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[18 comments]

Don't try paying with a check at Whole Foods

August 26, 2014

It may sometimes seem as though it takes your whole paycheck to shop at Whole Foods, but don't plan to pay for your organic groceries with a personal check because the chain isn't accepting them.

It has actually been several years since Whole Foods began saying no to payment by check, but an expansion of the policy to include stores in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas caught the attention of media outlets in those states.

"Most of our regions no longer accept personal checks, but the Southwest is not the last one to make the transition," Lindsay Robison, a Whole Foods spokesperson told The Dallas Morning News. "By accepting only electronic payments and cash, we will reduce wait times in line."

Fewer consumers today use personal checks for payment in retail stores, preferring the convenience and perks associated with using debit or credit cards. According to the 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study, the number of checks written between 2009 and 2012 declined by 9.2 percent annually.

FINANCIALS:     [NASDAQ:WFMI] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

Is there a compelling reason for some retailers to continue accepting personal checks as payment? Do you think paper checks will end as a form of payment at retail in the near future?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How long will it be before paper checks are no longer accepted as payment in retail stores?

Comments:

We are in a small town with Baby Boomers, and I accept checks from our regular customers, but do not take checks from out-of-towners and the people we do not know. The banks can not provide us with the info needed to see if funds are available, due to privacy issues, and I refuse to be burned by the folks who take out a new account, write a bunch of checks, and skip town, leaving you with a pile of useless paper.

Our credit and debit transactions allow everyone to buy food, as it the option of most folks, and yes, many still pay cash as well. There are just too many problems with paper checks, and we have cut our losses 95 percent by refusing to accept them from people we do not know.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

The issue is customer versus store convenience. If the customer needs to compromise by not paying via check and there is no offsetting compelling benefit to the retailer, then this payment alternative should still be available. However, if the Whole Foods claim of reduced wait times in lines is accurate, then the compromise equation of no checks favors the shoppers and can be discontinued as a customer-friendly policy.

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Richard J. George, Ph.D., Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University

I assume the most compelling reason is that they have enough customers who a.) still prefer to pay by check, and/or b.) don't have a credit or debit card. Beyond those increasingly unlikely scenarios it's hard to imagine why you would want to continue dealing with checks. Debit cards don't bounce.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Good idea and gutsy of Whole Foods to take the lead on this. How archaic is check writing anyway? And it fits the brand to want to save the hit on the trees.

We worked with a new grocer in the Chicago suburbs called Standard Market, who are very progressive. To open, they didn't take cash. That idea did not survive, FYI.

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

Not that I can see. Would expect checks will be eliminated as a payment option in 98 percent-plus of retailers over the next five to 10 years.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

Until there is no fee for use of debit cards, I think there will have to be paper checks. PLUS I think the ongoing fear of hacking will actually push seniors back to checks.

liz robinson, VP, DIrector of planning, The Marketing Store

It's time to move out of the check-writing dark ages into the era of online payment, debit and credit cards. It's easier on both the consumer and the retailer. It's easy, quick and convenient. It's just a matter of time before checks are in the history books.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

Is there a compelling reason, not a strong one moving forward. We are in transition (checks are used less with each ensuing year) and the trend does not appear to be reversing. Liz Robinson does bring up a good point though—data security is top of mind for consumers and so ALL payment methods will be under increased scrutiny (checking account information included).

I do believe checks will cease to be accepted shortly (though, some customers will have to re-align their personal account management strategies to factor in the immediacy of the transaction versus the two-day "float" that checks often offered).

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David Zahn, Owner, ZAHN Consulting, LLC

I thought it already had ended a long time ago. I see no reason to accept checks. It has probably been at least 20 years since I've written a check at a supermarket, maybe longer. I saw one person do it a few years ago and thought it was odd.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

As long as the banks continue to provide checks they will be accepted in many retail locations.

The major retailers, although they will not admit it, are more concerned with the impact checks can have on the bottom line than customer service, and I do believe it won't be long before they all stop taking checks. However, the local ICB retailers will always provide the service, at least to their known customers.

That's one of the advantages ICBs offer over their larger competitors, and it is a driving factor that keeps them in business and profitable.

