By Steven Feldshuh
Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions East
Recently, as a member of The Green Sheet Advisory Board, I was asked a number of questions pertinent to the coming holiday season. Members were asked what we were learning about merchants' challenges for the season and whether we had devised novel ways to help them. Several advisory board member perspectives can be found in "Helping merchants thrive during holiday season 2017, The Green Sheet, Oct. 23, 2017, issue 17:10:02. This article expands on the comments I provided for that article.
To gain further insight, I interviewed ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs), as well as a number of clients who own small to midsize businesses, not large chains or discounters. I posed questions about issues they face as we approach the holiday season. Some responses were what I expected; others were rather enlightening.
Not surprisingly, the No. 1 request I heard during calls to merchants was for reduced processing costs. Among them was a couple that owns the Kilt restaurant that pushed for a lower cost. Being that the company is set up with very sharp pricing, I explained that if they found someone who had lower costs, I would match them, but I doubted they could. It was disappointing they didn't realize all the work we put into their account, since they continually screw things up with tip adjustment.
Next, I was asked by several merchants for a back-up terminal. Anthony from D's deli said having back-up security was critical to him. NY Deli, Grand Gourmet and Robert's Tobacco all asked me if it was true they could pass on fees to their customers. They had heard some truth and some fiction about the cash discount program.
I was also asked by a fine arts dealer how the cash discount program worked. He had been told no one pays any fees. The telemarketer who contacted him said he needed to send someone in to explain how the "no fee program" worked. I called the telemarketing company back and stated that I believe the proposition of no fees for anyone was impossible. I am waiting to attend that meeting with the merchant and that company's rep. An offer like this is obviously too good to be true, but it gets merchants to listen and react.
One merchant who owns a sit-down restaurant asked if I could refer him to an inexpensive online ordering company. We ended up speaking about developing a website to cut back on costs associated with leading online ordering services, which can charge 10 percent of the order. The funniest request was in the form of an invitation to volunteer for gift-wrapping duties on Saturdays. I declined the offer but did realize gift-wrapping is a good idea to help brick-and-mortar retailers compete against Internet companies that ship in brown boxes.
Like most of you, if there is a way I can help us maintain relationships with our merchants, and incur zero or only a small additional cost, I am all for it. After all, it is easier to keep what you have than it is to sign new merchants. Offering merchants useful information costs only some time and effort and can pay off in business relationships that last for years. The sales reps I spoke with offered many helpful suggestions.
Many MLSs told me gift card programs are a recurring theme at this time of year. Merchants expressed particular interest in programs that combine hard plastic cards with e-cards. Fortunately, we do have a solution for the combined gift card program through our processor. I am sure others do as well, so present it to your merchant clients.
I also received some terrific suggestions from sales offices that go the extra step. Gary Shull from BPS Worldwide Inc., suggests that merchants have a favorable return policy for any holiday purchases. As we know, most small businesses will not refund cash, but will provide a credit. This is an area that needs to be looked at.
Ed Dimas from South Texas Payment Systems, said EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) should be prominent at the POS, and merchants should inform customers of the safety in processing cards this way. With all the recent breaches, it gives customers a much needed level of comfort.
Basil Safos, another fine sales rep in the field, suggested talking shop with merchants. Let them know that cleanliness is important, as well as the importance of catchy window displays that rotate regularly to keep them fresh. He reminds merchants that they must view their businesses as others see them. If potential customers see junk or dirt, they typically will feel that the merchant just doesn't care. If displays are boring or never changed, people think the merchant is lazy. Safos' time working as a merchandising person for Macy's while in college paid off.
Other suggestions MLSs made were to encourage merchants to move from plastic bags to paper or cloth. California-based Steve Klein tells merchants that plastic is dead, and customers perceive paper and cloth bags as being better for the environment. Plus advertising one's business works best on cloth bags, because they are reused
Dom Vieata from United Merchant Solutions suggests to wine and specialty food merchants that they increase the number of tasting sessions in their stores. If merchants make tasting a daily occurrence, especially during the holidays, they tend to get larger sales and many more repeat sales.
Along with food and wine giveaways, businesses should keep in mind an old concept that still works well: calendars, which used to be found at every bank and pharmacy. Today they are almost nonexistent. After pricing several options, I found the cost isn't bad. In addition, a calendar can be paid for by others who want to advertise on it with you. Calendars are a daily reminder that a business exists. Most of us use our phone calendars, but I also like to have a nice calendar on my desk in my office. I'm sure others do, too.
Another low-cost suggestion for merchants was to have bottled water with your business name on the label, or have coffee or tea waiting for customers who come in to browse. The idea is to keep the customer in the store longer. Customers feel obligated to consider a purchase if you give them something for free.
One common courtesy is welcoming everyone who comes into your place of business with a warm smile and wishing them a happy holiday. Merchants seem to be getting better at this, but there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in big cities.
Steven Feldshuh, President of Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions East, has 18 years' experience in sales and ISO development. Directly prior to joining MCPSE in 2012, he was President of Payment Partners. In his current position, Steven devotes the bulk of his time to assisting agents in building their portfolios. Contact him by email at email@example.com or by phone at 212-392-9202.
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