It will be one year exactly on Friday since small shops were stopped from adding a surcharge to totals when customers paid electronically, a move which has seen limited success in encouraging small card payments.
While card payments have become commonplace at the baker's or in car parks, they are still far from being popular with newspaper vendors or in sandwich bars, according to the company CCV, which supplies electronic payment terminals.
The bank card is by and large increasingly replacing cash for small amounts. Electronic payments for sums of up to 10 euro have doubled in a year, CCV pointed out. In the first half of the year, its competitor Worldline recorded an increase of 18% for amounts up to five euro and 13% for purchases of no more than 10 euro. Card payments have even increased by 30% among small businesses.
This enthusiasm is however much more pronounced than in other areas, such as sandwich bars and bookshops. The owners of these shops "are much harder to convince about investing in payment terminals because the costs involved are still too high in view of their thin profit margins," the Neutral Union of the Self-employed (SNI) emphasised.
According to a Planning Office study quoted by SNI, the suggestion that customers pay by card effectively costs shopkeepers between 93 and 160 euro a month. Some consequently prefer to authorise e-payments only above a certain amount or keep the terminal out of the sight of customers in order to save on transaction fees.
So how can the success of card payments at bakeries and the discontent of sandwich-bar proprietors for the same system be explained? CCV states it has concluded an agreement with the Flemish Bakers' Federation, whose members pay zero transaction fees on amounts below five euro. At car parks, it is sometimes possible to pay by card at the entrance to avoid queues at ticket machines.
The SNI is calling for a reduction in e-payment costs for shopkeepers. Not only would tax incentives be necessary to encourage payment terminal purchase, but also a lowering of transaction and subscription fees, the union considered. "It's the only way to make shopkeepers get on board the digital train."
The Brussels Times