Why do small grocery stores in the US ask for my ID with a credit card, while big ones, like Whole Foods or Safe Way, never ask for it. It is not related to buying alcohol)? I know that merchants are allowed to ask for ID. I'm just wondering why only small stores do this. I live in the US only several months, and I'm not familiar with local rules. I'm from Europe, where I was never asked for ID to make a credit card purchase in my life because all cards are PIN protected.

2 Answers 2


Because large stores do not pay their cashiers enough that the companies can dock the employees' pay if they allow a bad credit card to go through. So most cashiers at large stores won't take the extra effort to check the card properly. As a result, large stores come up with other ways to handle potential credit card fraud. For example, they calculate a certain amount of fraud as expected and include it in their price calculations. Or they can use cameras to catch fraudsters.

At small stores, there is a much higher chance that the cashier is either the owner or a relative of the owner. And even those who are unrelated tend to be hired by the owner directly. The owners do have their pay docked if a bad credit card is accepted, as their pay is the profit from the business. So they tend to create protocols that, at least in their mind, reduce the chance of taking a bad credit card. The cashier is often the only employee in the store to check anything.

Another issue is that small stores have a harder time getting approved to accept credit cards. The companies that process the credit cards can take back their machine if there is a lot of fraud. So the companies can require more from small stores than they can from big stores. Those companies can't stop processing cards for Safeway, because they need Safeway as much if not more than Safeway needs them. So the processors have more leverage to make small stores do what they want. And small stores can feasibly fire (non-owner) cashiers who do not comply.

Owners of course can't be fired. But they are far more vulnerable to business losses. So it is really important to an owner to keep the credit card machine. And it is pretty important to avoid losses, as it is their money directly.

Relatives of owners may be safe from firing, but they are not safe from family retaliation like taking away television privileges. And they may also think of the effect of business losses on the family.

Large stores can fire cashiers, but they are chronically understaffed and almost none of their cashiers will consistently follow a strict protocol. Since fraudsters only need to succeed once, an inconsistent application is almost as bad as no application. They might charge the cashiers for fraud, but then they would have to pay the cashiers more than minimum wage specifically for that reason (e.g. a $50 a month bonus for no fraud). For many of them, it's cheaper to risk the fraud.

And large stores can't mix owners and relatives of owners into the mix. It's hard to say who owns Safeway. And even if you could, the relationship between one fraud transaction and the dividend paid on one share of stock is tiny. It would take thousands of shares to get up to a penny.


Probably because large chains can absorb the loss from fraud better than small stores do. Thus, small stores want to ensure that the person holding the card is the same as the name on the card.

  • 1
    +1. The small stores have more to lose from a single incident of fraud than the big stores do.
    – Ben Miller
    Oct 21, 2017 at 11:06

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