Peter Guidi's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Convenience Stores’

The MasterCard/Visa settlement; an alternative point of view.

In alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, Convenience Store, credit card, debit card, interchange, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees, Uncategorized on August 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Opportunities are often difficult to recognize and they do not come with their values stamped upon them. It is often hard to distinguish between easy choices and those of opportunity; such may be the case with the retail industry’s reaction to the proposed Visa, MasterCard Settlement. As it stands today the proposed “Brooklyn” settlement has been rejected by nearly all retailer associations like; NACS, SIGMA, NGA as well as multiple retailers including large national and smaller local companies and even Senator Dick Durbin has added his disapproval to the chorus of rejection. It’s fair to say that the proposal is “Dead on Arrival”. Even so, I wonder if by refusing to embrace this settlement an opportunity is being missed.

With so much opposition to the settlement, how is it possible that an opportunity may be missed? The answer lies in the fundamental assertion that retailers can compete for the consumer’s method of payment steering them to low cost payment, rather than relying on legislative price controls or judicial action that seek to control the payments industry. Core to this belief is that there is significant competition in the credit card industry, it just happens to be between banks competing for consumers, rather than between retailers and banks competing for the consumers method of payment. There is nothing unusual about this model, it’s standard platform economics. The more end-users (retailers accepting cards and consumers with cards) on either side of the platform (MC/VISA), the more valuable and hence expensive the platform. This is why banks do not negotiate fees with retailers. Their mission is adding value to the consumer to carry and use their card for payment. The result is richer reward programs that add cost and drive the transaction fees higher. The retailer’s perception is a monopolist market, when in fact, as consumers we all participate in the very same economic activity.

In today’s rapidly evolving payment landscape consumers have many payment options. Surcharging creates an opportunity for the retailer to compete with the associations and promote low cost payment options. The challenge with surcharging is that it forces retailers to compete not just for the consumers purchase, but also for their method of payment and as a result some retailers may choose to use card payment as an economic advantage. Up until the proposed settlement this concept was merely theoretical because the card association rules prohibited the activity. While some retailers had experimented with cash discounts, the concept of charging for credit or debit card use has not been tested. The reason there is no information on surcharging is because it was prohibited by the associations operating rules. The Associations prohibited surcharging because it exposes the real cost of payment to the consumer and therefore allows the consumer to understand that using their card is not free.  This capability provides a powerful new tool for retailers to steer consumer payment choice.

Now armed with the tool needed to expose this cost, retailers are more concerned about the perception and customer services issues than the costs of payment. One retailer was quoted in NACS Online as saying he wants customers “impressed by the quality of products and services they receive” lamenting that surcharges for payment may appear to penalize them for the use of the card saying “it does not make for very good customer service”. This statement tends to suggest that the current costs accepting credit cards is acceptable, a suggestion that tends to explain why the opportunity presented by surcharging may be overlooked.

It’s unlikely that we will learn the answers to these questions in the near future. The industry is committed to seeking significant concessions that go beyond the proposed settlement which means the lawsuit is likely to move forward.  Stay tuned……


Durbin’s Catch -22, Merchant Issued Rewards.

In credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Petroleum retailing, Platforms, swipe fees on June 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Merchants have won a battle, but the question is: can they leverage the advantage and win the war for the consumer’s method of payment?

The phrase “Catch-22” means “a no-win situation” or “a double bind” of any type. In the book, “Catch-22”, Joseph Heller describes the circular logic that confronts an airman trying to avoid combat missions by saying that his claim of insanity is the proof of his sanity. With the passage of Durbin, retailers are faced with the same circular logic. The Catch 22 of Durbin is that consumers must choose debit if retailers are to save on interchange fees, and consumers will only choose debit if offered rewards or to avoid bank fees. Today consumers choose debit in large degree to earn signature based debit reward or because PIN debit does not have bank fees as opposed to credit cards where there are annual fees and interest.  Durbin will change that paradigm as banks make up lost revenue by eliminating signature debit and adding fees to, or eliminating, pin debit cards. If those changes occur then retailers will need to fund consumer debit rewards to promote debit payment. Because merchant issued debit rewards erode Durbin’s potential cost savings, the potential is that total debit transactional fee may be higher than those during the pre-Durbin era…Catch-22.

