Viewpoint: EMV’s UX Fail and the Case for Contactless
By Nick Holland, Digital Payments Consultant
The numbers have been pouring in from Black Friday, and early signs indicate that there is a decrease in people lining up for hours to experience the threat of physical violence in order to get the latest Barbie at 30 percent off, and an increase in people sitting on their couches and clicking a few buttons to get the same deal. That’s progress. What we don’t know yet is how much EMV friction threw fuel on the fire for frayed nerves at checkout. Let me outline my own pre-holiday experience at a large retail chain.
On a trip to my local big-box store, I went through the usual checkout experience, watching anxiously as my purchase of “just a few things we-need” snowballed to more than $100. Having reached the end of scanning barcodes, it was showtime for payment.
I didn’t realize that this was an EMV transaction until the cashier asked me to put my card into the slot on the terminal. At this point, payment industry brain ousted weekend chore brain and I made a point to count how long the authorization would take . . .
Locate slot – check
Insert card – check
Insert card again right-side 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 has 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 U.S. 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.
Nearly 12 elephants—that’s how long it took. Now, I do not profess to be the smartest guy, but I do know a thing or two about payments and for me, this was an awkward experience.
It’s been a long-anticipated issue with EMV—the time it takes to “dip” a card compared with the familiar “swipe.” It’s not so much the time it takes, it’s more that it’s dead time—the consumer has nothing to do but stare at a POS display waiting for the acknowledgement that he can take the card out again. Time stands still as you wait for a beep or a flashing light or confetti or something.
Some stores have been focusing on this for a while. At Money2020, John Drechny from Walmart said the chain had cut down chip card authorization to one second, compared with 12 seconds a year ago. However, he noted that he’s concerned that other retailers haven’t focused on truncating this process, describing the shift to EMV as “forcing anarchy” on the payments landscape.
So, what should be done?
- 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 10 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.
- 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 side up, what’s 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 would help. Fix this or consumers will take their cards out too early and have to start again. I repeat—the risk of literal cart abandonment is real.
- The case for contactless is making itself. A decade on from the ill-received introduction of contactless cards in the U.S., I believe these cards are set for a renaissance due to the UX fail highlighted above, the inbuilt NFC capabilities of EMV terminals and the heightened awareness of new payment paradigms brought into the mass market by the likes of 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. Poor user experience with contact EMV also could be catalytic in driving adoption of mobile payment initiatives, such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and CurrentC.
It’s foregone conclusion that EMV is happening in the U.S. and although there is disparity in the requirements for entering the card and waiting for the authorization among retailers, there is clearly a lot that can be done in alleviating the stress and concerns of cardholders. Taking simple steps to educate cashiers and customers could make for a far more appealing UX at the checkout and even encourage repeat business. With a bar set this low, even the smallest steps could make a significant difference.
Nick Holland is an independent payments consultant and has spent the last decade conducting research on the intersection of payments, mobile technology and security. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Viewpoints, payments professionals share their perspectives on the industry. Paybefore’s goal is to present many points of view to offer readers new insights and information. The opinions expressed in Viewpoints are not necessarily those of Paybefore.