As more and more merchants broaden their horizons by expanding into multiple payment channels, the juggling of different platforms, revenue streams and data repositories has become increasingly difficult and problematic. That is especially true for small and midsize merchants (SMEs) who lack the resources to hire personnel or to buy high-tech software to do the work for them.
Specializing in the SME space, eProcessing Network LLC (ePN) helps these businesses to seamlessly integrate multiple POS channels and expanded pieces of functionality into one software-based interface, according to Bruce Shirey, Head of Business Development for the company.
Shirey noted that this allows them to conduct payments, oversee accounts, conduct billing and establish security protocols for each of these channels within a single platform. This leads to enhanced convenience both by enabling different information streams to interface, as well as by transferring the burden of managing various logistical tasks away from merchants.
"I'd like to think of our online computer sales system as part of a wave of change," Shirey said.
"If you take Nordstrom versus a small retailer, they're not competing on the same level at the point of sale. The [big company] has a very sophisticated point of sale [system], while the small merchants don't have anything close to that.
"We're giving these guys some level of parity with all of these tools - inventory management, processing, accounting integration, invoicing and billing - as a feature-rich system at a very low cost."
At the heart of ePN's gateway is its platform-as-a-service technology, which integrates various databases for businesses using multipronged payment acceptance - meaning some combination of brick-and-mortar, e-commerce and mobile payment acceptance.
In addition, ePN's products are marketed exclusively through ISOs and other resellers. "What makes the company unique is the fact that it works only with resellers and never competes with its sales channels," Shirey said. "Secondly, it offers a suite of business solutions via a single platform that allows these resellers to provide value into the community. And ePN's pricing setup allows the reseller to earn variable and recurring margins, depending on the sales opportunity."
John Gagne, an agent with First Data Independent Sales Atlantic - which sells ePN products - said ePN's pricing system allows the feet on the street working with the company to expand their revenue sources.
"We get revenue - there's a buy rate and revenue [stream], whether it's transactions or monthly fees - and we can get revenue through First Data Independent Sales but it's also nice to have revenue from [ePN]," Gagne said.
Many SMEs with multiple POS configurations operate in a segmented environment, where they are forced to manage each operating system separately.
Shirley pointed out that this segmentation means managing everything from revenue streams to payment accounts to billing and recurring billing to transaction records in a separate space for each medium used. It also commonly requires the enlistment of multiple processors, each one designed to support a particular platform.
"Gateways out there, all a lot of them talk about is Internet processing card management," Shirey said. "They're in no other markets addressing mobile or retail. It's two different animals; one is card-not-present. And dealing with card present, there are varying levels of risk with card present in the brick-and-mortar space, card present on mobile, or card-not-present on the Internet."
Shirey added that in the early years of e-commerce, "everything was Internet-based, but over the last year-and-a-half, the shift has been to focus on the mobile markets, and now there's been the introduction to the online [brick-and-mortar] retail point of sale."
With ePN's software POS product, merchants are spared the hassle of figuring out the technical side of adapting to the complexities these new developments bring, Shirey said. For starters, the cloud component involved in transactions allows all payment data to flow immediately and directly to ePN's own network, keeping it completely out of a merchant's environment.
Shirey pointed out that even brick-and-mortar merchants using conventional terminals can replace them with ePN's computer-based POS system. This is complemented by a plug-in swipe device that connects to a computer's USB port, so that these merchants can still conduct swipe transactions.
The system routes transactions directly to ePN's cloud platform, so the data never exists in the merchant's environment. This differs from many hardware terminal-based POS systems, which do not always encrypt right at the point of swipe, and thus leave payment data temporarily exposed. Shirey added that the company also offers encrypting swipe pieces that attach to mobile devices for merchants conducting mobile payments.
"If you're a retailer using our API, you're pretty much getting that [PCI] compliance feature from the API, which eliminates a lot of headache," Shirey said. "All the transactions are on our network and never on their network." He added that ePN uses both high-end encryption schemes and tokenization to protect transaction data going through the company's network.
In addition, merchants do not need to manage separate accounts based on different POS systems because all of their data is contained in one place.
This makes everything from account management to billing significantly less burdensome, Shirey said. He also noted that merchants who want to incorporate various value-added features into their POS systems can do so seamlessly with the company's various plug-ins.
"It fits right in with so many mobile businesses and others that can't afford $10,000 cash registers," Gagne said.
"First Data has a lot of products that are really good, but this kind of adds to it. ... Basically they have one basic product, but you can add anything to that - shopping, the mobile program, the POS program, inventory control. It does a lot and is just a good overall solution."
According to Shirey, ePN's plug-ins encompass a range of features and functions, including:
Shirey said a popular inventory management feature warns merchants via email that the inventory on a particular item or items is running low. Merchants can calibrate the software as they wish, Shirey said. For example, they can ask it to send an email alert when inventory items get down to, say, 10, 20 or 50 in number - whatever applies.
He noted that the accounting software is also in high demand. "One of the more popular features we offer is ... accounting software as a plug-in that gives them the ability to run their inventory, sell things and tie it back to their accounting program," he said. "If it's not seamless like that, it's just creating another layer of frustration and more pain for the merchant.
"You're a merchant and you have QuickBooks on your PC; you have a cash register, you have a credit card terminal and you have inventory in a book," he said.
"So you've got four different things, and none of it's integrated. So you have to manually figure it all out and do some kind of reconciliation. With ePN's services, you're automating this process."
Yet another benefit for merchants of being able to seamlessly integrate different plug-ins is the avoidance of being chained to a single processor, Shirey added.
"The way software works is software is designed to operate with different processors, so if we take a check, we're going to run it through our gateway and drop it off at a processor's doorstep," he said. "The difference is, if you have a POS solution, when you look at buying [different solutions] those are certified to different processing networks - so they do the same thing but cost a lot more money - or typically you're using one processor for all the services.
"With us you can mix and match, and it can be a matter of preference, price or availability. They could come to us, have a credit card going to processor A, a check going to processor B and gift and loyalty to processor C."
Founded in 1996 by its current Chief Executive Officer, Steve Sotis, ePN is located in Houston. The company is relatively small; it has about 50 employees. But its clientele are many: thousands of resellers and tens of thousands of merchants, Shirey said.
He pointed out that the company is organized to support individual thinking and innovation. "It's a comfortable workplace where people are allowed to stretch their goals and grow with their job and the company," he said, adding that the company's support is top-notch because of the longevity and experience of its employees.
Shirey sees ePN as a versatile ingredient that can make merchants' lives immeasurably easier. "We're a switch and we'll connect to anybody," he said. "We don't run these programs; we just facilitate. ... We're in the middle of a transaction; we just say, 'What is it you want to do, and where do you want it to be delivered?'"
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Head of Business Development
eProcessing Network LLC
1415 North Loop West, Suite 905
Houston, TX 77008