Last Saturday I went to my (now) nearest Macy’s. It’s in a huge mall which even includes an Apple store. And tons of chain restaurants. At midday the extensive parking lots were full. But Macy’s was not.
Now if you’ve been keeping up with the retail business news you know retail in general is in trouble. It’s being “Amazoned” to death. And I admit I’m one of the guilty. If I CAN use my Amazon Prime account I do. I can buy with one click and see my package on my doorstep in 2 days or even less. With tracking texts and emails to keep me updated. And no hassle returns at a convenient dropbox.
So back to Macy’s. A Macy’s having a really big sale. On a Saturday. There should have been crowds. A few years ago there would have been. But this Saturday no one seemed to care. Even though Macy’s pioneered the omnichannel concept of buying merchandise anywhere – online, from the smartphone app or in the store and picking it up or returning it or exchanging it the same way.
This Macy’s is an “anchor” store. At one end of the mall. The other end is anchored by a Sear’s. Which was recently closed. Tells you something right there.
There was a bit of a buzz on the ground floor. Around the cosmetics counters. But this Macy’s has three floors. Almost all the women’s and kids clothing is up the escalator on the second floor. Which is probably the most unattractive, dismal, can-death-be-far-away space I have ever seen in a store. And it’s a big space. With paint chipped off the walls and ugly old florescent lighting. And racks and racks of bunched together clothes from various designers – including my favorite Macy’s in-house brand. And absolutely NO employees on the floor to ask about where to find anything. Never mind my small/petite jeans’ size. Just one cashier in a corner of the floor. For the few over 50 women unenthusiastically eyeing the sales merchandise. Maybe there was another checkout with it’s one employee at the other end of the floor half a block away. I wasn’t going to go and find out.
There wasn’t a sign of an experience-seeking millennial or Gen Z on that floor. Or even a young mom, kids in tow. This was definitely not the experience they were seeking. And Macy’s is not alone. These department stores are literally eating themselves. Firing helpful employees left and right. Piling up merchandise like the store was a tire warehouse. Letting the physical plant visibly deteriorate. The restroom on that Macy’s second floor looked almost as bad as the highway rest stops in central and eastern Europe right after Communism collapsed. The ones where you were afraid to touch anything.
Macy’s is making it so unpleasant to shop in their brick and mortar stores that soon – no one will. Maybe that’s a strategy. Then they can sell their real estate and make the shareholders happy. They’re already drooling over the development money that could be made on Macy’s iconic (and huge) Herald Square site.
So where does that leave me?
I can’t buy clothes that fit from Amazon. Their own line or anyone else’s. And except for perfectly built California girls – there aren’t too many women I know who can. And when summer suddenly returns with a vengeance as it has this fall in the Eastern US — there also aren’t too many women who are willing to wait even 2 days to get something that may not fit at all — from Amazon. But I guess they’re not going to Macy’s. And probably neither will I — again.
I’m sorry for the delay in writing back; We just returned. The Post Office had our mail with your letter all summer.
It’s good to know you’re OK. Unfortunately we didn’t go anywhere near your home in Croatia as we had hoped – staying close to our work in Prague.
From what you write — I guess if we HAD come to visit — we would have had some serious political debates with you.
You say you like our President Donald Trump. But many Americans fear Trump, his associates and his ugly neo-Nazi supporters (Charlottesville) will cause more violence and hate with a real possibility of another Civil War. Not to mention the other real possibility of a war — with a nuclear North Korea. Of course the current war of words and tweets between Trump and Kim Jong-un wasn’t yet an issue this summer. Oh – and this past weekend our “busy” President took on the National Football League and its majority black players on “taking a knee” during the ritual National Anthem singing which opens nearly every professional sporting event in the US. I’m sure you saw something about THAT one on your own TV news. Everyone else did.
Back to what’s behind President Trump’s tweets and continued rallying cries to his political base. It’s complicated. It’s partly about race and immigration. And the fear of permanently losing what you once had. And it’s partly about less educated, small town white men specifically being left behind by technology. Because some tech education and training is needed now to do even basic industrial jobs like welder or machinist. Literally all jobs now involve technology at some level.
