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Fri, Apr 28 2006

How American Express hurt my community

Not long ago I had a conversation with someone (I'll call her Elaine) who has lived in this community for more than 30 years. Her children attended school with the children of a family who has been running a small Asian restaurant in the area. The children have all grown now, but the restaurant is still family-owned and operated. We've eaten there many times and have always been met with friendly service and good food in generous portions. Elaine told us she had gone to the restaurant and had chatted with the owners. They told her that they would probably have to stop accepting the American Express card at their place of business, because the fee they pay just for the privilege of offering that convenience to their customers was now costing them several hundred dollars a month—whether one or a hundred customers used an American Express card to pay. Elaine said the woman was distraught at the prospect of discontinuing the credit card service, but could see no merit in the cost.

I started thinking about this whole thing. It's been simmering on the back burner of my mind for awhile and I really wish I could have a conversation with some of the people who work for American Express. With cardholders paying an annual fee (for at least one type of card—whether anything is charged on the card or not) and with business owmers paying a fee (whether anyone uses the service at their establishment or not), American Express has made a very nice spot for itself in corporate America. I'm sure they are proud of their success and their profits. And they should be. But my respect for their practices has been waning in recent years, and after hearing about Elaine's restaurant owning friends, I'm even less inclined to continue to use American Express. It would be great if someone from the corporation spoke to the restaurant owners, ate at one of their tables, saw the smiles from the hard-working family there, and noted the contribution that this little place has made to our community for many years. But I doubt very much that anyone at corporate headquarters even really knows the restaurant exists. When the restaurant discontinues the use of the American Express card service they might or might not get a call from someone wanting to know what the problem is. Will anyone call?

I do know of at least two local families that will probably be cutting up their American Express cards this year (after having the cards for more than two decades) and choosing to pay no more annual fees for the privilege of using the card. I doubt these families will get a call or visit or even a form letter. I do wish the corporation much success. But I hope the executives and board members realize someday that success is more than their own bottom line. Consumers in small communities pay attention. Word gets around when treasured, local businesses feel the squeeze of large corporations always reaching for more. American Express' bottom line doesn't begin to reflect our local loss of service.

posted at: 09:58 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
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