• Clint Engel

Some retailers opting out of credit card swipe fee settlement

HIGH POINT — Ikea, Crate & Barrel, Rooms To Go and Badcock Home Furniture & more are among the home furnishings retailers saying they will opt out of a pending $7.25 billion class-action settlement with Visa and MasterCard over credit card swipe fees.

The moves are in line with the stance of the National Retail Federation, which has been opposing the antitrust litigation settlement since before it was given preliminary approval by a U.S. District Court judge in New York in November.

Opponents of the settlement have argued that the negotiated compensation is a pittance compared to the billions of dollars in fees that Visa and MasterCard have charged and criticize the deal for letting the card companies off the hook for possible future wrongdoing.

Final court approval is expected in September, while retailers have only until May 28 to opt out. Otherwise, the NRF said, they "will automatically be considered to have accepted the settlement and will give up the right to file future lawsuits over the fees and other restrictive rules."

That's among the key issues driving Badcock to opt out, said Wogie Badcock III, chairman and executive vice president of public affairs for the Mulberry, Fla.-based Top 100 company.

"It is not an agreement any retailer should sign," Badcock said. He said it requires retailers to give up their rights for the courts to address future grievances. "We're trying to encourage everybody to opt out."

In a release this week, the NRF said that retailers who don't opt out are "fully bound by the restrictions of the agreement" and will be eligible for a share of the $7.5 billion distribution. "But the figure amounts to less than three months' worth of swipe fee charges, and the small retailers hit hardest by the fees would give up their rights for as little as a few hundred dollars," NRF said.

Other retailers, including Target, Macys and JCPenney, filed a new lawsuit against the credit card companies Thursday, according to a Reuters report.

Ikea and Crate & Barrel were listed among 19 large retailers announcing as a group that they were opting out of the settlement that followed the antitrust suit originally filed in 2005. Others included Walmart, Costco, Lowe's and Nike.

In a statement, Sharron Bradley, CEO of the new North American Home Furnishings Assn., said the retailer organization "does not believe it's a good settlement" because it doesn't address the costly fees and continues to give credit card companies too much ability to overcharge merchants.

NAHFA is preparing a message for members further explaining its stance. While it won't flat out urge them to opt out, it will mirror the language in an NRF release, telling them to "carefully consider their position" and will note the opt-out deadline, Bradley said.

The original lawsuit charged that the credit card companies had conspired to inflate interchange of credit card swipe fees. The settlement was announced in July 2012 and was immediately attacked by a multitude of merchants, including the majority of retailers and trade associations that brought the suit in the first place.

Averaging about 2%, swipe fees are a percentage of the transaction taken by banks each time a consumer swipes a credit card to pay for a purchase and total about $30 billion a year, according to the NRF. The retailer group said the fees have tripled over the past decade.

Clint EngelClint Engel | Senior Retail Editor, Furniture Today

Please feel free to email or call me with all of your retail news and tips, including expansion news, successful merchandising and marketing strategies and anything else you would like to see covered by Furniture/Today.  Contact me directly at cengel@furnituretoday.com or 336-605-1129.

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