Swipe Versus Chips: The Holiday Checkout Headache I Didn't Anticipate

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Every year, I promise myself that this will be the year I get my holiday shopping done online, ahead of time, and when everything's discounted following Thanksgiving. Instead, I tryptophan-nap through any sale worth shopping and end up running through New York City crowds the week before the holidays in polar-vortex temps and nightmarishly long lines just to check the few important people off my list.

And there's one thing that's really starting to become the cherry on the shit cake that's 2016; it's annoying, it's frequent, and it's messing up a transaction that I've always been able to breeze through with ease. This holiday season, credit-card chip-reader confusion is pushing me over the edge.

The EMV chip is supposed to make things more secure for all of us — the chips are more difficult to duplicate, which means EMV chip cards are designed to protect us from fraud (and in countries where they've been the norm for years, there have been dramatic declines in certain types of credit card fraud). Chip cards arrived stateside around a year and a half ago, according to Quartz. As of April 2016, 70% of U.S. credit card holders had EMV-chip addled plastic in their wallets, per CNBC, but not all retailers have adopted the technology. Every time I think I've finally remembered to insert my goddamn card chip, the sales associate always tells me to swipe. And, of course, If I swipe first, there's a good chance they'll tell me to insert the chip.

A photo posted by P.S. 💃 (@campfireshop) on

I wouldn't mind so much, if chips didn't take freaking forever to process. I've actually considered asking if I can continue browsing the store while my card sits in the machine for what feels like an eternity — especially when I'm scrambling to get to my next destination, and the people in line behind me are shooting daggers into the back of my skull. Instead, it's just long enough to exchange some very awkward half-smiles with the salesperson, scroll through Instagram (but a glazed-over, not-actually-paying-attention scroll just to break the awkwardness), share smiles again, and then ponder where it all went wrong.

And it's not just customers who feel it. In fact, at Zara just this week, I saw a store manager wrongly snap at her own employee because of it. "Take the next guest!" she yelled down the checkout counter. "I...um...I'm still waiting for this one to finish checking out." The customer frantically finished her purchase and scurried out of the way of the next confused shopper. I was still deep in the line, tapping my foot and sweating profusely in all of my winter layers, manically silent-laughing about how I did this to myself, yet again. A line that should have been 10 minutes, I'm convinced, was more like 30 because of chip-processing time alone. And still, I waited my turn, made it up to the counter for my quality time with the card machine, and mentally committed to sucking it up and paying for express shipping for the rest of the gifts on my list.

Some stores have even gone so far as posting signs on their machines, or taping up the chip-reader slots to save us all a few precious moments. It's only normal that a nationwide transition like this take some time, I guess.

But, if there's anything that's going to encourage people (me!) to embrace online shopping more than I already do, it's this. And while I hope that we can unify on a variety of important issues in 2017, and what's sure to be a solid four years ahead of fighting the good fight, can we please, for the sake of every shopper's sanity, make up our minds on this chip-or-swipe issue, too?
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