Guest post by: Shawn Hoefer
Being a craftsperson often means traveling to shows. From rolling Ozark hills of Southern Missouri to a Renaissance Festival in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to a former Olympic venue in Utah to a city park in the resort town of Taos, NM. As long as the show remains in the United States, there are a couple constants: the US Dollar is the currency of choice, and people will often want to pay with credit cards and debit cards.
But why accept credit or debitcards? After all, it’s a process that can be expensive and fraught with uncertainty: are you PCI compliant; is there a security risk; will the customer’s card clear? In spite of these uncertainties, there are definite advantages to accepting credit cards. Customers will purchase without delay (how many times has a sale been lost when the customer has to go to an ATM or doesn’t have enough cash and didn’t bring a checkbook), they will purchase more items, and they’ll select high priced items.
Knuckle busters – the old slide imprinters with carbons – were slow, insecure, wasteful, and uncertain. There was no way to ensure that the carbons would be destroyed at the proper time creating security risks. There was no way, short of making a call every time someone wanted to make a purchase, to ensure that the credit card was valid or not over the limit.
Then came terminals. Terminals required installation of a phone line which isn’t possible in a field or at a city park, or they required the use of specialized equipment to connect a cell phone. More recently, cellular terminals have shown up combining the cell phone and the terminal.
Regardless of the method used, accepting credit cards at a show required the use of a Merchant Service. These services are expensive, often charging hundreds of dollars per month for the privilege of accepting plastic. One such service charged $25 per month as a monthly minimum (that amount is deducted from the percentage charged), a $10 statement fee, a $15 cellular fee (for the cellular terminal), and taxes. That means before any payments are taken, there’s a $50 minimum fee to be paid. Start taking payments and the numbers go up rapidly as each credit card has a different rate and percentage and fee.
If all your business is online, there’s PayPal and Google Checkout. But if you want to process payments outside of these services – advisable as not everyone, even in this day and age, has a PayPal or Google account – it’s right back to the merchant service. This comes not only with the fees mentioned above, but often there is also some rather complex coding in websites and the purchase of additional software.
Adding insult to injury is the contract. In order to get started many services require that a two or three year contract is signed and the termination fees can be hard on the pocket book and the bottom line.
Beginning a little over two years ago, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and Jim McKelvey, a glass artist, worked together to create a payment processing system that would allow for the processing of credit cards without the merchant services. With this product, there are no contracts, no monthly fees, no service fees, no sales taxes. Instead, a percentage (currently 2.75% for swiped transactions and 3.25% plus a $.15 transaction fee for keyed in transactions) is charge each and every time a payment is processed. That means if an item is sold for $20, $19.45 shows up in a bank account in a few days instead of $20 showing up and a bill arriving at the end of the month for $50 or more. No sales means no bills.
Square requires an iPhone (or an iPod Touch, but, as most shows are going to be away from an active WiFi connection, the iPhone will be a better choice), iPad (with 3G – see the comment about the WiFi above), or a specific series of Android phone. That means a contract with a cellular service provider and the purchase of a cell phone (the iPhone 3GS and several models of Android phones are less than $50 at present). A basic cell package will run $50 per month (as data service is required with the purchase of one of these smartphones).
The card is read through a dongle that attaches to the headphone jack and is provided free of charge along with some stickers proclaiming your ability to accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express via Square.
As most craftspeople attending shows already carry a cell phone, this cost is nominal. In one case study, the craftsperson was paying an average of $62 per month for merchant services and the included cellular terminal, and an additional $10 per month for a Tracfone. A total of $72 per month whether a credit card payment was made or not. Switching to Square increased the cell phone bill to $60, but eliminated the merchant services fees and yielded an average yearly savings of around $120.
There are additional benefits to using Square, too. There are no consumables to purchase as there are no receipts printed (instead, the buyer gets an email SMS receipt – a paper receipt can always be handwritten). The Square app records the time and location, complete with GPS map, of the purchase for the customer and includes that information in the emailed receipt. An optional photograph of the purchase can also be included. The sales data, but not the customer data (security is quite strong) can then be downloaded as a spreadsheet for ease of use in accounting. Tips can be included easily, too. There is also an undeniable “cool” factor as customers are asked to sign their name with their finger on the screen.
And there are additional benefits to carrying a smartphone. Marketing opportunities abound via social media apps and emails as well as on the spot photographs. Scheduling becomes easier with calendars and emails always at hand. Bookkeeping chores are simplified by having access to banks and accounting apps, too.
Although Square was the first, it is not the only one. Since Square’s introduction, several other companies have begun to offer similar services. Intuit (makers of Quickbooks) offers a similar card reader and app. Dwolla, a P2P company, is now offering people to ability to pay via smartphones without a card reader. PayPal users can pay using smartphones, too, by “bumping” the phones. Interestingly enough, the PayPal app also the ability to photograph a check and have it deposited in a PayPal account.
The ability to accept credit cards or other alternative payment methods has never been easy, but with the introduction of these new services, it’s a lot less complicated than it ever has been. Add a reduction in complications to a reduction in fees, and the decision to accept credit cards is almost a no-brainer.