By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
What do credit card terminals have in common with computers? Inside both you'll find hard drives, motherboards and modems - hardware that enables users to send or receive files, connect to secure Internet sites and manage financial data. In fact, as these products evolve, it's becoming harder to tell them apart. What is causing this convergence, and how can merchant level salespeople (MLSs) capitalize?
Consumer demand is the driving force behind technology convergence. In a wired world, we want to stay connected with safe and reliable mobile devices. In an office environment that's increasingly virtual and paperless, we expect to log in from anywhere on the planet and e-mail proposals and contracts with a touch of the button or click of the mouse.
In a society that's increasingly transient, we don't even want to lug around a laptop anymore. We want to travel light, with simple, integrated software and smaller, more portable - but just as powerful - hardware.
The same desire applies to our merchants. They are looking for ways to do more with less. Rising costs, increasing competition and an unstable economy are motivating business owners to find ways to reduce overhead and simplify operations.
The next time a merchant asks you for a rate review, offer a consultative analysis of the merchant's entire processing system. Does it meet the requirements of the digital age? Here's a look at some current market trends and how they can be leveraged to help keep merchants happy and profitable.
As broadband and cellular protocols gain popularity, Internet service providers, as well as phone and cable companies are competing for market share with multiplay packages that combine phone, television and Internet services for low bundled prices. These bundles benefit consumers with discounts and simplified billing and help service providers increase customer retention.
Banks know the value of bundling and continually market an array of services such as checking, loans and investment products to their customers. MLSs who bundle value-added solutions (such as gift card, check guarantee and bill payment applications) with traditional credit card processing will earn customer loyalty as well as increased residual income streams.
Convergence has created a new generation of hybrid hardware and software solutions. Computers now come with built-in and peripheral card readers. Smart phones double as hand-held POS terminals that employ Bluetooth-enabled card readers. Other handheld devices with barcode and magstripe readers enable delivery people to process sales and track packages.
The consumer experience is changing, too. Scanners chat with us in checkout lanes and streaming videos entertain us while we're waiting for receipts. Shopping is becoming more interactive: smart coupons at the POS that target our personal tastes, buying profiles and recommendations; retailers enticing us to shop at their online outlets in addition to their brick and mortar stores.
Analog, single-use devices can no longer meet the demands of our merchants. Today's business owners need credit card processing systems that connect them more closely with their businesses and customers. They can save time and improve operations by integrating credit card processing with accounting software, inventory management systems and secure Internet portals where they can view real-time transaction data.
ISOs have begun to answer these demands with customized POS systems for large retailers and personal computer solutions that support card readers and PIN pads for smaller merchants.
Both the Internet and credit card processing have become portable. Following are several ways wireless handheld terminals are being used:
Mobile payment technology is no longer a niche market; it has become as widespread as cell phone use. Merchants who had once considered these devices frivolous now see them as necessary for their businesses to remain competitive.
"Visit us online" is a popular expression for businesses running television and radio ads. We routinely receive e-mail offers for discounts and two-for-ones from our favorite restaurants, stores and credit card brands. Even small merchants have online presences today. Whether we're visiting brochure sites or virtual stores with shopping carts and live chat features, the Internet is increasingly where we go to manage our day-to-day activities.
Research, travel, shopping, banking, e-mail, entertainment and reservations are all accessible at the touch of handheld screens. Consequently, search engine optimization has become critical. The language used on Web sites and keywords entered into search engines help buyers and sellers find each other in crowded retail cyberspace.
In addition to the expanding use of Internet advertising, e-commerce and mobile solutions, merchants are beginning to opt out of monthly paper statements. By going paperless, with online tools to help track daily activity and consolidate transactions from a variety of devices, merchants can forgo monthly statement fees, saving time and money in the process.
Computer security is a necessary component in our technology-driven industry. Cardholders and merchants routinely go online to check accounts and monitor credit card activity. For additional assurance, security alerts and sales haloes are programmed into credit card accounts maintained by card processors and issuers. These measures flag transactions that don't fit typical consumer or merchant profiles.
The Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) was originally developed to combat computer hacking and identity theft. The PCI DSS regulates how to build and maintain secure networks, protect cardholder data, manage security vulnerabilities, implement access control measures, routinely monitor and test networks, and maintain information security policies. ISOs and MLSs would be wise to inform merchants about these best-of-breed POS hybrid systems - a vital way to keep merchants (and their processors) profitable.
Dale S. Laszig has a varied background in sales for First Data Corp., Hypercom Corp. and VeriFone. Her dedication to technology, writing and graphic design led to the formation of DSL Direct LLC, a marketing services company geared toward payment professionals. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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