Editorial: Cashing in on an increasingly cashless society

FOR too long consumers have been forced to pay an exorbitant price for convenience.

Banks and businesses have used the seemingly inextricable march towards a cashless society to line their pockets.

Under the guise of covering costs, many outlets with an eftpos machine have adopted a policy of applying surcharges to purchases.

Most frequently applied to purchases under $10, these additional fees might seems quite small but actually substantially increase a product’s price.

It is not uncommon for a $4 cup of coffee to attract a 50c surcharge if it is paid for with a card, rather than cash.

That is effectively a 12.5 per cent tax on an item that might have only cost the business 6c to process.

Some businesses at least have had the courtesy to announce via a sign in the shop that they will be ripping you off.

But many others keep have tended to keep their surcharge policy secret until right at the point of sale when there is less chance of you walking out in disgust empty handed.

Plenty of people have been willing to cough up the extra money simply for the convenience of not having to keep a stash of cash or fumble around for change.

However, there are other less well off people for whom these surcharges have been an unwelcome drain on their finances.

Wagga woman Natalie Spring told The Daily Advertiser that “every cent matters” when balancing her tight budget and the fees sometimes forced her to go without.

Thankfully – and not before time – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has acted to end this price gouging.

As of yesterday, businesses are only permitted to charge customers what it actually costs to process the electronic transaction.

While this is a win for consumers, the burning question that now remains is whether it can actually be enforced.

The ACCC says it has a process in place whereby businesses must justify their surcharges by providing evidence of the costs associated with transactions.

But what is stopping a business unwilling to take a hit on their profits from, for example, merely increasing the price of a cup of coffee from $4 to $4.50 to maintain that margin?

Absolutely nothing. Unless they genuinely fear a backlash from customers who value convenience above all else.