UPDATE: Requiring Minimum Credit Card Purchases is a Violation

Amy’s Ice Cream has a new sign (right) that seems to say that the $10 minimum charge is suggested, not required. The sign we originally posted (left) was one a store manager had replaced the ‘official’ sign with, according to Steve.

The epic brouhaha even warranted a mention in Amy’s Ice Cream news section. For instance, did you know that, “If you buy a small ice cream with one crushin’ and charge it, the fees can be as much as 15%?”

“I would like to respond to the “craziness” that is flying around,” Steve writes The Consumerist. “First, I have attached the sign that greets consumers now in our stores. It is the original sign that was replaced by the one that was posted on your website. One of our managers replaced his sign with the brief and too the point sign that is not our belief. We are a small mom and pop, Amy and Steve, we are 21 years old and we are not a big company, although we have 13 stores, we do the sales volume of one Chili’s restaurant in 13 locations. If we had to do it over again, we would never have taken credit cards. Most of our transactions are small and the fees are ridiculous, as much as 10-15%. Don’t blame us, blame Visa and Mastercard. I apologize for this misunderstanding and encourage our customers if they are really mad to send me an email steve@amysicecreams.com.”

The file Steve sent us over was titled, “NEW$10Minimum.pub”

Previously: Amy’s Ice Cream thread

Comments

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  1. The Comedian says:

    If it’s the original, why is it titled “NEW$10Minimum.pub”?

  2. Danilo says:

    Well… That’s nice. Deliciously professional and not at all passive-aggressive.

    They still don’t get it, though. Customers expect and demand accountability. Business leaders must demonstrate accountability. I ain’t gettin’ no accountability from these people. They continue to pass the buck. “It’s Visa’s fault! Blame them! Oh, it’s so expensive!”

    Dude. Nobody cares. Run your business responsibly and don’t try to make your customers your accountants. Your fees are your own business and should not be a matter of public knowledge. I’m sure it really sucks that running a business costs money (shocking!) but them’s the breaks. I dunno what to tell these guys. Many times, given that I don’t carry cash, credit card acceptance is a requisite for my patronizing a business. Are these jokers really saying that they’d rather have 100% of nothing insteaad of 85% of something? I’d love to see what happens to their revenue figures if they dump credit cards altogether.

  3. hiphopnerd says:

    That seems like the right way to handle this type of thing…but it’s kinda hard to buy Steve’s word that this was the original sign which was mysteriously replaced by a rogue manager.

    So you had got taken to task by the consumerist for having a policy that was consumer-unfriendly and against credit card company terms. You then change the sign and policy to something that works for the company, the customers, and the credit cards. If the suggested $10 mimimum sign already existed, why the hell wouldn’t Steve’s first response to the Consumerist have noted this? What’s the point in pretending that you made the changes before hearing from the people of the internets?

  4. etinterrapax says:

    Ohhh…being nicer makes it okay! And if the customers are nice, they’ll go along! Otherwise, the customers are mean! ::headdesk:: “Don’t blame us; blame Visa and Mastercard”? How about Steve and Amy notice that their obligations to their customers are directly connected to how they do business? It’s their responsibility to blame Visa and Mastercard, either by eating the fees or not using the services. I’ve never seen such continual mealy-mouthed flailing in my life.

  5. Ben says:

    Is the credit card agreement a contract? I mean, do they have to take credit cards (for X amount of time) now that they have signed up?

    If not, perhaps if they try NOT taking credit cards at one or two of their 13 locations and see if it affects sales.

    Yes, this dodges the entire question about “it’s VISA’s fault” vs. run your business without whining vs take your business elsewhere if you don’t like the fees, etc.

    But eliminate the credit cards and the discussion is over. Right?

    (we don’t have Amy’s here but we have a frozen custard place that I swear puts crack in their treats. They take plastic but I always pay cash because if I can’t scrounge up $4 I really don’t need to buy any)

  6. The Unicorn says:

    I definitely understand posting the sign, & encouraging the minimum — but what I don’t understand is refusing to make exceptions.

    For example, the other day I grabbed lunch at a little Mediterranean place I’d never been to before. When I got the total, I asked if they took credit cards (I had cash on me, but I always prefer to charge) & the cashier said yes & accepted my payment. It was only after that when I realized that there was a sign on the register & on the menus that said they had a $10 minimum for credit card purchases. My total was only $6-something, but rather than raise a big stink over a sign I clearly hadn’t seen, the cashier chose the simpler route & kept my business. And guess what? The next time I came there, I made sure I had cash, because I appreciated their flexibility.

    Credit card fees *are* a bitch for small businesses, but 15% of one sale is nothing compared to losing a customer.

  7. CorporationsAreAwesome says:

    Does no one want to admit that businesses focus on PROFITS instead of REVENUES? I know we all want to believe that we are just the bestest customers of all and who wouldn’t want to have us around? But if you are unprofitable, businesses don’t like you. They might say they do but they don’t.

    Losing a profitable customer sucks. Losing an unprofitable customer who only makes small purchases with a credit card and then tries to cause them problems with their credit card provider? Not so much.

  8. Grady says:

    Boy, you sure showed them.

  9. Spr1dle says:

    Echoing The Unicorn’s sentiment, a few years back I went to a small Vietnamese restaurant to buy some spring rolls to go. The total came to around $4. I only had about $2 on me, so I took out my credit card. The owner told me not to worry about it: he was just going to give me the spring rolls for free, instead of having to process a credit card for such a small transaction. So I went out to my car to dig around for enough change to cover it. Since then, I’ve always made sure to bring cash to that restaurant; since the owner was nice enough to offer me a break when I didn’t have cash, I figure that I can make a stop at the ATM before going to his restaurant, to save him some money on credit card fees.

