The checkout lanes at your favorite stores should soon move more quickly, thanks to an industry move away from signing for purchases.
Major credit card companies Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover are eliminating the need for shoppers to sign receipts for credit and debit sales beginning April 14.
That means most merchants in the U.S. or Canada can decide whether or not to require signatures on sales using cards or mobile payments. Some merchants have already ditched signatures for some purchases, but beginning in two weeks the credit card companies are collectively ending requirements for customers' autographs.
Mastercard was the first major credit card to announce plans to end signatures. Its own research found that “merchants and consumers would like to see the payment process streamlined and that a majority of people believe it would be easier to pay and checkout lines would move faster if they didn’t sign when making purchases," said Linda Kirkpatrick, executive vice president of MasterCard’s U.S. market development division.
Currently, customers are only required to sign for Mastercard purchases of more than $50. As a result, more than 80% of Mastercard's store transactions in North America already do not require a signature, Kirkpatrick says.
"You may have noticed that you won’t have to sign when buying a cup of coffee or a train ticket, but will have to sign when buying a new pair of sneakers," she said. "With the advent of new security, we can create a more consistent shopping experience that excludes signature."
The encryption within the EMV chip, which began rolling out three years ago, has helped buttress robust security, as have other steps taken by credit card companies and the underlying payment networks in which banks participate in.
Within weeks of Mastercard's announced plans last year, Discover, American Express and Visa also got on board to end the requirement of a signature. Visa will require merchants to either have EMV chip or contactless chip-enabled readers to opt out of signatures.
Visa has not required signatures for sales below $25 for most merchants and below $50 for many sales. Similarly, American Express last year eliminated signatures for sales under $50 in the U.S., the company said in December. “Our fraud capabilities have advanced so that signatures are no longer necessary to fight fraud," said Jaromir Divilek, executive vice president for American Express' global network business, in a blog post at the time.
Fewer receipts to sign will affect many because customers overwhelmingly prefer plastic when paying for purchases. Debit cards were preferred by 44% of 1,200 customers surveyed in the 2017 U.S. Consumer Payment Study released by global payment provider TSYS this week. One-third (33%) of consumers preferred credit cards and 12% preferred cash, the survey found.
Eliminating the signing of receipts will make the checkout process more efficient not only for shoppers, but also for retailers, says Laura Townsend, senior vice president of operations for the Merchant Advisory Group, which supports the industry move.
Payment networks have required merchants collect signatures to refute possible sales disputes. “Our fraud capabilities have advanced so that signatures are no longer necessary to fight fraud," said Molly Faust, vice president of public affairs for global merchant and network services at American Express. Amex, which is eliminating signatures globally, “deploys advanced machine learning algorithms that aIlow for more precise detection of fraud while minimizing disruption of Card Members’ genuine spending," she said.
Not all merchants will quit requiring signatures overnight, but most will move toward that, Townsend says. "For some merchants, it's almost like the flip of a switch. Other merchants will have to do more development than that," she said.
Other outlets such as rental car companies and restaurants may continue to require signatures. "If you think about a sit-down restaurant, they may go ahead and give the receipt to the customer anyway to get a tip. So from an operational standpoint, they probably won’t change," Townsend said.
As credit card companies continue to deploy higher-tech payment solutions -- such as contactless pay and biometric payments using fingerprints and facial recognition -- more shoppers may soon not even need to insert a card into a card reader to pay.
"We believe multi-factor authentication is critical and signature has never been enabling that," Townsend said. "Whether it's a PIN or some other biometric that is where the industry needs to go. This is at least step one moving us in the right direction to a better, less fraud-prone system."
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.