Call it a sign of the times: A handful of grocery stores have changed their policies and no longer let customers pay with paper checks. Check cards, credit cards and plain old cash are still fine, but paper checks have gone the way of the Dodo at several West Coast supermarkets.

As this article in the Los Angeles Times reports, some Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy stores in the Southwest have put the kibosh on the checkbook (the latter chain also has a ban against manufacturers' coupons -- yikes!) Fresh & Easy, which is owned by British supermarket company Tesco, has never accepted checks, and now it seems those establishments have company. Of the trio of Whole Foods banning checks, two are in Los Angeles County and one is in Arizona. If the no-checks pilot program goes over well with customers, the article says, they'll expand it to their other locations around the country.

The chains cited cost savings as the reasoning behind their no-check policies, saying it's cheaper and more efficient to process only cash and cards. With the poor economy, a growing number of people are bouncing checks. This means grocery stores have to take multiple steps to try and ensure that the payment will clear, and even that's no guarantee. While some shoppers interviewed by the L.A. Times don't mind the new rule -- really, who hasn't been behind someone writing out a check at a snail's pace when you're rushing to get home before your ice cream melts? -- a representative from Consumers Union said the shift could be tough on seniors, who might not use credit or debit cards. (Keep in mind, they could still use cash, of course.) The Whole Foods executive interviewed also pointed out that most customers already pay with either cash or plastic.

What do you think? Do you still pay for groceries with checks? Would you care if you couldn't anymore? Are these grocery stores shooting themselves in the foot by driving away customers in a recession, or are they simply adapting to changing times and consumer demand? And is Fresh & Easy's no-manufacturers'-coupons policy savvy or suicidal in this economic climate?

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