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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Electron users blocked online
Online shopping
Ten million people could soon have an Electron card

Tens of thousands of people are finding it impossible to make online purchases from High Street stores, following their bank's decision to switch them to a new payment card.

Halifax Cardcash customers only have a basic bank account, and tend to be young, on a low income or with a poor credit history.

The bank has decided to migrate them to a new payment card called Visa Electron, but the card is not as widely accepted as the Solo card it is replacing.

Cardcash customer Jenny spoke to BBC Radio 4's Money Box of her frustrating experiences:

"I have a whole list of online shopping outlets that do not take it... Boots, M&S, B&Q, Argos, these are all people I have used in the last six months that I will now not be able to shop with online."

Business reasons

When approached about the problem, Halifax said that as only 20,000 Cardcash customers regularly shop online, it does not consider this to be a huge problem.

And it stressed that only a few replacement cards have so far gone out, and by the time the majority of people have them, more online retailers will take Electron.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 15 May, 2004 at 1204 BST.

But when Money Box approached the retailers Jenny mentioned, not one of them spoke of any intention to ever accept the Electron card online.

Boots, Marks and Spencer, Argos, Tesco and B&Q confirmed they do not take Electron online, yet they all take Solo. When asked why, the programme found confusion and a clear reluctance to answer.

Argos's response was the most thorough. It said it did not take Electron payments online because of low demand, and because young people might use the card to buy age-prohibited goods.

Commercial logic

Visa's Executive Vice President for Marketing in Europe John Prideaux said that there would soon be 10 million Electron cardholders, as other banks are also issuing it with their basic bank accounts.

He was confused at what he saw as reluctance on the retailers' part to accept the payment method. Speaking to the programme he said:

There does not really seem to be a great deal of commercial logic in turning away 10 million customers
John Prideaux, Visa

"For somebody wanting to operate on the internet, it is just as easy to be able to accept a Visa Electron card as it is a Visa card.

"Merchants are putting something into their system that is actually blocking the acceptance of Electron, And I for the life of me, can not work out why they would want to do that.

"There does not really seem to be a great deal of commercial logic in turning away 10 million customers."

Despite the problems Money Box has highlighted, Halifax is pressing ahead with its business decision to switch everyone on the Cardcash account to an Electron by the end of next year.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 15 May, 2004, at 1204 BST.

The programme was repeated on Sunday, 16 May 2004, at 2102 BST.

Money Box



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