Why Are EMV Transactions So Slow?

by | Mar 4, 2024 | Billsaver, Understanding Credit Cards

Human beings could not accurately measure the second until the late 16th Century, but today, society has learned to move at such a fast pace that standing still for a mere 15 seconds can seem unbearable. Unfortunately, that’s about how long it takes to complete a transaction using an EMV chip card. Since the technology is still relatively new, many do not yet realize that these cards are more secure than magnetic stripe cards, and they are left wondering why they have to wait in a slow line. On its own, 15 seconds may not sound like a lot, but if you count every person standing in front of you, it can add up.

So what is taking so long?

EMV transactions take longer than magnetic stripe cards for two reasons. One is human error. Since most Americans have been using magnetic stripe cards their entire adult lives, swiping a card can be done with little thought. The EMV credit cards, on the other hand, require a new action–inserting the card in a payment terminal. Also, since the EMV rollout is not yet 100% complete, credit card readers are still equipped to accept both types of cards. Thus, many shoppers are confused as to whether they should swipe or insert their cards, which leads to a slowdown at the register.

As if things were not confusing enough, many payment terminals have EMV capabilities, but the function is not yet enabled. Often, shoppers will attempt to insert their card in the reader and are then told to swipe the card instead. Card terminals also read the EMV chips differently. Some ask shoppers not to insert their card until prompted, but others provide no prompt. In both cases, the card must remain in the reader until the transaction has been completed. If a customer removes their card too soon, the transaction will fail, and the cashier will need to reset the system and start all over.

The way that EMV card reader technology has been implemented is also an issue. Even if the customer takes all of the appropriate steps quickly, the average transaction can take up to 15 seconds to complete, compared to a second or two when using the magnetic stripe. Part of the reason for the slower processing time is that the chips are sending encrypted data, which makes them more secure but slower than the unencrypted information from magnetic stripes. Further slowing things down is how your card issuer has the credit card personalized and how the retailer configured the terminal. Some retailers are still working to configure their terminals in the most efficient manner.

How can you help speed things up? 

If you already have an EMV card, you can no longer use the magnetic stripe at terminals that are chip-enabled. It is also a good idea to watch the person checking out in front of you to see what they are doing. That way, you can learn from them how to use that particular store’s payment terminal. When it is your turn to pay, carefully examine the terminal and listen to any instructions the cashier offers. There will likely be lights, arrows or some other message directing you on when and how to use your card. It is also important to leave your card in the processor until you are instructed to remove it. There may be a message, beep or instruction from the cashier.

It is also a good idea to remain patient. It may help to remember how long it took to complete transactions when people were still paying with cash or checks. Remember standing behind the person sorting through their spare change when paying with cash? Then, the cashier would need to count back the exact change. Also, checks take longer than even the slowest EMV card terminal.

As with all technology, it takes time for the IT department to get everything right. As time passes, retailers will be able to optimize the system to reduce transaction times, and customers will get faster when they feel more comfortable with the technology.

If you take the time to learn the new EMV chip readers and remain patient, you will help speed up the process of adopting this new, more secure payment method.