A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles

 

Square made its name offering a free mobile credit card swiper, but the company has expanded so much in the past few years that there is now a massive array of hardware options, catering to all types of businesses. You can still get mobile card readers from Square if you don’t need more than just a phone or tablet and a swiper, but you can also get a countertop POS system complete with a customer-facing display, or a slim, portable credit card terminal with a phone-sized high-resolution screen and built-in receipt printer. And if you’d like to print paper receipts and have an automated cash drawer, Square offers a wide range of compatible hardware. You can even save some money by opting for one of Square’s ready-made bundles of hardware.

Let’s take a look at Square’s hardware options, including its mobile readers, POS systems, and POS kits. We’ll start with simplest options and move on to the most comprehensive kits. We’ll also talk about what you can do to control your costs and manage your cash flow with Square’s financing.

If you’re still curious about Square’s offerings, we also recommend checking out our complete, in-depth review of Square, which covers hardware as well as the software.

Square Mobile Card Readers

Square’s mobile card readers are meant to work with smartphones and tablets — unlike with some of the company’s “all in one” hardware solutions, if you go with a card reader it’s a “bring your own device” situation. Square’s mobile readers are ideal for businesses that are always on the go — farmer’s market stalls, service businesses, food trucks, etc. These card readers work with any of Square’s POS apps as well. However, compatibility with specific tablets or smartphones will vary — and you should check before you buy that a card reader is compatible with your device. Square has a helpful compatibility checker tool on its website for this purpose.

Square Magstripe Readers

Square has been offering free basic magstripe readers for years. The boxy design hasn’t changed significantly over the years and it’s simple to use. Recently, the company added a Lightning connector variant in addition to the 3.5mm headphone jack connector. Square used to sell a 3.5mm adapter, but that’s no longer available (because it’s no longer necessary). However, I will say that adapters from other makers will work for the same purpose.

New Square merchants get 1 free card reader; additional card readers sell for a very reasonable $10. Unlike PayPal Here, Square doesn’t impose any limits or restrictions on transactions processed with a magstripe reader — there’s no limit to the number of swiped transactions you can process before you trigger a hold. That’s a nice touch. However, if you do process large transactions or do a significant volume of credit card payments you should definitely look at upgrading to a chip card-capable reader.

Magstripe Reader Quick Facts 

  • Free for new merchants
  • $10 retail price
  • 3.5mm headphone jack or lightning port connectors
  • Supports magstripe transactions

Square Chip Card Reader

 

Square’s first chip card reader wasn’t particularly fancy, or even all that different from its elder sibling: it was boxy, with a headphone jack connector. And it has since fallen out of favor — partly thanks to Apple and its removal of the headphone jack on its iPhones. However, this entry-level chip card reader is still available at a reasonable price — ideal for merchants who want to accept chip cards but also save some money.

Square doesn’t offer a lightning connector variant for the Chip Card Reader, but as I mentioned, a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter would work for iPhone users. This reader also requires the occasional battery charge because of the addition of the chip reader.

Chip Card Reader Fast Facts 

  • $35
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack connector
  • Requires battery charging
  • Supports magstripe and chip card transactions

Square Contactless + Chip Reader

Square’s Contactless + Chip Reader is a departure from Square’s earlier mobile credit card readers. First, it connects via Bluetooth. Second, it doesn’t support magstripe transactions at all. Instead, Square includes one of its free magstripe reader in the box as well. (To be honest, this design kind of disappoints me, but I figure that the Contactless + Chip Reader was designed to add EMV support to the Square Stand, which already has an integrated magstripe reader. So building magstripe support into the Contactless + Chip Reader was a moot point. Still, for merchants who don’t have a Square Stand, this might prove to be a small annoyance if the chip reader can’t read a card properly.)

Square also sells a charging dock, which can be plugged into a wall, or into the Square Stand’s USB hub. It sells for $29 separately. You can use it in a countertop retail environment and let customers insert their payment cards themselves, or you can set the dock aside and grab the reader by itself whenever you need to make a transaction.

Contactless + Chip Reader Fast Facts 

  • $49
  • Charging dock sold separately ($29)
  • Bluetooth connection
  • Supports chip card and contactless transactions
  • Basic magstripe reader also included

Square Countertop POS Devices

If you’d like something a little bit more permanent and stationary in your POS setup, Square offer options tailored to different environments. The offerings here get a little more complex, so bear with me!

