Mobile Payment Programs Grow Up

As retailers look for more options for collecting and processing payments from customers, customers are similarly seeking ways to use technology and not be be forced to carry cash. The result is a variety of innovative software applications, many of which are being used regularly in this market.

PayPal was one of the first “digital wallets,” used for online payments at eBay, among other places. It soon became a subsidiary of the online commerce giant, before plans were announced in 2014 for it to become independent again. TeeSeeTee, a Traverse City clothing company (TC Tee), uses it and owner Beau Warren swears by it.

“I rarely use cash anymore. I use PayPal,” said Warren.

He’s not alone. More and more businesses find that online and mobile payment programs give them greater flexibility and more options regarding inventory and ordering. While PayPal may have been the first large-scale program used for online business, there are numerous others. Square came to fame as a widget that plugged into the headphone jack on iPhones and used the phone’s cell signal to complete credit card transactions, enabling merchants to use it on the go.

Michele Mueller of Wild Hare Rug Shop in Elk Rapids uses Square. “When I was setting up my business I took my iPad to AT&T and said, ‘What are my choices?’ We could add a data plan and cell service to it and take it to trade shows or festivals,” she said.

At Grocer’s Daughter Chocolates in Empire, owner Jody Dotson uses Square as well as another mobile service, ShopKeep. “Both work very well for us,” she said. “They’re web-based.” That dual approach is hardly unique. While Warren uses PayPal, he also uses Stripe, yet another payment application. “Its rate is a little higher than PayPal, but it’s much easier,” he said.

Mueller, Dotson, Warren and others who sell their wares away from their stores say the ability to do so has provided huge benefits.

“I often go to events and festivals,” said Penny Morris, owner of Crystal Bindi Dance Studio in Traverse City, and she receives a lot of interest in taking a class while she’s away from her studio. She said t’s important to be able to take advantage of that interest immediately, and a mobile payment program allows her to sign them up for a class before their enthusiasm flags.

“Not everybody carries cash,” she added, and even those who do are often less reluctant to make a purchase when they can use a credit or debit card.

At Pleasanton Café, manager Vanessa Clark said they’re using Clover, a cloud-based POS (point of sale) platform at both the downtown TC café and its namesake bakery at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

“It’s far more secure than Square,” Clark said. Clover Mobile also allows merchants to place orders, take payments, scan inventory, clock in employees, and sync sales data with accounting software. It also works as a standalone register.

Clark praised its ease of use. Not only can it be used as a mobile payment program, it can be accessed remotely.

“I can program it from home,” she said. “If we add a new Danish, it takes four seconds to add it (to the programming).

Lance Hill, co-owner of High Five Threads, a Michigan-branded clothing retailer in Traverse City, said he and partner Byron Pettigrew used Square for two and a half years. They recently switched to Shopify.

“We wanted more integration between in-store and web sales,” he said.

Square, PayPal, ShopKeep, Shopify – whichever program merchants use – derives its profits by taking a portion of the sales. Some are based on a percentage, others a fee. Some combine the two. Which of the programs works best depends on the merchants’ outlook.

“The fees are not high,” said Dotson of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate. Square charges a percentage fee on each sale, while ShopKeep costs $49 per month plus a transaction fee. “When we bought the business two years ago, we needed something with good reporting ability. We choose to use both. Square is more mobile. ShopKeep has more reporting abilities, (but) is more cumbersome to move with you.”

Harder to find locally are payment processing programs from two of technology’s best-loved innovators: Apple Pay and Google Wallet. The former is a service that lets iPhone and iPad users make payments with POS systems using a near field communication antenna. The latter is a mobile payment system developed by Google, which allows users to store credit cards, debit cards, loyalty cards and gift cards on their mobile phones. It can also be used to redeem sales promotions.

Nick Viox, the special projects coordinator for the Downtown Development Authority in Traverse City, said the use of MarketLink at the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market provides a secure and mobile platform for shoppers and merchants. He says its ability to process EBT (the Bridge card) as well as credit cards makes it ideal. “Not every (processor) can do that,” he said.

Another benefit to MarketLink, Square, and the other mobile apps is their ability to email receipts to purchasers. “We’ve gone completely paperless,” said Viox.

Clark at Pleasanton Cafe said that option also appeals to her. “It’s important to me to try to do zero waste. We won’t print (a receipt) unless the customer wants it.”