UK Retailers and Card Networks Battle In Court

by Raymond Pucci 0


The seemingly, never-ending struggle over interchange fees rages on in the UK. As the following article reports, major UK retailers and card networks are squaring off in a high-stakes court clash.

A fight between U.K. retailers and credit-card companies that has lasted five years and spawned wildly different court rulings reached a London appeals court Monday that could determine the fates of lawsuits potentially worth billions.

Supermarkets including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda, Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc and J Sainsbury Plc are arguing that some fees set by Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. are anti-competitive. At issue is the use of so-called interchange fees, levied by banks at rates set by the card companies each time a consumer’s plastic is swiped at a register.

A ruling on the competitive nature of the swipe fees will draw together various long-running disputes and put the world’s biggest payment networks on notice for billions of dollars in claims. Mastercard faces at least 10 lawsuits filed by retailers in the U.K. totaling as much as $2 billion in claims, according to Bloomberg Intelligence

Visa is seeking to uphold a 2017 ruling by Judge Stephen Phillips, who said the transactions are legal. But the retailers are hoping the appeals court sides with a group of specialty antitrust judges who in 2016 ruled that Mastercard owed Sainsbury’s 69 million pounds ($99 million). The appeal court hearing is scheduled to last 10 days.

Interchange fees have been falling in various markets around the world. But the age-old feud between merchants and the card networks shows no sign of abating. Even with court decisions one way or another, there is an almost endless appeals process. Don’t expect a definitive outcome anytime soon, as both sides will continue to wage their legal battles.

Overview by Raymond Pucci, Associate Director, Research Service at Mercator Advisory Group

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