Square Stand

The Square Stand has been one of the company’s core offerings for a long time — it is a tablet stand with a built-in card reader, all for a reasonable price (at launch, it cost $99). It swivels, it has minimal cords, and it looks good. Square has improved it slightly with the bundling of the Contactless + Chip Reader. That brings the price to $169.

Square doesn’t include a receipt printer for the Stand, but a printer is available in hardware bundles. Likewise, Square doesn’t include an iPad with the Stand, but you can purchase one directly from Square for an additional $329. Keep in mind that the current edition of the Square Stand only works for the most recent iPad models. If you have an older iPad, you can order a legacy stand from Square for $99, but the Contactless + Chip Reader requires iOS 9.3.5 or higher, and that version of iOS isn’t supported on an iPad 2 or other earlier models.

Because the Square Stand runs an iPad, it can also support merchants using Square Point of Sale, Square for Retail, or Square for Restaurants. There are an assortment of recommended hardware bundles for the Square stand, but if you prefer to build your own setup, you will be happy to know that the Square Stand supports USB, Ethernet, WiFi and Bluetooth printers, as well as other devices.

Square Stand Fast Facts 

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $169 (iPad sold separately)
  • Includes Contactless + Chip Reader (integrated magstripe reader in stand)
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale, Square for Restaurants, Square for Retail, Square Appointments

Square Terminal

Square Terminal (read our review), the newest addition to Square’s lineup of hardware, takes the concept of the Square Stand and the traditional credit card terminal and combines them into one portable machine. The display is large enough to be a fully functioning POS (it runs Square Point of Sale, the free app). It accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions. It even has a built-in thermal receipt printer.

While you can operate Terminal by keeping it plugged in, Square promises the battery will last all day if you prefer to go wireless. You also get a cleverly-designed power brick and USB hub to connect accessories, such as the USB barcode scanner and cash drawer. Bluetooth accessories aren’t supported, so the USB hub will be important for some merchants.

While Terminal runs Square Point of Sale, it also offers some compatibility with the iPad-based premium POS app, Square for Restaurants. Specifically, Terminal can be used for tableside ordering and payments. It doesn’t support all of Square for Restaurant’s features, though, so it’s important that you make sure Terminal will really fit your needs.

Square Terminal Fast Facts 

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $399
  • $300 processing credit for new merchants
  • 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale (limited compatibility with Square for Restaurants)

Square Register

 

Square Register (read our review) definitely targets a higher-end market, with a price tag of $999 — not counting a cash drawer, receipt printer, or barcode scanner. However, for that price, you get a 13.25-inch screen running Square Point of Sale, as well as a 7-inch consumer-facing screen with integrated support for magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions.

Square Register runs an Android-based version of Square Point of Sale, which means it’s not compatible with Square for Retail. However, you can take advantage of the back-end features if you opt to subscribe to Square for Retail. Specifically, that means access to the reporting features, including cost of goods sold and profitability reports. Square Register also integrates perfectly with Square Loyalty and allows customers to see the status of their loyalty accounts.

All in all, Square Register is an absolutely gorgeous piece of hardware that would look great in a retail space. The addition of the customer-facing display, combined with all of the supported hardware, brings Register on par with more traditional countertop POS systems.

Square Register Fast Facts

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $999
  • 2.5% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale (back end features compatible with Square for Retail)

Square POS Bundles

Square’s POS Kits are available for the Square Stand and Square Register — but if you’d prefer to use a different tablet stand for an iPad, Square also offers some alternatives. It would be a bit redundant and very overwhelming to go through every single bundle that Square offers, so let’s focus on what they offer, broadly speaking.

Square will first ask you to pick a category for your business. The options are limited — just food and beverages, beauty and wellness, or retail. However, those three categories cover a lot of industries. And honestly, you shouldn’t worry too much about picking the right category because the offerings will be similar. Check the options in each category and see which bundle you like.

After you’ve chosen an industry category, Square will also ask you about your Internet setup, specifically whether your business has a router. If you are relying on cellular data, obviously, there’s no router involved. But this question primarily affects what kind of printer Square includes in its bundles.