Durbin’s challenge to Retailer’s is how to influence the consumer’s method of payment. Just because consumers are choosing Debit today, does not mean they will be choosing Debit tomorrow. The reasons why consumers choose one form of payment over another (Debit, either signature or PIN, cash, credit, check, prepaid etc.) are complex, but “Rewards” plays a large role in the process. In fact, nearly 50% of all interchange dollars are used to fund reward programs. A quick review of Bank advertising for Debit will show that Debit Rewards is tied to Signature Debit, not PIN Debit; “rewards are ” Pen, not PIN”.  Rewards for Signature Debit, plus “No Fee” PIN debit has created significant consumer demand for debit products. The banks loss of signature debit interchange fees means that these reward programs will disappear and consumers will begin paying fees for PIN debit. The result is that Durbin will change both the Debit and Payment Card market, not just the fees.

Look for these results:

1. Look for more pressure on retailers to install Pin Pads. Signature debit will go away as Financial Institutions will not longer offer signature debit. The whole point of signature debit was capture credit card like interchange fees. Debit rewards programs are funded by credit card like interchange fees and at Durbins mandated +/- 12 cents there is no “rabbit in that hole”. The reason retailer’s implemented PIN pads (3dez) were to move consumers from Pen to PIN. If Merchants are to win from Durbin, PIN Pads will play a large role in that success; otherwise there will be no debit at retail. Durbins “$10 Billion” exemption is a wild card. If smaller institutions introduce aggressive signature debit programs at the expense of larger institutions then Durbin will prove to have cost retailers more than they will save.

2. Financial Institutions will seek ways to replace lost revenue. The most immediate impact is likely to be fees on both dda accounts and perhaps the use of debit cards either as a transaction fee or monthly fee. Banks will discriminate against Debit making it less attractive. One of my associates added “Issuer’s already have plans to discontinue issuing debit cards and returning to ATM only cards.” He adds “other issuer’s are going to place a transactional cap on debit cards instead of taking them away.  They will only allow a transaction for $50.  If the transaction is $51 – then, another $1 transaction will have to run.”  Say good-bye to friendly debit transactions.

3. Watch for growth in closed loop debit card, particularly ACH Decouple Debit.

In the short term, Merchants will realize a windfall as consumers who use Debit maintain that method or payment. Debit usage will drop off unless Merchants introduce “Merchant Issued Rewards”. Merchant Issued Rewards are another name for loyalty. I can offer more on that if requested. The question retailers need to answer is: If you must offer rewards to promote debit, why not promote your own debit card? Durbin will increase the importance of loyalty rewards as merchants compete with FI’s for the consumer’s method of payment (i.e. PIN Debit).

4. Watch for more aggressive Credit Card and Pre-Paid card offerings with lower credit card fees, easier credit and more aggressive rewards. Pre-Paid is apt to be the next place the FI’s push for consumer adoption and fees. As the economy strengthens, and consumer debt drops the structural issues negatively impacting credit will lesson. Financial institutions can impact the consumer’s attitude towards credit by being more consumer friendly. The loss of signature debit will hasten this activity.

5. One “Wild Card” is the DOJ lawsuit on credit card interchange fees. There has not been a lot of press on this, but there will be soon.



Incentives or Discounts; increased profit or eroded margin? Are you using buckshot, or firing a rifle?

In Coalition Loyalty, Convenience Store, loyalty, merchants, Petroleum retailing, retailers on September 23, 2010 at 10:11 pm

When it comes to loyalty programs and promotional strategy there are two schools of thought in retail. On one hand, there are those who believe that everyday low pricing is the surest way to gain consumers trust and their business. These businesses believe that loyalty programs are just about giving bigger discounts to your best customers. Certainly one very large retailer with “every day low pricing” has reached the pinnacle and it is hard to argue with their success. But, with the giant sitting on top of the low price heap, what can the rest of the retailer community do to gain market share? Certainly you can not compete on price and stay in business very long. Nevertheless, many retailers cling to the monthly coupon flyer or web site promotion offering today’s new deal; the Buckshot approach.

The second school of thought has a different perspective on pricing and strategy. These retailers believe that consumer’s make purchasing decisions for a complex set of reasons and that their behavior can be motivated by incentive. In this model the customer’s loyalty is critical to business success. The concept is to track, measure, and then provide specific incentives to individuals based on their demonstrated purchasing behavior. This science is the most effective use of marketing budgets and is focused on increasing business with each current customer. This is the rifle shot, one bullet for each customer.

At the end of the day it’s all about profit. Profit is the difference between success and failure.  When it comes time to pay the bills, or dividends, the only number that matters is the “bottom line”, you either earn a profit or you go out of business, “no margin, no mission”. Regardless of strategy, every program, and every effort must have an ROI. The objective is to make money; buy low, and sell high. It’s hard to make up a loss on volume!  Successful retailers negotiate for the best price, terms & conditions and then set prices and launch promotions that will motivate more profitable customer purchasing thus, maximizing profit. Earning a profit is the battle you fight with yourself as you pick the right price point to execute your sales strategy.  It takes cunning and courage to set solid price points, avoiding the traps of promotional discounts that erode margin simply to increase “top line” performance. Does your sales strategy drive more profitable sales, or is your strategy to be the low priced retailer turning over inventory for increased sales?

