Costco Merchant Services Review
Processing $5,000 per month or less in card payments?
- No early termination fee
- No PCI compliance fee
- Mobile chip card reader
- Expensive tiered pricing processing rates
- Poor customer support
Costco Merchant Services is a merchant account provider headquartered in Issaquah, Washington. The company is a division of massive big-box retailer Costco, which has been in business since 1983. Costco’s Merchant Services division has been operating since 1997.
Despite the mammoth size of its parent company, Costco Merchant Services is not a direct processor. Instead, it functions as a reseller for Elavon, one of the largest processors in the United States. While Costco provides some modest discounts for merchants who have a Costco membership, Elavon performs the actual transaction processing and provides all other aspects of maintaining a merchant account (including billing and customer support). Unlike many other resellers, the company openly advertises its relationship with Elavon, featuring them prominently on the home page of their website. We approve of this practice, as merchants are commonly confused by the relationship between merchant account providers and their backend processors.
The most significant misconception about Costco Merchant Services is that, because the retail side of Costco’s business is so well-known for low prices, merchant accounts through the company must be less expensive as well. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Costco Merchant Services offers few discounts over what you’d likely pay if you signed up directly with Elavon, and most of them are limited to Costco members. In fact, the company’s advertised tiered pricing plans could be even more expensive than working with Elavon directly, especially for a larger business.
Considering all the pros and cons, Costco Merchant Services earns an overall rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars. This is a very average rating, and it’s also the same rating that Elavon received in our last review update.
Read on for our full review, or check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart for an overview of our top-rated providers.
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Table of Contents
Products & Services
Costco Merchant Services offers a full range of features for retail and online businesses of any size. Because of their relationship with Elavon, many of these features are proprietary, Elavon-branded products. Here’s what they have to offer:
- Merchant accounts: As we’ve noted, all transactions are actually processed by Elavon. Unlike most resellers, Elavon also provides all customer service and support.
- Credit card terminals: Costco Merchant Services features the Ingenico iCT250 terminal as their primary hard-wired countertop terminal. This model has all the features you’ll need, including the ability to accept magstripe, EMV, and NFC-based payment methods. It’s priced at $459, which is a reasonable savings over the $499 price that Elavon charges on their website. The popular Verifone Vx520 and wireless Ingenico iWL250G terminals are also available, but pricing is not disclosed for these models. One word of caution: Elavon is notorious for partnering with Ladco Global Leasing Solutions, one of the worst credit card terminal leasing companies on the market. If you’re short on cash to buy your terminals, avoid the temptation to lease them. Credit card terminal leases are usually arranged through four-year, noncancelable contracts that will cost you many times more than what it would to just buy your equipment outright. A much more reasonable alternative is Costco’s Hardware Installment Plan, which allows you to purchase Elavon hardware and pay for it through three monthly, interest-free installment payments.
- Wireless terminals: Costco Merchant Services also features the Poynt Mobile Terminal, a unique hardware offering that combines a tablet display with all the payment processing features of a credit card terminal. It can accept magstripe, EMV, or NFC-based payments and includes many features usually found only in a full-blown Point-of-Sale (POS) system. The Poynt terminal is now available in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
- Point-of-sale (POS) systems: Costco Merchant Services users can take advantage of Elavon’s partnership with Talech to build their own, iPad-based POS system. You can run this system on a stand-alone iPad, or integrate it with the Elo PayPoint The dock includes an integrated cash drawer, barcode scanner, and receipt printer. Pricing is not disclosed for this system. Also, it’s currently only available on the iPad (sorry, Android users).
- Mobile processing: Costco offers Elavon’s Converge Mobile app for mobile payment processing. It’s available for both iOS and Android. In addition to a smartphone, the app requires a ROAM device, which is basically an Elavon-branded Ingenico RP457c card reader. The reader can connect through either the headphone jack or Bluetooth. It supports EMV and NFC payments. Costco charges $149.00 for the Converge software and $76 for the ROAM device, plus $5.00 per month in account fees. Converge Mobile is only available in the United States.
- Online payments: For eCommerce merchants, Costco Merchant Services offers Elavon’s Converge omnichannel payment platform. Converge combines the functions of a payment gateway and a virtual terminal, and uses a hosted payment page for additional security. The Converge software costs $149.00, plus an additional $5.00 monthly fee. You’ll also pay an extra $0.25 per transaction for swiped payments.
- Security features: Costco uses encryption to protect your customers’ payment data, but doesn’t disclose the specific encryption method. It appears to be Point-to-Point (P2P) encryption, however. Tokenization is also used to secure payment data and ensure PCI compliance.
Because of Costco Merchant Services’ close relationship with Elavon, there may be other services available that aren’t described on their website. Contact a Costco sales representative if your business requires specialized services.