The biggest advantage to choosing a Square POS kit is the cost savings. Buying individual accessories from Square will cost more than buying a bundle. Square lists the prices as “starting at” for most bundles, but that’s usually because you have the option of purchasing an iPad direct from Square. (Note that you can only get the most recent model of iPad. Square offers POS bundles that support the iPad 2, for example, but you’ll have to acquire the iPad separately.)

Let’s start by looking at what the Square Register and Square Stand bundles look like, versus the alternative tablet stands.

Square Stand POS Kit

 

Square Stand on its own is pretty affordable, but if you opt for the bundle with the stand over buying individual components, you’ll save a small amount. Square suggests running the Stand with a router setup, which includes a USB hub for accessories, rather than wireless options. Your Square Stand Kit includes the following:

  • Receipt printer paper (25 rolls)
  • USB Receipt Printer
  • 16 in. Printer-Driven Cash Drawer
  • Square Stand for Contactless and Chip

If you decide against the Square Stand Kit, keep in mind that you can use any piece of hardware that works with an iPad running Square Point of Sale, as well as USB-enabled devices. That includes barcode scanners and receipt and kitchen printers in addition to cash drawers.

Square Register POS Kit

The POS kit for Square Register will add $530 to the cost, but it will save you $67 over buying the parts individually. (Also take note: You can’t order just the hardware bundle separate from the Register.)

In addition to the Register itself, the kit includes:

  • 16 in. USB Cash Drawer
  • USB Receipt Printer
  • Receipt printer paper (25 rolls)
  • Square Register

Square only recommends the Register kit for businesses with routers, not mobile setups. That’s not too surprising because it’s clearly not a mobile setup. Register does support some USB and Ethernet printers (and one WiFi printer), but it does not support as many devices as the Square Stand or just a standalone iPad. Square also offers compatible kitchen printers, which aren’t included in the bundles for food and beverage businesses, surprisingly.

Other Square POS Kits

If you’d still like to use Square on a tablet — but without the Register or Square Stand — you can get a selection of Heckler brand tablet stands designed for iPads, as well as Galaxy Tab A devices. They contain the following:

  • A tablet stand
  • A printer (Ethernet or Bluetooth)
  • Cash drawer
  • Receipt printer paper
  • Card reader (Magstripe or Contactless + Chip)

Prices vary by the tablet stand model, as well as whether the kit includes an Ethernet or wireless printer. Which card reader Square includes depends on the model of iPad (remember, early models of iPad can’t upgrade to the iOS version required to support the Contactless + Chip Reader). And again, you can mix and match tablet stands and other devices to create a custom setup, though you will ultimately pay more than if you chose one of Square’s pre-made bundles.

Other Square Accessories

When you check out Square’s hardware shop, you can also browse standalone accessories for Square’s products. I like that the site has added the ability to filter compatible accessories by the POS device. The available accessories include kitchen printers, USB and Bluetooth barcode scanners, WiFi routers, and more. However, these are far from your only options. Square actually supports an extensive array of hardware in addition to the options available directly through its own shop. And it’s great about publishing that list of confirmed, supported devices.

Should You Finance Your Square Hardware Purchase?

There’s one last factor to consider when shopping for hardware from Square: the cost. If you are worried about the price of Square’s hardware, or the overall price of accessories, you’ll be glad to know that Square offers financing on purchases of $49 or more. Generally, the limit is $5,000, but you can apply for an increased limit. Depending on the total sum you’re financing, Square offers payback terms of 3, 6, 12 and 24 months.

Square will deduct your payments from your total processing volume before disbursing funds to your bank, so you don’t have to worry about making monthly payments. Eligibility depends on a credit check, and the financing program isn’t available in all U.S. states yet. However, if you are eligible, this could be a great option.

Square’s markup for financing is incredibly reasonable, and the program is managed by Square directly so you don’t have to worry about a shady third-party stepping in. If you can’t afford the upfront investment in hardware, Square’s financing can help you manage your cash flow better. And I like that it’s not a leasing program — when you’re done paying off the hardware, you own it.

Which Square Hardware Is Right For You?

If your business is primarily on the go, you can get a cheap, affordable mobile card reader. If you’d like a countertop setup, there’s Square Terminal with its very small profile, Square Stand for a good entry-level piece of hardware, and of course, Square Register. Plus, the bundled kits from Square allow you to easily add a cash drawer, receipt printer, and any other hardware you need. The number of options can seem overwhelming, but it really comes down to how portable you need your hardware to be and what you can afford.

