Sep
21
2005

Credit cards are getting a face lift: For the first time in about 15 years credit card companies have introduced technology that allows consumers to pass cards by machines instead of swiping or handing them over to cashiers. This option, which has been described as “contactless” because no touch is required to complete transactions, is said to be faster for retailers and safer for consumers. It has debuted at fast food franchises and large chains but small businesses, especially those that do not rely on high volume, may be the last to adopt the technology, said some industry professionals.

“I guess I would say that the impact to the veterinary profession at this time would be minimal unless the technology offered advantages beyond what is currently available with minimal investment [from] the business owner,” said Christine Merle, DVM, MBA, CVPM. “I can see some practices embracing this but it would be highly dependent on the cost of the investment in the new equipment.”

Radio frequency chips imbedded in cards allow card readers to scan information within an inch radius. Some retailers adopted the technology in August of 2004 and MasterCard expects to have 20,000 merchant locations in the United States ready to accept contactless cards by year-end. Contactless cards require new terminals or additions to existing machines, which can be purchased for $100, said Barbara Coleman, vice president of communications for MasterCard.

VISA, MasterCard, American Express and Discover have issued the cards, which have stripes for traditional card readers. A representative from VISA said that mini cards that dangle from key chains and cell phones would soon activate the new payment option. Despite the comprehensive rollout of contactless cards, banking experts do not expect the new technology to replace the stripe cards, due to the “pace at which consumers adopt to change,” said a Wells Fargo representative.

Steve Ewalt, a regional sales manager with USA Technologies, a company that holds a patent on the technology, said the technology also has been adopted by vending companies to monitor inventory control and could be used to operate kiosks for popular veterinary items, such as collars and over-the-counter products. Retailers such as Office Depot have started placing such kiosks on college campuses for students who need last-minute supplies, he said.

Industry professionals liken the credit card technology to scanners at grocery stores, which allow shoppers to slide food items over glass platforms that hold electronic eyes to scan merchandise. The technology is used in some states for tollbooths, which reduces traffic at pay booths, Ewalt said.

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