Supermarket executives are lukewarm about automated teller machine surcharges, but most consider surcharges on debit card purchases positively taboo, according to a recent survey.

In a poll of 30 national supermarket chains, Carmody & Bloom Inc. of Ridgewood, N.J., found that fewer than one in five supermarkets that own ATMs impose surcharges on cash withdrawals.

However, most of the stores did permit machines owned by banks and third parties to charge the fees, saying convenience for customers outweighs the negatives.

Supermarkets' "primary objective is to inspire customer loyalty," said Linda Zitelli, research director at Carmody & Bloom. "They're not willing to trade that off for some short-term revenue they might generate from surcharging the payment option."

None of the retail executives interviewed by the management consulting and research firm said they were charging fees on debit card sales. They said they want to encourage customers to use debit cards because they are cheaper for merchants than credit cards.

But most survey participants said they would consider slapping fees on ATMs or debit cards if their competitors do so.

"It's kind of a follow-the-leader situation," Ms. Zitelli said. "No one wants to be first out of the block."

All but one of the supermarkets did not maintain data on how many customers requested cash back when they paid for groceries by check or debit card. The one that did keep track found that in geographic areas where ATM surcharging was particularly prevalent, more people were asking for cash back to avoid the extra hit at an ATM.

The survey showed 47% of supermarket payments were made in cash, 35% with checks, 10% by credit cards, and 8% by debit cards.

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