Signature Card Services is bringing a dose of e-commerce to the U.S. migration to EMV-chip cards.

The company is opening a Web store to sell EMV-compliant terminals to U.S. merchants, most of which face an October 2015 deadline for accepting EMV payment cards. If merchants miss that deadline, they face increased fraud liability, according to rules set by the major card networks.

Signature hopes to reach smaller merchants that may have read about EMV and the card-mandated liability shifts in the U.S., but may be concerned about the cost of migration or may lack detailed knowledge about EMV.

"These merchants have never experienced the liability shift and the risk that would bring," says Anush Amiryants, an executive vice president with Signature Card Services, which also offers merchant accounts to mostly smaller businesses through a network of partner banks.

"When we realized the EMV [liability shift] deadline was coming, we thought it would make sense for us to start early," Amiryants says.

The use of discounted or free EMV terminals is a new strategy, says James Wester, a research director for IDC Financial Insights.

"Like any technology, development brings the cost down," but there still is an opportunity to attract users with a mix of information and a break on price, Wester says. "It's smart to provide a low cost solution to capture a market segment for merchants that are moving over to EMV."

The practice of discounting EMV hardware as a way to address overall expenses should increase, says Rick Oglesby, a senior analyst at Aite Group.

"I think we'll see a lot of this. It can easily cost an acquirer or ISO $1,000 or more in sales and marketing costs to sign a new merchant," he says. "If they can reduce these costs by subsidizing terminals [to attract merchants] they will do it."

Acquirers will also subsidize terminals for existing clients in return for contract extensions, Oglesby says.

"We'll see a variety of acquirers, payment gateways, terminal manufacturers and software providers competing to reduce the cost of hardware in return for services contracts, so this is just the beginning," he says.

Signature Card Services is offering a free terminal with the activation of a new merchant account, says Amiryants, adding Signature is also offering discount programs for existing clients.

"With smaller merchants the cost would be a problem, as well as the training and time to do the migration," Amiryants says.

Signature also offers education on how to use chip-card terminals, as well as information on the security protections provided by EMV over magnetic-stripe card payments. Signature sells a range of Ingenico EMV point of sale devices, which cost between $179 and $275, according to the company's website.

The company did not disclose uptake of the terminals purchased through the online store, saying the store has been in operation for only a short time.

Other groups also offer EMV migration training. The SCIL-EMV Academy has teamed with the Electronic Transactions Association to offer a series of traveling seminars on the subject that are aimed at ISOs.  CO-OP Financial Services, a credit union service organization that develops, deploys and shares technology across a network of credit unions, operates "Ask the EMV Expert," an online forum where credit unions can submit questions and receive replies from CO-OP and a team of other experts.

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