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FOCUS ON RETAIL : Costco's sweet Visa/Citi deal

By Tom Ryan
MAY 1, 2015

Costco's new exclusive credit card deal with Citicorp and Visa will reduce the warehouse retailer's acceptance costs to almost zero, sources toldBloomberg.

Currently, Costco pays approximately 0.6 percent on each transaction as part of its exclusive deal with American Express. AmEx charges most merchants 2.45 percent per transaction. The even lower fee with Citicorp and Visa reflects the increased leverage of the second-largest U.S. retailer as well as the banking appeal of Costco's affluent customer base.

Effective April 1, 2016, Visa will succeed AmEx as the exclusive credit card accepted at Costco's U.S. stores. Citicorp will issue a new co-branded card to replace the existing AmEx-Costco card.

When news arrived that the 16-year deal with AmEx was ending, some felt Costco might shift strategy to start accepting many forms of card payments as a convenience to shoppers. Only cash or debit cards are accepted outside of AmEx at the chain.

Customers will gain some convenience as more own Visa cards.

But concerns are already arriving over potential headaches transitioning to new cards. Customers are being assured that replacing current cards will be as easy as opening the mail although a similar switch in Canada led to long lines in stores.

More critically, many consumers want at least the same perks as the AmEx co-branded card. Costco's basic $55 annual fee enables members to apply for an Amex card that rebates three percent of most gasoline purchases, two percent on most travel and restaurant spending, and one percent on other purchases. Doubling the membership fee to $110 to earn a Costco AmEx card adds an annual check for 2 percent of most Costco purchases.

Costco said the new card will provide "generous rewards" but can't offer specifics with final details with the banks being worked out. Apparently its low negotiated swipe fees and other deal incentives will help.

"We think it's a big positive over a long period of time" 
said Richard Galanti, Costco's CFO, in March on Costco's second-quarter conference call. 

"But recognize big positive to us means giving most of it back to the customer; in this case, most of it back to the co-branded user of a credit card and that's going to happen."

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