Fees & Rates
Costco Merchant Services prominently advertises the following processing rates on their home page:
- On-Site & In Store: 1.22% + $0.12 per transaction
- On-the-go: 1.22% + $0.12 per transaction
- Online: 1.99% + $0.25 per transaction
In the fine print, they note that these rates are for qualified transactions only. Non-qualified (and mid-qualified) rates will be higher. In fact, they could be two or even three times higher. Costco doesn’t disclose those rates, of course, but you should be aware that only a small percentage of transactions will fall into the qualified category. The mention of qualified rates is a clear indication of a tiered pricing plan. We don’t like tiered rates, as they obscure how much markup you’re paying over the base interchange rate. They’re also almost always more expensive than interchange-plus pricing plans. For a more thorough discussion of how tiered pricing works – and why you should avoid it – see our article Tiered Merchant Account Pricing: The Epic Fail of a Pricing Model.
Costco isn’t as deceptive as some providers, many of whom post the qualified “teaser” rates without any other information or disclosures. The company includes an Understanding Interchange page on their website that provides a very basic explanation of how interchange works and discloses that there are both mid-qualified and non-qualified rates that might apply to your transactions. However, they don’t tie everything together by quoting what those rates are, or mentioning that the majority of your transactions will probably not be qualified. There’s also no discussion about monthly processing volume and how it relates to rate quotes. It’s possible that your business might have to have a very high volume to receive the lowest rates.
Our best advice is simply to ignore the rates quoted on Costco’s website. They probably won’t apply to most of your transactions, and they might not even be available if your business is too small. Instead, you’ll want to get a customized, detailed rate quote from a Costco sales representative to have a more accurate idea of what you’ll really have to pay. You’ll also want to carefully review your contract documents to see what types of transactions fall into which rate tiers.
Costco doesn’t mention interchange-plus pricing at all on their website, but it might be available if you ask for it. Elavon offers interchange-plus pricing to some of its merchants, so it’s likely that it’s available through Costco also. Companies that offer both tiered and interchange-plus pricing plans are more likely to try to set you up for one of their tiered plans, as they’re more profitable for the merchant account provider. If the company won’t offer you an interchange-plus plan, we recommend that you take your business elsewhere.
The company is also somewhat unique among merchant services providers in that it waives several account fees for merchants who are also Costco Executive members. If you have a membership, you won’t have to pay the $25.00 account application fee or the $4.95 monthly statement fee that everyone else has to pay. Unfortunately, this only adds up to $84.40 in savings during the first year of your contract, and a Costco Executive membership currently costs $120.00 per year. The application fee is a one-time charge, so after the first year, you’ll only save $59.40. In other words, it’s not worth it to purchase an Executive membership solely to save money on your merchant account. You’ll want to be able to save enough money when buying supplies for your business at Costco to justify this additional expense.
Costco Merchant Services discloses several fees on their website, but not all of them. This is more transparent than many competing providers who don’t disclose any of their fees at all. Here’s what you can expect to pay:
- $20.00 monthly minimum
- $10.00 chargeback fee
- No annual fee
- No batch fees
- No IRS reporting fees
- No PCI compliance fees
Other potential fees, such as PCI non-compliance fees, are not disclosed. You’ll want to check your contract very carefully before signing up to avoid being surprised by a “hidden” fee later. Overall, however, Costco’s disclosed fees are generally less than the industry average. If your business is seasonal, you’ll want to inquire about waiving the monthly minimum and monthly account fee (if there is one) during the months when you aren’t using your account.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Costco Merchant Services contracts have a standard length of three years from the time you sign your contract. They also include an automatic renewal clause which will renew your contract for a period of one (or two) years at a time. The company does not charge an early termination fee (ETF) if you close your account before the expiration of your contract. These terms are identical to those imposed by Elavon for merchants who sign up directly with them.
The decision to drop the early termination fee is, of course, a welcome and positive change. Early termination fees have long been unpopular with merchants, and there is a growing trend within the processing industry to do away with them. However, it’s important to understand that not having an early termination fee is not the same thing as having a month-to-month contract. You are still obligated to keep your account open for the full three years, and you’ll have to take positive steps on your own if you want to avoid having it automatically renew. Closing your account will require you to follow all directions provided in your contract to the letter. While we weren’t able to obtain a copy of Costco/Elavon’s current Terms and Conditions, most providers require submission of a written form with a period of between 30 and 90 days before the expiration of your contract term. This is not something you can do over the phone. If you fail to provide the minimum required notice or submit the appropriate documentation, it’s quite likely that your contract will automatically renew, and you’ll continue to be billed for monthly account fees until you properly close your account.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Costco’s sales process is better than some providers, but not as good as many others. The company’s website offers relatively little information to help you make an informed decision. While there are a few rate and fee disclosures, as well as some educational material, the site primarily focusses on the misleading tiered processing rates that we’ve discussed above. If you’re still interested in opening a merchant account with Costco Merchant Services after reading this review, we recommend that you contact a sales representative and obtain a full rate quote for your business. You should also ask to see the current Terms and Conditions that will apply to your account, as many of the “hidden fees” you might not be aware of will be disclosed there in the fine print.
