Credit card charges hit Whistler merchants where it hurts 

Owners are waiting for competition hearing results in Ottawa

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON - fee'ed upPaul McGeough at Splitz Grill is encouraging customers to pay by cash or debit card to avoid rising credit card fees.
  • Photo BY cathryn atkinson
  • fee'ed upPaul McGeough at Splitz Grill is encouraging customers to pay by cash or debit card to avoid rising credit card fees.

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With Gone they decided to continue the previous owner's system of accepting Visa and Mastercard.

"We thought 'Gee, is the town going to like us if do that at all three locations?'" Katz said.

With this in mind, he said he was considering allowing Visa and Mastercard into Mogul's and Zog's.

"What I'm listening to from customers is that today we are probably losing customers. Fifteen years ago cash was more readily available, more people were using it. Today, people are using cash less and want to use cards," he said.

For Whistler merchants, said Katz, the situation means they are caught in a difficult position.

"We want to move the lines quicker, but at the same time our cheque averages run $5 and $6, so the margins are such that to pay $1,500 or whatever it might come to, it is significant to a small business player."

A tribunal hearing requested by the CCB is currently underway in Ottawa to look at the $5 billion a year charged to Canadian retailers and companies for offering credit card payment options to customers. A spokesman for the CCB told Pique that the hearing is due to end on June 21, with the results to be made public later this year.

When the hearing began in May, the CCB called the system "perverse." The decision of the tribunal will have the same impact on credit card companies as a binding court order.

Whistler Chamber of Commerce president Fiona Famulak said they are aware of the issue and watching the tribunal closely.

"This is an issue that significantly impacts small businesses across the country," she said. "Credit card fees add to the cost of doing business in an already challenging economic clinate. In Whistler, we have heard from a number of our members that this issue is directly affecting their bottom line."

Both Visa and Mastercard, which represented 92 per cent of Canada's credit card purchases made in 2009 according to the CCB, have legal representatives at the tribunal.

In a statement in May, Visa Canada said: "Visa's no-surcharge and honour-all-cards protections preserve consumer choice at checkout and ensure cardholders are not unfairly penalized for using their preferred form of payment. We intend to vigorously defend these pro-consumer provisions during the upcoming tribunal hearing.

"We are disappointed that the Competition Bureau of Canada is pursuing an anti-consumer and anti-competitive position that runs counter to the desires of Canadian consumers."

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