UPDATE: Requiring Minimum Credit Card Purchases is a Violation

Our article on the minimum credit card fees charged at Amy’s Ice Cream generated quite a little uproar. Amy is pictured, left, helping award Lonnie Williams with the “Best Transition” small business award in Austin. It’s made from left-over toffee ice cream.

Steve, Amy’s partner in the ice cream shoppe and husband, forwarded an email he received from someone who reads The Consumerist.

“This is a copy of an email I received this weekend. Nice people,” he says…

Dunk your head in the brine-flavored ice-cream , after the jump…

“Dear Amy,

What I really love about Amy’s is…

You really need to go to school and take some classes on business. You have no idea how to treat customers. I read your response to “Mike’s” letter about credit card fees. You are a mean bitch who has no business sense what so ever. I will never eat your icecream and will encourage other no to as well. Really, get some lessons on customer service.

We replied to Steve, “Welcome to the unfiltered horror of the Internet.”

Cluck, cluck, such scamps you are. However, if you want to do something constructive, send a similarly pointed letter to VISA and ask them to stop charging so many fees to process transactions.

In contrast, here are some quotes about Amy’s Ice Cream from their website:

“Amy believes that a customer deserves more than just ice cream.” – Wall Street Journal

“…sells terrific products and gives excellent service.” – Inc.

“Even more than the ice cream, the scoopers and their trademark schtick…keep the customers coming back for more.” – Texas Monthly.

Perhaps the customer service acumen behind the scoop should be applied more liberally to their email exchanges with customers.

Previously: Amy’s Ice Cream thread.

Comments

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  1. ExVee says:

    That e-mail certainly was uncalled for, but I don’t think the answer is to direct people to go after the credit card companies. Amy’s completed a legal agreement when they signed their merchant agreement with the credit card companies. Among those binding agreements is that they cannot and will not impose a minimum purchase amount for credit card purchases. This is on the ice cream shop, not the card companies. If they won’t abide by the rules, then complaints about that need to go to the card companies, not about the processing fees. Alternately, Amy’s can cease to accept credit cards. They’re not obligated, and nobody forced them to take plastic in the first place. If they make the choice to do so, the fees are their problem, not the customer’s. It’s like Ebay sellers adding an extra charge after you win something in order to cover their Paypal fees.

    The point of the blame seems to be getting misdirected in this, as does the direction consumer level response should take. Blame Amy’s for setting this minimum purchase in violation of their merchant agreement, and sound off to the credit cards. People who live near the Amy’s chain need to call and report this. Being local is important. Amy needs to either be compelled to play by the rules, or have the merchant status for her stores revoked.

  2. Joe Hass says:

    If Steve’s still reading:

    From my previous life in customer service, I’ve found that customer input can be dropped into three buckets:

    Group 1) Legitimate comments or concerns, written in a nice manner.

    Group 2) Illegitimate comments or concerns (aka “u sukk!!1″)

    Group 3) Legitimate comments or concerns, but written in such a mediocre manner that the comment/concern is overwhelmed by the general crappiness of the writing.

    Handling group 2 is the easiest: you ignore them. Unfortunately, stupid people are also allowed on these here Internets, and you have to take the proverbial poop with the sugar.

    Handling group 1 is harder: you have to respond in a nice manner. This is where I think the general consensus believes that Amy blew it in the original e-mail.

    Handling group 3 is the hardest: your urge is to invite them to take a 100-foot walk off a 50-foot pier (aka type 2). But you have to take the emotional step back and figure out what to do. They have a legit beef; it’s just that the signal-to-noise ratio is so high that you invest significant emotional energy trying to sort things out and take an appropriate tone in a reply, if a reply is warranted.

    It’s hard to handle it. But it makes the difference between a sated customer and what this has turned into.

  3. Paul D says:

    Emails sent by readers of the Consumerist are not your responsibility.

    Your answer, however brief, was sufficient.

  4. nweaver says:

    ExVee: And let me guess, you NEVER drive above the speed limit either…

    The merchant agreement restriction on minimum credit card charges is not enforced, so its akin to going +5 MPH over the speed limit.

    I don’t blame Amy’s Ice Cream response. Credit card charges are rapacious, ESPECIALLY on small transactions.

