To Swipe or Insert? That is the question. Confusing Point of Sale Terminals


As the brick and mortar stores and banks in the US transition their POS terminals to accommodate credit cards with chips, I’ve witnessed a lot of confusion and frustration from patrons and staff alike; myself included!


I shop at Trader Joe’s when I can. Great food and great prices. No brainer. It’s always a little crowded and the lines can be long; but you know this if you frequent my Trader Joe’s.

A couple months ago, Trader Joe’s updated their POS terminals to receive credit cards with chips. At the first implementation there were some big challenges. Lines were longer than usual and people were clearly agitated.

Once it was finally my turn to checkout, I prepared to swipe my card once the checker began scanning my food across the barcode reader. (This is what I always do; swipe the card and then help bag the groceries.) I was stopped abruptly by the checker, “Don’t swipe your card!” I froze as the checker explained that they had a new system. And that if I had a card with a chip in it and I swiped my card instead of inserting it, they’d have to re-ring all of my groceries; hence the longer than usual lines. Wow! That’s not convenient at all!

As a UX Designer, so many thoughts raced through my head! What’s the best way to let loyal shoppers know not to swipe their card and to do something different than they’ve always done? (Changing mental models and human behavior is hard!)

I started interviewing the checker, as a UX Researcher would. I asked the checker how he informs the customers of the new system and he said he tries to warn them just as they walk up, but that many customers have dismissed his instruction saying, “I know what I’m doing. I shop here all the time!” I can only imagine the extra strain this has for all the checkers. Trader Joe’s employees are known for being friendly and polite; but I could see that this new system had taken its toll on my checker.

As I went deeper into the POS experience, I noticed a lot of confusing affordances; particularly the “Yes” and “No” buttons for confirming my purchase. (The screen shows me my purchase total and asks to confirm the total with two options below: “Yes” or “No.” But the “No” button was on the bottom right and I almost canceled my whole order; I’m used to the “Yes” button being on the bottom right and the “No” on the left. I asked the checker if other people have made the mistake that I almost made and he said, “Yes. All the time.”


Take this Point of Sale experience and add to it all of the merchants that are updating their terminals and their customers’ experiences. And then think of all of the differences of the steps & the order of tasks for these many POS terminals… I personally wish for some standardization across these terminals.

The inconsistency between terminals leaves me doubting my own faculties and my ability to know how to use a credit card. The questions I seem to always be left with are:

  • When is it safe to pull out my card?
  • This terminal has an insert option and I have a chip, but am I still supposed to swipe my card? (Not all terminals are ready for the insert option…)

Would love to have the comments be a space for readers share your stories on POS terminals!! Thanks for reading!

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