Whole Foods Market customers hoping to use their checkbooks at the high-end grocery this week were told to find alternative ways to pay. All five Triangle locations stopped accepting checks Monday in order to limit the amount of customer information the grocer collected and to increase checkout speed, said Whole Foods spokeswoman Teresa Jones. The policy is already in place at many of its 300 U.S. stores.
"It's a noticing of a trend and an opportunity to take advantage of a trend," Jones said.
It's true that check users are a dwindling minority in the retail world, but few stores have outlawed the payment method.
There's no discernible trend of retailers adopting no-check policies, said J. Craig Shearman, a vice president at the National Retail Federation. The trend is actually the opposite. "What (retailers) prefer most is cash or checks," Shearman said.
When customers pay by cash or check, the retailer receives 100 cents on the dollar. A retailer pays a transaction fee whenever a customer uses a credit or debit card.
Last year, just 5 percent of consumers reported that writing a check is their preferred method of retail payment, down from 11 percent in 2005 and 18 percent in 2001, according to a study by BAI Research and Hitachi Consulting.
Whole Foods let its customers know about the change in advance through signs posted at the checkout line.
Jones said the decision was not made based on any customer security concerns or complaints but on general consumer distaste for divulging personal information to companies. She said customers paying by check usually have to provide their phone and driver's license numbers at the register.
Chapel Hill resident Laura Chesnut, 48, bought groceries at her local Whole Foods on Tuesday and said she didn't know about the change. She said she rarely uses checks but thinks the new policy will negatively affect some shoppers.
"It will be inconvenient for some people," she said. "I hate to take away anybody's options."
Food Lion accepts checks and has no plans to change its cashing policy, said Christy Phillips-Brown, a spokeswoman for the Salisbury-based grocer. She said Food Lion wants to keep the shopping experience easy and convenient and give customers as many ways to pay as possible.
Matthews-based Harris Teeter also has no plans to nix checks, spokeswoman Danna Jones said.
"Our customers are choosing more and more to use other forms of payment, but many still adhere to checks, and we will continue to offer them this option," she said in an email.
Even stores with no-check policies still yield to customers who have no other way of paying.
Great Outdoor Provision Co. stopped accepting checks nearly a year ago because customers were no longer using them. Despite the policy change, the store still accepts checks from customers accustomed to paying that way, said Raleigh store manager Robin Hannon, who estimated his store gets two checks a year.
"If somebody needs to write a check, I'll take the check," Hannon said. Whole Foods is leaving that choice up to store managers' discretion.
K.C. Hattman, associate team leader at the Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, said he has received some complaints about the change in policy from shoppers and is prepared to work with them.
"We understand it's a change and a kind of radical one," he said.
Staff writer David Ranii contributed to this report.