business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

It’s not yet Halloween, but let’s start today with a really, really spooky story. Sadly though, this one is true and it impacts you.

No matter what your age you have likely witnessed something going from ordinary and essential to irrelevant and obsolete.  I’m old enough to have used pay phones, typewriters and even a slide rule in science classes before calculators became ubiquitous. All are gone.

Apparently the same fate is already in progress for how people pay for everything and sadly that means you and your business are in the center of the target for this nightmare on Main Street.

The Washington Post reported recently on the incredibly rapid decline in the use of both checks and cash to pay for anything and everything. The Post article details how credit and debit cards along with electronic payment apps (think Venmo) have taken over all forms of transactions and the shows the rate of use around the country by region and demographics.

But what should get your focus is the chart detailing the impact on different industries. Checks are still the king for contractors and charities and cash rules when it comes to personal gifts. Beyond that, credit and debit are, pardon the pun, in charge.

In fact, while a few decades back checks dominated payments for groceries (in supermarkets, drug store, convenience stores and others) the Post study finds that paper checks barely register these days, while credit and debit account for 75 percent of transactions.

Not to make this even worse, but the demographic statistics show, unsurprisingly, that young shoppers are by far the least likely to use checks. So the future direction is clear.

All of that should make you very, very worried. Unless you’ve been asleep for the past 20 years you have heard of the on going battle between retail and the banking/card industry over the fees that industry charges to handle all those transactions. In short, the fees keep going up because, basically, cards rule.

I can recall the CEO of a large chain telling me nearly 20 years ago that those transaction fees were quickly becoming the largest uncontrollable cost on his company’s books. I have to imagine the situation is significantly worse today.

Unlike many other challenges facing your business today, this isn’t something you can quickly change or even approach with company meetings or a new attitude toward competition. In fact, the only action you can probably take on your own is to ensure that any new front-end installations lose the little pad once used to give customers a handy place to write their checks. Obviously, it’s not very necessary unless your entire clientele is over 65.  Maybe 75.

More importantly, you need get quickly educated on this issue and learn about whatever can be done to fight back against those uncontrollable fees. You should know that your trade association - whether for supermarkets, convenience stores, drug stores or mass operators - have been working on this issue for at least two decades now. They need your voices to help educate Congress about the reality of this issue and the impact on your business.

To steal a great movie line from Network, nothing is going to happen unless "you get made as hell" and decide not to "take it anymore."  Based on the statistics in the Post article, you have to hope that even getting mad isn’t too late. But you have to start somewhere.

Like I said, this is a horror story.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

For information about hiring Michael to speak at your next meeting or conference, click here.