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your money or your livelihood March 4, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Lessons Learned.
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CC-licensed photo by Flickr user jarrod job.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user jarrod job.

This morning, I had to stop by one of my doctors’ offices to fill out a form. On the way back to my car, I passed their little cafeteria and spied a cappuccino machine. I’d planned to pull into a gas station and get a coffee, but with this machine right here, charging me only 20 cents more than a BP or QT, I figured, why not? So I filled my cup, put on a lid, and went to pay, placing my MasterCard on the counter.

The woman (apparently the owner) took one look at it and said “minimum charge $2.50”.

Now, I’m not usually the kind of person who likes to throw a fit, but I don’t carry cash unless I’m on vacation or need to purchase something at a place that only accepts cash (such as a parking garage or snack vendors at sporting events). However, I really just wanted to take my coffee and get out of there.

So I did what the fine folks at Consumerist.com say to do and inform the cashier that your agreement with the credit card company explicitly forbids you from instituting a minimum purchase rule.

She shrugged and said “if it’s less than $2.50, I don’t make any money.”

Well, I admit I was in a hurry, so I grabbed a couple of cookies (60 cents apiece, but they were originally purchased at the grocery store at a price of 18 for $5), paid $2.79, and as the woman handed me my receipt, she asked if I worked for the bank. I smiled and said, “no, but I read a lot of consumer advocacy websites.” She didn’t know what to say to that, so I signed the receipt and left.

Now, according to Consumerist, here is what the MasterCard merchant’s agreement says:

9.12.3 Minimum/Maximum Transaction Amount Prohibited

A merchant must not require, or post signs indicating that it requires, a minimum or maximum transaction amount to accept a valid MasterCard card.

So here’s the ultimate question: your money or your livelihood? What I mean is, will you eat the profits on a $1.50 cappuccino, or will you risk a dissatisfied customer who really, really wants that coffee calling MasterCard and reporting you, which possibly ends in your losing your ability to accept MasterCard as a form of payment?

The gas station I usually shop at has chosen option one. I haven’t come across the problem much because when I go in there, I get coffee and a breakfast sandwich (they have pretty good croissants) or baked good (apple fritter, most likely). I’ve heard them mention it, but when the customer seemed upset, they just shook their heads and said “don’t worry about it this time”. Which, I think, is a way to go: rather than strictly enforcing it, prime the customer by saying “okay, I’ll do it this time, but next time, if you could, please make a purchase of more than $2.50”. Odds are good the customer will comply. I’ve seen it happen.

The other thing a customer will do is just bring a few bucks when they know they’re going to a place with a minimum charge. I plan to grab $20 from the ATM next time I head down there, because while it was a bit of a pain to get, the cappuccino is really quite good.

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1. Bill Cash - March 4, 2009

I just stopped by your blog and thought I would say hello. I like your site design. Looking forward to reading more down the road.

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