There are also the deep cultural differences among us. Attitudes are liberalizing much more quickly in the cities than in the countryside. Some of this is happening in many European countries as well. But we are a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country as you know. Some of Trump’s anti immigrant supporters had (white) immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents themselves. Some of those grandparents and great-grandparents may not have been very warmly received because the US has a long history of fearing “the ignorant immigrant hordes”. Although we were ALL immigrants in the beginning here except the native Americans.
It’s even harder, we know, for European countries to accept and integrate immigrants and refugees because you are each mostly made up of one national group with a long history. The Czechs for example are desperate to avoid even the handful – 3000 – of migrants the EU wants them to take. But in a global world where the internet and trade connect all of us – nationalism in individual European countries or here in the US just doesn’t make sense. And without resettling migrants or somehow making Syria and Lebanon and the other conflict-torn countries safe and possible to work in again – the migrant camps will just turn out terrorists eventually. It’s what happened with the Palestinians after the Israelis isolated them in camps which over generations grew into teeming, angry cities.
In the US there are retraining programs available for out-of-work factory workers. But many of the older ones don’t want to learn anything new. Or move to where the new jobs are. And even some younger people lack ambition and just want to work in the kind of well-paying, union jobs (like auto or steel worker) their fathers and perhaps grandfathers had. Jobs which simply will never exist again. No matter how inward looking the US becomes. Even coal mines (which should be gradually closed down and the miners retrained) are now using robots instead of people.
All of this might be manageable in time because most younger people were born into the technical generation and have used internet, tablets and smart phones from childhood at home and at school. But with President Trump literally supporting violent reactions among his supporters – anyone who knows US and Western history in general is really worried. There have even been discussions about his mental stability. Beyond his not being ready or capable of being President, with all of its responsibilities and need for highly intelligent analysis of information and events.
As for the right wing leaders of Europe you write about –like Marine Le Pen – they all want to turn their countries back to the 1950s – at best. Le Pen wants to take France out of the European Union. Her ideas are worrisome. And I think most French voters thought so as well, thankfully. Technology and the changes which are racing through industry and almost all professions make going backward and protecting old ways of doing things (French farmers, inflexible work rules, high import tariffs) impossible .
I wonder what you have made of the German elections and the far right populist party which for the first time since the end of WW2 has taken a sizeable (13%) number of seats in Parliament. This harks back to your history in Europe and I’d like to hear your explanation and what I imagine would be your defense. But of course – had we seen you this summer — it wouldn’t yet have happened.
So let’s talk a bit more about the email, smart phones and other tech innovations you still disdain. In Europe as well as the US – waiters at restaurants are using iPads to take orders and register credit cards (with add-on chip readers or magnetic strip readers). When we have someone from a small, family construction company come to our US house to bid on a repair or other job – he or she uses a smart phone to take photos and write up information on tablets. Or on phones. Everything is emailed or texted (SMS’d in your world), banking is done on phones or websites, my salary from my freelance work is direct-deposited into my bank account. It’s done that way in Prague also since Czechs under Communism completely skipped the checkbook era and now actually charge you if you go to the bank to deposit or withdraw your own money instead of using a bankomat (ATM). I imagine it’s the same in most of Croatia. So you’re probably already involved in the tech world — just to get paid.
You, like some of President Trump’s US supporters, may not trust apps or the internet or email but like them you’re isolating yourself. The entire world of information (real facts not “fake” news) is right in your smart phone or tablet or laptop or even on a library computer if you don’t have your own. You can Google anything. Wikipedia has huge amounts of (mostly) accurate information.
Unfortunately there’s also a dark side. It’s the same internet and social media which have allowed the neo-Nazis and far right groups to organize so well. And to circulate the fake news most Trump supporters insist is real. Then there’s ISIS which has used technology masterfully to get recruits and plot terrorism. But technology itself isn’t good or bad. It just IS. People can use it however they wish. PEOPLE are good or bad, not the technology they use.
