Kroger Applauds Credit-Card Settlement

CINCINNATI — Not all retailers are unhappy with last week’s proposed settlement in the dispute over interchange fees with credit-card companies: A spokesman for Kroger [3] here told SN on Monday that the company felt it could benefit as a result of provisions in the agreement allowing retailers to incentivize more efficient methods of payment, helping to lower its overall costs.

“We think the settlement represents the best opportunity to resolve the litigation and to begin exercising a new ability to reduce costs for our customers,” the spokesman, Keith Daley, said. “It’s a good settlement, if not a perfect settlement.”

Daley added that the settlement also offers retailers their best opportunity to end the lengthy dispute and the accompanying conditions that sparked the 2005 lawsuit.

“There seems to be a lot of focus right now about the surcharge aspect of it — this notion that you can charge a consumer more for using a certain card. But what’s most interesting to us — and we think can be a hugely powerful new tool at a merchant’s disposal — is the discounting aspect. For example, retailers can now consider discounting for customers who use debit cards. So through discounted pricing on certain electronic payments, we can begin to move consumers toward more efficient and lower cost products,” Daley said. “That represents the first leverage point we have with the big credit card companies ever. That’s a fundamental shift to have a tool like that at our disposal.”

The $7.25 billion settlement, reached late last week, has come under criticism by some merchant groups, including the National Association of Convenience Stores, which said the agreement failed to introduce the degree of transparency plaintiffs sought and would lead to higher prices for customers. The suit alleged that card issuers and banks conspired to fix the fees stores paid to accept credit and debit cards.

“If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity there is no foreseeable conclusion,” Daley added. “We’ve been fighting this thing for seven years. If we don’t take advantage of the settlement now, it could set us back another five years.”