The Vulture Culture


Imagine this scenario. You go down the High Street and pop into a shop to buy a pair of shoes. You try on several pairs, choose one, and take it to the counter to pay.

“How would you like to pay?”

“Credit card.”

“That will be £49.99 plus £2 for using the credit card …”

“OK, I’ll pay by debit card. £49.99, is that right?”

“No, there’s also a transaction fee of £2.85.”

You’d probably walk out in disgust without the shoes.  And on the way home, you might stop off at the supermarket and fill your trolley with some midweek top-up groceries.

Now imagine arriving at the check out, only to have the same conversation as at the shoe shop. An extra charge for using a credit card and a transaction fee as well. This time you may not want to hand back the groceries, so you stump up the £2.85 transaction fee.

Unrealistic? Fanciful?  If that’s what you think you haven’t been to the theatre recently. Whether you book your tickets by phone or online you will get charged a booking fee at the last moment, usually between £1.50 and £3.00 per ticket, but sometime more. Almost certainly that fee will not be declared in the advertised prices.

Put simply, you will be charged a fee for buying a theatre ticket, over and above the cost of the ticket itself. It’s a charge for spending money, for buying the ticket; it’s a double charge and there is no moral or commercial justification for it. It’s nothing less than a rip-off.

According to the Mail Online, the company taking bookings for the musical The Book of Mormon were charging a booking fee of £4 per ticket plus a one-off transaction fee of £3. A person buying four of the cheapest tickets at £27.50 each (total £110) would have paid £19 extra.

The Advertising Standards Authority has said it does not have the power to outlaw these fees, so the heinous practice goes on. I always thought the advertised price was the one they had to charge. If you see an item in a shop window with a price rage of, say, £50, the retailer would have to charge that, nothing more.

It amounts to customers paying the sales people their commission. Shouldn’t commission be paid by the theatres and others who sell things, not by those who buy?

A final word on credit cards. They were introduced to help retailers and other businesses make more sales by enabling customers to buy even when they did not have enough money to pay. That’s what buying on credit means. The credit card delivered advantage to the retailer, improving cash flow. Charging the customer for using it is a complete reversal of the underlying principle of buying on credit.

It seems we are in an era of exploitation of customers.  It’s a vulture culture in which parasites line the space between customers and suppliers, clawing at every scrap they can scrape from the transaction.

Today it’s theatre bookings. Tomorrow it could well be the supermarket. Where, you might ask, are the lawmakers in all this?


About phillipkp

I am a wordsmith. I work as a copywriter and trainer in communication skills. For eight years I was Senior Copywriter at Reader's Digest, London, then Creative Director of PKP Communications Limited, a Direct Marketing creative agency. My business background is in speciality selling and direct marketing. In public speaking I have won more titles than anyone in Europe, including UK Champion seven times, and World No.2. Got a speech or presentation to deliver, or a mailing to send out? I can help. Let's meet for copy.
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2 Responses to The Vulture Culture

  1. Kevin Beach says:

    It may be artificial to look at the original purpose of credit cards. Since their early days many people have used them as charge cards, paying on the nail when the statement comes in. The card companies make nothing out of that, which is probably what induced them to impose transaction charges on the merchants.

    In my case, the transaction charges are what stop us from using card readers. We don’t want to bear the charges or to add them on to what we charge our clients.

  2. In the end, somewhere someone has to pay for the transaction fee. And that someone will ALWAYS be the consumer. Making it a separate charge may actually save the consumer money, given retailers’ propensity to round to the nearest something-99. Let’s use Phillip’s example: if the theatre had to cover the booking agent’s fees, would the ticket price have gone up to £31.50? Possibly – but just as likely they’d have ended up as a nice “round” £32.50, even £35.

    Same goes for supermarkets – they lump in that a percentage of sales will cost them a transaction fee from their merchant service. Those paying by credit card get off a bit light, cash customers (who generally are less able to afford it) end up subsidising them. There’s no perfect answer, one way is (arguably) more fair, one more transparent. My events will continue to charge the booking fee on top. Maybe I should try the same for my coaching? Hmmm …

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