Here is an idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with card scanners on both sides of the slot, so it doesn’t matter which way you swipe your card.

I’m always interested to see the lengths that the people who make the terminals and the retailers who use them go to in order to try and educate people how to use them successfully.  The little pictorial representations of the magnetic strip, or the line of numbers are my favourite.  But they are worse than useless – perhaps it’s just me, but I seem to swipe the wrong way around 100% of the time, when pure chance would suggest better odds than that.

I’m not an expert, but I’m guessing that my solution would add a trivial amount to the cost of a terminal and would eliminate the problem completely.

While I’m at it, here is another idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with account buttons for “Cheque” and “Savings” but no “Credit” option – especially for those retailers that don’t accept credit card payments.

Not accepting credit card payments is pretty common, and yet the state of the art solution for these users is a bit of sellotape and a piece of cardboard saying “No Credit!!!”

Seriously, is this a 3M conspiracy?

For good measure, a third idea:

An EFT-POS terminal which doesn’t take twice as long to process Chip & PIN card transactions

If your bank has not already upgraded you to a Chip & PIN capable card, and you have any say in the matter, then I encourage you to resist as long as you can.  At least until they can explain a benefit that accrues to you rather than to them (if there is such a benefit, I’m not aware of it).

Here is how a typical Chip & PIN transactions goes, in my experience:

  1. You hand the card to the checkout person (let’s call her Sherl).
  2. Sherl swipes the card in the normal fashion.
  3. The terminal says something like “Please insert card”.
  4. Sherl looks confused and tries to find the correct place to insert said card, or says something along the lines of “oh, you’ve got one of those fancy new cards, have you!” and much hilarity ensues.
  5. Eventually she finds the slot and you enter your PIN number.
  6. Sherl removes the card and hands it back to you, at which point the transaction is declined because the card was removed too early.
  7. You explain that you need to leave the card in until it tells you to remove it, and after a bit of confusion you repeat steps 1 thru 5 again.
  8. Minutes pass.  Meanwhile everybody behind you in the queue starts to get restless.
  9. Finally the transaction is approved. Sherl can remove your card from the terminal and you can get on with your day.

Please, in the very least the terminal should display an obvious message telling operators they need to leave the card in place, or (even better) build in some tolerance so that if it is removed too early it can be re-inserted without having to start the whole dance over.

I was interested to notice our closest supermarket have disabled the Chip & PIN feature on their terminals – so if you try to insert your card in the slot it just tells you to swipe in the traditional fashion.  I guess they have discovered that the additional faffing around is not a price worth paying in order to get the benefits of additional security?  Either way, it ironically adds yet another failed step, as I’m just getting in the habit of inserting rather than swiping and now they’ve introduced an element of doubt because I don’t know which stores support it and which don’t.  Look out for more sellotape soon, I predict.

Last but not least, while we’re on the topic, an idea for the banks:

Why not load my cheque account details onto my credit card, so I don’t have to carry two separate bits of plastic around with me?

Back in the last century I was a customer of BankDirect and they did exactly that – a combined VISA & EFT-POS, which came in any colour you like as long as that’s black (I liked).  So, it’s obviously not a limitation of technology, just one of inclination and motivation.

I realise that criticising EFT-POS is almost unpatriotic in New Zealand – we’ve had it here since the 80s, before just about anybody else in the whole world, don’t you know!

There have been over 8 billion transactions processed through the system.  Per capita we use EFT-POS twice as much as anywhere else.  According to the Reserve Bank 60% of transactions use this system, and the volume and value of these transactions are reported as general indicators of activity in the economy.

For each of individually, having a detailed record of your purchases makes it much easier to keep track of your spending, if you’re so inclined.

I’m a huge fan of EFT-POS, to the point of being mocked about it on occasion.  I love not having to carry cash.  Three years living in London nearly got me back in the habit, but I quickly reverted once back in NZ.  Recently I’ve even scanned my other cards (drivers license etc) onto my phone and ditched my wallet altogether for a funky leather iPhone case which has a pouch for my EFT-POS cards.

So, given all of this, it’s pretty disappointing to see how little innovation there has been.  And, depressing that the “improvements” that are coming actually make it much worse.

What do you think?  Is there anything we can do?

PS thanks to all of the people who replied when I tweeted some of these ideas earlier in the year – you made this post much better than it would have been otherwise:

18 thoughts on “I <3 EFT-POS”

  1. A quick fix would be to put magnetic strips on both sides of the card.

    Also, why not automatically choose check, savings, credit based on info swiped from the card?

    1. Any solution that requires modifying the cards is going to be a long and slow change – unlike credit cards they don’t have an expiry date, so it would be a long time before everybody had one of the new design.

      But, having the terminal automatically select the account, when there is only one valid option to choose from, is another brilliantly simple idea.

      It’s amazing how much you can improve the design of this process when you start thinking about it from an end-users point of view.

