What American Express did to Me
Thinking about American Express? For those of you who are considering
taking American Express credit cards in your business, let me share with
you my experience so that you don't get burned the way I have. As a
small software vendor I wish to share my story with you and let you
decide if American Express is the type of company that you should be
doing business with.
Computer Tyme is my software company. I've been in business since January of 1984. I've taken several kinds of credit cards most of the time I was in business. Mostly, Master Card, Visa, and Discover. In 1989 I started taking American Express as well.
In my 12 year history, I have never had any problems with credit card companies. Not a single instance of a dispute with a customer over a credit card charge, and never had a chargeback. Perhaps I was just lucky, or perhaps it's the nature of the business I'm in. I sell network management software mostly to large corporations, who tend to pay their bills. I'm not a huge customer, but I do a few thousand bucks a month in credit card sales. I may not be Microsoft, but I think I'm big enough that they would want my business.
With such a clean history, who would have thought that one day, out of the blue, I would get the following letter:
American Express Establishment Services Travel Related Services Company, Inc. Post Office Box 53852 Phoenix, Arizona 85072-3852 "Partnership Has Its Privileges." March 18, 1991 COMPUTER TYME INC 411 N SHERMAN #300 SPRINGFIELD MO 65802-3652 Merchant No.: 3245506035 Dear Service Establishment: We are sorry to inform you that we find it necessary to terminate your participation in the American Express Card Service in accordance with the terms of our agreement. Our decision is based upon a number of factors, such as your Charge volume, average Charge amount, and volume of credits and chargebacks, which, when considered together, indicate that it is simply not profitable to continue our business relationship. This termination shall be effective immediately. Please do not accept the American Express Card for any purchases after receipt of this letter. If you do, you do so at your own risk and we will not be obligated to process or pay you for any Charges you may hereinafter submit to us. Please remove all identifying insignia of the American Express Card service and return any unused forms and promotional materials and imprinters immediately. One of our representatives will be stopping by your establishment to pick up these materials in the future. All Charges which you have processed before you receive this letter should be submitted to us for settlement within ten (10) days after your receipt of this letter. Thank you for your assistance in this matter. Should you have any questions, please call toll-free #800-528-5200. Sincerely, B Walker Establishment Representative
As you can imagine, I was none too happy with this letter. I called the number and eventually found out that what they really wanted me to do was to sign a different merchant contract. However, that's not what the letter said. Even though privately they said the letter was a mistake, I insisted that they send me a new letter saying that in writing. They refused.
The American Express representative came to my office with the new contract which on the surface looked about the same as the old one. There were some details that favored them more and I'm not a lawyer and didn't want to hire one just to figure out this new contract.
I'm a little old fashioned about the way I do business and feel that for the most part a person is only as good as their word. So before I signed any new contract, I wanted to see how they were going to treat me as a customer. Realistically, I didn't want to take on American Express in a lawsuit somewhere down the line. I needed to feel like they wanted my business and that they were going to be fair.
As you can imagine, a merchant contract with a credit card company was going to be slanted heavily in their favor. My Master Card and Visa contracts are probably just as bad. So to sign this agreement, you have to trust that they are going to be fair with you if you are fair with them. But American Express violated that trust and I felt that it was up to them to make it right. I had to know if I signed an agreement that I wouldn't have to worry about getting a letter like the one above in the future.
I had decided that the test American Express had to pass was that they had to rescind the above letter and admit that I had been a good customer and that they wanted my business. If they couldn't be honest with me, then I didn't want to do business with them. I didn't like their business practices and to me the way someone does business is more important than the contracts you sign with them. I had to know that this letter wasn't just a ploy to force me to sign a new contract, and that it was truly just a mistake.
American Express hasn't to this day rescinded the letter. A this point they refuse to talk to me. And, as they insisted in the letter, I've changed all my literature indicating that I do not take American Express.
All in all I'm better off without them. Everyone who has an American Express card also has a Master Card or Visa and I've had no trouble with Master Card and Visa. Unlike American Express, they want my business. Even before the letter, American Eress was a hassle. First of all they took twice as big a cut as any other credit card. I couldn't make a direct bank deposit with my merchant slips. I had to mail it to them and wait for a check, and they were slow to pay. They were just a pain in the butt to do business with, and life is too short to put up with bullshit, if you know what I mean.
Should you do business with American Express? That's up to you. You may not have the same experience that I have. Maybe your business is such that you have to take their cards, like it or not. But when you negotiate the deal, you let them know that you don't want to be treated the way they treated me.
Marc Perkel * President
Computer Tyme Software Lab
The Consumer Information and Protection Webring|
Ring Owner: Dale O. Feinstein