What is the Average Speed of an EMV Transaction in the US?

Written by: Abhishek Sharma

October 11, 2016 - A deep-dive into trends in transaction speed at a variety of merchants across North America.

MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover have all announced solutions to improve upon the perceived Contact EMV chip transaction speed at US merchant point of sale. These solutions have been extensively discussed at various fora in recent months, and there has been a mixed response from the industry about the practical implications of these solutions. A few weeks after the introduction of these solutions, the EMV Migration Forum (EMF) and Smart Card Alliance (SCA) initiated a project to develop a white paper that would provide a critical analysis of the solutions and bring into perspective the customer experience as well as the implementation details of each solution.

UL has been involved in the EMF-SCA work group to collaborate with other members in the industry on this white paper. In parallel, UL initiated a research project on consumer data to identify trends in transaction speed at a variety of merchants across North America. Although the analysis and research was done on test data, it is indicative of the trends in the retail payments landscape. The research and analysis was conducted in two cycles - data collection and analysis. First, UL collected timing data from different merchant implementations on a number of unique terminals, taking into account multiple test scenarios, with low to high customer interaction in the transaction. Next, another set of timing data was collected using simple test scenarios involving no customer interaction. The test data was collected using different terminals, POS configurations, and merchant implementations. Then, UL analyzed the time taken for each step in an EMV transaction (SELECT, GPO, READ RECORD etc…) in various terminal/ECR configurations. Some highlights of the analysis are:

  • The time taken for processing commands such as SELECT, GPO and READ RECORD was consistent for the majority of terminals, kernels, and merchant ECRs.
  • Between SELECT and 1st GENERATE AC, a wide variance of timing values are found (3.7s to 17.3s) based on the merchant implementation/configuration.
  • The time taken for online authorization ranged from 1.2s to 18.9s.
  • The average total transaction time was measured to be around 13 seconds (from SELECT to 2nd GEN AC).
  • Even with the same terminal model, different merchant ECR implementations and terminal configurations resulted in a large overall timing variation.

Finally, to complement the lab research and analysis, UL also performed some field analysis at merchants who have already deployed EMV into production at their stores. The average transaction time observed was around 11 seconds with the fastest and the slowest time being 4.4 seconds and 22.6 seconds respectively.
In contrast to Contact EMV transactions, Contactless EMV transactions are highly optimized. All the brand specifications require a Contactless EMV tap to execute in under 500 ms. As a result, retailers in the Canadian and Australian markets, for example, have long since migrated to Contactless acceptance at their POS terminals. We expect that Contactless adoption at POS terminals in the US will also gradually pick up.

If you’re interested to learn more about UL’s research in improving Contact EMV transaction speeds, as well as our analysis and recommendations for improvement, look for our white paper here. If you’re a merchant who is presently looking for ways to improve your EMV transaction speed, please drop us a note at info@ul-ts.com for more relevant resources.


These are the personal opinions of UL’s employees and its guests and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinion of UL's clients, suppliers or other relations.