7-Eleven Inc. says it has already reached its goal of soliciting 1 million consumer signatures on a petition calling for Congress to regulate interchange fees.
The convenience store chain began collecting signatures at all of its more than 6,300 U.S. stores in late June.
Keith Jones, the Dallas company's director of government affairs, said consumer response to the campaign, which is scheduled to end Aug. 10, has been "absolutely remarkable."
The petition books at checkout counters each hold 270 signatures, and many stores have requested additional copies, Jones said in an interview Tuesday.
"We started off with about 9,500 signature books and then we ordered another 5,000 a week ago," he said.
The checkout displays urge customers to "Ask Congress to stop credit card companies from charging unfair transaction fees to the businesses you shop."
Below the displays are signature books featuring a photos of man in a hard hat, a boy with a Slurpee and two employees. The copy has the heading, "We're not just your 7-Eleven" and continues, "We're neighbors and friends hurt by unfair credit card fees."
Dennis Lane, who owns a 7-Eleven franchise in Quincy, Mass., said that about two of every 10 visitors sign the petition. Many regular customers are coming in less often because they have been laid off from their jobs, and people are becoming more price-conscious and more conscious of the factors that affect end-user prices, including the interchange fees paid by merchants, he said.
"Consumers are more concerned than ever about where their pockets are being picked," said Lane, who is also chairman of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees.
Lane also appears in a video posted online at YouTube that gives the reasons behind the petition. The video ends with the instructions to "Visit www.unfaircreditcardfees.com for more details." The Web site was created by the Merchants Payments Coalition, a trade group that is calling for Congress to regulate card fees.
A MasterCard Inc. spokeswoman said by e-mail: "Consumers signing 7-Eleven's anti-interchange petition should first ask themselves 'What's in it for me?' Experience shows that the answer would be higher fees and fewer benefits on their credit cards."
Merchants may not pass along to customers any savings that result from lower card-acceptance costs, the MasterCard spokeswoman said. "7-Eleven is misleading its customers into thinking that a reduction in the store's cost of acceptance would lead to lower pricing," she wrote.
For example, restrictions that Australia has imposed on interchange fees have led to more annual fees to cardholders and a 23% reduction in rewards such as airline miles, MasterCard said. "However, there is no evidence that merchants lowered any prices on products or services to reflect their lower acceptance costs," the spokeswoman said.
Trish Wexler, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Payments Coalition, which represents card issuers, networks and other payments industry members, said in an e-mail that 7-Eleven is misleading customers about the costs and benefits of card-acceptance fees. "7-Eleven and other giant retailers don't want to pay their fair share for a cost of doing business," she wrote.
Lane said the competitive nature of retailing generally forces merchants to pass along savings in operating costs to consumers. For example, he is now charging $2.39 for a gallon of 1% milk, versus $2.99 a year ago, largely because of lower prices from his suppliers.
Jones said the signature campaign is not tied to any pending legislation.
Will Valentine, a spokesman for Visa Inc., wrote in an e-mail that 7-Eleven "is asking consumers to sign a petition that would ultimately shift 7-Eleven's costs of doing business onto consumers while 7-Eleven enjoys all the benefits of accepting electronic payments."
Merchants lost a legislative battle in May when an amendment that included the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights failed to pass the Senate. The amendment would have made it easier for merchants to offer shoppers discounts for using cash, debit cards and checks instead of credit cards.
In June, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., reintroduced legislation that would allow merchants to strike collective-bargaining agreements with banks when setting interchange rates; a companion bill was introduced in the Senate shortly after.
In May, President Obama signed into law a sweeping credit card reform act covering consumer issues but not interchange rates.