In every contest there is a moment when the game is decided. A touch-down or goal is scored, a home run hit, or a competitor’s doors shuttered. Retail is a lot like sports. Taking the lead and then winning the contest is about momentum and emotion. Employees and customers must be engaged, excited and motivated to participate. Success is defined as both top-line and bottom-line growth. Company strategy needs to set realistic goals designed to achieve long term success. Retailers use incentives to motivate employees and engage customers.  Incentives without loyalty programs are simply discounts.  Discounts erode margin. Loyalty programs increases both top line growth and increased profits. 


Coalition Marketing; The power and opportunity of developing an “alternative currency”

In loyalty, merchants on September 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Loyalty marketing in the convenience/petroleum retail business is rapidly evolving.  Looking back five years, today’s landscape is hardly recognizable. The confluence of two major trends, IT advancement and marketing strategies have changed the way retailers allocate resources and measure ROI. At the convergence of these two trends is the loyalty program. What was a simple punch card fraught with liability, is now a complex real-time database capable of tracking and measuring every dollar spent and earned. Today, many smaller retailers have modern POS and Internet services allowing them to launch complex loyalty programs that had previous been available only to the largest most sophisticated retailers.

There are numerous types of loyalty programs, clubs, instant discounts and others. In the c-store space, one of the most significant questions being asked is: what type of loyalty program to launch? The more sophisticated loyalty programs are based on “platform” economics and work to develop networks of consumers and retailers. In the c-store/petroleum space there are two popular programs available; “Coalition and Community”

Recently, the industry has been “a buzz” with news of “Community” loyalty programs linking major oil companies and gargantuan grocery chains together in “cents off per gallon” promotions. In these programs the c-store/petroleum retailers are a “redemption center” for the program. The question is; are “Groceries for Gallons” a good deal for the c-store retailer? The answer requires an understanding of the difference between coalition and community programs. The importance of this distinction is critical.

In a community program, the retailer is a “redemption depot”, storing the reward (gas) while the grocer sells groceries by giving away gas. These programs move a lot of gallons, but how do they motivate the consumer to purchase other products from the c-store?

In a coalition program the c-store is the owner of the alternative currency (points) both “issuing and redeeming” the currency. In a coalition program, the c-store is “selling” points to coalition partners. Each point is sold at a profit. The c-store earns a profit when the point is sold, rather than redeemed.

Coalition programs put the c-store at the center of a powerful marketing program designed to build profit for all members. Coalition programs motivate consumers’ to purchase more products with greater frequency from both the c-store and the coalition members. 

Summed up, in a Community program the c-store retailer is building someone else’s business, with coalition programs the c-store is building their business. The choice seems clear; coalition is the path to growth and profit. (

Does regulated debit “Swipe Fees” mean the end of cobranded debit card programs?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers on June 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Retailers choosing “open-loop” or “closed-loop” alternative payment system might want to consider the long term viability of the open-loop business model, particularly in light of their campaign to regulate and lower the associated “swipe fees”. 

Affinity, cobranded credit card programs have opportunities for both the bank and the merchant. While the “no or low fee” in-store use of the cobranded card is a big attraction, Retailers also profit from cobranded credit cards when consumers use the card to make purchases. When a consumer uses a co-branded credit card, the accepting merchant pays the “swipe fee”.  The cobranded merchant earning “swipe fees” is an example of network effects in a two-sided market. In this example, the merchant is leveraging their customers to market a bank product. Organizations that have the marketing to reach their customers will get the response needed to make the program successful. Ironically, much of the success will be a result of the high fees paid by the merchants who pay the “Swipe Fees”. 

Retailers evaluating merchant issued ACH decoupled debit card programs consider the same model while evaluating their choice of “Open”, or “Closed” loop payment systems. The question is can the decoupled debit card generate revenue for the issuing merchant in the same way cobranded credit card products do. Ironically, the answer all depends on the “swipe fee” the 3rd party merchant pays when the consumer uses the card. The higher the fee, the more successful the program. 

