Smartphones are so ubiquitous these days that it’s hard to remember how we lived without them. (Many of us remember when a “mobile” phone was your cordless phone at home, but that’s another story.) Yet just a few years ago, accepting a credit card payment while “on the road” was a bit of a production. The first mobile payment processing solutions, such as card readers attached to RIM two-way pagers, debuted in the early 2000s, but they were hobbled by limited data network coverage. What remained was voice authorization with a phone call—not exactly elegant or convenient.
Apple and Android devices have made those days a distant and uncherished memory. The high-speed data networks that make Internet access on mobile devices possible also make credit card processing a breeze. What’s more, thanks to robust memory and processing power integrating a card swipe with one of these devices is equally simple.
Another advantage is the Bluetooth standard, which makes printing wirelessly a simple proposition. Of course, many customers like the option of having a receipt e-mailed to them, taking paper out of the equation entirely, and that’s an even better choice. Still, if you need to generate an invoice or some other detailed document as part of the payment process, a Bluetooth-enabled printer is the way to go.
Mobile card processing has to deal with another issue that didn’t exist in the pre-smartphone days, either: PCI compliance. Several years back it became a violation of merchant processing agreements to display the entire credit card number on a receipt, which for those performing a voice authorization in the field for later processing back at the office created a significant problem. PCI compliance has gone far beyond such basic protections, and stringent data encryption is just one of the standards. Smartphones (and tablets) have the power to meet these requirements.
It’s no longer complicated (or even expensive) to accept credit payments virtually anywhere. There are two basic models for mobile processing, though of course the details will vary from provider to provider. One is a fixed monthly subscription rate (usually well under $20) with a fairly favorable transaction rate, though with any mobile payment processing you’ll pay a little more than with a traditional arrangement. The other, which makes sense only for businesses with few mobile transactions, is a “pay-as-you-go” system that charges only for each transaction. Naturally, the per-swipe rate is a good bit higher with these pricing structures, so make sure the financial logic holds for your company.
Mobile card processing is becoming less a novelty and a convenience and more a customer expectation. Not all that long ago taking cards pretty much anywhere might have given you an edge. Now you’re likely to suffer in comparison to your competitors if you don’t. Fortunately, you can probably find a low-cost mobile option that will work with hardware you already own.
About the Author
Pete Real is the Development Director of Direct Pay Systems, a payment processing software company that helps small businesses set up point-of-sale and merchant services systems.