14TH ANNUAL CHOICE
10 OCTOBER 2019
You're out shopping, having a great time, very happy with your picks, the sales staff is infinitely helpful … but then you take out your card at the checkout, and the mood suddenly changes. "There's a surcharge for credit cards," says the cashier, apologetically. How annoying.
So annoying in fact it prompted credit card giant American Express to launch the curiously named 'Surcharge Free' campaign this year. They're calling on businesses to ditch those frustrating point-of-sale surcharges to make shopping a bit more pleasant for consumers. Had hell frozen over? A behemoth of the financial world is speaking up for consumers! Well, not so much.
Whether we like it or not, every time we buy something on a card, the merchant we're shopping with pays a fee. These fees vary from card to card and store to store, and by 1 September next year all businesses will have to disclose and charge reasonable surcharges to all their customers. A fair and transparent system that reflects the cost to business – it'd be hard to argue against that … unless you're charging some of the highest card fees in the market, that is.
And who has the highest fees of the three big card providers, we hear you ask? That's right, Amex. In fact, their average merchant fees are twice those of Visa and MasterCard, and the extra windfall from those fees goes to paying for Amex's generous cardholder rewards programs. And you wonder why some places don't accept Amex.
Here's the problem with the 'Surcharge Free' campaign: no matter which way you slice it, we'll never really be free of surcharges. Put simply, credit card companies will keep charging businesses for credit card transactions. So if businesses stopped charging fair, cost-reflective surcharges, they'd probably just pass on the card fees to all their customers by increasing prices on everything in store. Even people who pay with low-cost options like cash or Eftpos would end up paying for someone else to use their black Amex.
Surcharge free? Try surcharge unseen. Amex wants everyone to underwrite its costly card fees that ultimately deliver generous rewards and bonuses to wealthy cardholders. This Shonky goes to Amex for their secret surcharge campaign; let's hope they don't leave home without it.