Cash has always been king at flea markets and swap meets, but more vendors than ever are using their smartphones as cash registers that let them accept credit cards for payments. With big companies like Visa getting in on the action, the days of requiring a dedicated phone line or paper records are over, since it is now easy and inexpensive to swipe a credit card with a smartphone, such as an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android cell phone. With instant authentication and e-mail receipts, a paperless transaction means flea market customers can spend more money than they happen to have on hand.
As smartphone use grows, the investment to turn that phone into a credit card reader becomes trivial for flea market vendors. ““Mobile technology is now widely used. Everyone has a smartphone, and we can use that to bring costs down,” says Taufiq Mithani, CEO of The Merchant Solutions, a provider of transaction services. “We can tell vendors to just use the cell phone they have now, we’ll give them a free swiper, and it’s just an application on their phone. That makes it easy.”
He explains that there are two ways to handle transactions. “One, there’s an application where you can just type in the credit card information. Two, you can add additional doodad called a swiper that plugs into the smartphone. That integrates with the application. Swipe the card through the swiper that we provide for free,” Mithani explains.
That’s a contrast from older systems. “A lot of flea market vendors may have used the old routine of swiping the card with a ‘knuckle buster’ and paper. Now they have the ability to swipe right through the phone and get the discounted swipe rates,” says Mithani.
Technology is not all that is pushing this trend. More shoppers are using credit cards as their primary way of paying for everything, and that means cash-only vendors stand to lose business. “The first thing shoppers go to is usually their plastic. It is easier to reconcile and balance. If customers are not able to use their plastic, at the flea market or farmers market, they’re limited by the cash in their pockets.” That’s according to Steven Eyring of Intuit Payment Solutions, a supplier of a credit card swiping solution. “The vendors who want to grow their business have to be able to accept credit cards,” he says.
Until recently, it was difficult to accept credit cards. The solutions were unwieldy or depended on uncertain Internet connections, or required paper records that incurred high charges from credit card processing companies. Now, with a web enabled smartphone connection, it is easy. “Without a doubt, you’ll soon see credit card payments in the outdoor vendor market as often as they are today in brick and mortar stores,” says Eyring.
Small credit card swiping devices attached to smartphones, usually through the headphone or data jack, are becoming very common. In fact, Apple Computer now sells two varieties in its retail stores for its iPhone cell phones and iPad tablet computers. Most credit card services firms will give these devices for free to merchants opening accounts. Although some providers let the merchant enter the credit card number by hand into a smartphone app, Eyring suggests that a swiping device gives shoppers both greater security and confidence in the transaction. For example, Intuit offers a free robust swiping device that encrypts credit card data before sending it to the cell phone app, offering a high degree of data security. The Intuit program also offers close integration with other Intuit programs, like QuickBooks.
Credit card processing company North American Bancard has been handling credit card transactions for nearly 20 years, and currently handles over 120,000 U.S. merchants. According to the company’s director of online marketing, Jeff Alderman, the “Pay Anywhere” program is well suited for many vendors. “Pay Anywhere offers a free reader, a free app, with no monthly fees, and no cancellation fee. You simply pay as you use it,” he explains.
The company’s hardware is designed to be user friendly, and as with other providers, North American Bancard offers lower charges for swiped transactions, as opposed to those in which the credit card number is entered manually. “Your phone slides into a cradle reader. It can stand up on the table, or you can carry it in your pocket or purse,” Alderman explains. “There is no cancellation fee, and user functionality is high. You can swipe a card, so you are paying less that you would for key entry or calling it in.”
The company also offers a service that allows the vendor to track inventory and display products. Vendors can take photos of product, build a catalog, set a price, and add to inventory. “All that is free,” Alderman says. “We took a lot of enterprise level technologies and boiled them down so they are really relevant to small business users.” He mentions features such as a built in tip calculator, the ability to e-mail receipts, robust transaction reporting, and a sign-in screen for added security. It is easy to link geopositioning data to each transaction. There’s no application or set up fee, no monthly minimum, no contract or obligation. “It’s ideal for a seasonal business because you don’t have to pay monthly,” he adds.
Of course, cash will always remain “legal tender for all debts, public and private,” but that does not mean flea market and swap meet vendors can’t also boost their customer service, not to mention their profit margins, by offering another option for customers who prefer to pay by plastic. Moreover, as vendors move into the 21st Century, with its high tech gadgets and phones that double as computers, the very low cost of entry means that vendors can accept credit cards just about as easily as they take paper money. So as time goes on, more will.
For more information, contact:
Intuit Payment Solutions
2632 Marine Way
Mountain View, CA 94043
Toll Free: 888-486-9795
The Merchant Solutions
5525 Oakdale Avenue Ste 225
Woodland Hills, CA 91364-2662
Toll Free: 888-707-2836
North American Bancard
250 Stephenson Highway
Troy, MI 48083
Toll Free: 800-227-1298
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