How To Evaluate Credit Card Processing Merchant Services
There are numerous credit card processing services to choose from, each offering different features and fees. Choosing a company to process your customer’s credit card payments can be a daunting task, and sometimes you’ll experience difficulties both looking for a merchant account provider and then afterwards- if you make the wrong selection!
Many banks will deny small business applications for merchant accounts because they don’t want to take the risk. Most small businesses end up going through third party providers who actually get the merchant account on your behalf; then apply their own rate structure to your transactions.
If you operate an online business, you’ll need a shopping cart program of some kind- which must work with the system you use to process credit cards online. Unfortunately, if you go with a third party shopping cart rather than a custom written one it may not work with all credit card processing gateways. You really need to be sure that whatever shopping cart program you use on your web site works with the merchant account you ultimately end up using to process customer payments.
Accepting credit cards is not free! You pay the third party merchant account provider (or the bank if you are able to secure your own account directly with a bank that provides it) will charge you fees in exchange for the ability to accept credit card payments. The fees and rates you pay will vary depending on many factors, including how long you’ve been in business, the type of business you operate, your credit score, how much of your sales are processed by phone versus online, and the amount of credit card sales you process each month.
Some providers charge an annual fee in addition to a fee per transaction, while other providers only charge a percentage of each transaction processed. Typical rates for small businesses accepting phone and mail order payments are $0.10 to $0.30 plus 2 to 3% of the transaction amount. If the merchant account providers you are looking at want to charge over this percentage, be sure to check out a few others to see if you can get a lower rate before signing up. Sometimes, your credit rating will result in your having to pay higher fees- but it’s worth shopping around a little to see if you can get a lower percentage rate per transaction.
When you’re shopping services looking for the best merchant account provider, make sure to compare all of the fees to see how much you’re going to end up spending per each sale. You should also take into consideration what the application fee is (if any), how much you pay annually, how much you must spend on equipment needed to set up your account, and whether or not you must maintain a monthly minimum of sales volume.
Also compare how each merchant account provider allows you to withdraw your money- can you do it whenever you want or do you have to do it at specific times of the month or year? How long will it take to receive your funds once you’ve requested withdrawal or transfer of the money? How does the provider handle chargebacks?
Always read all of the forms and contracts associated with merchant accounts before you sign anything. Understand the terms for cancellation and what conditions the provider can cancel your account, as well.
The process for applying for a merchant account varies depending on the company, but you may be asked to provide a photo of your office (even if it’s in your home) to verify you are in the location you say that you are. Some services will want to send a representative to photograph your place of business. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to provide a DBA or business license, your tax returns and profit and loss statements. Select a Point of Sale (POS) System to Fit Your Business
The POS system market has two primary types of customers: retail operations and hospitality businesses such as restaurants, bars, and hotels.
Retail POS system customers: Retailers have simpler POS system needs than hospitality businesses because they complete transactions at once and often have little product variation. Some POS system features retailers may want include the ability to support kits (for example, three for $2 deals), returns and exchanges, and support for digital scales. Your retail POS system will need to support matrixes if you sell items that come in a variety of styles, such as clothing or shoes. Matrixes let you create one inventory and price entry for a particular item, such as a sweater, but still track sales according to size and color.
Restaurant POS system customers: Restaurants and other hospitality businesses have different POS system requirements. Casual restaurants focus on efficiency. Retail-style restaurants such as sub shops use restaurant POS systems to relay orders, cutting down on time-per-transaction and reducing errors that can occur when passing hastily-scrawled orders back to the kitchen. In quick-service restaurants, employees take orders on terminals in the front, which automatically display on monitors in the food preparation area so that food can be quickly assembled and delivered to the customer. For table-service restaurants and fine dining, POS systems need to create and store open checks, as parties order more over time, as well as track which server is responsible for which table.
Retail Point-Of-Sale Systems
Leading retail point of sale software. Cash Register Express can handle all your retail point-of-sale payment processing as well as barcode scanning and inventory management. Along side these typical retail POS software needs, Cash Register Express also includes extra benefits and features that many other POS systems don’t.
Retail POS System Key Features:
- In-depth reporting
- Faster transaction times
- Faster employee training
- Track customer history
- Automate purchase orders
Computerized POS System
A computerized POS system can provide significant returns if your retail or hospitality business has annual revenues of around $700,000 to $900,000. For example, if a restaurant with 20 tables and an average check of $45 can increase turnover by one party per table, it’ll make an extra $900 on a busy night. Below this level, an electronic cash register can probably meet your needs, unless you want the reporting features of a POS system or see it as an investment that can boost efficiency starting on opening day.
Save money with a POS system: A computerized point of sale system can cut down on shrinkage (the inventory that disappears from your store or restaurant) due to theft, waste, and misuse. It can also ensure that every item in your store or on your menu sells for the correct price and generate detailed sales reports that can help you focus on higher-margin items.
Get more information with a POS system: Know where you stand at any point of the day. A POS system can instantly tell you how many of a particular product have sold today (or last week, or last month), how much money you have in your cash drawer, and how much of that money is profit. Detailed sales reports make it much easier for you to keep the right stock on hand. Track inventory, spot sales trends, and use historical data to better forecast your needs. Often, POS software can alert you to reorder when stock runs low. Plus, it allows you to collect the names and addresses of your best customers as part of standard transactions, which you can then use for targeted advertising and incentive programs.
Increase productivity with a POS system: POS systems can dramatically reduce the time you have to spend doing inventory, sales figures, and other repetitive but important paperwork. The savings here: time and peace of mind. In retail settings, barcode scanners and other POS features make checkout faster. Restaurants will find their order process greatly streamlined as orders are relayed automatically to the kitchen from the dining room. In both cases, your customers get faster, more accurate service.
Keep in mind that realizing these benefits requires a commitment to utilizing the POS system capabilities to their fullest. Without appropriate training and ongoing analysis, even the most sophisticated POS system will be no more useful than a basic cash register.
Also make sure your business has “clean” electrical power. Fluctuations in the electrical supply from using blenders, slicers, microwaves, and other mechanical devices plugged into the same electrical circuit can easily cause enough noise in the power supply to wreak havoc with POS computer systems. You may need to filter power to eliminate troublesome spikes and noise before they get to your POS terminals or install a dedicated circuit with an isolated ground.
Choose Point Of Sale (POS) System Computers & Software
A computer acts as the central component of a POS terminal, running the application. You can find complete PC-based POS systems or buy computers separately. When you buy all your hardware from one source, the reseller can take responsibility for the entire system, which can make setup and ongoing support easier. Some sellers even charge an extra fee if you supply your own computer.
If you buy computers separate from your POS system, coordinate the purchase with your POS system seller. Get exact specifications and follow them closely to avoid most compatibility problems. POS applications are not that demanding on the computer, so an average to low-end computer will usually get the job done. The computer does need to be upgradeable; some POS software requires newer operating systems.
Do not use your POS computers for anything other than POS. Especially resist the temptation to connect them to the Internet and use them for Web browsing or email. As with any computer systems, backups are important. When you have your POS system set up, create automated backup schedules.
Select POS System Software
Most POS software packages offer similar functionality and you can safely assume that all major POS software handles standard customer transactions. POS software typically displays items and prices in a sale, handles taxes, returns, voids, payments (including credit card processing), layaways, and discounts, generates accounting reports, and tracks inventory. Restaurant POS software allows you to create checks by diner or table, place special orders, track orders per server, move diners from the bar to a table, generate waiting lists, and more. You may want to consider additional features depending on your business.
Internet data boards: Some POS software packages offer an “Internet data board.” Internet data boards provides a snapshot of the day’s business that you can access from anywhere with a Web connection. For franchises or other businesses with multiple locations, this can provide significant peace of mind. Other systems can be set to download daily totals to a central server.
Frequent diner program support: Certain restaurant POS software packages support frequent diner programs. Frequent diner programs reward visitors with incentives or discounts. For example, you could use a point system that works like frequent flyer miles. Associate each menu item with a point value and allow diners to accumulate points that they can later exchange for a free dessert, half-price special, or meal discount. By assigning higher point values, you can give a boost to high-profit or low-performing items. You can also market to customers based on their typical purchase or time of visit.
As you add features, POS software becomes more complicated and costly. Most major POS software publishers provide a software demo on their websites. Many even provide a full working version of the POS software either as a download or on CD. Using the software on your own can help you evaluate ease of use and judge stability. Know what you need POS software to do before comparing long lists of features. Draw up a list of factors that make your business unique. What unusual purchasing programs do you have? Do you offer incentives that require very detailed or specific tracking? Other questions to ask include:
Does the POS software interface with my accounting software? How extensive is that integration? Does it simply an export of journal entries for the day or is there a thorough integration of the two programs?
How easy is it to make changes to the POS software programming? You will need to be able to change prices, items, and employees regularly.
Does the POS software credit card processing feature work with my current merchant account?
What type of reports can the POS software produce? Every piece of software will give you basic reports. Ask for samples so you can compare.
Does the POS software support gift card transactions? How thoroughly? Can cardholders check their balances online?
Can you make changes to the POS software programming in advance? For example, can you create a Christmas menu sometime in October and set it to automatically take effect December 1?
Does the POS software interface with liquor control devices? (LCDs track each pour of a bottle.)
Can the POS software support my special discounts and promotions? Some POS software may not easily accommodate unusual programs.
Consider POS Hardware & Software Compatibility
When choosing your POS system, you may want to look for a system with software that can run on any type of PC so you’re not tied down to a particular vendor or platform. Some manufacturers use proprietary hardware, which gives you less flexibility to purchase upgrades and additional equipment from other sources. The primary advantage of proprietary systems is that software is written specifically to work with one piece of hardware, ensuring seamless compatibility.
Upgrading your POS system as your business grows is not only easy – it’s almost expected. Regular software updates let you get access to the latest features. Upgrades may be included in your service contract, or may involve a small additional fee. Adding new hardware – entire new terminals, or new peripherals for existing terminals – is also generally easy, provided the hardware you add is compatible with your software. Buying “more of the same” is a good way to make sure everything connects smoothly.