I’m testing your English which I think is quite good. And challenging your statements in your letter. Which is what I do as a reporter and journalism lecturer. And now as a blogger – which allows me more intellectual space for analysis and opinion.
I have typed this on a Word document on my iPad – easier to use than a laptop. Now I’ll print it and mail it to you. It will take at least 5 business days. Email would be immediate. I have the same problem with my first New York City roommate – after I graduated from university and left Boston. She also has refused over the years to get email. Along with my 89 year old cousin now living in a home for seniors.
Take care my friend! Think about what I’m saying. Don’t just admire a strong man. Or someone who just TALKS like a strong man. Admire a smart man or woman! Someone who wants to move his or her country forward.
We’re friends so we should be able to have these discussions. Over here –discussions are getting difficult. If not impossible. Look back at my Civil War reference.
(Note: adapted from an actual answer to an actual letter (on paper) from Croatia)
I love Fridays! After so many years of working every day, any day, weekends just another day – I love what happens in business news. When the market closes at 4pm Friday – and sometimes even before – it’s like we all go to Brigadoon for the weekend. With only an unplanned event of huge import – like Lehman Brothers weekend in 2008 – able to recall us to earthly view until Monday morning. Not exactly one day for every 100 years but you get the picture. It’s a feeling of cocooning. That I’m safe from midnight phone calls from overnight desk editors or radio producers. Radio silence. Blessed radio silence. I can anticipate the weekend ahead with all its forbidden weekday pleasures. And just as with a vacation – the anticipation is often the best part. On Friday at 4pm I’m free. To be me. And whomever else I want to be until Sunday night. When another, not so wonderful anticipation takes hold. Monday morning. But this is still Friday. The good times are just beginning. Who cares about Monday now?
This is the second of two podcasts with Pepper de Callier – who is a Prague-based leadership coach and author.
In the continuation of our wide-ranging conversation we discuss whether leadership differs in small countries and large ones, the rise of populism in the US (Trump) and around the world – and why. We discuss change and ways to accommodate its speed, self enhancement bias, and the way women lead.
Takeaway quote: “Life is not lived as a generalization. Life is lived by one person at a time. I want (a leader) to see that person.”
This is Pepper’s official bio from his Prague Leadership Institute website:
Pepper de Callier is a bestselling author of three books on leadership and personal development (The Common Sense Wisdom Trilogy), newspaper columnist, senior-executive coach, and Founder and Executive Director of Prague Leadership Institute. He was voted Top Corporate Leadership Coach in Europe—2015 by London-based AI Media. Pepper has devoted his career to understanding, counseling, and coaching leaders globally. Formerly a partner at two of the most respected executive search and consulting firms in the world, Spencer Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles, Pepper has advised executives in Asia, North America, and Europe
Pepper is also deeply involved in the development of future leaders. He is a Founder and Member of the Supervisory Board of Aspen Institute Prague. And has mentored many young women and other rising executives.
For both of these first two podcasts I converted the audio file to a video file and uploaded it to YouTube. Future podcasts will likely be delivered differently. My podcasts are a work in progress.
This is the first of two audio podcasts. Pepper de Callier is a Prague-based leadership coach and author.
We talk about leadership today and tomorrow in the corporate world and how that differs — if it does — from political leadership. In a wide-ranging conversation we discuss the British vote to leave the European Union, the US Presidential election and ways for leaders to connect with the rest of us — among other topics. Listen! He’s great!!! And sensible!!!!
This is Pepper’s official bio from his Prague Leadership Institute website:
Pepper de Callier is a bestselling author of three books on leadership and personal development, (The Common Sense Wisdom Trilogy) newspaper columnist, senior-executive coach, and Founder and Executive Director of Prague Leadership Institute. He was voted Top Corporate Leadership Coach in Europe—2015 by London-based AI Media. Pepper has devoted his career to understanding, counseling, and coaching leaders globally. Formerly a partner at two of the most respected executive search and consulting firms in the world, Spencer Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles, Pepper has advised executives in Asia, North America, and Europe
Pepper is also deeply involved in the development of future leaders. He is a Founder and Member of the Supervisory Board of Aspen Institute Prague. And has mentored many young women and other rising executives.
