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Discover Financial Services is still struggling to reach “the last mile” of full U.S. merchant acceptance as many retail locations fall short in promoting the brand at the point of sale, Roger Hochschild, Discover president and chief operating officer, told analysts on Nov. 16.

Discover claims to have 97% coverage at U.S. merchant locations through merchant-acquiring agreements Discover has inked in recent years, but consumer and merchant awareness of the brand’s acceptance is not at that level, Hochschild told attendees at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Banking and Financial Services Conference in New York.

“Implementation (of nationwide card acceptance) has been harder than we thought it would be,” he said. “It’s not enough just for merchant acquirers to turn (it) on.”

To benefit from its acquirer agreements, retailers’ checkout staff also must promote Discover card acceptance at the point of sale, but the presence of Discover signage and stickers at some checkout stations is inadequate, Hochschild suggested.

To close the gap, Discover is conducting “hundreds of thousands of merchant visits” this year to educate merchants and their staff members on Discover card acceptance, said Hochschild, who expects the effort to be “largely complete” by next year.

“Our (card) acceptance is already far ahead of where it is perceived to be,” Hochschild noted.

Discover card acceptance among online merchants also is high, but gaps still exist. “There will always be some holdouts out there, for example online,” Hochschild said, concluding that reaching full marketplace awareness of Discover acceptance is “a journey.”

One problem with Discover’s tactic to activate merchants may be that it is not engaging enough, says Adil Moussa, an analyst at Boston-based Aite Group LLC.

“They need to engage customers in a large-scale way that sends cardholders to the merchant,” Moussa says.

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