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To surcharge or not to surcharge? A two-sided market perspective of the no-surchage rule


  • Economides, Nicholas
  • Henriques, David


In Electronic Payment Networks (EPNs) the No-Surcharge Rule (NSR) requires that merchants charge the same final good price regardless of the means of payment chosen by the customer. In this paper, we analyse a three-party model (consumers, merchants, and proprietary EPNs) to assess the impact of a NSR on the electronic payments system, in particular, on competition among EPNs, network pricing to merchants and consumers, EPNs' profits, and social welfare. We show that imposing a NSR has a number of effects. First, it softens competition among EPNs and rebalances the fee structure in favour of cardholders and to the detriment of merchants. Second, we show that the NSR is a profitable strategy for EPNs if and only if the network effect from merchants to cardholders is sufficiently weak. Third, the NSR is socially (un)desirable if the network externalities from merchants to cardholders are sufficiently weak (strong) and the merchants' market power in the goods market is sufficiently high (low). Our policy advice is that regulators should decide on whether the NSR is appropriate on a market-by-market basis instead of imposing a uniform regulation for all markets. JEL Classification: L13, L42, L80

Suggested Citation

  • Economides, Nicholas & Henriques, David, 2011. "To surcharge or not to surcharge? A two-sided market perspective of the no-surchage rule," Working Paper Series 1388, European Central Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecb:ecbwps:20111388

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kitch, Edmund W, 1990. "The Framing Hypothesis: Is It Supported by Credit Card Issuer Opposition to a Surcharge on a Cash Price?," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 217-233, Spring.
    2. Jean-Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole, 2002. "Cooperation Among Competitors: Some Economics Of Payment Card Associations," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 33(4), pages 549-570, Winter.
    3. Jean‐Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole, 2006. "Two‐sided markets: a progress report," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 37(3), pages 645-667, September.
    4. Chakravorti Sujit & Roson Roberto, 2006. "Platform Competition in Two-Sided Markets: The Case of Payment Networks," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-25, March.
    5. Jean-Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole, 2014. "Platform Competition in Two-Sided Markets," CPI Journal, Competition Policy International, vol. 10.
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    7. Hayashi Fumiko, 2006. "A Puzzle of Card Payment Pricing: Why Are Merchants Still Accepting Card Payments?," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-31, March.
    8. ?zlem Bedre-Defolie & Emilio Calvano, 2013. "Pricing Payment Cards," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(3), pages 206-231, August.
    9. Baxter, William F, 1983. "Bank Interchange of Transactional Paper: Legal and Economic Perspectives," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(3), pages 541-588, October.
    10. Nirvikar Singh & Xavier Vives, 1984. "Price and Quantity Competition in a Differentiated Duopoly," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(4), pages 546-554, Winter.
    11. Schwartz Marius & Vincent Daniel R., 2006. "The No Surcharge Rule and Card User Rebates: Vertical Control by a Payment Network," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-31, March.
    12. Oz Shy & Zhu Wang, 2008. "Why do card issuers charge proportional fees?," Research Working Paper RWP 08-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
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    14. Sujit Chakravorti & William R. Emmons, 2001. "Who pays for credit cards?," Occasional Paper; Emerging Payments EPS-2001-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
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    19. Chakravorti Sujit, 2010. "Externalities in Payment Card Networks: Theory and Evidence," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 9(2), pages 1-28, June.
    20. Marc Rysman, 2007. "AN EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS OF PAYMENT CARD USAGE -super-," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(1), pages 1-36, March.
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    More about this item


    American Express; discover; electronic payment system; market power; MasterCard; network externalities; no-surcharge rule; regulation; two-sided markets; Visa;

    JEL classification:

    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
    • L42 - Industrial Organization - - Antitrust Issues and Policies - - - Vertical Restraints; Resale Price Maintenance; Quantity Discounts
    • L80 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - General

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