In order for an ACH decoupled debit card to work in an open loop system the card must affiliate with a bank, and a network. Today’s interchange rates for PIN debit are already comparatively low. The challenge for cobranded cards is to offer a level of consumer rewards that will motivate the consumer to use the card. This is the reason that debit rewards programs are offered for signature debit and not pin debit transactions. As Merchants anxiously await the passage of the much ballyhooed Durbin amendment, they might consider its impact on the cobranded card. If “swipe fees” for debit are regulated, (decoupled debit card programs included) there will be no dollars in the program for either the consumer, or the cobranding retailer. If the consumer does not receive rewards to use the card, and the retailer is not earning money from the program, the network effects driving the value of the platform will be eliminated, making the cobranded credit/debit card program obsolete.    (

The Final Frontier: the death of cash as a payment and the merchant’s role in the battle plan.

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers, Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm

MasterCard and Visa have identified the enemy; CASH! They have devised the final battle plan, the pre-paid reloaded card. VISA’ ReadyLink and MasterCard’s various solutions including a Wal-Mart payroll card are the weapons. The objective is clear; destroy paper currency and extend the reach of the platform and resulting fees over the last bastion of disintermediated transactions. The result will tax every dollar earned and spent by consumers.

The plan is cloaked in platitudes like; “serving the under-severed” or making the product “Green”. Like lambs off to the slaughter, Retailers have joined in the strategy with 7-11, Marathon and Blackhawk introducing Visa’s pre-paid reloadable card, ‘ReadyLink” to their customers. 

The core of the plan is to attack the enemy at its source, payroll. The concept is simple; prevent cash from ever reaching the hands of the consumer. The most efficient route to achieve the goal is to assure that consumers never receive cash by loading their payroll on a pre-loaded card, rather than receiving a payroll check. Say good bye to the check cashing business! When consumers load payroll onto a card the platform has captured the cash and will now earn fees on every purchase or payment made using the card; this is a brilliant strategy and is classic example of creating network effects. The growth of mobile payments and the preference of the “E-Generation” for electronic media is the sound of the bells ringing the death tome of cash in the future.

Acting is the work of two people-it’s only possible when you have the complicity. VISA estimates that there are 80 million underserved consumers receiving $1 trillion dollars in annual income that rely on cash for everyday transactions. Retailers will look back at their participation in these programs as a tactical error in the fight against transaction fees.


73rd NPECA Annual Conference – What is alternative payment

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers, Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm

There are at least two possible ways to answer the question; “What is alternative payment?” one practical, one academic.

Practically, any payment solution that is not MasterCard or Visa is alterative payment. This is true because up to 90% of all card acceptance fees occur at the pump and these two associations, along with AMEX and Discover control a monopolistic percentage of the payment market. Practically, any payment other than the major card associations is an alternative payment. An Academic approach to the question is more elusive.

Suppose that “alternative payment” is a payment where the payment relationship is between the retailer and the consumer. If so, then cash is the ultimate alternative payment?  But what about all the emerging payment systems like NPCA or PayPal, Bling or BillmeLater? Are they alternative payment? What if we changed the meaning to say that: “alternative payment is any system that creates disintermediation between consumers, retailers and their financial institutions”. Does eliminating the network roles and captured costs of the current payment processing network define alternative payment or is there more?

For the convenience petroleum retailer alternative payment is a system that disintermediates the transaction while enhancing the customer relationship. Alternative payments systems allow the retailer to focus on the “Demand-Side” of payment using incentives and tracking data to influence the consumers “Method of Payment” and enhance customer loyalty. The result should be lower card acceptance costs and increased sales. Retailers using this definition will find the final answer to the question, alternative payment is one that delivers additional profit, rather than additional cost to the retailer.

What decision factors should retailers use when choosing between an open-loop vs. closed-loop alternative payment solutions?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers on April 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Prevailing wisdom is often wrong.  Mark Twain said: “Every generalization is dangerous, especially this one”.

The prevailing wisdom on payment is that open-loop systems are superior to closed-loop systems. Open-loop payment systems have four stakeholders; consumer, merchant, issuer, and network. It is generally accepted that successful payment systems offer the consumer at least three attributes; simplicity, safety and desirability. This has lead to the mantra that only ubiquitous payment products can achieve “top of wallet” status. The reason being that the consumer wants one method of payment rather than multiple options as a matter of convenience; consequently, it’s simple and desirable.

Yesterday, Target announced they are dropping its Visa cobranded program. The Target program was one of Visa’s largest cobranded programs. This decision is the strongest sign yet that merchants are reevaluating the benefits of offering general-purpose credit cards. Target said they tested a Target credit card and that research indicated that the Target credit card drove more sales. The test made a clear case for its private-label cards over general-purpose cards. So much for “prevailing wisdom”.

