Merchant Centre

Credit card surcharges - New Zealand’s sleeping giant

The NZ Herald reported back in 2013 a rising tide of discontent amongst New Zealand consumers objecting to credit card surcharges when paying for goods and services online. 

You can read the full article here.

As well as being thorny, this topic is also contentious. Firstly, New Zealanders have been relatively late in adopting online shopping en masse (and so many haven’t had call to get peeved about the issue), but also because retailers have so far justified their charging the surcharge as simply “passing on the credit card fee” that they are charged by the credit card schemes. 

So, it seems that a sleeping giant has awoken in NZ and retailers large and small are now feeling the pressure to remove the surcharge or work much harder to justify it. 

So what does this mean for online retailers?

Well, in the short term, nothing. But online sales are on the rise in NZ (with 1% growth quarter on quarter) and those retailers looking to grab their slice of the online shopping pie need to take this change in consumer sentiment seriously.

As an online retailer, you essentially have four main options (not including mobile payments which is a story for another post) when it comes to accepting payments online for your goods and services:

Send invoices to customers when an order is made.

Sending out invoices to your customers upon completion of a transaction is still a very common practice. However, in our mobile enabled world, where you can download an app onto your smartphone in seconds, consumers normally want to complete a transaction there and then. 

(This doesn’t apply to accepting online payments in arrears for services rendered however. If you send invoices to clients by email, you could use POLi Link  as a means of receiving direct payment faster.)

Accepting bank transfers as payment by publishing your bank account details

This is still fairly common place in New Zealand (especially for retailers who sell on Trademe). However, it is also time consuming to reconcile the payments, especially when the payer doesn't provide the correct reference information, and there is always the potential to ‘lose’ the sale if the customer has a change of heart after checking out but before making the Internet Banking payment.

Accept credit card payments online

Of course, most e-retailers accept credit cards (although not always American Express) as a payment option on their websites. 

But of course, with credit cards come transaction fees and, as a retailer you have to make the call as to whether you pass on those costs as a surcharge, or somehow build them into the price of your products and services. And this is where the current issue lies.

Accept direct bank transfers with POLi

The fourth option is to accept direct bank transfers. How is this different to option number 2? Well, the key to this payment method is that the entire transaction takes place online at the time of purchase. 

This has a few important benefits:

it is convenient for the customer as they don’t have to wait for an invoice, go to their internet banking, make a transfer, notify the retailer that they have made payment and wait for a response. They just make the payment right there and then;
the possibility of the customer changing their mind is significantly reduced;
the administrative burden for the retailer is far, far lower (in fact, no different to accepting credit card payments).

One million adult Kiwis do not own a credit card

To add to the confusion as to which payment options to offer consumers, there are still over a million Kiwis who do not own a credit card

What this means in practice is that as more and more New Zealanders migrate to online shopping, e-retailers are going to have to offer more payment options than credit cards alone.

And remember, those New Zealanders that do have a credit card don’t like paying a surcharge for using it (and don’t get me started on Visa Debit cards!). So what we have is a melting pot of consumers who want to buy online, with or without a credit card and with no transaction fees. 

Tackle the sleeping giant head on

So, as the credit-card-surcharge debit heats up and the sleeping giant is beginning to stir, it will fall upon NZ e-retailers to make some important decisions about how they run their businesses. If the Commerce Commission scraps the surcharge rule (and they might - who knows?), we will need to think more holistically about the payment options we offer our customers.

Many consumers will want to pay by credit card (or Visa Debit) regardless and it is down to the retailer to review their business models to see if they can absorb the costs from the facility providers. 

For those retailers who simply cannot do this and remain profitable, the obvious solution is to implement a direct bank transfer online payment system into their online store. You might be surprised to find that this is not only extremely cost effective, but also very easy to do (even for the non-techie website owners).

In fact, given there are a million Kiwis who will at some point in the near future start shopping online, I would say that a non-credit-card payment option is a must for all New Zealand eCommerce stores.

The POLi team
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