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Why Chip Credit Cards Are Stressing Out This Cashier

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If you think using your new chip credit card is annoying, imagine what it’s like on the other side of the cash register. Well, you don’t have to imagine, because store clerk Dawn is going to tell you.

As U.S. consumers and merchants get used to the new chip-enabled EMV credit and debit cards, there have been some hiccups — mostly frustration that inserting chip cards takes longer than swiping old magnetic stripe cards. There’s even been one study suggesting a small percentage of consumers are avoiding stores that require chip usage.

Computer scientists frequently talk about the tension between convenience and security when discussing system designs. Nowhere is that tension more obvious than the chip card changeover, and the lesson playing out isn’t promising. If you sense a bit more frustration in the voices of store clerks this season (“WAIT… WAIT… OK, take your card back now”), there’s probably a pretty good reason.

“People want security, but they don’t want to wait one extra minute for it,” said Dawn, whose identity we are withholding. Unfortunately, it seems some consumers are taking out their frustration on retail clerks at checkout counters.

“I know at my store, I bear the brunt of the customers’ lack of patience,” said Dawn. “It is somehow my fault that they didn’t read the prompts on the screen or listen to me say ‘Leave the card in the entire time’ … It is my fault when the computer has difficulty, because they removed the card too soon and the security software declines the transaction to prevent fraudulent charges. And I work at a store known for being uber-polite and friendly.”

The biggest snafu comes when consumers insert their chip cards but withdraw them prematurely, which cancels the transaction — and holds up the entire checkout line.

“(Transactions) usually take one minute longer. The problem is, most people are not used to waiting one minute longer at the registers without the clerks making conversation to distract them. Time it: One minute can be incredibly long,” Dawn said. “Plus, when customers don’t pay attention to the prompts to not remove their card before the transaction is complete, it causes the system to have errors and then they blame the store and the card when it is their own fault.”

Dawn also said that some consumers have chip cards that are incompatible with her store’s chip readers, causing additional frustration. So there’s blame to spread around.

“The changeover was a nightmare on our part,” she said. “The guides we got were not quite accurate about the process and what is on the screens is poorly worded. The guides didn’t troubleshoot any problems. They didn’t tell us what to do about the cards that had chips that weren’t compatible with every system. The first weekend my store used the chip, the lines and wait were long because the manuals never explained how to override the chip failures and people were calling their banks to complain and the banks told the customers it was our fault – that our machines weren’t working – when it was really their chips.”

Checkout delays during the holiday season can be frustrating, and since this is the first year with the new cards, problems are even more pronounced. Still, you may want to try to have compassion for folks working during the last days of the holiday rush. You can take an extra moment to read point- of-sale terminal prompts. And if you are feeling really stressed out, consider sending a digital gift certificate from the comfort of your home. EMV chips still don’t work at online retailers.

Keep in mind, your new chip cards are designed to minimize fraud at the point of sale, so you’re still want to monitor statements for unauthorized charges and even check your credit if you have reason to believe your personal information was compromised. You can do so by pulling your credit reports each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your two free credits scores each month on Credit.com.

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