One of my absolute favorite things about Square is that the company offers a huge array of very affordable hardware for all types of businesses. Some companies might only offer a few options, use expensive leases, or charge an arm and a leg just for a single terminal. You don’t have to worry about that with Square. The price is right and there are hardware options to suit every business that work with all of Square’s Point of Sale apps. That’s a very powerful reason to go with Square already. Throw in the affordable credit card processing and the great customer service, and it’s easy to see why Square is a favorite among small businesses.

If you’re still just learning about Square, be sure to read our complete Square Review! You can also check out our Square Point of Sale, Square for Retail, and Square for Restaurants reviews to learn more about the point of sale systems.

Thanks for reading! Leave us your thoughts and your questions in the comments below!

The post A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Retail Business Loans And Financing Options

Owning a retail business isn’t without its challenges. Whether you’re growing rapidly and need extra money for expansion or you’re in the middle of a slow season that’s impacted your cash flow, one thing is clear: you need money for your business to operate smoothly.

Sure, pulling the money you need from your own bank account is ideal, but this isn’t always possible. Maybe the money’s not there … or maybe you don’t want to put yourself in a bind by tying up your funds. In these situations, what do you do when you need a financial helping hand? Take a cue from other smart retailers and find a retail business loan that’s right for you.

There comes a time when most small businesses have to take out a loan, and retail businesses are no exception. The key is to understand your options to find the best, most affordable loan that you can use to take your store to the next level, cover an unexpected emergency, or even get your business off the ground. Read on to learn more about the retail business loan and financing options available for any situation.

The Best Loans For Retail Businesses

Financing Need Best Loan Type Recommended Lender
Business Expansion SBA Loan SmartBiz
Purchasing Equipment Equipment Financing Lendio
Emergency Funding Short-Term Loan LoanBuilder & IOU Financial
Cash Flow Shortages Business Credit Cards Ink Business Preferred from Chase
Purchasing Inventory Line of Credit OnDeck
Purchasing a Point of Sale System POS Financing CDGcommerce

1. Business Expansion

Business is booming, and you’re ready for an expansion. Maybe you’re an online retailer and you’ve decided it’s time to open your first brick-and-mortar store. Perhaps you want to open an additional location, or you want to do a complete overhaul of your facilities. No matter what the situation, your retail business is growing, which is exciting … but also very expensive.

Instead of hindering your growth by draining your checking account, consider applying for a loan that provides the funds you need, but spread out into affordable monthly payments.

Small Business Administration 7(a) Loans

The Small Business Administration is a government organization that provides resources to small business owners just like you. One of the most popular resources the SBA offers small business owners is low-cost loan options. Although there are several great programs to consider, the SBA 7(a) loan is one of the most popular among small business owners.

The SBA 7(a) loan is a loan that can be used for essentially any business purpose. This includes business expansion, the purchase of equipment, to use as working capital, or to even save money by paying off high-interest debt.

Through the 7(a) program, you can receive up to $5 million. Because up to 85% of the loan proceeds are backed by the government, SBA-approved lenders (known as intermediaries) are more willing to give these loans out. This is ideal if you’ve been unable to qualify for traditional loan options.

SBA 7(a) loans have low interest rates capped at a maximum of 4.75% — added to the prime rate — based on the loan amount and your repayment terms. Repayment terms are available up to 10 years for most uses, while loan proceeds being used for commercial real estate come with maximum terms of 25 years. SBA 7(a) loans are available to qualified borrowers with a credit score in the high 600s.

Recommended Option: SmartBiz

The SBA 7(a) loan sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? If you’re interested in this loan, you could visit an intermediary lender in your area, such as a bank or credit union. However, this process can often be a hassle for the busy retail business owner. Simplify the process of applying for an SBA 7(a) loan by working with SmartBiz.

With SmartBiz, you can fill out an easy online questionnaire to find out if you’re qualified for an SBA loan. Once you’re prequalified, the service will match you with a lender and assign a relationship manager to help you through the application process.

Getting approved and funded takes several weeks for most applicants. Other times, the process may drag out over several months if more information is needed by your lender. Even though the waiting time to receive this type of loan exceeds that of other financing options, the low overall cost and the flexibility that comes with the 7(a) loan is often worth the wait for many small business owners.