We like the fact that Costco openly discloses its relationship with Elavon, as many providers don’t do this. Unfortunately, Elavon’s website doesn’t provide much information about rates, fees, or contract terms. In fact, the Costco site generally offers more concrete information, at least regarding account fees.
We haven’t found any complaints about the use of independent sales agents by Costco Merchant Services, and that’s a good thing. Independent agents are notorious for employing high-pressure sales tactics and failing to disclose important contract terms in order to sell accounts, whereas an in-house sales team generally provides much better service. Note that Costco Merchant Services doesn’t appear to have its own dedicated sales team. Instead, their website directs you to contact the Elavon sales division, which is available from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday.
Because Costco Merchant Services functions as a division within the much larger Costco brand, it doesn’t have an independent social media presence of its own. Costco itself has a Facebook page, but information about their merchant services is not easy to find there.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Costco Merchant Services doesn’t provide its own customer support. Instead, you’ll need to contact the customer service division at Elavon. They’re available by telephone or email, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While it’s nice not to have to worry about getting the run-around between your processor and your merchant account provider as to who is responsible for a given issue, having a single point of contact doesn’t mean you’ll get the best possible support. Elavon has a decidedly poor reputation for customer service and support, so you’ll want to try to solve the problem on your own before contacting them.
While Costco Merchant Services doesn’t provide a knowledgebase on their website for self-help, you do have access to other resources. The Elavon Welcome Center includes an in-depth knowledgebase with tutorials and equipment documentation. There are also several webinars available that you can access through the Costco Merchant Services website.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Assessing negative feedback for Costco Merchant Services is difficult due to the company’s status as a division within a much larger organization. There is no separate BBB profile for Costco Merchant Services, and the main Costco profile contains hundreds of complaints that mostly relate to the company’s wholesale stores.
Because the company functions as a reseller for Elavon, most of the complaints relating to Costco Merchant Services are filed under the Elavon BBB profile. However, Elavon is a huge processor with numerous resellers, so finding complaints relating specifically to Costco Merchant Services is challenging. However, there are few fundamental differences between the services provided by these two business entities, so merchants signed up under Costco Merchant Services are likely to encounter the same issues as Elavon customers. Ripoff Report also has two complaints filed against Costco Merchant Services, both of which are from 2010.
Fortunately, our readers have provided some valuable feedback on previous versions of this review that sheds some light on issues to look out for when doing business with Costco Merchant Services. Be sure to read their reviews in the Comments section below. Common complaints include the following:
- High tiered rates. While Costco prominently advertises their low rates for qualified transactions, our readers report rates for non-qualified sales as high as 3.35% + $0.29 per transaction. This is a more accurate reflection of what you will actually be paying, as many of your transactions will be non-qualified.
- Poor customer support. Customer service is provided by Elavon, so it’s no surprise that this is a common problem. See our Elavon review for more details about the company’s reputation for inadequate customer service.
- Sudden account closures. We’ve seen an inordinate number of merchants complain that they were approved for an account, only to have it suddenly closed by Elavon after a month or two of processing. To make matters worse, no refunds were provided for terminals that were purchased as part of the account setup. Like many other providers, Costco/Elavon does not support high-risk businesses, and they will shut down your account if they determine that you are a high-risk merchant. The best way to avoid this situation is to be completely open and honest about the nature of your business when applying for an account. It’s better to be turned down for an account before you’ve spent any money that you won’t be able to get back.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Unsurprisingly, the only positive feedback we could locate on Costco Merchant Services came from their own website. Their Customer Reviews page includes eight written testimonials from a variety of businesses that use Costco/Elavon. While we’re usually suspicious of self-promoted testimonials, these are actually pretty good. They include complete contact information for each reviewer, so it’s possible to follow up with them directly, if you want to confirm them.
If you’ve been reading this far, you’ve probably already concluded that Costco Merchant Services is not for you. It’s true that the company has some significant problems, particularly its expensive and misleading tiered pricing rates. Also, their terms are virtually identical to what Elavon can give you if you sign up with them directly, leaving little incentive to sign up with Costco.
However, the company has made some improvements over the past few years. The elimination of the PCI compliance fee and the early termination fee are both positive steps, and reflect growing trends throughout the processing industry. At the same time, these meager cost reductions are going to be offset over time if you’re stuck with the tiered pricing rates that Costco uses by default. Unless you’re able to negotiate an interchange-plus pricing plan, we can’t recommend a merchant account from Costco Merchant Services. You’ll also want to be a Costco Executive member, although the cost savings this will gain you are negligible unless you can already justify the expense of a membership for other business purchases.
Overall, we’re awarding Costco Merchant Services 3.5 out of 5 stars. This is the same rating that we currently have for Elavon, and it’s indicative of the fact that there just aren’t many significant differences between the two companies as far as merchant accounts are concerned. While there are certainly much worse providers on the market, there isn’t any outstanding or unique feature offered by Costco that would cause us to give them a stronger endorsement.
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