Ikea, the Swedish home-furnishings retailer, has begun accepting MasterCard International's on-line debit card, known as Maestro.

Debit cards, which act like electronic checks, have been accepted mainly by retailers whose businesses are based on small, dollar purchases.

For instance, in supermarkets - which account for about half of the debit point of sale terminals deployed in the United States - the average on-line debit transaction carries a value of about $32, according to the Washington-based Food Marketing Institute.

MasterCard. executives expect the average value of debit card purchases at Ikea to be significantly higher than that amount.

Little Impact on Revenue

The value of debit card transactions has little effect on the revenue gathered by financial institutions. However, each indication that a new category of retailer is embracing debit bodes well for the future of transaction on which bankers' debit profits hinge.

Initially, Ikea will accept Maestro cards at three locations in California and Washington, D.C. Eventually, the retailer, which had worldwide sales of $4.4 billion in 1993, expects to expand acceptance to all 12 of its U.S. stores. Ikea has 110 stores worldwide.

Mellon Bank Corp. is providing Ikea with processing services for both credit and debit point of sale acceptance.

Cost Effectiveness Cited

"We believe it's only a matter of time before our customers demand POS debit as a payment choice," said James G. Quinn, Ikea's treasurer.

"In addition, POS debit is cost effective-for us to accept - far more so than cash."

MasterCard and Ikea will jointly promote Maestro starting in September. The promotions will include in-store signs and banners and incentive programs for both employees and customers.

Experts said bankers will watch debit introductions like this one closely to see whether consumers are willing to use debit rather than credit on large-dollar purchases.

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