Published on The New York Times You're the Boss blog, April 1, 2014. Written by Robb Mandelbaum.
More than 20 years ago, Tom Robinson, who owns a chain of gas stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, tested a new gizmo at one of his Rotten Robbie locations. “This was before you had multi-grade dispensers and card readers and all those cool things,” Mr. Robinson said recently. “We did an early test with Bank of America where we mounted these funny little boxes on top of the dispensers on one of our locations.” The machine allowed customers to swipe a debit card to pay for their gas.
At the time, in the late 1980s or early ’90s, Mr. Robinson loved the idea. “We had stopped taking checks, because checks were a hassle in a high-volume business,” he said. “Debit cards brought checks back into the transaction. And from the business standpoint, it was great too, because it was an efficient way to handle the transaction, and it was a low-cost transaction.” Bank of America, he said, charged just 10 cents a transaction in its market test, which is roughly equivalent to 18 cents today.
But in the intervening years, the cost of debit transactions increased — for small retailers, the fees on some transactions have quadrupled since 1995, adjusting for inflation. “Here this card that was great for the consumer and great for the business became very unfriendly to the business because they added a percentage,” Mr. Robinson said. “And why did they do this? Because they could.”
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