A Web PIN Pad That Changes GUI For Each Customer's Card. Will That Make Shoppers Use It?

Here's an interesting interchange-fueled conundrum: How do retailers get consumers to enter their debit-card PINs online, a move that saves the retailers money but doesn't directly help the consumers at all? (The flipside argument can be made that this is a way consumers can financially support their favorite stores at no cost to themselves. But it's an argument that will lose.)

One vendor is arguing that by visually making the screen image look identical to whatever card shoppers are using, the shoppers will be more inclined to enter their PIN. The company has added a nice security twist: rotating the key position so anyone sniffing the communication—or using keygrabbers or spyware—couldn't easily determine the numbers entered. But that twist has its own twist: By scrambling the number positions with each click, some consumers will take a lot more time to enter their PIN, because they have memorized it based on the ATM, retail in-store and computer keypads they are used to.

The vendor, Acculynk, is claiming that 10 percent more consumers are giving their PIN now that the GUI has been changed to show customized images for many cards.

"The first nine digits signify the issuer," said Acculynk CEO Ashish Bahl. "We then grab the official image and logos and branding. The screenshot of your debit card looks exactly like your physical debit card in terms of colors" and general appearance.

If a shopper ignores the PIN pad image, the transaction will default to the higher interchange signature debit rate. Here's where consumer psychology and fear kicks in. In reality, if the shopper starts entering his/her PIN and then stops, the transaction will proceed, again at the signature debit price.

But many consumers will likely fear that once they start entering the PIN, they have to complete the process. Their fear is that an incomplete PIN would be rejected, potentially killing the entire transaction and maybe even wiping out the order. Instead of risking that outcome (which will never happen, but most consumers wouldn't know that), most shoppers will finish the PIN entry once they start it. That's why getting them to start entering the PIN is so critical. And familiar-looking graphics is a nice way to start.

The scrambling digits is a nice security touch, but it is probably overkill. Acculynk's demo shows this number-shifting technique at about 1:07. It's visually compelling. But as a practical matter, it's going to disorient a lot of shoppers. One way to minimize the disruption would be to only juggle the numbers for the first screen. That will serve the security purpose, with a 1-in-3.6-million possible choices challenge. Doing it on the remaining screens will improve security by a trivial amount.

Acculynk's Bahl said that customer focus groups did not reveal customers abandoning the PINs after the first screen. But that could be explained by both the dynamics of focus groups—those people tend to spend more time with apps while being watched than they would in real life—and the dynamics of PIN pad fears that the transaction may die if the rest of the PIN isn't properly entered.

As a practical matter, halting the juggling after the first screen won't likely have a huge impact on abandonment. But it would be a nice thing to do for customers.