Evaluate Point Of Sale (POS) System Hardware
Most basic POS systems consist of a cash drawer, receipt printer, monitor, and an input device. Employees can use touch screens, programmable keyboards, scanners, or handheld terminals to enter data into a POS system.
POS system touch screens: Many users find touch screens more intuitive to use than keyboards and touch screens provide flexible user interfaces and programming. Most touch screens are sleek flat-panel LCDs, which cost slightly more than traditional CRT monitors, but last longer, use less electricity, and take up less space. With both CRT and LCD displays, avoid “overlay” touch screens added on to regular monitors. They can be prone to breakdowns.
POS system keyboards: Grocery stores often prefer programmable POS keyboards that allow you to program individual keys for specific item codes and prices. Some POS keyboard models are standard 101-key models that you find with any computer. Others are smaller, more POS-specific devices, such as the flat-panel membrane keyboards common in fast food outlets. Often, POS keyboards come with built-in magnetic stripe readers for processing credit cards.
POS system scanners: Scanners read a bar code and send the resulting numbers back to your POS system computer, improving speed and accuracy during checkout. They typically connect to the system through Y-connectors called wedges that make them function as an extension of the keyboard. Choose a scanner based on your average customer volume at checkout.
Several customers: If you do not usually have more than a customer or two in line, CCD scanners or entry-level laser scanners should meet your needs. Inexpensive scanners based on charged-couple device (CCD) technology have a short range, meaning that scanned items need to be 1 to 3 inches from the scanner. Laser scanners, which use a beam of light to read bar codes, offer better scanning ability with the ability to scan at longer distances.
A constant flow of customers: A fairly constant flow of customers might call for autosensing laser scanners. Autosensing laser scanners turn themselves on when an item is placed in front of them, scan the code, and then turn off again.
High-volume businesses: Very high volume businesses should investigate omnidirectional scanners and embedded scanners. Omnidirectional scanners send out 15 or 20 lasers simultaneously, letting you scan a bar code from any angle. Top-of-the-line embedded scanners, popular in supermarkets, are omnidirectional scanners installed below a counter.
POS system handheld devices: Handheld terminals (essentially PDAs) wirelessly transmit orders back to a base station. Newer write-on handhelds are also available that use handwriting recognition software to parse orders and send them to the kitchen and bar as needed. Handheld terminals allow servers to spend more time on the floor taking orders, interacting with customers, and up-selling desserts and drinks – offsetting the cost difference between the handheld terminal and less expensive touch screens.
Select Additional Hardware To Finish Out Your POS System.
POS printers: Every POS system needs a printer to create credit card slips and receipts for customers. Many restaurants also use POS printers to send orders to kitchen and bar staff. You’ll find dot matrix printers and thermal printers. Inexpensive dot matrix printers, also known as impact printers, use pins and an ink ribbon to print on regular paper. They are better suited for kitchens where ambient temperature can prevent thermal printers from working effectively. Thermal printers use heat and special heat-sensitive paper to generate receipts. They cost slightly more than dot matrix printers but are faster, quieter, and generally more reliable because they have fewer moving parts. Over several years of use, the higher costs for thermal paper are just about balanced out by the need to buy both paper and ribbons for dot matrix printers.
Cash drawers: Cash drawers store cash, credit card slips, gift certificates, exchange receipts, and any other important paperwork. They frequently serve as a shelf for a display or other heavy pieces of equipment. Look for sturdy construction of at least 18-gauge steel that can stand up to constant opening and closing. Some cash drawers are more easily serviceable than others. Although the life expectancy of a cash drawer is measured in millions of cycles, make sure you can replace rollers, bearings, and other parts. In most cash drawers, the signal to open the drawer comes from the receipt printer – when buying components separately, look for compatible components.
Magnetic stripe readers: POS software processes credit cards, but you’ll still need a magnetic stripe reader to read the credit cards. Keyboards and touch screens often have built-in readers. If your input device does not, you’ll need to purchase a standalone magnetic stripe reader.
Check readers: Using magnetic ink character recognition (MICR), automatic check readers can quickly help you prevent fraud by verifying essential account information. If you see a significant volume of checks in your business, make sure your POS software supports check verification before purchasing a check reader.
Fingerprint ID readers: For added security, you may also want to add a fingerprint ID reader to your POS system that limits which employees can access the POS terminal. Unlike PIN codes that can be read over someone’s shoulder or magnetic swipe cards that can be forgotten by employees, stolen, or lost, fingerprint ID boxes read thumbprints and ensure the right employees can log on.
No matter which POS system hardware you choose, consider the environment where your employees will use it. Both keyboards and touch screens are available with varying levels of spill- and dust-proofing. When looking into handheld devices, ask about the “drop test.” Units are rated for toughness according to how much of a fall they can survive. Preventative maintenance can be important. Simply vacuuming out the cases and lubing and cleaning printers can extend their lives considerably.
Remember you will need a merchant account and credit card processing set up with retail swipe rates for the POS System to actually work!