No More Checks at the Checkout?

The Naomi Wilzig Collection

Grocery stores have always been a type of back-up bank for many shoppers. They could cash personal and payroll checks as well as pay for purchases by check. But that may soon be a practice of the past.

Whole Foods Market has initiated a pilot project to stop accepting checks at two of its stores in Los Angeles County and one in Arizona, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, the California division of the British grocery chain Tesco, has never accepted checks since it came here -- only cash, credit and debit cards.

The heads of these chains say check processing is a time-consuming and expensive service, especially in a time when all businesses are hoping to cut costs.

But there’s a risk to making such a dramatic change.

“Every time you take something away, you run the risk of severing your relationship with a customer,” according to Mac Brand, a Chicago food industry consultant. Brand says if customers don’t get what they want at one store, they’ll just switch to another.

That may be especially true for seniors who have been slow to adopt to using debit cards, said Gail Hellebrand, a lawyer and financial services expert for the nonprofit Consumers Union.

But other shoppers may not find the change inconvenientk, at all. The ubiquitous debit cards have all but eliminated check-writing for many consumers, who don’t even carry checkbooks anymore.

Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs say they have no plans to end their check cashing services. They still will cash payroll checks, although they typically charge a service fee of about $1.00 to 1% of the amount of the check.

For now, Whole Foods has only stopped accepting checks at its stores in El Segundo, at 3rd & Fairfax in Los Angeles, and in Tempe, Ariz.

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