  5. etinterrapax says:

    For some reason, Steve’s remark sounds an awful lot like the manipulation my students used to pull on me when I was newly in the midwest and had not yet grasped the dark underbelly of “niceness.” It can mean actual niceness, and it can also have a subtext of “You’re mean because you didn’t give me my way after I was nice to you,” wherein “nice to you” means “I phrased an unreasonable request in a polite way.” Pointing out that they are in violation of their merchant agreement is not mean. And their insistence that they have no choice but to violate that agreement is not a convincing rebuttal. Nor is insinuating that people are not nice for catching them doing it and saying so publicly.

  6. ValkRaider says:

    Here is what I suggest Amy’s credit card customers do…

    Order a bunch of stuff that totals less than $10. Let them prepare it for you, and then when they ring it up hand them your credit card.

    When they say they do not accept credit cards for less than $10, say “Oh, sorry then. You can keep it.” and leave.

    When they have to do that a couple times, something will change. Either they will let you use credit cards under $10 or they will stop taking them all together. Either way – it clarifies the situation, and gets rid of the “fuzzy grey” areas.

    I still firmly believe that in the year 2006 you should try to accept money from customers in any way they want to give it to you. As many as is possible.

    I would rather they charge a $.50 fee for card purchases under $10, or raise prices and give a “cash discount” – that just impose stupid inane rules about when and why I can and can’t make my own decision about how to pay…

    As a small business – you want to GAIN customers, not LOSE customers. WAL-MART losing 1 customer means nothing. Amy losing one customer hurts the bottom line…

  7. airship says:

    I was surprised to see a ‘$5 minimum credit/debit card order’ sign at a local candy shop this weekend. I told the manager about his violation of his credit card processing agreement. He gave me a soliloquy on his incredibly high credit card processing fees. I told him he could lose his ability to process credit cards. He told me to leave. Even though I was (a) being nice, (b) trying to help him with his business, and (c) paying cash for my purchase.
    Nobody really wants your help.

  8. Grady says:

    So what we’ve discovered here is though it technically is a violation, pointing it out to a local business is not likely to win you any friends. The problem comes about because the card companies are charging excessive fees, but it’s the merchants battle to fight, and we can’t make them want to fight it. Boycott the merchants, blah, blah, blah. Wake me when that actually happens, or next week when we’ve forgotten all about it.

  9. ExVee says:

    No, I don’t. That’s how I was taught to drive, by my family who has absolutely zero speeding tickets or any other spots on their driving records. I have also been taught that just because a rule isn’t enforced does not mean it’s okay to break that rule. This of course means that no citizen of Indiana should ever put a donkey in their bathtub, no matter if anyone cares!

    There are alternatives besides having a minimum purchase, and besides the extremes I call for. Any one of these could easily be adopted and this whole issue would end. I personally favor the idea of having a discount for people who pay with cash. But their unwillingness to give any ground tells me that the only thing they might listen to is a warning from a couple credit card companies, in response to which they’ll either continue as they are and hopefully lose their accounts, comply and the problem ends, or stop taking credit cards at all, in which case the problem is just with people who won’t carry cash.

    Like I said, the business is responsible for processing fees for the methods of payment they accept. If they don’t want to deal with that, they need to quit taking credit cards.

  10. Mr. Soul says:

    As poorly as Amy handled the initial complaint, I think that Amy’s is one of the greatest things of all time. Great ice cream, great customer service every single time i’ve been in there. Screw breaking the credit card merchant agreement, they could be dealing black tar heroin to toddlers out of the back entrance and I would still go there.

  11. thesilentnight says:

    nweaver: And let me guess, you’re on the path to CANONIZATION?

    What’s you point? We have all have our faults, we’re all fallible. Maybe you were trying to say Amy is not a Saint. Certainly her response and blatant behavior in total disregard for the obligation she agreed to hold herself to says as much and volumes more about her lack of integrity and respect for the agreements she makes and the customers she depends on.

    Of course credit card charges are rapacious but do the ends justify the means. The question is simple. Should ANY business with awareness of the consequences they solely bear in a written agreement be able, as a matter of entitlement, to require their customers to share the burden contrary to the terms of that agreement? If you hesitate to answer, maybe you know its not good business, period.