outrage over credit-card practices, 7-Eleven Inc. wants to show merchants are victims of the industry, too.
The convenience store chain announced a petition this week to give small businesses more power to negotiate the fees they must pay whenever a customer uses a credit or debit card.
7-Eleven said more than 6,000 of its franchisees plan to collect 1 million customer signatures to deliver to Congress this fall.
Ann Marie Fulcher, who owns a 7-Eleven franchise in Richmond near Virginia Commonwealth University, said she has gotten nearly 270 signatures already.
Creditand debit-card fees run her $1,200 to $1,400 per month, which she splits with the company.
“It’s a lot of money,” she said. “And we see it a lot, because we’re close to the university where most people pay with debit or credit cards. If we could just get something, it’d help.”
Still, Visa and MasterCard warn that if such fees were lowered, banks would need to make up any lost revenue with higher creditand debit-card fees.
The petition from 7-Eleven comes after sweeping reforms to credit-card practices were signed into law by President Barack Obama in May. The law gives consumers new protections on interest-rate increases and cost disclosures, but it does not include rules on fees paid by merchants.
It’s this seeming discrepancy that 7-Eleven wants addressed.
The Dallas-based retailer hopes to generate support for legislation that would establish a negotiating process for determining the so-called interchange fees, said Keith Jones, the chain’s director of government relations. Interchange fees, generated whenever a customer uses a credit or debit card, are typically 1.2 percent to 2.2 percent of the transaction, according to Card & Payments, a monthly industry publication based in Skokie, Ill.
7-Eleven says the fees are becoming more burdensome to small businesses as people increasingly use plastic to pay for even minor purchases. These days, Jones noted, it’s not unusual for people to buy a pack of gum or cup of coffee with a credit card. The average purchase at 7-Eleven totals $6, he said.
“If you’re a very low-margin business, that kills you,” Jones said.
Last year, Jones said, 7-Eleven paid $160 million in bank-card fees, up from $40 million five years ago — a 300 percent increase.
Interchange fees generated by bank cards totaled $23.99 billion in revenue last year, according to Card & Payments.
The American Bankers Association, meanwhile, notes that interchange fees have remained relatively constant in recent years.
What’s new is that more people are using credit and debit cards to pay — a development that has led to higher sales and profits for merchants, said Kenneth Clayton, general counsel for ABA’s Card Policy Council.
“This is more about the merchant community trying to get Congress to intervene to lower their cost of doing business and improve their profits without passing anything on to consumers,” Clayton said.
The sentiment was echoed by Visa, which called the recent petition efforts “puzzling and misleading.”
MasterCard said it suspects 7-Eleven isn’t telling customers that if the merchant doesn’t pay “its fair share” for transactions, then consumers will have to pick up the costs.