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: