Money & Business

A Different Kind of Pain at the Pump: Gas Stations Struggle With EMV Upgrades

By / Aug 30, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

With skimming becoming an epidemic at gas stations around the country, many are having to make expensive upgrades to their gas pumps to support chip cards. Conexxus, a payments trade group focused on convenience stores and gas stations, suggests that many gas stations would prefer to move directly to mobile payments.

In what could best be described as an unfortunate bit of irony, the subsector of the payments industry that could most benefit from the uptake of chip-based EMV payment cards is the one that faces the most challenges in upgrading.

That’s because gas stations, already suffering from a spate of skimming incidents, can’t easily upgrade the gas pumps that many of their payment systems are attached to: The pumps aren’t cheap, and though some can be retrofitted, others will require a full-on replacement.

According to a CNBC report last week, the cost of replacing the systems at convenience stores and gas stations around the country is expected to be $6 billion; Gray Taylor, executive director of the convenience-store payments group Conexxus, said the cost of upgrading a single gas pump could be as much as $17,000.

Many gas stations are working to meet an October 2017 deadline, which could cause issues for drivers, who won’t be able to use the pump during the upgrade process.

The upgrade dilemma comes at a time when skimming is becoming more prevalent, with the issue acutely felt at gas pumps. In Arizona, for example, more skimmers were found at gas pumps during August than throughout all of 2015, according to a KSAZ report. The ongoing transition to EMV appears to be leading skimmers to come out of the woodwork.

Because the systems are so arduous to upgrade, efforts are being made to future-proof the gas pumps. In comments reported by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) website, Taylor suggested that the  industry is far less interested in EMV and really wants mobile payments instead.

“The future is mobile, pure and simple,” Taylor told NACS Daily. “It is faster [and] more secure; and with developments Conexxus is supporting in other standards bodies to make ‘the app’ obsolete, mobile will outpace EMV unless mobile payment pricing remains artificially high. It is a shame our industry is being forced to spend $6 billion to implement the older technology of EMV just to get mobile payments. If payments were technology-driven, we would simply leap-frog the EMV step.”

Taylor may have a point: As Payment Week reports, the high cost of the EMV upgrade is leading some businesses to bypass chip cards in favor of mobile payments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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