MOUNT SNOW, Vt. — Numerous merchants don't realize their systems accept Discover, prompting the network to visit their stores in person to ask that the retailers stop turning down its cards.

About 98% of the nation's merchants have the technical capacity to accept Discover, an increase of 139% in the last five or six years, says John Badovinac, Discover's senior manager of acquirer relations.

Discover employees visited half a million merchants last year to let them know they can take Discover cards, he says. It's asking independent sales organizations to help alert merchants as well.

"That means we want to work with you," Badovinac told attendees Wednesday at the Northeast Acquirers Association annual conference.

Discover also is spending heavily on consumer advertising to let the public know Discover could be accepted just about anywhere, he says.

That advertising should pay off because consumers want to use Discover, Badovinac says.

One in four households has Discover cards, and research shows the cardholders form a lower opinion of merchants that decline the cards, he says. Fifty-one percent of Discover cardholders don't go back to merchants that won't accept their cards, he says.

The perception that accepting Discover is expensive for merchants doesn't ring true, Badovinac says, because a study indicates 78% of consumers use reward cards as their primary cards.

The average Discover cardholder is 41 years old, has an annual household income of $106,000 and spends more on an average purchase than Visa or MasterCard cardholders, he notes.

Besides telling merchants about Discover's progress in the United States, ISOs should alert merchants to the card's international connections, Badovinac says.

Merchants with the technical capability to accept Discover, which now includes just about all merchants, can also accept JCB, Union Pay, BC, DinaCard and Diners Club International.

The world's growing middle class spends an average of $4,200, not including airfare, on Discover-related international cards during visits to the U.S., Badovinac says.

Persuading merchants to display signs indicating acceptance of the international cards could boost sales, he says.

Meanwhile, the deals with international card brands are reciprocal, so Discover cards are accepted at 21.5 million stores and restaurants around the world, Badovinac says.

ISOs also stand to benefit from Discover's new relationship with PayPal, he says. PayPal cards run on the Discover "rails" and growing in number. Discover expects PayPal to have 53 million active PayPal accounts in the U.S. by the end of the year and projects the total could reach 60 million next year and 67 million in 2015.

Discover is encouraging ISOs and their sales agents to use test cards to ensure their merchants' equipment accepts PayPal cards, and it issues a kit to get them started, Badovinac says.

Correction: PayPal has 53 million active accounts in the U.S. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that it has that many cards.

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