Why U.S. merchants should care the EMV experience is broken

Last updated: 08 November 2016

Last week we featured a guest blog by James Wester of IDC, where he took the pulse of EMV in the U.S. 12 months after the liability shift and reflected on the next steps for issuers.

You can see his thoughts on how the U.S. EMV experience can be improved here:

This week James turns the spotlight on merchants, checking how EMV payments have impacted merchant-customer relationships and what’s at stake for retailers.

by James Wester

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, payments in the U.S. are settling into the post-EMV world with a sense of patient acquiescence.

Some merchants are still working through the necessary steps to fully accept chip-cards at the point of sale, things like installing and certifying equipment (or removing the little cardboard inserts from the EMV slots of their POS terminals). And merchants are retraining staff to assist customers with new payment flows and longer transaction times.

In other words, that crucial contact between a merchant and customer at the point of sale – where customers’ opinions of a merchant’s service is cemented – is now centered around an experience that is barely adequate. Three years of effort, billions of dollars invested, and that all-important interaction is actually worse.

The problem for merchants with this new payment paradigm is consumers don’t think about card issuers or networks or anyone else who makes that payment work. The customer experience is a part of their relationship with the merchant. It’s not fair, but it is the case.


The good news for merchants is that the solution to their customer-experience problem may be already on their counter: contactless payments. The majority of EMV-compliant point-of-sale terminals shipped in the past few years have come bundled with the ability to accept all types of contactless payments, from ‘tap-and-pay’ credit and debit cards to mobile payments like Apple Pay and Android Pay.

Contactless payment methods offer the same secure transaction offered by EMV-cards, but in a fraction of the time. Instead of waiting 7 to 10 seconds for a card transaction to be processed, waving a contactless card over the terminal reduces that time to nearly instantaneous.

At this point, the number of contactless cards issued in the U.S. is still relatively small. A few institutions are beginning to offer their cardholders the added benefit of a simpler, faster experience, but it’s up to merchants to make that experience more widespread.


An understandable reaction for merchants would be to question the value making one more adjustment to how they manage payments after the cost and effort that went into becoming EMV compliant.

While understandable, the interaction at the point-of-sale is the last point of contact between a customer and a merchant. Offering access to a better payment experience is one way to avoid the customer walking away annoyed by a chip card. (A bonus is that the new hardware causing that annoyance is actually the same one that could be leveraged to offer that better experience!)

Additionally, in countries where tap-and-pay cards have followed the transition to EMV, consumers have adopted contactless cards. Visa estimates fully 75% of in-person transactions using its network in Australia are now made using contactless cards. Accepting contactless is one way merchants can contribute to a similar trend in the U.S. and support a better technology for consumers.

The transition of the U.S. market to EMV cards has meant that U.S. merchants are now required to accept chip-enabled cards. But that doesn’t mean that merchants must accept a worse experience for their customers.  With contactless payments they don’t have to.

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