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The Electron Card Mystery

Users of Visa Electron cards sometimes find that certain retailers are rather clueless about accepting their Electron cards as payment.  Here are a couple of examples:

  1. I am able to book and pay for a flight half way around the world using my Visa Electron card via KLM’s website (thanks to the people at KLM, they were really helpful and I recommend them) yet I cannot do the weekly shop online at Tesco.
  2. Virgin Trains do not take Visa Electron cards (either on their website or at the stations they run) yet the London Midland and Chiltern Trains websites and stations run by SouthEastern Railway do.

Let’s go back to the first one.  I can buy a flight to America online with my Visa Electron card yet one of the largest supermarket chains in the world doesn’t take them.

How the hell does that work?

Tesco customer service couldn’t offer a clear explanation why, mumbling something about needing the purchaser to be physically present.  Which is utter cobblers because I bought the flight (and other things since) with the Electron card without a problem.  Sainsburys accept Electron cards on their website.  That left them stumped.

But this isn’t a sudden new problem.

Paul Canning wrote on April 7, 2007

BBC Radio Four’s MoneyBox reports [ Listen to this item (RealAudio) ] that several years after first alerting Tesco, they are still refusing to accept payments using Visa’s Electron card.

Whilst Tesco now accept them in-store, they still do not accept them for online shopping.  Why not?

Let me repeat this:

I can buy a flight to America online with my Visa Electron card yet one of the largest supermarket chains in the world doesn’t take them.

I am confused as to why this should be.  Hell, I used the card while I was in America!  I’ve just spoken to Asda’s customer service people and they do take Visa Electron on their website.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers here that Virgin Trains fails again.  The entire Virgin portfolio seems to be irretrievably associated with failure.  If memory serves East Midland Trains are another Train Operating Company that refuses to accept Visa Electron cards.

Perhaps a representative from Tesco could contact me and explain clearly why I can’t pay for the weekly shop (and get it delivered to my home) with my Visa Electron card?  They are debit cards so the funds are checked before the transaction is authorised.  You know that, I know that.  Just a straight answer.  No spin.

I think I’ll be doing my shopping at Asda and Sainsburys rather than Tesco.

Published inbusinessManagementtrainsTransport


  1. Hi Jamie, thanks for the link.

    Tesco claim it'[s because they’re ‘high risk’ but I think the real reason is because of some commercial arrangements with their financing. I haven’t seen any consumer shows pin this one down and they’re really should be an avenue for someone to get a regulator to overturn it.


    • Jamie Jamie

      To quote a former colleague, “that’s bollocks!”. Visa Electron is a debit card, so where is the risk? Wonder if Watchdog is interested in pursuing this story?

  2. Claire

    Chiming in late here.
    When I challenged Tesco about this a while ago, they claimed that it was because you could get an Electron (or a Solo) when you were 16 and therefore they couldn’t risk selling tobacco or alcohol! This is clearly rubbish on any number of levels. You know, I am almost certain that Tesco USED to accept Electron on their website- I’ve only had an Electron card available for the last ten years, and I know I’ve ordered from them in that timespan.So why did they stop?
    I’ve witnessed Electron go from being a card that was accepted almost nowhere to being one that is accepted almost everywhere- the exceptions being Tesco online and Midland Mainline trains! And apparently Virgin too, hmm.

  3. Jamie Jamie

    Hi Claire,

    There’s no consistency from those who don’t accept Electron cards. If I can fly half way round the world with a ticket bought on my Electron card there can’t really be any doubts about age and identity. I’m not surprised that Midland Mainline trains are there with Virgin and East Midlands trains in not accepting Electron – some train companies really are almost stone age in their outlook.

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