Do You Take Credit Cards?

Josie Leavitt - May 13, 2011

I cannot say how many times I get asked this question when tourists come to town. I wonder what it is about a thriving independent bookstore in a fairly busy little town that makes people think we don’t actually take credit cards.
It’s all I can do sometimes to not say, “No, we don’t take credit cards, in fact, we only accept pieces of eight.” Really, practically every store on the planet takes credit cards. Someone once expressed surprise that I had a computer at the register. Just because our store is in a semi-rural area people make assumptions, and sometimes that makes me cranky.
It’s that same mentality, which is vaguely antagonistic, that has people coming up to the register saying, “How much more will this cost me than at a big store?” There can be a boutique mentality for some people shopping at a smaller bookstore, where they automatically assume they’ll be paying more because the store is smaller and doesn’t have buyer power.
But it’s really hard to charge more for a book: the price is printed right there on the book in at least two places. Small stores can still have very competitive pricing due to discounting – for example, we discount bestsellers, and sales and customer loyalty programs are often free at indie bookstores, so in the end, you wind up saving more than at the bigger stores.
I take a deep breath and happily smile back at customers who ask these questions and say, “I take all credit cards, save Diners Club.” Then I take my moment on the indie pulpit and extol the beauty and importance of an independent bookstores and why we’re important.
And then I handsell them a book or two they didn’t even know they wanted, and then I ask if them if they’ll be paying with Visa, Mastercard, Discover or American Express.

16 thoughts on “Do You Take Credit Cards?

  1. Mer

    I live in NYC and am surrounded by stores that don’t take credit cards — though they are mostly restaurants rather than bookstores — as well as many with credit card minimums. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with rural location — if I don’t see that sticker on the door, I’m going to ask.
    As for paying less/more, it’s hard to charge more than the price printed on the cover, but it’s not hard to charge less. I pay “sticker” at my local indies, but I pay up to 50 percent less at Amazon, at least for big promotional titles like Harry Potter.
    I prefer to support independents, but I have done the math and I don’t think I have *ever* paid less at an indie except for used books; oftentimes it’s the same or the difference comes out in the wash because of shipping, but at least as often I am paying 20 percent higher or more. Which isn’t such a big deal on mass markets and TPBs, but for the rare books that I have to have as soon as they come out in hardback, it adds up. As a result I tend to use big names for titles I already know I want and indies for browsing.
    Also having gotten an e-reader for Christmas, I wish it were easier to buy ebooks from indies.

  2. Kathleen

    If I don’t see the cc symbols in the window I don’t assume that the businesses that I enter take credit cards. In our area (Pittsburgh) there are quite a few stores that don’t take them or ask that you make a min. purchase. Blew my mind once to be in a grocery store that didn’t take them but that was about 10 years ago (but it was in a larger city).

  3. yamster

    Rest assured that it’s not just your setting and indieness. I worked in a major chain bookstore in a major city and remember being asked more than once whether we had a photocopier! Hmmm…

  4. Rachel

    I don’t think people intend to be patronizing when asking about credit cards. I know a lot of smaller or local businesses don’t accept credit cards, or require a minimum purchase of $5 or so, because of the fees incurred. I’ve experienced this in the Chicago suburbs–definitely not a rural location. I assume these businesses want to avoid those fees because of their smaller budgets and smaller profits.

  5. Ellen R

    I’ve been known to answer the question “Do you take credit cards?” with “Yes and sometimes I give them back” and a big smile.
    It’s sad though to see the number of people who have to think it through before they realize that I’m joking! I try to only tease the ones who have a sense of humor; sometimes I’m off the mark.

  6. Persepone

    Guilty! Of course what I mean to ask is, “Do you accept the credit card/s I have in my wallet?”
    Why? Because once I go into a bookstore, regardless of whether I found what I went in for, I inevitably find other books that I absolutely “must” have… And there is never enough cash in my wallet…. I suspect this would be true even if I had just won the lottery! What can I say?
    So, don’t be too hard on me when I come in to your store. And if I’m in your town, I almost certainly will come in and I am certain to ask the question. On the other hand, I will probably laugh if you come back with a snappy answer…
    I can’t pass your bookstore and not stop in! If I drive by at midnight and you are closed, I will note the location and the next time I’ll try to get there in daylight hours. I’m addicted to bookstores…

  7. Amanda D

    My neighborhood is pretty good about encouraging independent businesses, and a lot of places will set the minimum at $10. There are a few that don’t accept credit cards. I would try not to take it personally.

    1. Carolyn A.

      I would say that this is the reason you get the question. The questioner has been to an independent store that didn’t take credit cards, so now they wonder, “Will you?”.

  8. catie james

    *cough* Not to be misanthropic or anything but…have you ever watched HOUSE? Anytime one of his patients does something remotely human, House’s standard reply is: “*People* are *idiots.*” Unfortunately I’ve found that statement often proves itself true.

  9. Angela Parson Myers

    I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been in stores that do not accept credit cards. Sometimes I’ve even bought something, tho likely less than I would have if they accepted my card.

  10. Christine

    Do you know how embarassing it is to be a customer at the register and then be told ‘No, we don’t take credit cards’ or ‘We only accept….’? It’s not THAT uncommon and often for the reasons already cited–the fees charged by the companies are expensive for independent businesses working on a tight (and getting tighter) profit margin.
    If you don’t already have one, put up a prominent sign by the cash register. People may still not always notice or read it but you’ll still help some out. And if you or your employees notice a browsing customer or one who has items in their hands, smile and say ‘we accept credit cards!’.

  11. Tamara Paulin

    People ask that at our store, and I’m happy to say YES! It’s always a nice interaction when you get to say yes to a customer.
    And I can’t blame them for asking. The store right next to ours, one that’s been in business for over twenty years, does NOT take plastic of any kind. The owner is philosophically opposed to enabling people to go into debt (and also paying the credit card companies a percentage.)

  12. Josie Leavitt Post author

    Wow, I wasn’t expecting so many replies, and to learn so many stores out there *don’t* take credit cards. We have one of those stickers on the front door with all the credit card logos. I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone, I was just irritable that day and found the question off-putting, but now I understand why folks ask that question, and I will no longer take it the wrong way 🙂

    1. Persepone

      I focused on the credit card issue in my previous reply, but I’d have to agree with you that as a bookstore customer, I’ve definitely found this to be true:
      “Small stores can still have very competitive pricing due to discounting – for example, we discount bestsellers, and sales and customer loyalty programs are often free at indie bookstores, so in the end, you wind up saving more than at the bigger stores.” Besides, you have the book right then–in your hands–no shipping charges, no muss, no fuss, no aggravation! Also, the people who work in indie bookstores actually know something about the books that they sell, unlike many of the “big box bookstores.” So, yeah, I tend to buy from indie bookstores.
      The bottom line is that there are always going to be totally annoying customers in any business–whether they are locals or from out of town. I guess that’s the price one pays for having one’s own business.
      One interesting comment I would make is that I am always rather surprised when an out-of-town store offers to let me write a check rather than pay with a credit card to avoid the fees. I generally take them up on this. I’d think the fees would offset the risk posed by checks…
      But I’ll make sure that I phrase my question about taking credit cards in the future to avoid making your teeth itch… I probably did not check your door for the credit card logos because I was too intent on opening it to get inside to see your special brand of magic!

  13. Peggy

    Our most frequent question about credit cards is, “Do you take American Express?” I always reply, “We take all credit cards. About the only thing that hasn’t worked for us is a Black and Decker warranty card.” Then we laugh together.


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