Merchants’ frustrations with the painful U.S. EMV shift could come to a head this week when Black Friday kicks off the crucial holiday shopping season with large swaths of the merchant landscape unable to handle EMV transactions, more than a year after the U.S. EMV liability shift.
About 37% of all U.S. merchant locations are now EMV-enabled, Visa said in a Nov. 21 announcement. That’s up from around 32% last month, according to industry data.
Merchants have made a lot of progress this year in closing the gap, with 1.7 million now able to accept chip cards, up 191% over a year ago, Visa said.
New Jersey has the highest rate of merchant adoption, with 48% of stores chip-enabled, followed by Pennsylvania at 44%; Florida, New York and California each have about 42% of terminals ready to process EMV cards, Visa said.
But observers say the mixed EMV landscape consumers will face at stores this holiday season—plus the widely reported consumer perception that EMV transactions take longer to process—could stretch patience thin at the checkout during Black Friday on Nov. 25, historically one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
“What will happen—and we’ve all been there—you finally get to the front of the checkout line and you don’t know whether the merchant wants you to swipe or dip the card, so you stand there and wait,” said Guy Harris, president of merchant acquirer Elavon North America.
Elavon, which got an early start on EMV migration and also benefitted from a few strategic advantages, expects that 70% of its merchant clients will be EMV-enabled by the end of 2016. But consumers don't know what to expect from individual merchants, Harris pointed out.
“It’s not just a question of consumer perception that it takes longer for an EMV transaction to go through; it’s more a question of fumbling and an inconsistent experience at the point of sale, right during the holiday shopping season,” Harris said.
Some merchants are taking strategic action to help offset the uneven EMV situation. Starbucks Corp.—which has completed its EMV upgrade—this month posted signs by its cash registers urging impatient customers to save time by paying via the company’s mobile app.
Dunkin Donuts continuously promotes that fact that mobile order and pay through its mobile app is the fastest way to complete a transaction.
A few merchants will rely on streamlined new EMV terminal configurations the card networks introduced a few months ago that can improve the checkout experience by shortening the amount of time the terminal holds the EMV card, but not many merchants have opted to go that route yet, Harris said.
“The total time needed to complete an EMV transaction isn’t much different than swiping a magstripe card, but it feels longer to consumers because they’re focused on the card the whole time, waiting to get the message when they can remove it from the terminal, and both clerks and consumers are still unfamiliar with it,” he said.