LITTLE ROCK, ARK. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will stop accepting signature debit cards issued by MasterCard starting in February, the first major retailer to take such action since a lawsuit settlement freed merchants to pick which credit and debit card services they use.
Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, said Wednesday that MasterCard's fees for the signature debit cards were too high. It will continue to accept Visa's signature debit cards.
A MasterCard spokesman didn't return a call for comment Wednesday. The company released a statement to the Wall Street Journal in which MasterCard accused Wal-Mart of telling customers how they can pay.
"It is surprising in today's environment for any merchant to make a conscious decision that will result in dissatisfied customers and lost sales."
When the change goes into effect Feb. 1, Wal-Mart doesn't expect many customers to be stopped dead at the cash register.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa Berryhill said Wednesday that fewer than 1 percent of Wal-Mart transactions were under MasterCard signature debit cards, and more than 90 percent of the cards carry a personal identification number that could be used instead of a signature.
Wal-Mart will continue to accept MasterCard debit cards if the customers key in their PIN.
Berryhill said saving money was at the root of the move.
"We don't want to pass the costs associated with the signature debit on to our customers in the form of higher prices," Berryhill said.