Accepting payment while on the go isn't always easy. People don't carry much cash any more, and taking cheques can be risky. And accepting credit cards, although the medium of choice for many customers, can be a problem unless you can prove that the card is valid and the sum in question is within its credit limit.
It's a challenge faced by taxi drivers, food truck owners and vendors at farmers' markets: How do you ensure you're getting payment when you don't have access to credit card validation?
Smartphones have made the process easier, thanks to the introduction of services that allow vendors to accept – and validate – credit card payments anywhere there's cellular coverage. Card readers are available that connect to most common smartphones, interfacing with payment services to get that cash into your bank account.
Although many of these services work only for U.S. businesses, here are a few that also serve Canadians.
Based in Regina, Kudos offers a pair of devices. The Slice is an encrypted credit card reader that plugs into the audio jack of many models of iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry and Android devices (including some tablets). SmartSwipe is a plug-and-play USB reader for PCs. Each lists for $99 (Canadian); there's a 50-per-cent discount available on the website. The app for each is free.
The accompanying merchant service accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discovery and American Express (the company says Interac prohibits debit transactions on mobile phones at the moment). The fee is a flat rate of 2.9 per cent plus 20 cents per swiped transaction, or 3.9 per cent plus 20 cents per manually keyed transaction. There are no additional fees. Customers can receive confirmation of their transactions by e-mail or SMS text message.
This mobile payment system from Charge Anywhere includes an audio jack card reader for Android, Apple and BlackBerry, a serial port reader, and a Bluetooth-connected receipt printer, plus, of course, an app that allows frills such as prompts for tips and automatic recording of the transaction's GPS location. The app also processes keyed transactions. Receipts may be printed or e-mailed. The company does not provide merchant services itself, instead working with major services including Moneris and PayPal. It charges a fee of $9.99 (U.S.) per month for unlimited transactions, on top of what the merchant service charges you. The readers start at $49, and the app sells for $29.98.
Speaking of PayPal, it recently threw its corporate hat into the mobile payment ring with its launch of PayPal Here. Currently only in exclusive release and available for Apple iOS 4.0 phones and above, it allows merchants to accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards as well as PayPal. An Android version will be available shortly. Both allow merchants to process payments and send electronic receipts via e-mail or SMS. They also provide gratuity selection options on the phone, and allow merchants to key in the card number if for some reason scanning doesn't work. The service will become publicly available early this summer.
The encrypted card reader will be free, as will the app; the transaction fee is 2.7 per cent. Merchants registering on the wait list will automatically be notified how to get the items once they're generally available.
Swiping cards on mobile devices is just the beginning. NFC will allow payment directly from a phone (assuming the customer and the receiver both have appropriate devices). All users will need to do is put the phone close to the reader (which may be the vendor's smartphone) to pass the required payment information. Few smartphones support NFC at the moment; they include a couple of BlackBerry devices and the Android-based Nexus S. There are rumours that the next iPhone will also offer the technology.