For this podcast I converted the audio file to a video file and uploaded it to YouTube. Future podcasts may be delivered differently. My podcasts are a work in progress.
Why can’t it be John Chambers running for President? On CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning, the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Cisco Systems said he’s a moderate Republican. And yet he spoke admiringly about Bill Clinton’s 8 years as President. When, Chambers said, 22.5 million jobs were created. And there was 17% growth in real per capita income. The Information Age. The last time, Chambers added, America got a pay raise.
Fast forward to the current election cycle. We’re in the Digital Age. Which Chambers thinks could have the same effect on America and its people. Only 3 to 5 times larger. Except – he says – the US is missing the bandwagon. Unable to move fast enough to create the start-ups needed if middle America is to benefit. Because business and government have to work together to make a digital plan. Something we don’t have — but every other country in the world does according to Chambers. And is implementing them. Quickly. Even countries with recalcitrant unions and socialist leanings. Like France. They have a meeting or 2 or 10. With the relevant players. How do we create a million new business jobs? What tax reform is needed? How do we “re-skill” (Chamber’s interesting substitute for “retrain”) the unemployed and underemployed? The middle class? What about childhood education? Then you walk away Chambers said — and come back 6 months later. And it’s done.
As I said — why couldn’t John Chambers be on the ballot in November?
When I look around me at this country — I see political stalemate instead of cooperation. And no urgency to change. A Congress controlled by one party determined to thwart anything suggested by the President from the other party. And vice versa. A legislative system completely broken At best a government treading water. And business? The thinkers like Chambers are in Washington this week. Trying to pound some sense into everyone. The rest are mostly making apologies to Wall Street for a bunch of less than stellar quarterly reports. Any US digital plan is far, far from the top of the agenda. Again – my thoughts – not Chambers’.
We haven’t even gotten to the general election itself yet. It’s still primary season. And yet we are already battle weary. Our ears plugged against the insults hurled party to party and candidate to candidate. Instead of the serious discussions we so desperately need. And it can only get worse.
John Chambers says 92% of the jobs created over the next decade will require some kind of technology skills. In both the service industry and in manufacturing. Requiring the courage to make fundamental changes in order to fill most of those jobs with American middle class workers earning real American middle class wages. Chambers and his co-business thinkers have some ideas. Some possible plans. But it seems to me no one who can do anything about implementing those plans is listening. Or more to the point — acting.
Back in late February when it was first announced I wrote about Starbucks’ revamped rewards program. And how it seemed to me just another way to appease Wall Street’s insatiable profit and revenue demands by cajoling more people to spend more money at their local coffee hangout.
Since that post the Twitterverse has erupted with snarky comments and “goodbyes” from rewards program members. Based partly on the unfavorable reaction – and the timing as rival Dunkin’ Donuts rolled out its own loyalty program – a major Wall Street analyst gave Starbucks a well publicized downgrade. The stock fell – but partially recovered.
You may recall the rewards program was changing from one star per visit – a transaction-based system – to a dollar-based plan. 2 stars for each dollar spent. You used to achieve gold status (which you need for your rewards) with 30 stars. So buying one small coffee each day would give you gold status in about a month. After that you needed just 12 stars (or 12 visits) to get your free extra large caramelized honey latte – or whatever. Now gold status takes 300 stars. And then 125 stars for each reward. Big difference.
So Starbucks barged ahead. April 12th was the big changeover. Since then stores have been plastered with gold-lettered signs urging coffee lovers to join the rewards program, buy something and get one year of gold status virtually immediately. Current gold members would automatically get another year of gold. Of course I jumped at that. Even though I knew I was being bribed. Maybe a lot of other disgruntled rewards members did the same. Or a lot more new members signed up. This week in its second quarter results Starbucks said membership jumped 16 percent year on year and 8 percent from the previous quarter.
But wait. There’s more. In those same second quarter results the coffee giant reported revenues somewhat below analysts’ expectations. And after just matching profit forecasts – warned of weaker earnings for the current quarter. Of course the stock fell again.
