By Steven Feldshuh
Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions East
While spending a month in Santa Monica, Calif., I looked for differences between East Coast and West Coast merchant processing. I did find some differences that may eventually translate from the West to the East.
First, I was extremely surprised by how many larger merchants are using tablets instead of full-fledged POS systems ‒ and these are serious businesses. I was also somewhat surprised at how many of these merchants were using the Square device. I understand that the Square device is fairly easy to use, but when I asked a few merchants why they weren't concerned about the costs of processing, they either didn't know their costs, were completely wrong about Square's program costs or didn't seem to care.
The Square device, they said, is easy to use, easy to train their staff on, and the monthly statements are simple to understand. I had always thought Squares' monthly statement didn't say very much, but I guess that must be a plus. Processing costs seemed to play a lesser role than I thought they would.
This isn't the first time I have been wrong about what merchants deem to be important. So the obvious takeaway was processing costs are less important than ease of use and the probable functions that mobile devices provide merchants. This is good news for us residuals guys, since we are getting newer, better and easier-to-use systems to sell. Examples include Poynt, Verifone's Carbon and First Data's Clover.
I was also surprised how many businesses have order ahead functionality. Whether it was a chain like Starbucks or a smaller, regional competitor such as Philz or Peet's, the locations had separate lines for orders that had been placed via website. Consumers seem to demand the option to order ahead, which made no sense to me, because the coffee drinks that were ordered in advance tended to sit for a while, and after the drinks were paid for, it seemed people sat for hours working on their laptops.
Another reason order ahead made no sense to me was that the pick up and ordering lines seemed to go at the same speed, and more than one order placed in advance online was messed up. I asked a few people in line their reasoning. Their answer was simply, "We do everything on our phones."
So not only are customers using their phones for making payments, they are even ordering ahead for coffee, sandwiches, pizza and other take-away items. We have all known for some time that cell phones will become increasingly indispensable in our daily lives, but the extent to which this is happening has enormous import for our industry.
We all have been using the phone to order ahead for years. Fifty years ago, I remember my family calling from our house phone to order Chinese food to pick up. There weren't any online menus, and you had to remember to grab a paper menu from the restaurant when you picked up your first order. That may have been inconvenient, but we did it.
Today, if a merchant doesn't have an online presence, doesn't have a Facebook location, isn't seen on Yelp, isn't developing a social network, that merchant needs a lot of help. I am not even talking about using the terrific analytical applications that are available; I am talking about adapting to the basic ways people want to shop.
So my first recommendation is to put together a short questionnaire. It is of utmost importance to ask merchants about their online abilities and social media contacts with their customers, as well as how they are encouraging people to shop at their locations. Once you know what their individual situations are you can recommend appropriate features or applications for them to use.
As a sales rep, it is exciting to see all the new applications that are becoming more and more prevalent on the devices we provide. If you are a reseller of a Poynt, Clover or Carbon system, or any other POS-type system, the focus is no longer only on how easy the system is for a business to install, train and use; it is also on researching the online apps to determine which ones make sense for a given business. Remember, the business owner often doesn't know the extent of useful apps and other tools available. This is an opportune time to provide guidance to merchants on how to increase traffic and make their businesses more profitable.
It is imperative that we develop working knowledge of the applications available to merchants on iPad and Android devices. Keep in mind that a number of them can generate new income streams. And with microscopic margins, we need more revenue dollars. Any small business or small chain needs these applications to be able to compete with the big-box stores and other retail giants. If you can provide an easy to use point system for rewards, an accounting plug-in, an online ordering program, or any of the new apps Poynt, Clover, Carbon and others are promoting, then you will become a winner in the eyes of the business owners you serve.
In the course of my research, I realized it isn't only the restaurant, deli and coffee shop sector for which innovative apps are being written. There are new appointment setting apps for salons and spas, as well as apps to order dumpsters and landfill, and more. I even found one that lays out cemetery plots and their locations.
Applications are not new, but what is new is that they are becoming easier to integrate into our payment processing sales. For example, having a Poynt system in your briefcase that is loaded with several apps will generate a much better response from a merchant appointment than telling the merchant how you are going to save the business money.
Maybe what I am missing here is that the West Coast may be ahead of the curve than the East Coast where the pricing war still rages. It is time for all of us, wherever we live, to recognize that for an increasing number of consumers, the mobile phone rules. We need to recognize this when assessing merchants' needs and help them capitalize on the power of the devices their customers love to hold in their hands. Making payments by phone is one thing; ordering by phone is another.
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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