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2. Purchasing Equipment

Your technology and equipment are seriously outdated. Or maybe your business is growing so fast that your problem is not replacing equipment, but adding more. Instead of spending thousands out of pocket, there’s a more affordable solution when you need to replace or purchase long-term equipment: equipment financing.

Equipment Financing

Equipment financing is a type of business financing used to purchase new equipment for your business. With equipment financing, you’ll be able to take possession of much-needed new equipment immediately without paying the entire cost up front.

With an equipment loan, you’ll pay a down payment that is usually 10% to 20% of the total cost of the equipment. The remaining amount, along with interest and fees charged by the lender, will be loaned to you and is paid back through scheduled payments over a longer period of time. At the end of your repayment period, you will own the equipment. This makes the purchase of new or replacement equipment much more affordable.

Equipment leases are another form of equipment financing. With equipment leasing, you’re essentially paying to use the equipment. At the end of your lease, you can return the equipment and take out another lease on the latest model. Unlike a loan, you will never own the equipment unless you pay a lump sum at the end of the lease. However, if you upgrade equipment frequently or want a lower down payment, a lease may be the right option for you.

Recommended Option: Lendio

If equipment financing sounds like the right loan option for your business, find a lender using Lendio. Lendio is a loan-matching service that connects you with the right lender that offers loans to best fit your needs.

Equipment financing through Lendio lenders is available in amounts from $5,000 up to $5 million. Terms of up to 5 years are available. Interest rates for the most qualified buyers start at 7.5%.

Column Heading Data

Credit limit:

$5,000 – $5,000,000

Term length:

1 – 5 years

Interest rate:

7.5%+

Origination fee:

By lender

Collateral:

Usually the equipment being financed

When using Lendio, you’ll fill out an application and within 72 hours, you’ll receive loan offers from multiple lenders. This allows you to review your options to find the most affordable loan with the best repayment terms.

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3. Emergency Funding

Even if you’re on top of your business and finances, there may come a time when an unexpected emergency arises. It happens to the best of us, usually when we are least prepared for it. If an emergency pops up and you need extra cash immediately, a short-term loan could offer just what you’re looking for.

Short-Term Loans

A short-term loan is exactly what the name suggests: a loan that comes with short terms of 1 year or less. These loans have their benefits for small business owners. Borrowers with low credit scores, a short time in business, or with low annual revenues often qualify. However, the biggest benefit is how quickly you can receive the money with a short-term loan. With some lenders, you can apply, be approved, and have the money in your bank account in just 24 hours.

However, short-term loans don’t come without their drawbacks. This fast form of financing comes at a cost. Short-term loans do not have interest rates, but instead, use something called a factor rate. This fee is paid back along with the principal balance over a short period of time. Often, this factor fee, along with other costs such as origination fees, can make these loans more expensive than long-term options. However, when you’re in a financial bind and need money quickly to keep your retail business running smoothly, a short-term loan may be your best option.

Recommended Options: PayPal LoanBuilder & IOU Financial

PayPal’s LoanBuilder provides short-term funding up to $500,000, which can be repaid over a period of 13 to 52 weeks based on the amount of the loan received. The LoanBuilder application takes just 10 minutes to complete. Once approved, you can receive your funds as soon as the next business day.

Qualified borrowers must be in business for 9 months and have at least $42,000 in annual revenue. All borrowers must have a minimum credit score of 550.

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Check Eligibility

Another short-term loan option is IOU Financial. This lender offers loans up to $300,000. Requirements include being in business for a minimum of one year, bringing in revenue of at least $100,000, and making at least 10 deposits per month into your business bank account.

Repayment terms are available from 6 to 18 months, and once your loan is 40% paid off, you can renew if additional funding is needed. Repayments are made through fixed daily or weekly payments.

4. Cash Flow Shortages

From time to time, a retail business may face cash flow shortages due to a slow season or other challenges. When this happens, daily operations may be affected. You have the same expenses, but your revenues are down, posing a financial challenge for your business. You don’t have to sit back and let these situations drag your business down. Instead, a business credit card can help you fill in these gaps.

Business Credit Cards

A business credit card provides you with a revolving line of credit that you can use to pay your suppliers, vendors, and other expenses. The issuer of the credit card will provide you with a credit limit. You can spend up to and including that limit, using the card as often as you need.

