This little change could make Black Friday even more miserable this year

Black Friday crowdsKena Betancur/Getty ImagesIf you think it was a long wait to get in, just wait til it’s time to check out.

Just when you thought there couldn’t be another way to make Black Friday any more miserable for shoppers and retail employees, the credit card industry came up with one.

Credit card companies last month began to roll out new technology that uses chips instead of magnetic stripes. It’s a change made for a very good reason: card security.

But the timing of this roll out — the cards came into effect on October 1 — has retail and payments experts warning that this is going to slow things down at the checkouts on the November 27 shopping day.

“Any time you introduce a major change like this, there’s going to be confusion,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst with CreditCards.com.”There’s no question this is going to cause some slowdown on Black Friday.”

The change itself is simple: Instead of swiping the card through the magnetic-strip reader, shoppers now have to insert it – chip side up – into a slot on the bottom of the device.

But here’s where the delays come in. People who are unfamiliar with the process will swipe like they always have, then be told it didn’t work because they have a new chip-enabled card. Then they have got to be shown how to insert it, and leave it in, so the payment can be processed.

Now multiply that by thousands, and add in the fact that people have been in line since the crack of dawn, elbowed their way to that bargain bin and then had to wait again just to get to the register….and you can see why even a small delay is going to test patience. It’s called the “EMV” chip, and it just might wreak havoc on holiday shopping.

A ‘rude awakening’ for retailers

Credit cardMastercard.comMasterCard’s EMV card

“There is going to be a rude awakening” for retailers, said Jared Drieling, business intelligence manager for The Strawhecker Group, an Omaha, Nebraska-based advisory firm focusing on payments. “The industry is still bickering over how long an EMV transaction takes.”

As many as 47% of US merchants will have new technology in place by the end of 2015, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Payments Security Task Force, an industry-backed group of financial services firms and leading retailers. Already, 40% of Americans have been issued new chip-enabled cards.

Of course the nightmare scenario that Drieling is warning about is dependent on a lot of ‘ifs.’ Some customers have been using the chip technology for weeks, and some retailers don’t have the readers yet which means it won’t be an issue. There is a wide disparity in how individual retailers have gotten ready for the switch.

Best Buy, Macy’s and Walmart stores have been fully outfitted with new card readers, spokesmen for those companies said. Macy’s and Walmart have also re-issued store-branded credit cards with new EMV chips embedded in them. Sears, on the other hand, says it is “continuously working to further enhance the security of our systems,” according to a spokesman — but declined to provide specifics for Black Friday.

J. Craig Shearman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation said the new card readers will be at “most major retailers and large national chains.” But those are typically smaller shops that might not even be open the day after Thanksgiving.

He didn’t argue with the notion that things could slow down, but said it’s not clear how much longer it will take to process each transaction.

For retailers, Black Friday and the ensuing weekend is crucial to performance. Americans packed malls and stores last year after Thanksgiving, driving more than $US50 billion in revenue to retailers, the National Retail Federation reported in 2014.

Of course there’s lots of ways to avoid even having to find out. Stay home. Turkey and stuffing is better on day two anyway.

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