Gene Michaud, Principal, tGrowth Solutions

I find that many local merchants and service providers prefer my check to a credit card as it saves them the fee. However, except for the really small businesses I use my credit card, as I presume that the cost of accepting them is already included in their pricing. If they'd offer a two percent discount for not using a credit card, that would interest me.

'schindler'

Tony speaks from inside the business. His opinion counts heavily for me. I am not sure how much longer it will be before all or most businesses stop accepting checks. There is too much of a chance of getting burned as Tony well stated. Interesting enough that schools are phasing out teaching students to write cursive. So how are the next group of adults going to write checks? They aren't.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

"No" and "yes." Or let me revise that: the only reason—which admittedly might be called the best one—is if customers demand it, but how many will demand it? With credit cards, debit cards and cash, it would seem all options are covered (of course this means we'll have to stifle the "is cash going away" discussion).

'notcom'

I would agree with most of the folks who have commented on the topic in partial form.

However, I'd add this to the discussion mix. Paper checks will be eliminated as a payment choice when retailers take the stance that Whole Foods has. Based on the Prosper June, 2014 Monthly Consumer Survey, Big Ticket items like Home Improvement and Electronics, as well as Grocers, still have about 3.5% of consumers paying by check. Eight other retail categories are all below 2% of payment forms. Those who use the checks are, in most cases, people who do not carry a credit card.

That's part of the "However." Nearly 20% of consumers say that they do not have a credit card—the plastic may be on "ice." Two out of ten people pay for groceries via cash, four out of ten pay by debit card, and 3.5 out of ten pay by credit card.

Checks could be here a while longer, as a convenience for retailers' customers. Certain retailers can pull the plug on this earlier—Whole Foods being one of them. In the meantime, 5% of Kroger shoppers for groceries are using a check for groceries and 4% of Walmart shoppers for groceries use a check.

The demise of the check has likely been greatly exaggerated.

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Roger Saunders, Managing Director, Prosper Business Development

Its just plain silly to eliminate forms of payment when technology reduces any convenience to the store or to the customers waiting in line.

There is no compelling reason not to accept them utilizing the technology that is available to both validate them as acceptable and to eliminate the handwriting time taken in the checkout lane.

They can be accepted just the same as a debit/credit card with little difference in time of transaction. In addition, accepted this way, the bank fees associated are eliminated as well.

When a customer has shopped a store, made their selections, and gone through the checkout process only to be limited in their means of payment, the retailer doesn't deserve the customer.

'Scanner'

By not accepting checks, Whole Foods is acknowledging its target demographic as one that doesn't use checks as forms of payment and places high value on speeding through checkout. I don't think there's anything wrong with this strategy and it's a lesson that other retailers should adapt.

We (marketers) keep saying that we know 80% of our revenue comes from 20% of our shoppers, but what do we do to cater to that 20% beyond offering them loyalty programs. Whole Foods is adapting this mantra throughout its organization and I'm sure that the value received from not accepting checks outweighs any losses.

Having said this, I do believe that Whole Foods should inform shoppers of this policy up front (the way Costco informs shoppers that they only accept AMEX for credit cards). The last thing any retailer wants is to have an irate customer who has been filling her cart for 45 minutes just to discover that she can't write a check. These are the moments that end up going viral on YouTube and picked up by the local news.

PJ Walker, Director, Digital Experience & Analytics, TCS

The problem with personal checks is the level of risk exposure to both sides of the transaction. The banks and insurance companies are at minimal risk due to the protection fees and processing limitations and parameters that are mandated and enforced. The retailers will consider their options at predetermined levels of loss as will the consumer.

Checks can and often do bring large and even catastrophic losses to the market making the acceptance and use unattractive to any and all sides. It will be quite a while for the paper product to leave us for good and much longer for the electronic checks to go away due to the reliance of banks and governments, but the use and proliferation will only continue to decline especially in the public sector. This may be a sort of an entree for the bit coin or similar venture with better backing. I guess we will see about that too.

'gjarnoldjr'

One compelling reason is if you have a private-label credit card, patrons still like to make in-store payments on their account using checks.

But if not for that, stores may want to consider discontinuing the archaic tender. To many, they mean delays in line or fraud.

'RetailGator'

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