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Walmart Exec: 'Anarchy' Coming in Holiday Transition to Chip Credit Cards

Will smaller retailers be ready for confusion at checkout?

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Count Walmart payments executive John Drechny among those upset with the timing of the credit card industry’s transition to “chip” credit cards.

In a panel discussion at the Money20/20 payments conference in Las Vegas on Monday, Drechny said the October deadline for merchants to switch over to equipment that can accept new chip cards will cause chaos during the holidays.

“We’re forcing anarchy” on the payments world right now, Drechny said. He envisions a holiday season in which shoppers will choose which card to pay with depending upon how easy it is to actually use when they get to checkout. The new chip credit cards that many banks have been issuing this year have to be dipped into checkout equipment in stores, rather than swiped the way older cards are. This can cause longer checkout times.

This year in the U.S., banks and other credit card issuers like American Express have been issuing a new kind of credit card embedded with a computer chip that makes these cards harder to clone. The cards have been popular in other parts of the world for a decade, but haven’t been in the U.S. because retailers haven’t wanted to upgrade to new equipment to accept them until most people have the new cards, and banks didn’t want to issue the new cards until stores had the equipment to accept them.

To solve this chicken-and-egg problem, the credit card networks set an October 1 deadline for stores to have to upgrade their equipment to accept these new chip cards or risk being held liable for certain types of fraudulent purchases in their stores that they previously wouldn’t have been liable for.

Drechny’s beef on this point? That the deadline is so close to the holiday shopping season, when checkout lines in stores are already hectic without the added headache of some shoppers using a new way to pay for the first time and seasonal workers not being educated on how the cards work. Drechny said Walmart has been prepping for a long time, and has already cut down the added time it takes for a customer to check out with a chip card from as much as 12 seconds a year ago to one second today. But he worries about the millions of customers shopping in smaller chains or stores that are just switching over.

“Most merchants … are where we were a year ago,” he said.

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