A business credit card allows you to make an instant purchase without having to wait for approval from the lender. You’ll only pay interest on the amount of the credit line that has been used. Payments are made monthly and are applied to the interest and the balance on your card.

One great feature about business credit cards is that many offer rewards programs. With qualifying business purchases, you can earn cash back or points that can be redeemed toward rewards.

Recommended Option: Ink Business Preferred from Chase

The Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card is a top choice among retailers and other business owners because of its great rewards program. If you spend $5,000 within three months of opening your account, you receive 80,000 bonus points. For every purchase, you’ll continue to rack up points.

This credit card also offers additional benefits not offered by other credit card issuers, such as cell phone protection. This card comes with a variable APR of 17.99% to 22.99% with a $95 annual fee.

This credit card is reserved for borrowers with good to excellent credit. Check out our other top picks in business credit cards.

Chase Ink Business Preferred



Apply Now 

Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


17.99% – 22.99%, Variable

5. Purchasing Inventory

You need inventory, and you need it now. If you need to purchase inventory to keep your business running and time is of the essence, a business line of credit may be just what you need out of a small business loan.

Line Of Credit

With a line of credit, a lender issues you a credit limit. You can make multiple draws up to and including this limit whenever you want. The funds will typically be in your account within a few business days, although some lenders offer immediate transfers.

Interest is only applied to the portion of the funds that have been withdrawn. Interest rates vary by creditworthiness, with the most qualified borrowers receiving rates around 6% while high-risk borrowers may see rates of 20% or more.

Payments are made on a scheduled basis and are applied toward the principal and interest. Repayment terms and schedules vary by lender.

Recommended Option: OnDeck

OnDeck is an alternative lender that provides lines of credit to business owners. Lines of credit up to $100,000 are available to eligible borrowers. Repayment terms up to 12 months are available. Rates are as low as 13.99%, and weekly payments are automatically deducted from your business bank account.

OnDeck is known for its fast application process and low borrower requirements. Borrowers of this loan must have a credit score of at least 600, have been in business for at least 1 year, and have a minimum revenue of $100,000 per year.

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6. Purchasing A Point Of Sale System

POS hardware

 

If you own a retail business, you already know the importance of a point of sale system. This centralized system allows you to keep track of inventory, receive payments, and provide receipts for purchases.

Whether you’ve opened a new store or you want to upgrade your outdated system, you can receive a new POS system without paying a lot of money up front with POS financing options.

POS Financing

POS financing allows you to purchase or lease a POS system without paying the full amount up front. Depending on the company you work with, full financing options for all hardware and software may be available.

In addition to POS financing, you may also consider a credit card processing app. These are usually more affordable, are less complicated, and don’t require lengthy contracts. This option is best for smaller retail businesses, while larger businesses should stick with a full POS system.

Recommended Option: CDGcommerce

CDGCommerce is a retail credit card processing company that offers affordable point of sale systems. The company offers the Harbortouch Echo featuring the CDG POS+ app that can be rented for just $49.00 per month. An annual equipment insurance fee is also required at a cost of $79.00, but compared to the costs of purchasing a system, these fees are quite affordable.

Ready to upgrade but unsure of which POS is right for you? Read on to learn more about choosing the right retail POS system for your business.

When You Want To Start A Retail Business

All of these options are great for established retail businesses, but what if you haven’t even gotten your business off the ground yet? For most aspiring business owners, financing is the barrier that is holding them back.

It may be difficult to qualify for a startup loan. After all, you don’t have the sales, revenues, and financial documents to back up your success. When you want to start a business, you have to get creative with your funding options.

If you want to apply for a business loan, you can look to options such as the SBA Microloan program, which provides up to $50,000 to small business owners. These low-cost loans aren’t easy to obtain, though. You’ll need to make sure that you’re prepared for the lengthy application process by preparing your personal financial documents, creating a detailed business plan, and outlining future projections. Your score must be in the high 600s to qualify.