Closed-loop payments systems have two stakeholders, the consumer and the merchant. When a payment system creates disintermediation between issuer and the network (acquirer) the result is increased engagement between the retailer and the consumer. Engagement is good for business. If consumers are interested in single purpose cards, as Target’s test indicated, why share the relationship with two other parties?

Prudent retailers will consider the results of Target’s decisions and other trends in payment before making a final payment system decision. Recent research indicates that 38% of consumers will reduce the use of their credit cards. Visa has reports that debit usage has surpassed the use of credit. Last week VISA announced an increase in Debit rates. Retailers looking to leverage these emerging payment preference trends should consider closed-loop ACH decoupled debit. (

Petitions or competition? The “Supply-Side” & “Demand-Side” of the two-sided payment market.

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on April 8, 2010 at 11:25 am

Most consumer payments involve some form of banking relationship. Mobile and other P2P payment providers like the newly launched “Square” offer the allure of disintermediation promising the end of the banks control over payment. But for now, retailers looking for lower transaction costs at the POS; the choices are limited, with most involving a card and all involving a financial institution (bank).

Retailers considering alternative payment need to under stand the “Demand-Side” of payments. Currently few retailers deal with the “demand-side” of payment; rather they deal with the “Supply-Side. The “Supply-Side” perspective of payments focuses on the network through which the payments are settled. 

The Demand-Side of payment systems has to do with the choices consumers make when selecting a “Method of Payment”. For most convenience/petroleum retailers this means a sticker on the front door or pump announcing which payment cards are accepted. Other “Demand-Side” promotional opportunities come from major oil or co-branded cards. Banks (card issuers) understand the importance of the “Demand-Side” and focus their efforts on influencing the consumers’ Method of Payment. Competition for the consumer’s payment choice or the Demand-Side is influenced by the banks and networks through affinity & reward programs promoted through extensive advertising and marketing paid. Retailers support these programs through Interchange Fees. 

In any two-sided market there are two groups of end users who need a “platform” to reach each other. In the case of payments, consumers with credit/debit card and retailers who want access to those consumer funds represent the two groups of End-Users. Their desire to reach each other is called a “network effect”. When banks focus on the ‘Demand-Side” of consumer payment choice by offering rewards, they are increasing the strength of the network effect. When Retailers focus on the supply side of the of consumer payment choice, accepting the cards and offering no alterative, they are adding to the strength of the network effect. The result of strong network effects is greater platform value resulting in higher fees. 

Successfully launching alternative payment programs means that retailers will need to focus on both the supply and demand sides of consumer payment choice.

The convergence of payment and loyalty programming and the trends influencing consumer payment behavior.

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on March 30, 2010 at 11:52 am

Confluence is the act of flowing together; the junction of two or more bodies of water; the place of meeting. Like two rivers, convenience store operators navigate both payment and loyalty relationships. The confluence of these two programs is the card and the consumer. Data suggests that retailers can recapitalize “Swipe Fees” as “Rewards” by leveraging consumer’s willingness to participate in loyalty programs and their increased preference to use debit payment.

According to “The Big Sort, 2009 COLLOQUY Loyalty Marketing Census, in 2008, 51 million consumers participated in Fuel/Convenience loyalty programs.  2009 saw the further expansion of loyalty with a number of retailers launching new programs. That same year, 422 million consumers participated in Financial Services loyalty programs (credit/debit rewards). While the convenience store industry was hammered by low margins under onerous interchange fees, financial institutions used up to 45% of the “Swipe fees” to drive their business forward, achieving nearly ten times the number of participants. 

The January 2010 version of “The 2008 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice” published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston reveals data demonstrating consumer’s increased participation in debit rewards programs.

\The two studies point to specific trends that support the confluence of loyalty and payments. Consumers now belong to an average of 14.1 loyalty programs, but only 3.5 credit cards. The average consumer has adopted 5 “Payment Instruments”. More consumers have and use debit cards than credit cards (88.2% vs. 78.3% w/ 208% increased usage). Consumers have more “loyalty” to their debit card than credit card with 27.5% of consumers discarding a credit card, while only 5.9% reported discarding a debit card. The analysis indicates that consumers are more willing to join a loyalty program than a payment program. Further when customers use a card for debit, they are less likely to discard the program making for a double win; more enrollment with less attrition.     

The conclusion is that growth in Fuel/Convenience loyalty programs and increased debit card usage considered in juxtaposition with the high rate of attrition of credit card users suggests that retailers offering debit rewards as a feature in the loyalty program could recapitalize a significant percentage of “Swipe Fees” as consumer rewards resulting in greater consumer loyalty and increased ROI.