    Since reading these Consumerist articles, I noticed a thrift store in my area with a “minimum purchase” sign. Should they get a pass just because they’re a charity for disabled vets? I’m playing devil’s advocate here to some extent, but I’m curious as to what people think.

  10. thesilentnight says:

    Danilo: “Dude. Nobody cares. Run your business responsibly and don’t try to make your customers your accountants. … I’m sure it really sucks that running a business costs money (shocking!) but them’s the breaks.”

    Danilo, thanks for the for comedy. I know I appreciate it.

    I’m skeptical about the authenticity of the response like some of you. I wonder if they were thinking “we still love and adore” everyone who got involved when they were pulling down the sign apparently posted by the Devil’s right-hand man and a close cousin to the heart of credit card companies everywhere. I agree the response by Amy’s is passive-aggressive and of course the “ends justify the means” argument isn’t in short supply over there. Their response was expected and while it doesn’t require a minimum purchase it flirts with the idea. I doubt the credit card companies would like that anymore than the mandatory minimum purchase requirement. OMG, DON’T HURT ME WITH UR CREDIT KARD! Please. If you don’t like it, just say no and stop making agreements on paper you can’t keep in practice.

  11. thesilentnight says:

    Did anyone notice that the “original” sign said “please” at the end? The only difference then is that the “new” sign plays a sympathy “pseudo-explanation” card and says they’ll take your business anyways if you refuse. The only question I have is when they say we want to keep the price of food down don’t they mean we want you to pay our credit card fees? The consistent tone of their non-public responses seem to suggest as much.

  12. ValkRaider says:

    “Losing a profitable customer sucks. Losing an unprofitable customer who only makes small purchases with a credit card and then tries to cause them problems with their credit card provider? Not so much.”

    How do you know that a “nonprofitable” customer will *always* be a “nonprofitable” customer?

    What if I come in for ice cream and buy one cone with a credit card. I like my cone, and I liked the service. Wow, this is a good place. I might come in a couple more times by myself on my lunch break. By your logic I am unprofitable, and at this point I am.

    But then on a weekend I bring my entire family and three friends, and we spend $52 for ice cream. We have a ball, and everyone loves it. We make it a monthly occurance, and we tell all our friends how fun it is and how nice the people are.

    Then my company is having a summer party for the employees and families. I buy $2500 worth of ice cream from Amys for the event because they are so cool.

    Several of the employees really liked the ice cream and ask me where I got it, and I tell them about this great little Ice Cream place called Amy’s and three or four more families start going there for sunny saturday treats, and a couple buy ice cream for birthday parties and the people attending their parties ask where they got the good ice cream…

    But if your logic follows, they should risk losing me and all my business and all my word-of-mouth advertising because they don’t want my three “unprofitable” purchases up front?

    Lets look at the other side of the scenerio.

    I come in, and try to buy a cone with a card. I have no cash on me, but it is hot and I want Ice Cream… I get denied, and I am a little upset by it. I go on down the road to Baskin Robbins who is not as good, but at least they will let me buy ice cream.

    I don’t come back, and I tell my friends that the people there are grumpy and don’t want our business. When the summer party comes around for work I buy from Baskin Robbins because I know it will work out OK. Everyone is familiar with Baskin Robbins and no one really cares about the Ice Cream – it is good but nothing remarkable…

    Now you tell me:

    Which one is better for Amy’s business?

  13. NoUseForAName says:

    Ok. I just can’t get it. Just because you are a mom & pop store does not give you the right to have minimum purchases. Everybody else eats the fees so don’t think that you shouldn’t have to. You should price your product so that you still make your margin even if you get a credit card purchase and thus make even more on the bottom line if someone pays cash. If your overhead goes through the ceiling because of these potential fees than you are not pricing yourself correctly and it’s not like you are selling a staple item that everyone else sells for the same price, it is a specialty item that you can controll the price on. I feel more sorry for the convenience stores (that eat the same fees) that sell staple items like coke and everyone knows how much they are down the road. Get a better business plan!

  14. CorporationsAreAwesome says:

    ValkRaider, I don’t disagree with you that your hypothetical customer would be a horrible loss for a small business over some small issue. But that isn’t the average customer and a smart business needs to focus on their average customer.

    The way I see it, Amy’s probably expects to have customers that mainly do two things. One is come in and buy an individual serving for immediate consumption. The other is to buy a larger amount of ice cream for take home or other events. The first customer’s purchase will likely be $5 to $20 and cash would be the preferable form of payment to keep margins up. The second customer’s purchase is likely $20 to $50 or more and you are beginning to get into larger amounts of money which people don’t like to carry on them, they will likely want to use credit cards or debit cards.

    The issue for Amy’s is to get people to pay cash in the first case but still be able to offer credit card options for the second case. They thought putting up their sign would be the best method but it angered a customer and started this mess and they keep screwing it up more and more with hasty e-mails. Not a great situation for them but amusing for us and lets Ben write several easy articles.

    I guess the best thing they could have done is actually track how many customers make purchases under $20 using debit or credit cards (I suspect they haven’t) so they could know if it is a real issue. If it is an issue, they probably can’t offer a discount for cash since that may still anger credit card customers and violate agreements. So they should get creative. Maybe raise all prices and offer one of those buy 5 get one free cards which would only be applicable if you pay cash. That way they reward cash payers on individual purchases, get to keep offering credit cards and hopefully avoid angering anyone who will cause them to lose future business.