in Business and Leadership, financial services, Marketing, Tech

Chip Card, or Watching Paint Dry?

By most accounts, the switch to EMV, or “chip” credit cards here in the US hasn’t worked out so well. Right now the roll-out is uneven at best. I make at least half a dozen payments a day with my credit and debit cards and the experience is pretty random. Will I insert the card into the reader, or slide it? Will there be a crumpled, hand-written note on the card machine that tells me what to do, or will I have to guess?

Most of all, right now EMV payments are SLOW. REALLY SLOW. My current guessing game (when the chip card readers actually work at the store): If I insert my chip-enabled card, just how long will it take to process? Several times a week I wonder if I’m supposed to strike up a conversation about the weather with my checker, because sitting there waiting for obnoxious “take out your card” sound (and really, who the hell came up with that sound the card machines make now??) can take what seems like forever. In reality, it’s only 15 seconds, which is still a long time to stand in front of a card reader with a dozen frazzled shoppers in line behind you.

It will get better… eventually. As Ian Kar wrote in Quartz:

At least credit-card companies are owning up to this…right? Visa and MasterCard tacitly admitted to the rollout flaws when the two companies announced changes to make chip-card payments more tolerable. Among them: fixing the certification process and deploying more resources to develop better terminal software.

But don’t expect anything to get better soon. Mobile wallets like Apple and Android Pay can help cut down on the checkout time, since they’re a lot faster than chip cards. But, for the less digitally inclined, plastic cards and those tiny metal chips will probably still be pretty cumbersome for the foreseeable future.

Mobile Payments to the Rescue?

Since making a payments with your “old fashioned” card is now an exercise in guessing, hoping and waiting, will this finally create the opening that mobile payments are waiting for? Now that I know what to expect using Apple Pay, I will take it over a chip card payment any day. The bigger problem is that smartphone payments aren’t accepted everywhere. Fortunately, EMV requirements will help increase the number of contactless card readers and make using mobile payments more reliable.

Beyond Point of Purchase

A large driver of mobile payments are app-driven purchases to specific businesses. My phone is full of online ordering and payment apps for everything from Panera Bread to Noodles and Company to Domino’s, because the customer experience is far better. I still get a rush out of parking at Starbucks, walking in and walking out with my order in less than a minute, while other customers stand in line or sit in their cars waiting for the drive-through line.

long drive-through line at Starbucks

Waiting 15+ minutes for coffee? Suckers.

Mobile commerce in general is growing fast, but retail payments lag behind. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m the exception and not the rule. Mobile payments are expected to grow, but right now they represent only a small fraction of all US payments. The good news is there is light at the end of the payments tunnel. The bad news is, nobody knows how long the tunnel is or when we’ll get through it to the other side.

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