Thursday, 13 September 2007

Petrol Companies Revolt Against Credit Card Surcharges. Consumers to Get Stuffed. Again.

Although Gulf News reported in a news story that ENOC was collecting a 1.65% credit card transaction fee from customers, Emarat only got fingered in an editorial feature. Which is funny, because they also started passing on the 1.65% fee to customers on the 1st September.

Interestingly, ENOC didn't mention its move was due to any increase on the part of banks when it talked to Gulf News, but Emarat's explanatory leaflet to customers says the move comes 'due to increase in Bank Administration fees' and goes on to say that Emarat 'will add the 1.65% bank imposed fee to all credit/debit card payments...'

So Emarat is giving the clear impression to consumers that this move comes as the result of a new increase in fees from the bank. ENOC did not make that claim when it spoke to Gulf News, attributing the move to the loss it already makes selling fuel.

Charging consumers for the use of credit or debit cards is expressly against the merchant agreement that merchants enter into with the card networks. In fact, the card companies got all bellicose with GN when it was contacted by the newspaper regarding the ENOC move and both Visa and Mastercard made vaguely threatening 'this is not on and we're taking action' noises.

Banks contacted by GN called the move, apparently, 'unilateral'. Although if Emarat is also passing on the charge it would tend to suggest the move is 'multilateral'.

Passed over in the main by our brave news media, then, is the fact that a pitched battle is breaking out between petrol companies and the credit card networks and their acquiring banks. As usual, the people that are going to get royally screwed are the consumers. Sure, it's only a couple of dirhams in every hundred. But it's also yet another unwelcome price rise among a number of insidious little increases.

I do think the papers have missed the significance of this little standoff. You see, if these petrol companies get away with this (and there's no reason to suppose that they won't out here in the Klondike), you won't be waiting long for everyone else to join in. If Visa and Mastercard don't nip this in the bud soon, we might well be seeing a broader revolt breaking out. Which, although interesting to watch, is going to hurt consumers as merchants start surcharging us left, right and centre.

Sharjah Electricity and Water, as well as Emirates Post already charge a card handling fee - again in contravention of the card networks' stated policy - and Dubai Electricity and Water makes a 2.5% credit card surcharge at its cash collection points, although Internet card transactions are free of charge. In the UK, the world's most intensive credit card economy, merchants are specifically allowed to surcharge by law: although most don't, some (like low cost airlines) do. In many US states, regulations prohibit surcharging (nice bit of lobbying, card companies!).

In the UAE, the legislature has taken no stance - nor is it likely to any time soon. So it's down to the forces of 'laissez faire' and the 'market economy'.



Molouk said...

Alex, if you think it's bad in Dubai, you should see what has happened in Saudi. The merchants stick the customers with the full fee charged to them by the CC companies. Even when we complain to the CC companies they do nothing. In front of the registers at some merchants there are clear signs stating that customers will be charged the fees. The CC companies don't care, they just want the fees any way they can get them.

shannon said...

This happens in the US, also. Merchants will state that the customer will be charged the fee for processing credit cards, or will set a minimum amount to purchase for using your card.

for example, at the cafe next to the grocery store i frequent, you cannot use your debit or credit cards for a check less than $15, and i have encountered this at many places. doesn't seem 100% fair to me...

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