Of course, if you ask most retailers, it's not just banks that are kept under the companies' collective thumb. Most American consumers are familiar with the tag line for Visa's advertising campaign touting the company's omnipresence: After describing some tantalizing vacation spot, hotel or safari, the voiceover intones, "And they don't take American Express." The merchants in question, according to MasterCard and Visa detractors, don't take American Express (or anyone else's card) because they're under considerable pressure not to. In a class action lawsuit distinct from the DOJ case, 4 million retailers have joined in a suit against the companies, charging undue market control. Visa and MasterCard have a lot to lose as these cases progress: At the moment, the companies are on the take at both ends, charging credit card customers sky-high interest rates and leveling a sizable usage charge against retailers. Of course, if the store owners decline to take credit cards, they stand to lose considerable business from a public that has come to expect everybody to accept plastic payment.
In the end, despite the grim realities of Visa and MasterCard ubiquity, there could be a silver lining in all this for consumers. While the DOJ case could take most of the summer to unfold, the cumulative effects of such intense negative media scrutiny could become apparent much more quickly Visa and MasterCard customers should keep an eye out for peace offerings (in the form of lowered monthly interest rates or other acts of magnanimity) over the next few months.