By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
What do bell bottoms have in common with PIN pads? They both went from being popular to passÃ©, and now they're back in style. In the world of fashion, if you wait long enough, what's old will be new again. We're currently seeing the return of some 20-year-old trends in the payments industry that many of us believed would be gone forever.
Here are a few golden oldies making comebacks:
Technology tends to start big and get smaller. Most computer and appliance prototypes were larger than their successors and made more noise. Twenty years ago a customer in need of a credit card machine could choose from two or three models that came in black and gray. They were larger and noisier than many of today's offerings, and almost everyone had to be trained on loading paper into the devices.
The 1990's ushered in the decade of the small footprint. The introduction of thermal paper was hailed by many as a quieter and faster alternative to impact printers. Smaller form factors meant terminals took up less valuable real estate on merchant countertops. In the early 2000's clamshell printers with top-loading paper cabinets made paper loading a snap.
Today, as more ISOs target the multilane retail, supermarket and petroleum industries, we're seeing a return of the jumbo hardware sale. These complex POS management systems include cash registers, large monitors, keyboards and an array of high-speed printers that once again require a certain agility and training to master paper loading.
Early processing systems were composed of separate parts connected by cables. Little square boxes with modems were connected octopus-style to peripheral printers and PIN pads. The introduction of the first combination terminal-printer models occurred in the 1990's, followed by the debut of models with internal PIN pads that eliminated the need for cables or peripherals.
The ability to process PIN-based debit on a customer-facing device, with optional swivel stand to sway them back and forth from clerk to customer, was popular - for the device's competitive price point and small footprint.
Today's PCI compliance regulations have rendered many of these all-in-one units obsolete. Merchants who want to continue to accept PIN-based debit at the POS can choose to add a peripheral PIN pad or replace the equipment.
Emerging technologies also account for the reappearance of peripherals on merchant countertops. Contactless card readers, biometric devices that register the vector points of customer fingertips and signature capture pads are being added to traditional credit card terminals and larger POS systems that rely on customer-facing devices to process payments.
I remember years ago collaborating with a friend on a wireless terminal solution that was powered by a car battery and came with its own rolling cart. The customer set it up outside a theater to process ticket sales for a concert on a cold winter night. The loud report issuing from the machine's impact printer was partially drowned out by city traffic.
Ticket sales were processed quickly, reducing wait times and filling the theater in record time. The solution was so successful that the theater used it again the following year.The primary challenges of these early revolutionary efforts at outdoor wireless solutions were the lack of coverage, battery strength and advanced modem technology.
Some handheld terminals that succeeded in Europe failed in the United States because the battery and modem that supported an offline smart-card sale and twice-a-day settlement wasn't robust enough to handle higher volumes of transactions that called out for live authorizations. As technology and coverage improved, smaller terminals began to be used for a variety of applications, including tradeshows and mobile merchants.
Today we are seeing a return of the consultative wireless sale for large scale outdoor processing installations. Stadiums, outdoor markets, mobile delivery services and quick-service restaurants are some of the industries that have come to rely on cellular and Wi-Fi technology to support high-volume, high-speed transactions.
The beauty of today's systems is that their secure Internet gateways support enhanced reporting and batch consolidation from large populations of wireless terminals and peripherals.
When electronic processing was new, it was a common practice for service representatives to train a merchant's staff on the care and operation of credit card processing equipment. Typical training covered how to load paper into the device; process a sale; do credit, refund and void functions; and settle a batch at the end of the day.
In metropolitan areas, service technicians managed installations and service calls. In less populated areas, "combo" merchant level sales and service professionals handled sales, installation and service. Merchants enjoyed the attention, and the service technicians frequently received additional perks like free meals or retail discounts. In today's brave new world of Wi-Fi, integrated POS management systems and other complex new technologies, we are seeing the return of the professional service technician.
Because of the highly specialized nature of some of these solutions, as well as the massive scale of stadium and multifloor restaurants and night clubs that want to use wireless payment processing, we are also seeing more third-party specialists whose businesses are 100 percent focused on implementation and maintenance. These specialists can manage large projects from the initial planning to activation.
Demo bags were enormous 20 years ago to accommodate the credit card terminal, accessories and all the power packs and cables for peripheral printers and PIN pads. Acrylic stands were designed to add a touch of elegance to a plethora of hardware and wires.
With so much new technology available to us, and the increasing demand by merchants to incorporate these modern solutions into their businesses, we may soon be seeing a return of the demo bag.
Those of us who have watched the evolution of the payments industry can remember the excitement of introducing the concept of electronic data capture to our merchant customers.
While thorough follow-up and superior customer service has never gone out of style, today that excitement is back as fresh new styles strut down the POS runway, and our merchants try on new technology, not just for speed and security, but to make their own fashion statements - with an array of customized solutions that accessorize and differentiate POS systems.
Today's world of POS is no longer one-size-fits-all. It's an explosion of color and choice that empowers both merchants and consumers.
Let's help our customers find the perfect solution fit for today with a fashion-forward outlook toward tomorrow.
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 973-930-0331or email@example.com.
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