EMV chip card tales from cashiers at the front line


EMV chip card tales from cashiers at the frontline
EMV chip card tales from cashiers at the frontline

Dip, don't swipe. Where? There, please. And keep the card in. Huh? How long do I have to leave it? Hey, it's beeping at me. No, that's not right; here let me help you... Wait, come back, you left your card in the machine!

Such are the sounds and sights of a new system being put into place as retailers across the U.S. transition from magnetic stripe credit and debit card readers to those that take computer chip cards. EMV (short for the payment networks Europay, MasterCard and Visa) chip cards have been introduced to stem the rising tide of fraud. However, the phase-out has also created in-store headaches.

If you're among the millions hitting the malls and shops this holiday season, prepare for longer lines and more frazzled cashiers. Here's what those at the registers are reporting, and the way experts say you can speed up the process -- for yourself and those tapping their feet behind you.

People had been asking us for months if we had chip [machines] installed, so I was surprised how ornery people were when we started to have them. I got a lot of, 'For something that's supposed to save time, this is taking a while.'"

-- Molly Sanchez
San Francisco cashier

The cashiers' perspective
"People had been asking us for months if we had chip [machines] installed, so I was surprised how ornery people were when we started to have them," says Molly Sanchez, from San Francisco, who until a few weeks ago had been working the register at Trader Joe's. Customer reactions ranged from baffled to annoyed. "I got a lot of, 'For something that's supposed to save time, this is taking a while.'"

Though speedier checkout times were never a goal of the chip card transition, Sanchez says they definitely increased the wait. Card readers and banks were processing payments slowly, and cashiers trying to be helpful added to the delay. Each transaction is preceded with a time-consuming how-to spiel.

Sanchez had to constantly tell customers to wait and not do anything until she gave the nod, but many customers didn't follow directions. "I had to physically swat a bunch of hands away," she says. "I took to putting my finger over the slot because if you dipped the card even a second before you had to start all over. Then there were a million other prompts before finally it let you get the receipt out. I'd say it added an extra two minutes to every transaction."

Tempers are flaring in Texas, too, says Dotty Nelson, a Dallas-area resident whose name we changed for her job security. She works for a Kohl's department store.

"I worked last Saturday and the line was out the door by 9 in the morning," says Nelson. "We had to be very careful with credit cards and to tell everyone to use the right machine. One lady got mad. She was like, 'You keep changing things on me!' and I'm like, 'I'm sorry ma'am it is not me! It is for your own protection, it's not my fault!' And then she kept  messing up. The lady behind her was like, 'What's going on? I need to go!'"

The pressure to keep the line moving is intense, says Nelson: "I need to keep my job. But when customers complain saying we are too slow and this and that it can go on our employee file."

The shoppers' perspective
Frustrating. Confusing. Bothersome. According to the latest CustomerMonitor Survey conducted by payments and banking industry advisers Mercator Advisory Group, these are the predominant reactions of customers while trying to check out with the chip cards.

The survey of 3,008 U.S. adult consumers found that 1 in 3 chip card holders have used their new cards. Of those users, almost a third say they're bothered by the chip card processing experience at the terminal, they consider it confusing, or they try to avoid stores where chip readers are in use.

Additionally, payment solutions company Ingenico Group released results of its October 2015 survey that found that a third of 1,000 respondents who tried using their chip card at the register didn't know the correct way to use it, and had to ask a merchant for help. 

Are people being unduly clueless or persnickety? Certainly not in all cases, since glitches are real and do take up time. For example, Mark Hankins, an attorney from Land O' Lakes, Florida, says his recent experience at checkout was anything but efficient.

"So I swiped today, but Lowe's wants the chip," says Hankins. "I insert the card, answer an onscreen question and remove the card. Nope. Transaction cancels because card has to stay in until it tells you to take it out. I was a premature ejector."

So I swiped today, but Lowe's wants the chip. I insert the card, answer an onscreen question and remove the card. Nope. Transaction cancels because card has to stay in until it tells you to take it out. I was a premature ejector.

-- Mark Hankins
Attorney, Land O' Lakes, Florida

Thus, the problem. Though the old cards may be inferior for fraud protection, they're faster and easier: insert the card so the stripe meets the reader, then pull across. Done.

Not so with the chip cards. As Hankins noted, "Systems vary, so at one store I can remove it once it has validated, while at another I must wait until all the questions are answered and the transaction is completed or the transaction will be canceled. In no case is it as quick as swiping."

There's an even greater holdup for small business owners like Sandra Ann Deckelman Hook, who runs an upstate New York landscape company. She employs over a dozen people who shop for supplies at local stores; and has found these retailers to be slow adopters to the new system.

"I have spent more time on the phone in the past two weeks checking with multiple vendors we have accounts with because they say the card doesn't work or it's frozen. When I send employees to buy things, they don't know what to do. My guys are at the gas pump and the card won't work," says Hook.

Worse, says Hook, is the perception that maybe it's not the card reader, but her solvency: "I've got 10 guys wondering if they're going to get paid!"

In Hook's opinion, not enough information was distributed about the change. "It's this huge switchover and the notification was minimal about what was involved. My bank never told me anything; I'm not even sure why we changed the cards. I don't watch the news."

Such mystification is common. A survey by the software company CA Technologies found most consumers didn't know why they were receiving the new chip cards, and were confused about the benefits. Another 37 percent said their card issuer provided insufficient information on usage, and 77 percent said they believe it will better protect them from fraud during online shopping. (It won't).

Tips from the dipping pros
Enter education. First, cards equipped with a chip are designed to protect against credit fraud only at the point of sale, which occurs at the register. The technology was developed to reduce counterfeit cards, which were being made from data stolen from the less secure magnetic stripe. 

Second, you have to know how to use the darn thing.

EMV Connection provides instructional information to all concerned parties, from card issuers to cardholders. For consumers, they've set up, a series of training videos and cheat sheets that prove that adapting to the upgrade is not intuitive -- you've got to learn the steps.

You can smooth out register-related bumps by doing the following:

  1. Insert your card with the chip toward the terminal (the card reader), facing up.
  2. Keep the card in the reader until it prompts you to remove the card.
  3. In most cases, the reader will prompt you to provide your signature or a personal identification number (PIN).
  4. After the reader says, "transaction is complete," remove your card. Don't forget to take it with you. 

Simple? After a few times it will be. In the meantime, if you're lucky, levity will take over and you'll enjoy some special cashier comedy.

Store employees must give the instructions hundreds of times a day, so if permitted, they just might get creative. "It was funny to hear variations on the chip reader spiel," says Sanchez. When the line grew because the chip card transactions became sluggish, she joked. "My approach was 'I'm sorry ma'am, but this machine needs a little romancing' or 'I'm sorry, this machine is so bratty today!"

Cashiers aren't the only ones laughing. The U.S. is the last developed country in the world to switch to the chip cards, a fact that has caused some good-natured giggles. "We are in an area with a lot of foreign tourists from European countries that have been using the chip for years," says Sanchez. "Their reactions were more bemused, like, "Oh, how adorable, this baby country is finally catching up!'"

See related: Video: How to use EMV smart chip credit cards, 8 FAQs about EMV credit cards

Published: December 8, 2015

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Updated: 10-23-2016

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