Flopuchino! As CNBC so elegantly captioned it on TV.
Hmm. Maybe all those potential freebies to keep people like me happy will actually hurt Starbucks’ bottom line? But isn’t that just what the new rewards program was designed to change?
You mean after enraging its loyal customers to keep Wall Street satisfied Starbucks had to backpedal to keep those same customers from walking away? And then find a way to make the now more expensive rewards program attractive to newbies? And keep both groups away from Dunkin’ Donuts? At least for the short term. Which is all anyone cares about these days anyhow. And which is why Wall Street bid down the stock again.
And which is why for Starbucks right now – it’s a kind of a zero sum game. At least as far as the rewards program goes.
I love radio. There’s an immediacy and singularity about it that TV or internet video streaming can never match. And certainly not Pandora or its multiple offspring – with their endless, depersonalized music. Listening to radio creates a personal connection – a one-on-one relationship with the talk host, the news anchor, the DJ or the music. And it also works the other way. When I’m doing radio news — or just talking into a live mic – I feel like I’m in someone’s home or car. Having a conversation. That connection never quite carried over to TV. Although I’ve always tried to imagine someone I actually know behind the camera lens – watching the screen.
I started my on-air career in radio as a Boston teenager and after decades of on-camera TV reporting and anchoring, I’m back on radio doing business news. And back to that personal connection.
Well – I got an email today from a very good friend. Who has had a similar career. And whose memories of growing up in radioland reminded me of mine.
Like my friend, I had a cheap plastic table radio in my room. Which somehow pulled in New York’s legendary WNEW in all its Make Believe Ballroom glory whenever the clouds provided a decent enough bounce for the AM signal. My parents were musicians with ties to the big band era and Broadway musicals. WNEW played The Great American Songbook. William B. Williams and his fellow hosts made even commercials interesting. I listened well into the overnight – (Remember Al “Jazzbo” Collins?) pulling my little radio under the covers so my mother wouldn’t hear. Once it was dark out and the daytime stations were gone from the airwaves, the signal was often as clear as if it were coming from next door.
Beyond my own little radio, we had a big old standup radio (like the one above) in the foyer of our apartment. In the back was a shelf for a long ago junked “victrola”. But in the front was a magic dial. 2 of them actually. One selected the radio band. Short wave, medium wave, local. The other slid the selector across the dial. When the radio was set in short wave, all kinds of foreign languages flooded in. Medium wave usually brought in stations from the West coast – unimaginably far away to a little girl who had never been further from Boston than New Hampshire. And if I was allowed to stay up late enough I could sit crosslegged on the floor in front of that radio and hear broadcasts of the remaining big bands from the few 40’s style ballrooms still standing. Pure magic.
When I was 14 I talked a small Boston radio station into broadcasting a weekly show hosted by me and my locally well-known pianist father. It was a clash of generations. I played my teenage music; he played his swing era, Boston Pops favorites. I think it lasted for at least a year. The first of several weekly radio shows I talked that station into broadcasting – all built around music. Then I discovered jazz and in college did shows for the 2 college owned FM radio stations in Boston. And as many of you know, I eventually spent 10 years as a CBS Radio Network news correspondent until I migrated to TV news.
Now in my car, I too listen to satellite radio. Mostly the audio of the TV news channels. I feel like a traitor. But when something big happens, when there are major snow storms or high winds or floods I fall back on AM radio. When I need a traffic report I switch between the 3 news stations which have them (Sirius’s is always very out of date). WAZE is useful but somewhat distracting when you’re driving. Traffic and weather together on the 8’s. Or the 11’s. Or the 5’s are still a commuter’s best friend. Along with the top local stories.
There has been talk of radio’s death for decades. It’s always survived. But the Millenials and Gen Y think radio is preceded by Apple. And they’ll be running things soon. Most local radio stations are now just automated clones, owned by a couple of giant companies loaded with debt and interested only in extracting whatever revenue they can to make their quarterly reports look better for Wall Street. The CBS radio stations and the network which distinguished them may soon be among that group.
