It’s been a long anticipated issue with EMV – the time it takes to “dip” a card compared to the much accustomed “swipe”. It’s not so much the time it takes, it’s more that it’s dead time – you have nothing to do but stare at a POS display waiting for the acknowledgement that you’re able to take the card out again. Time stands still as you wait for a beep or a flashing light or confetti or something. Perceived wisdom is that that this is about four seconds.

With the big EMV transition literally days away at this point, I shouldn’t have been surprised on a weekend visit to the local Target to be prompted to use the chip that has recently appeared on my BofA debit card. I was. Instead, decades of muscle memory had me swiping the card repeatedly until I realized that the POS display was asking me to insert the card. It took the cashier telling me I had to insert the card for me to stop the rabid swiping frenzy. At this point, payment industry brain ousted weekend chore brain.

My first EMV transaction in the US – okay, let’s count how long this takes… Locate slot – check Insert card – check Insert card again right way up - check Start counting…   One elephant… two elephant…   Okay, nothing’s happening.   Four elephant… should be able to take the card out now.  Should I? Screen doesn’t say I can…   Six elephant… holy crap, these are long seconds…   Seven elephant… eight elephant… this is getting awkward… did I do this wrong? Cashier is staring at me? Did I break it?...   Nine elephant… wow, this is awkward… is my card counterfeit? Am I a criminal?...   Ten elephant… I’m definitely a criminal… she’s calling the police or pressed a secret buzzer or something…   Eleven elephant… I’m doomed. Making a mental list of people to say goodbye to… I didn’t mean to break the US payment system…   Twelve eleph… oh. Screen’s gone blank. Can I take the card out now? Not sure. Taking it out. Did the transaction go through? No idea. I’ll put the card back in again.   *BEEP*   Twelve elephants. That’s how long it took.

Now, I’d not profess to be the smartest guy, but I do know a thing or two about the payments industry and for me, this was an awkward experience. I’m not sure what was going on behind the scenes – I’m assuming some sort of first use chip update and I’m hoping that the next time I’m prompted to dip, it’s much more like the four elephants we’ve been led to believe is the norm. Twelve long elephants is a lot of long elephants. Nonetheless, even if it is four elephants, that’s still a long time while you’re in limbo. Thoughts…

  1. Retailers need to train front line staff IMMEDIATELY on EMV card etiquette and nanny consumers through the new UX. Those that don’t risk lost business from shoppers associating their brand with an embarrassing checkout experience. Imagine if this was the week after Thanksgiving with a ten deep line. There is a danger here of literal cart abandonment if this cumbersome process isn’t at least made a little less awkward with staff that can guide the end user through the process.
  1. The POS terminal itself needs to be explicit about what to do. Consumers should have very clear instructions about where to insert the card and which way up, what is going on while the card is in the POS terminal and exactly when they should remove the card. Probably not confetti, but certainly a reassuring green light or a thumbs up or something. Fix this or consumers will take their card out to early and have to start again. I repeat – the risk of literal cart abandonment is real.
  1. The case for contactless is making itself. Back in around 2004, the first US contactless cards came to market, promising a faster and more convenient POS experience. This use case was torpedoed almost simultaneously by the introduction of signature waiver for small ticket items. A decade on, contactless looks a lot more promising due to the UX fail highlighted above, the inbuilt NFC capabilities of current gen EMV terminals and the heightened awareness of new payment paradigms brought into the mass market by the likes of Apple and Starbucks. If I were a card issuer, I would take a very serious look at dual interface EMV cards for the next issuance cycle as a means of trumping lesser cards and gaining top of wallet status. Yes, they’re more expensive but we’re talking less than an elephant at the checkout. I know which card I’d choose.

About Michael Moeser

Michael Moeser advises clients on improving the payments experience by anticipating customer needs amid the changing landscape of banking and retail shopping. His areas of expertise include cards, checks, P2P payments, B2C transactions, remittances, faster payments, digital commerce, mobile wallets, and merchant acquisition.

Before joining Javelin, Michael held executive positions at Visa, McKinsey, Capital One, and Ondot Systems. He has given presentations at conferences such as NACHA Payments, BAI Beacon, Card Forum, Power of Prepaid, and Mobile Payments. Michael has been quoted in many publications, including Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, American Banker, Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg, and Washington Post.

Michael holds a BBA in finance from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and an MBA in marketing and entrepreneurship from the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University. 

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