The weekend before Christmas I brought Tinysaurs to a local Jersey City craft show. I vend at craft shows very rarely because they take an enormous amount of time/energy and can be a total crap shoot in terms of sales. I've been accepting credit cards at them for years, but for this show I tried out Square Payments.
First, a little background. The old school way of processing cards is to use a 'knucklebuster' imprinter to capture the card data. Then after the show you have the painstaking task of entering every transaction in manually. Worse, since you're not authorizing the cards at the point of sale there's always a chance if will be declined. Since the goods are already gone you're pretty much SOL.
Luckily, we live in the future. Prior to this show I've been using a magnetic strip reader coupled with my netbook and sometimes my cell phone for internet connectivity when there's no wireless internet available. It's a little clunky to set up, with wires running everywhere, but if I bring an extra laptop battery I can go an entire show without having to plug in. The cards are processed on-site, and everyone is mostly happy.
Square Payments provides a little widget to attach to your smartphone (currently only Android or iOS devices). You enter the amount to charge, swipe the card, and have the customer sign on the touchscreen with their finger.
No really. It's the most pleasant, easy to use, and fastest way to accept cards I've experienced. I was afraid people might take issue with me running their card through my phone and asking them to sign with their finger, but no one batted an eye. A few customers were impressed with the ability to email them a receipt – one woman said "It's just like at the Apple store!"
Oh, and the hardware is free. And there's no monthly fees. Just a per-transaction fee which is on par with Paypal and no worse than my current merchant account once you account for gateway fees, monthly minimums, etc.
It's not a perfect solution yet. There doesn't seem to be a way to total up individual items, so I had to switch over to the calculator app a few times. There also isn't a good way to itemize the receipts, though I've heard the iPad app is a little better at this. People with long nails had trouble signing their name since you need to use the pad of your finger. If I did shows more often I'd probably invest in a touchscreen pen.
Still, it's the best option I've seen in a long time, and could be a total game changer, making credit cards standard at craft shows.
One important note is that initially your deposits are limited to $1000/week. You can accept as much as you want, but they'll only give it to you $1000 at a time. This limit can be lifted by contacting support, but it's not super obvious and may be an unpleasant surprise if you're not prepare.
I've put together a comparison chart of the methods I've used to accept cards at shows, and would love to hear others' experiences. The chart assumes you're using your swiper or knucklebuster with a merchant service such as ProPay, PayPal, First Data, or one set up through your bank.
|Square Payments||Magnetic Swiper||Knucklebuster|
|Processing Hardware|| Smartphone
$50 – $300+
|Monthly Connection Fees|| 3G Data plan
Wireless or 3G plan
|Monthly Merchant Fee||None||Varies, ~$16||
|Transaction Fees||2.75% + 15¢||Varies wildly||Varies Wildly|
The free sign up and free hardware make Square a very low-risk service to try if you already have a smartphone. I couldn't be happier with it, and encourage other vendors to check it out!Tags: credit card processing, square, vending