I love the new tech. I live on my iPhone and iPad. I try tons of new apps. But when I need to know what is breaking right now I turn on the radio. Or, if I’m anywhere but in the car or at home I stream from a radio app. Real radio app.
Some day – when real radio has been destroyed and a huge hurricane knocks out the power for weeks as Sandy did almost four years ago – we’ll need local radio to hold communities together and tell a frightened public where to go for food and shelter and help. But radio will be gone. And there won’t be anything to replace it. Because without power, the internet and broadband won’t work. And even the battery-backed-up cell towers fail after days with no electricity.
I’m flying home. From Prague to New Jersey. Connecting though Paris. Pretty normal. Done it many times. Ok – it’s never exactly fun. Security checks, passport controls, crowded waiting areas and fully booked planes. With just enough legroom between seats for a mouse to sit comfortably. You know – the usual nightmare.
But no. Not today. Today we have a specially-created French nightmare. An air traffic controllers’ strike. A suddenly called one day strike in solidarity with and for the same reasons as the same one day strike by French transport unions on the Metro and railways. Because French President Hollande wants to change the country’s cushy work rules which bloat the government’s budget and make hiring, firing and doing business in France more difficult than in the rest of Europe. Ergo: France is strike central. Even more than it’s always been. The air controllers have been on strike a total of 43 days since 2009 including their last 2-day walkout just over a week ago. Both during the extra busy Easter holiday/spring break travel period.
Where is Ronald Reagan when you need him.
Eventually my husband and I get to Paris. Two hours late. Of course missing our connecting flight from Paris to Newark International Airport. But all is not lost. I still have plenty of data left on my Czech iPhone package. And before that delayed flight from Prague even starts loading @Delta Assist on Twitter has us rebooked on a 5pm Air France flight to JFK. Somewhat out of the way but at least we’ll get home tonight instead of sleeping in the airport.
So we get on the JFK flight. Almost on time. And what do we see after walking through the spacious business class section? The 3-4-3 seating configuration I had just read about on new or retooled Boeing 777-200 planes. Translation – there is always a middle seat instead of the normal 2-4-2 or 2-5-2 seating used for decades on international flights. Giving airlines an extra 20 or so revenue producing seats per plane. 7 hours in a middle seat. Oh no!
Oh yes. But this time it actually works in our favor. In the back of the plane – where it narrows – even Boeing can’t squeeze in that 3rd seat. So there are 3 rows with just 2 seats on either side of the 4 middle seats. With a little elbow room between the window and the seat and a few inches more leg room. Ok they’re next to the bathrooms. But here’s the thing. These are PREMIUM seats in tourist class. Because all the other seats are now even worse. We got them because they weren’t sold and the plane was otherwise full. Lucky us!
Until the average size guy in front fully reclines his seat into my lap. He speaks good English so I politely ask him to recline only halfway. I mean – we haven’t even had dinner yet! He looks at me like I came from another planet and says with annoyance, “but I have the right to put my seat back”. Yes I say in so many words – but – there isn’t much legroom and it would be polite if you didn’t. He looks at me, basically says F you without the F, and then fully reclines his seat back. His female partner gives my husband a break and pulls up a bit.
Maybe this guy actually paid extra for that seat in the 2 seat row ahead of ours. Maybe not. But his mother must have never taught him about consideration for others in a tightly packed world. Or maybe he was just born with the “entitled” gene like so many others of his generation.
Of course one can argue – and I do – that it’s really the airlines’ fault. They decided to extract every penny of revenue from their hapless passengers some years back. And of course it’s paid off royally with some of the best earnings in years in 2015 as they unapologetically kept every penny of the windfall from lower jet fuel prices instead of cutting ticket prices the way they raised them when oil went through the roof. And as they kept shrinking seat sizes and leg room over and over to squeeze another row or two of seats into the configuration. So shouldn’t the airlines also be cutting the recline angle drastically on that smaller seat back? When someone like the jerk in front of me fully reclines – he’s literally in my lap. Try eating when the food is hitting your waist! (He left his seat back ¾ reclined even during dinner!) I can’t even get up from the seat to go to the (very) nearby bathroom. And this is even with a few inches more legroom in these “premium” seats!
