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By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

As the calendar flips to November and visions of Black Friday dance in their heads, holiday shoppers using new, more secure chip credit and debit cards will be learning a new checkout procedure.

While the added security might be welcome, new cards could mean more frustration and slower checkout lines during the bustle of holiday shopping.

“The bricks-and-mortar retailers were already fighting an uphill battle against the e-commerce guys, so the last thing they need are more reasons for customers to be ticked off at them,” said Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based McMillanDoolittle.

One Wal-Mart executive said he expects widespread checkout problems and “anarchy” during the holiday season because of confusion over how to use the new cards, which must be “dipped” into the machine and left there for several seconds, as opposed to a momentary swipe.

While Wal-Mart was among the first to install and use new readers for chip cards and has become proficient over the past year, many merchants are just starting that transition and many consumers are baffled.

The timing of the shift “wasn’t necessarily optimal, given that we’re going into the holiday season,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove, elaborating on recent comments by John Drechny, senior director of payment services at Wal-Mart, during a panel discussion at the Money20/20 payments conference in Las Vegas. “There could have been a better time, off-season.”

Many shoppers have already witnessed the confusion at retailers widely accepting chip cards, perhaps at Target, Wal-Mart or Walgreens.

It involves failed swipes, trying to follow the cashier’s instructions, fumbling with the card while trying to insert it correctly into the reader slot and remembering to remove the card at the end of the transaction.

“I’m a retail consultant, and I still put it in the wrong way and yank it out too soon,” Stern said. “It takes a long time for people to change habits.”

Even without confusion, the so-called push-and-pause method generally takes longer than the swipe. Although that difference can be as little as about 1 second longer, a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

“From a retailer standpoint, it’s really bad because it slows down productivity at the front end,” Stern said.

It will likely be more problematic for retailers whose customers expect a quick checkout, like Walgreens. “People don’t like waiting,” Stern said. “At Macy’s, customers might be a little more patient with the transaction process.”

Credit and debit cards are likely to be a big deal for the holidays, with 76.4 percent of consumers saying cards are their primary payment method, split about equally between debit and credit cards, according to the latest National Retail Federation numbers from 2014. That compares with 21.6 percent paying cash, and 2.1 percent paying by personal check.

Oct. 1 was a soft deadline for banks to issue new credit and debit cards with microchips and for retailers to install readers that can use the new chip technology.

However, it turned out that the Oct. 1 date was more of a starting gun than a checkered flag in the race to add security to card payments. Far from all banks and retailers were ready, and many still aren’t. Most Americans don’t even have the new cards yet, as banks and credit unions have been slow to replace old ones.

Among U.S. merchants, just 27 percent were expected to be ready to accept chip cards by the deadline a month ago, according to management consultant The Strawhecker Group. By the end of the year, that’s expected to rise to 44 percent and not hit 90 percent until 2017, a Strawhecker survey showed. Banks and merchants have said they will likely make the conversion to issue and accept credit cards first and debit cards later.

The good news about the relatively slow rollout is that many consumers won’t be affected this holiday season — if they don’t have chip cards yet or they shop at retailers that don’t accept the new cards.

Meanwhile, Target, which can accept chip cards at all its stores, recently made the bold move to accept yet a different card payment procedure. It started issuing new Target store credit and debit cards, called REDcard, that are more secure because they not only have microchips embedded but require users to enter a personal identification number at checkout instead of signing.

So-called chip-and-PIN is a process used in most other countries that have switched to chip cards, but is not typical in the U.S. so far — a point of conflict between banks that issue cards that require signatures and retailers who want the added safety of PINs.

“We realize that data security is top-of-mind for American consumers, so we wanted to offer them the solution that really is most secure in the marketplace today,” said Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder. “We recognized that would be on the early side, both on the issuance and acceptance (of PIN-enabled cards), and so we put a ton of effort into making sure our team members, people who are engaging with guests on the frontline, are equipped to answer questions. What we’re seeing is that is going really smoothly.”

Target officials might be especially sensitive to security concerns because of the retailer’s massive data breach during the 2013 holiday shopping season, in which some 40 million cards were compromised. The breach likely expedited the change to new card technology in the U.S., which had been sluggish to switch compared to other developed nations, experts say.

Overall, the switch to new checkout habits is a significant change for shoppers, “putting additional financial pressure on financial institutions and confusing consumers, many of whom don’t even know why the transition is happening and have no idea how to use an EMV chip, or ‘smart’ card,” said a report by Chicago-based Arroweye Solutions, which manufactures payment cards and sends them to consumers on behalf of issuers. EMV stands for Europay MasterCard Visa, the coalition that developed specifications for the system in the 1990s.

“It’s still very much a work in progress,” said Arroweye CEO Render Dahiya. “There will be a lot of on-the-job — or on-the-shopping — learning.”

The new cards, with both the new microchip visible on the front and the old black magnetic stripe on the back, are only safer when used with a new chip card payment terminal. Chip cards make every transaction at a payment terminal and ATM unique. Old machines read the old-tech magnetic stripe, and are no safer with the new cards.

While it’s true that avid shoppers of big retailers will be skilled at the new card “dipping” checkout process — and checkout employees adept at helping customers — everything changes during the crush of holiday shopping.

“We haven’t seen it yet when it’s a stress point, and the holidays are a stress point,” Stern said.

The new cards could cause in-store checkout woes on Black Friday and throughout the season, but they won’t affect Cyber Monday and other online holiday shopping. Customers make online purchases with the new cards the same way they always have, by typing in the card number, expiration date and security code. Those transactions are no more secure with the chip cards.

Still, payment-terminal slowdowns alone probably won’t force holiday shoppers to abandon stores for websites.

“I suspect we’re going to see some frustration, but it probably doesn’t elevate to the point of customers saying, ‘I’m not going to the store. I’m just going to do this online,’” Stern said. “More people are going to shop at home, but not because of this. But it’s certainly not going to help physical retailers.”

If shoppers become frustrated enough with chip cards, it might speed adoption of yet another payment method: mobile payments with a smartphone using such services as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

“If EMV does slow down the transaction process, if people do leave cards in the machine, then you have a scenario where mobile does become a value-add, if that transaction is quicker,” Dahiya said.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A chip credit card. (Image Source/Zuma Press/TNS)

 

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]