SBA 504 Loans

Borrowing Amount

$500 – $50,000

Term Lengths

Up to 6 years

Interest Rates

6.5% – 13%

Borrowing Fees

Possible fees from the loan issuer

Personal Guarantee

Guarantee required from anybody who owns at least 20% of the business

Collateral

Collateral normally required, but depends on the lender

Down Payment

  • No down payment for most businesses
  • Possible 20% down payment for startups
  • Possible 10% down payment for business acquisition loan

Other startup loan options are available, such as online lenders like Fundwise Capital. For borrowers with a poor credit history, there are other alternative loan options but these often come at a much higher cost.

If you have a high personal credit score, you can also consider taking out a personal loan to fund your startup costs. With a personal loan, your income and personal credit score will be considered. This could potentially help you score a lower cost loan that can be used to start your retail business.

Lender Borrowing Amount Term Interest Rate Min. Credit Score Next Steps

$2K – $25K 2 – 4 years 15.49% to 30% 600 Apply Now

$1K – $50K 3 or 5 years 8.16% – 27.99% 620 Apply Now

$2K – $35K 3 or 5 years 6.95% – 35.99% APR 640 Apply Now

lending club logo

$1K – $40K 3 or 5 years 5.32% – 30.99% 640 Compare

Ways To Improve Your Chances Of A Successful Application

Improve Business Loan Application

Once you’re ready to apply for your business loan, you can do some prep work in advance to expedite the process. Before you even start filling out an application, the first step is to know your credit score and determine whether it is high enough to qualify for the loan you’re seeking.

You can receive your free credit score online to find out where you stand. Review your credit report carefully for any errors. If there are any negative items on your report, be prepared to explain those to your lender.

If your credit score is low and your funding need isn’t urgent, you may consider taking a few easy steps to raise your credit score. You’ll be rewarded with lower interest rates, better terms, and more financing options.

You can also prepare your paperwork and documentation in advance. Although requirements vary by lender and the type of loan you’ve selected, you’ll generally need a few items, including:

  • Bank Statements
  • Personal Financial Statements
  • Business Balance Sheet
  • Profit & Loss Statement
  • Income Statements
  • Business Licenses
  • Articles Of Incorporation

When the time comes to apply for your loan, you’ll need to know exactly how much you need and why you need the loan. It’s also important to remember that most loans require a blanket lien or personal guarantee. Most lenders require a personal guarantee to be signed by anyone with at least 20% ownership in the business, so be prepared to have all owners ready to sign the contract as needed.

Finally, when you do apply for your loan, be sure to make yourself available to the lender. Sometimes, lenders require additional documentation or have questions about your application. Taking the time to work with your lender will help you finish the process smoothly.

Final Thoughts

Getting a business loan can be tough, whether you’re an established retail business owner or just getting started. However, there are plenty of options available if you take the time to do your research, go into the application process prepared, and have a good reason for taking out the loan which will improve the return on investment for your business.

The post Retail Business Loans And Financing Options appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Square Loyalty Program Review

Square Loyalty Promotional Image

The concept of a punch card is nothing new; coffee shops the world over have been slinging their punched out business cards alongside foamy espresso beverages for decades. Likewise, the concept of companies offering rewards to returning companies goes way back into the annals of entrepreneurship. But as the business sector dives further into the capabilities of digital tools, loyalty programs have come along for the ride.

Square has been tinkering with loyalty features since 2012. About two years ago, they stopped offering a free add-on to the basic Square POS, creating a paid-for loyalty product instead. After some concerns about that initial re-launch, Square Loyalty is back again with a new pricing scheme and feature list.

Square has consistently expanded its business products and generally does a decent job at creating useful tools that people feel confident implementing in their businesses. How well does the new version of Square Loyalty measure up? Let’s find out!

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

The price of Square Loyalty is determined by how many “loyalty visits” you get in a given month. A loyalty visit is exactly what it sounds like: whenever a customer signs up for or returns to your loyalty program, that counts as one visit. Square tracks your visits, then charges you based on the following pricing scheme:

Loyalty Visits Price Per Month
1-50 $25
50-100 $35
101-200 $50
201-500 $75
501-1,000 $125
1,001-2,500 $175
2,501-5,000 $250
5,001-10,000 $500

If you think you will require more than 10,000 loyalty visits in a single month, you will need to get in touch with Square for more information on exact pricing.

Ease Of Use

The team at Square has built their brand on the simplicity of their software; just about anyone can pick Square up and use it with little-to-no training. Not surprisingly, the loyalty rewards program operates with the same simplistic design. This is a system designed for intuitive use on both sides of the register for customers and employees alike. As long as you already use Square products for payment processing and point of sale, this will work just fine for you.