So OK you say. You didn’t pay extra for the seats, you’ll get home by midnight and life could be a lot worse. You are so right. But. Your rights (and those of the surly passenger in front of me) end where mine begin. Call it Apple against the FBI (before they dropped the case). When rights clash each person (or entity) has to give a little. That’s how most of us in democratic nations manage to live together without killing our neighbors.
I started this blog post months ago. Well before the 2015 holiday season. Well after the October 1st deadline when all retailers were supposed to have installed the new chip payment card readers. And banks were to have sent them out to replace all magnetic stripe only credit and debit cards. These payment cards were supposed to ensure better security from point-of-sale data thefts like the 40 million credit cards compromised at Target terminals in 2013. When a new study came out this week about chip card compliance – I decided to update my original draft.
And incredibly – there’s not much to update. Because there’s not much compliance.
I was prompted to write about the chip cards originally because I couldn’t find any major retailer in my heavily populated part of New Jersey using them. It started with Ikea. Part of a huge international chain. I pulled out my new credit card with the embedded chip. “Have you activated the technology?” I asked the woman checking me out. “Not yet,” she said. Swipe it the old way.”
A few days later I bought a few things at my local Target. I recognized the chip card reader and asked again, “are you using the chip reader?” “Not activated yet,” the cashier replied. Target! Almost exactly 2 years after that huge data breach occurred. Another holiday season was nearly here — and nothing had changed. It wasn’t until well after the holidays that the chip card readers were finally working.
Last Saturday at my local Shoprite supermarket I asked, as I have each week since early October, if the chip card readers which have been there since then are working yet. You can guess what the answer was.
And it’s not just here in New Jersey. I was in northern Florida a few weeks ago. The cashiers at the chain retailers looked like I came from another planet when I asked if they were using the chip card yet.
I have hit a few stores where inserting the new card works. The Rite Aid stores for example. But the technology is buggy. You have to push the card all the way in until you hear a click. Then you have to wait. And wait. And wait while the sale is processed. I keep hearing dial up modem sounds in my head. At least I think they’re only in my head.
No federal agency seems to be enforcing the chip card deadline. Or the fines which were supposed to go with that deadline. And even at this late date — the major merchants and the big card-issuing banks seem to be doing a war dance around each other. You can forget about the small retailers. Some of them, like gas stations, have another year to comply anyhow.
Of course even if a store is actually using it’s new chip card reader – you’ll need the new payment chip card to use in it. I actually had to request a chip card replacement from the too-big-to-fail bank issuing one of my airline-branded credit cards. The bank was (and is) waiting until the card’s far ahead expiration date to replace my old magnetic strip card — and millions of others.
One reason there seems to be no urgency is cost. The banks didn’t (and don’t) want to pay for new technology and the cost of replacing perfectly good payment cards. And the merchants don’t want either the cost or the hassle of dealing with new systems.
And there’s another problem. The most secure technology right now is called chip and PIN. It’s what Europe and much of the world uses. Instead of a signature with a credit card, the customer keys in a pin number — just as with debit cards. But here in the US the banks didn’t want to pay for another level of security. And the merchants have already spent billions to upgrade a system which cuts down only on basic card fraud. That helps banks which generally have to eat the charges run up on stolen credit cards. Chip and pin would help retailers stop fraud right at their terminals – which stores themselves themselves have to pay for – by making it easier to verify customers. And oh yes — while all this back and forth between banks and retailers has been going on — the banks have also raised the interchange fees they charge stores to hook up to their networks. Making merchants even less willing to buy into the chip-card system.
Bottom line – no one seems to be rushing to adopt the chip technology. And by the time they do – it may be outdated. At least one payment card system – MasterCard – is looking to replace passwords for on-line banking with selfies. How long before that or some other kind of facial recognition becomes the I.D. of choice at your local Walmart too?