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Why don’t most merchants use price discounts to steer consumer payment choice?

  • Tamás Briglevics
  • Oz Shy

Recent legislation and court settlements in the United States allow merchants to use price discounts to steer customers to pay with means of payment that are less costly to merchants. This paper suggests one method of calculating merchants’ change in profit associated with giving price discounts to buyers who pay with debit cards and cash. We use data from the pilot of the Boston Fed’s Diary of Consumer Payment Choice to compute rough estimates of the expected net cost reduction by merchant type that may result from debit card and cash price discounts. We find that steering consumers to debit and cash via price discounts reduces some merchants’ card costs. However, this cost reduction may be insufficient to offset the cost increase of administering price menus that vary by payment instrument. In addition, rewards buyers receive on credit card transactions may exceed the price discounts that merchants can provide. These factors may explain why steering via price discounts is not widely observed.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Public Policy Discussion Paper with number 12-9.

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Date of creation: 2012
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbpp:12-9
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  1. Carlos Arango & Kim Huynh & Leonard Sabetti, 2011. "How Do You Pay? The Role of Incentives at the Point-of-Sale," Working Papers 11-23, Bank of Canada.
  2. Garcia-Swartz Daniel D. & Hahn Robert W. & Layne-Farrar Anne, 2006. "The Move Toward a Cashless Society: A Closer Look at Payment Instrument Economics," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(2), pages 1-24, June.
  3. Andrew Ching & Fumiko Hayashi, 2006. "Payment card rewards programs and consumer payment choice," Payments System Research Working Paper PSR WP 06-02, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
  4. Bolt, Wilko & Jonker, Nicole & van Renselaar, Corry, 2010. "Incentives at the counter: An empirical analysis of surcharging card payments and payment behaviour in the Netherlands," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 34(8), pages 1738-1744, August.
  5. JOHN M. Barron & MICHAEL E. Staten & JOHN Umbeck, 1992. "Discounts For Cash In Retail Gasoline Marketing," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 10(4), pages 89-102, October.
  6. Garcia-Swartz Daniel D. & Hahn Robert W. & Layne-Farrar Anne, 2006. "The Move Toward a Cashless Society: Calculating the Costs and Benefits," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(2), pages 1-30, June.
  7. Schuh, Scott & Stavins, Joanna, 2010. "Why are (some) consumers (finally) writing fewer checks? The role of payment characteristics," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 34(8), pages 1745-1758, August.
  8. Rochet, Jean-Charles & Tirole, Jean, 2006. "Tying in Two-Sided Markets and the Honor All Cards Rule," IDEI Working Papers 440, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse, revised 2007.
  9. John Simon & Kylie Smith & Tim West, 2009. "Price Incentives and Consumer Payment Behaviour," RBA Research Discussion Papers rdp2009-04, Reserve Bank of Australia.
  10. David Gill & John Thanassoulis, 2013. "Competition in Posted Prices With Stochastic Discounts," Economics Series Working Papers 682, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  11. Christopher R. Knittel & Victor Stango, 2003. "Price Ceilings as Focal Points for Tacit Collusion: Evidence from Credit Cards," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(5), pages 1703-1729, December.
  12. Fumiko Hayashi, 2012. "Discounts and surcharges: implications for consumer payment choice," Payments System Research Briefing, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Jun.
  13. Robert DeYoung & Ronnie J. Phillips, 2009. "Payday loan pricing," Research Working Paper RWP 09-07, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
  14. Ron Borzekowski & K. Kiser Elizabeth & Ahmed Shaista, 2008. "Consumers' Use of Debit Cards: Patterns, Preferences, and Price Response," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 40(1), pages 149-172, 02.
  15. White, Kenneth J, 1975. " Consumer Choice and Use of Bank Credit Cards: A Model and Cross-Section Results," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(1), pages 10-18, June.
  16. Klee, Elizabeth, 2008. "How people pay: Evidence from grocery store data," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(3), pages 526-541, April.
  17. David Gill & John Thanassoulis, 2013. "Competition in Posted Prices With Bargaining," Economics Series Working Papers 639, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
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