New(est) changes to Walmart point-of-sale systems

There are no two ways about it: it's been a frustrating week in the world of manufactured spend. Just a month after I wrote my award-winning (or at least widely retweeted) post on dealing with changes to Walmart point-of-sale systems, the geniuses in Bentonville struck again and implemented another set of obstacles to seamless Walmart financial transactions.

I've been experimenting extensively with the new(est) changes. This is my report.

Processing of prepaid debit cards

Historically, there's been a divide between the way (many) Visa and (many) MasterCard prepaid debit cards have been processed at Walmart registers. Visas, particularly the widely-available cards administered under the Vanilla brand, have (until the most recent changes) been processed by default as debit cards. That means immediately after swiping, a PIN pad would appear and allow you to input either a pre-set or extemporaneous PIN code, depending on the prepaid debit card product.

Many MasterCards, on the other hand, have required users to manually instruct the point-of-sale system to process the card as debit; otherwise, the system initially recognized them as credit cards and refused the cards for debit-only transactions.

As a result of that historical difference, I have never used a MasterCard prepaid debit card at Walmart.

The latest changes have resulted in (many) Visa prepaid debit cards being processed just like (many) MasterCard prepaid debit cards have been in the past: initially as credit cards, and only after explicit user intervention as debit cards.

Change payment – but fast!

Over the past few days I've visited many different Walmart store locations and processed all of the transactions popular among my readers. I'm pleased to say that there is no transaction that previously could be conducted with a prepaid Visa debit card that cannot, today, be conducted with a prepaid Visa debit card.

But that doesn't mean it's easy.

Upon each swipe of a prepaid debit card, you have exactly one chance to alert the point-of-sale system to process your transaction as debit, instead of credit. That chance comes immediately after swiping the debit card, while the customer-facing keypad appears to still be "thinking."

On the keypads at my Walmart registers, you'll first see a red button in the bottom right corner of the screen. Then, within less than a second, a yellow "Change Payment" button will appear in the bottom center of the screen. That, and only that, is your cue to push the yellow button on the right side of the keypad, embossed with a left-facing arrow.

If you miss that chance your transaction will be processed as credit, and fail.

As I mentioned, I've done these transactions at a variety of Walmarts and at a variety of registers, and I've started mentally classifying them into "fast" and "slow" locations.

At "slow" locations, you may have up to 1.5 or 2 seconds to press "Change Payment," either using the touchscreen button or pressing the yellow left-facing arrow button.

At "fast" locations, you will have less than half a second, and you will probably not be able to press the on-screen button. But you can still press the left-facing arrow button the moment you see the yellow on-screen button appear, and it will have an identical function (the screen even displays the "depressed button" animation).

Why are so many experienced people having so many problems?

If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it's been widely reported for many months with respect to MasterCard prepaid debit cards. But this latest update has caused problems even among people who are well aware of the historical situation and the ongoing updates. Why?

My best guess is that they aren't taking into account the interaction of the new(er) changes with the new(est) changes.

As a reminder, under what we might call "first generation" Walmart point-of-sale software, for all split-tender transactions the cashier first typed in the amount of each swipe, before the customer interacted with the terminal.

Under the "second generation" [new(er)] software, the customer first completes their interaction with the terminal, all the way through to typing in a PIN code, before the cashier types in the amount of the split tender.

The problem is that under the new(est) software, the customer's interaction with the terminal takes much, much longer. And it's difficult to convince a cashier to not interact with her register during the entire 8-12 seconds it takes for the customer to complete their interaction with the customer-facing terminal.

Emerging differences between money orders and bill payments

In my earlier reporting on the "new(er)" point-of-sale software, I said or implied that the new "customer first" protocol applied to all split-tender transactions.

I frankly don't know whether that was an error on my part from the beginning or whether a change has subsequently been implemented.

Either way, since the new(est) software changes have been implemented, I've observed a recurring difference between split-tender transactions for money orders and for bill payments.

It's now my belief that at some Walmart store locations with the new(est) software, split-tender transactions for money orders can still be processed "cashier first." Bill payment transactions, on the other hand, can only be processed "customer first."

I know better than to suggest that's the rule at every one of the thousands of store locations in the United States. But if you're having ongoing problems with these prepaid debit transactions, that would be the place I would start diagnosing the problem: either buy money orders or, during bill payments, find a way to convince your Customer Service and Money Center employees to resist processing the split tender until you've completely finished interacting with your customer-facing terminal.


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