WASHINGTON – In hawking its iPhone X, Apple produced a pretty fly commercial. Fly as in stylish. Or, “totally lit,” as teens say. Apple’s “Fly Market” ad highlights how easy it is to pay with your face.
Three seconds. That’s all it takes for the actor to pay for a hat that flies off the rack and onto his head. Another second and he’s got on some cool sunglasses. The shopping spree continues with multiple suits, shirts, stylish shoes, a chair for mama and jewelry.
The tagline: “Pay with a glance.”
With your face or fingertip, you can now literally get into debt in seconds.
For those of us old enough to remember, paying with a credit card used to take some time. The cashier had to reach under the counter to retrieve the credit card swiping machine. You had to place your card in the device, then the cashier needed to press down hard to move a gizmo back and forth to make an imprint of your card with carbon copies. Then you signed with other customers looking on and wondering what in the world was taking so long. Go further back, and you might recall a time when merchants had to make a phone call to the bank to make sure the customer was approved.
The credit card imprint machine has gone the way of the dinosaurs in the digital age. But at least you still had to sign your name for credit purchases.
But soon, we will no longer even need to do that. MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express have given merchants the option of requiring signatures. MasterCard announced in April that merchants in the U.S. and Canada no longer must make cardholders sign for in-store credit or debit purchases. Discover no longer requires “point-of-sale signatures” for credit and debit transactions on its network in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
American Express won’t require any of its merchants around the globe to collect signatures. Citing the migration to chip technology for credit cards, Visa also said it was making signatures optional for its merchants in North America with chip readers.
But not for an Apple-pay second do I believe security concerns are the primary reason for the retiring of our signatures. “The goal is to speed customers through checkout lines,” MasterCard said.
Trevor Noah, the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, recently commented on the absurdity of the notion that signing your name is inconvenient. “It’s not like children are saying, ‘Daddy can you spend more time with us,’” and, the dad is forced to say, ‘I would, but I’ve got to sign all these receipts. Damn you, American Express,’” Noah joked.
Sure, credit card security is a big concern for merchants and consumers. But it’s also true that the faster the credit transactions, the less time you have to consider your purchases. Speed is not your friend when spending.
When you use cash, there’s often a prick of pain at the handing over of real money. For some, that sting may give them pause. But as we create faster ways to pay, we’ll get too numb to the cost of credit.
“Our lack of awareness of spending may be the scariest thing about the more and more sophisticated ways with which companies are seducing us into avoiding the pain of paying,” write Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler in “Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter.”
Two-thirds of cardholders have carried a balance within the past six months, according to a recently released survey by CreditCards.com. Only 39 percent of these credit users even know how much interest they are paying for the balances they are carrying forward.
Our scribbled signatures have become perfunctory. Most of us sign our names so illegibly that it’s useless in proving our identity.
Still, it’s not a good thing that “sign here” may soon become a distant memory. The act of signing for credit means something. It’s an opportunity to realize that you’re going into debt, even if temporarily. So, no, we shouldn’t be cheering a speedier checkout process online, on our phones or in person. Because it’s in our pauses that we make better financial decisions.
Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018, Washington Post Writers Group