    2. I’ve always complained about the card swipe as well – but then, I thought I was just being a usability fanatic.

      While we are on the topic of ideas for EFTPOS, can we please store all my EFTPOS receipts electronically? Stop printing them out and display them if I want them when I use internet banking. It will save on paper, litter and make my wallet smaller.

  2. My BNZ cards have always had check and credit card functionality. I have not used a straight EFT POS card for years. Are you sure your bank can’t connect the two?

    1. As I said in the post I know they can, because BankDirect do and they are just ASB in disguise.

      My point is they don’t.

      I’d prefer I didn’t have to ask. Also many people who would benefit from this would never think to ask, so unless it’s done that way be default then it’s not really helping customers.

  3. Hah,

    love the confusion of the chip cards, and even helping them to do it with never had a chip terminal myself.

    The aussie Eftpos system requires the operator to ask for your account, you dont get to choose!

  4. I’ve had two accounts (usually “cheque” on the cheque and savings button of my credit cards for years. As long as they’re with the same bank, it should be doable.

    1. Which bank is that Galen? Sounds like I need to ask again about this.

      It does raise the question: if this is technically possible/easy why not do it by default for everybody? Nobody loves a wallet full of cards do they?

  5. I’m with BNZ and have my cheque and savings accounts loaded onto my credit card for at least the last 10 years, so you should have not problem getting this done.

    One problem it introduces is that helpful shopkeepers at stores that don’t accept credit cards will often tell you so when you pull out the credit card to use eftpos, and you have to assure them its all ok :)

    btw – why does the checkout operator at New World always ask me whether I’m paying by eftpos or credit when I swipe the card. It looks like they enter the answer into the till – surely the card processing terminal communicates that to the till? If they use the answer to help reconcile transactions by card type, human error must cause a huge amount of unnecessary work for a poor bean counter somewhere.

  6. Linking multiple accounts to a single card depends on which bank you are with. Some do, some don’t. Each pleads “Its that just our computer system wont let us.” as though the system was an immovable object.

    But more importantly, your comments about the point-of-sale experience highlight that no one has yet taken a truly end-user-centred approach to their product designs in this space.

    The closest I’ve seen is the teller processing terminal used in Starmart and Caltex designed by a New Zealand team led by Waiheke Islander Murray Pilcher. The terminal took a keyboard interface with almost 100 buttons and reduced it to 3 buttons (and a numeric keypad for backup).

  7. I’ve noticed lately a surge in labels on EFTPOS machines saying “Stripe this side.” I once made a comment about it, and the teller just said that some people still get confused.

  8. @Peter: knowing a little about some banks’ systems, I have to say that sometimes it really is the system. It’s not immovable but it’s pretty close; banks were amongst the first companies to embrace IT and they’re now almost universally hamstrung by technical debt.

    Bank Direct is the perfect example – while I wasn’t involved with it, I’m 90% sure it didn’t actually use any of ASB’s core systems. So just because Bank Direct could put cheque and credit on the same card, doesn’t mean my ASB debit and Visa cards can sub for each other.

    I nearly always get the swipe-side choice wrong too.

  9. >>perhaps it’s just me, but I seem to swipe the wrong
    >>way around 100% of the time, when pure chance would
    >>suggest better odds than that.

    Are you left handed by any chance, I have about the same failure rate and am starting to wonder if the pictograms are designed for people holding the card in their left hand?

    1. >>pictograms are designed for people holding the card in their left hand?


      pictograms are designed for people holding the card in their right hand?

      1. I too am left handed and suffer the same problem. Though, it could actually be that everyone suffers the problem, not just lefties.

  10. Chip & Pin was introduced to England with a bit of an ad campaign in 2007 (as I recall). I thought the fuss was pretty funny, having had eftpos in NZ for years. I think they used it in the UK because they decided it was more secure than signing, but really they could equally have just had our swipey system instead of c&p.

    I’m right-handed but I nearly always get swipe fail. Even at places I go to every day. :s I like all your points above. And to add to the list, I am with National Bank – our account person asked us if we wanted to load our chq & sav accounts onto our credit card when we got it. Yay to her! :)

  11. It’s interesting for us watching chip and pin.

    Doesn’t seem like it’s going to be any time soon before the transaction speed will get back to magnetic stripe.

    The reason it is so slow is that the chip is providing the terminal with instructions on how to manage the comms back to the bank all the way through the transaction. And from what we have seen of terminal vendors, efficient coding is not an area of focus (with some exceptions of course)hence the delays.

    We’ve recently taken to changing our certification for getting Snapper onto terminals to include things like auto-selection of the account, graceful fallback, and stopping printing out un-necessary receipts. It’s amazing to hear terminal vendors say ‘but you must have a receipt – that’s what customers want!’

    For our customers, transaction time (end to end including entering the value into the terminal) is 3 seconds on average compared to 25 seconds for a perfect run through with chip and pin.

    All retailers will move to chip and pin by RWC2011 or their Merchant Service Fees charged from Visa and Mastercard will increase.

    Not as though it is unhackable either….


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