Credit cards are seen in Montreal on December 12, 2012. Industry groups say small businesses are being hammered by high credit card fees on online purchases as the shift toward e-commerce continues amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Credit cards are seen in Montreal on December 12, 2012. Industry groups say small businesses are being hammered by high credit card fees on online purchases as the shift toward e-commerce continues amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Small businesses feeling the pinch of credit-card fees as e-commerce ramps up

The rise in e-commerce sales ‘inevitably squeezes out cash’ from vendors

Industry groups say small businesses are being hammered by high credit-card fees on online purchases as the shift toward e-commerce continues.

Visa and MasterCard reduced the fees they collect from businesses to an average annual rate of 1.4 per cent from 1.5 per cent under an agreement with Ottawa that took effect last year. But the fees remain higher than in many Western countries, particularly for online transactions, trade organizations say.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the proportion of its 100,000 members that rely on online purchases has doubled to 40 per cent since March, when lockdowns to fight the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered storefronts across the country.

“Smaller companies tend to pay higher fees than large companies do, because they don’t have the volumes,” said CFIB vice-president Corinne Pullman.

She said “there’s no doubt” digital rates should come down, and that fees should be clearer and more transparent for merchants.

While Visa and Mastercard’s overall annual rates sit at about 1.4 per cent in Canada, fees vary by transaction depending on factors that range from business type to whether a PIN code was used.

The rise in e-commerce sales “inevitably squeezes out cash” from vendors, who would otherwise draw more revenue from cash or debit transactions, said Retail Council of Canada vice-president Karl Littler.

“Mastercard did a deeper drop for those in-store transactions, but concurrently hiked the amounts for their online,” he said, referring to recent fee adjustments. “And obviously that has implications given the odd outcomes that COVID has created.”

Online retail sales rose 116 per cent to $3.91 billion in May from $1.81 billion a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada. They were up 68 per cent year over year to $3.07 billion in October, the last month for which figures are available.

Even sharper spikes are likely in more recent months amid the second wave of the pandemic in Canada, prompting heavier reliance on credit-card payments.

The CFIB and the retail council are calling on the federal government to negotiate lower fees from credit-card firms.

Finance Department spokeswoman Anna Arneson said the government “will continue to work closely with small businesses to ensure they have the support” during the pandemic, but cited no plans to bring credit-card firms back to the table.

Visa said e-commerce transaction rates are “lower than they have ever been,” with steeper rate reductions for various small businesses such as restaurants and variety stores.

Mastercard says it is committed to its voluntary agreement with Ottawa that established the 1.4 per cent average rate.

Werner Antweiler, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, said merchants “generally hate the premium cards” in particular due to “excessively expensive” processing fees.

“In a world of digital commerce, the idea to pay two to three per cent on each transaction is a kind of tax, when in fact the transaction has only minimal costs that are nowhere near these amounts and are in fact independent of the transaction volume,” Antweiler said.

The average rate reduction to 1.4 per cent from 1.5 per cent would amount to just $100 worth of savings for businesses for every $100,000 in credit-card sales, according to the retail council.

One goal of the lower rates was to enable smaller firms to avoid a big competitive disadvantage compared to larger companies, which have more leverage in negotiating for reduced fees.

The government has also said the reduction could help consumers because businesses will be able to keep prices lower.

In November 2014, Visa and MasterCard voluntarily agreed to reduce their average effective fees to 1.5 per cent over five years — a period that began in April 2015.

A Finance Department review of the credit-card code of conduct is ongoing.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colin Springford doing what he loved best, tending to his garden. (Linda Matteson photo)
Longtime farmer Colin Springford dies at age 75

‘He will be deeply missed, always loved and never forgotten’

An architectural rendering provides a look at PC Urban’s proposal for three buildings on the former Galaxy Motors property at 1764 Island Hwy. in Colwood. (Rendering courtesy of PC Urban)
Commercial/industrial development planned for former Galaxy Motors site

Colwood proposal goes to public hearing Jan. 25

Scaredy Cats television series has turned Empress Avenue in Fernwood into a Halloween themed neighbourhood. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Trick or treat! Halloween comes to Fernwood in January

New television series Scaredy Cats filming in Victoria

Saanich has awarded the tender for a youth bike skills park planned for the lot next to the George Tripp BC Hydro Substation off Lochside Drive to Bike Track Ltd. for $242,000. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich selects company to build youth bike skills track at Tripp Station Park

More than $240,000 allotted for Bike Track Ltd. to design bike park

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Flags line the National Mall towards the Capitol Building as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Kamala Harris sworn in as the first U.S. female vice-president.

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

The objectives of the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. Photo supplied.
Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society offers support for families in the community

New non-profit seeking directors in cities across Vancouver Island

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Updated: Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Most Read