Retailers Processing Network Blog

Changes coming to gift cards

Retailers Processing Network - Saturday, December 17, 2011

As consumers increasingly have embraced Visa- or MasterCard-branded gift cards, the card networks have become more concerned with the “user experience” at checkout and the impact of shoppers not knowing the balance remaining on their card during the process.

As you might expect, if the consumer brings $100 worth of merchandise to the counter and presents a gift card with only a $25 remaining balance, the transaction currently is declined at the point-of-sale terminal because $100 is more than the “credit limit.” The consumer is then presented with a dilemma. Does the consumer become embarrassed and try to explain to the clerk why there isn’t enough value on the card, or does he or she simply provide a different form of payment (which may not be the same “flavor” as the gift card), or abandon the transaction at the cash register?

None of these options is considered good, and the card networks have come to the conclusion that a “partial authorization” solution is needed.

That’s why as terminals or software is upgraded, the transactional experience is being modified. The new systems are “partially” authorizing the transaction and alerting, in different fashions, the clerk to collect the remaining amount via a different payment choice.

While helpful to the consumer, this split-tender transaction could become problematic if you don’t properly train your staff.

Most retail cashiers are used to a receipt printing and asking the consumer to sign it. But they don’t expect a receipt to print for a partial amount. If a clerk simply assumes that a transaction that generates a receipt is complete, the clerk could be releasing merchandise with only partial payment.

Some of the terminal manufacturers and software providers are prompting the sales clerk with a warning message prior to printing the receipt, but not all of them handle the partial authorization this way. You should make sure that you understand how your terminal is handling this partial authorization and make sure that your staff is properly trained.

In the future, partial authorization will be extended to debit cards and credit cards. So while this may be a small issue today, it will grow over time.

If you have specific questions about partial authorization, you should contact your merchant processing vendor’s help desk.

John Mayleben, CPP, is RPN senior vice president technology and new product development and a national expert on electronic payment processing. Contact John at 

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