Last April, I wrote about credit cards from an author/bookseller perspective. Since then, we’ve switched our credit card processing from a major bank to Square running on iPads, and invalidated much of what I said.
To provide a bit of background, my bookstore and tea bar have been doing credit card processing through a special deal negotiated with Bank of America through the American Booksellers Association. Over time, we’ve seen that the actual amount we pay is significantly higher than the quoted rate because of extra fees. The customer uses a reward card? We pay more. The mag stripe is worn so the scan isn’t clean? We pay more. Need to enter the card number manually? We pay more. The ZIP code doesn’t match? We pay more. Add in the monthly fees and it’s a big difference.
After my wife, Kathy, attended a seminar on credit card processing at the World Tea Expo this year, we decided to give Square a try. It’s a flat fee of 2.75% of each transaction. No per-transaction fees. No extra “gotcha” fees. No sign-up fee. No charge for the scanner. No charge for the software. Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express are all the same rate. We decided to give it a shot. It was a perfect opportunity to get myself a new iPad for home and take my old first generation iPad to the store as our new credit card processing system.
Since we set up Square, they’ve completely changed the user interface on the register, which threw us off a bit. The system is designed to operate as a full-blown POS (point of sale) system now, which we don’t need. With the bookstore having thousands of inventory items and direct links to distributor databases, we’re better off with the dedicated Booklog software we use.
For shows, fairs, and other events where we are selling books (like my Who Pooped? series shown in the picture), we tap on the items they want to buy and swipe their card. Processing is generally fast, although it’s sometimes a bit slow and glitchy on the old first-generation iPads we use. When we want to use it offsite, we have to either use it on a phone or arrange for a mobile WiFi hotspot.
As a straight credit card processor in the bookstore, we do the transaction as if we were using one of the old standalone terminals. We scan everything using the POS system, enter the total on the iPad, and swipe the card. If the total is over $25.00, the customer signs on the iPad, and we’re done.
On the plus side, payment is fast, there are no extra fees, it’s easy to use, and we have new capabilities like emailing or texting receipts. We don’t have to pay for extra software (and maintenance contracts) to add another register at the store. Also, the smartphone app that allows customers to open a tab and charge without having the card is convenient for us and the customer.
On the down side, our old receipt printer doesn’t have WiFi, so we can’t print receipts from the iPad. Having to enter the total by hand leaves room for error. When we use Square on an iPhone at an event, the box is too small for many customers to sign in using their finger, so we have to carry a stylus.
Overall, though, it’s a good system, and it has saved us a substantial amount of money since we switched this summer. If you do a lot of credit card transactions, you should look into Square.