Setting up your rewards account is as simple as determining the economy of your rewards points (how many should customers get after a visit?) and creating the rewards themselves (how will customers spend their points once they have accumulated?). From there, you can refine your system as time goes on, making adjustments as needed–you will want to be clear with your customers about what is going on, though!

On the customer side, simply have new program members enter their phone numbers to sign up. From then on, your Square Register will remember the customer and apportion their points on subsequent views. Speaking as one who has encountered Square loyalty rewards in the wild, I can report that the system works well, and is even a little exciting!

Features

Square Loyalty comes with the following features:

  • Points System: You get to pick between three different loyalty schemes: by visit, by amount spent, or by item. Customers will get text message updates on the number of points they have built up. Basically, your decision for which system to use will come down to your industry and business model. Selling beverages or baked goods? Visit-based rewards might be best. Working retail? Amount-based might be best. Selling niche products? You might want to go by item.
  • Customer Rewards: You can select three different kinds of rewards that align vaguely with the three different loyalty schemes: free item, discount on the entire sale, or discount on a product category. Obviously, some business types will find one of these systems more useful than others; it’s up to you to determine which will be best for you.
  • Customer Data: Once your customers sign up for loyalty rewards, you can begin tracking information about them. In some industries — coffee shops, for example — you get to know repeat customers quickly as a matter of course. In others, it may be valuable indeed to know a bit more about your clientele, particularly things like their most purchased items and how often they visit your shop.
  • Analytics: Square gives you a bird’s eye view of how your loyalty program is helping your business, showing data on all your customers and how often they visit your shop. You can see how many people use your loyalty rewards, how many points they have, and more. This is the feature that will tell you how well your loyalty program is working, so I definitely recommend checking this out.

Final Thoughts

Square boasts that customers who enroll in their loyalty programs spend 37% more than non-enrolled customers. A cynical person might point out that the kind of person who signs up for a loyalty program would be automatically more likely to spend more at a particular store than other, but at the same time, 37% is difficult to argue with.

But is Square’s loyalty feature ultimately worth the price? I definitely found the monthly cost a bit prohibitive; $50 for just over 50 loyalty visits is a lot. It is possible that at higher subscription levels the price comes down and makes more economic sense, but in order for that to be true, you will need more customers to sign up.

On the other hand, from what I can tell, the feature set works reasonably well — especially when you consider how closely it plays with Square’s flagship POS product. That right there might make it worth it to stop and consider coughing up the cash, especially if you are using one of those snazzy new Square Registers. I suspect many Square Loyalty users hop on board the hype train for this very reason; they are already using some kind of Square product in the first place. In fact, one of the biggest caveats to Square Loyalty (apart from price) is the fact that in order to use it, you will have to already be using Square POS (at the very least); if you have a different system, this is not the loyalty program you have been looking for.

As usual, the final decision comes down to you. Are you using a Square product? Is the touted increase in customer engagement worth what might be an excessive price? Fortunately, you can give it a try before deciding for sure. Be warned though! Though Square provides a generous 30-day trial, your customers may feel less than generous if they discover that your rewards program has up and disappeared just as they were about to redeem one of their rewards. Tread carefully then, and make sure you are confident in your decisions before committing even to the free trial.

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post Square Loyalty Program Review appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The 10 Best Restaurant Management Software Apps

It’s almost 2019, if you can believe it, and more than fall leaves or pumpkin spice lattes, tech fans like myself relish the smell of a freshly unboxed smartphone (thanks to Apple’s annual September unveiling). But it’s not just consumers who love mobile tech; businesses do too.  As mobile technology becomes more powerful, businesses — including restaurants — enjoy increasingly robust mobile hardware which can handle more powerful and nuanced software functions.

Indeed, restaurant managers, in particular, have an increasing number of mobile management applications at their disposal. From tablet-based POS systems that accept mobile payments to online reservation services that let customers reserve a table with an app, more restaurant management functions are being conducted online and on mobile devices. But with all the restaurant apps out there, how do you know which ones you should use? Think of it kind of like cooking: if you use too much or too little of an ingredient, it ruins the dish. Similarly, if you use too many management apps, there’s too much overlap in services (not to mention the fact that you’ll run out of bandwidth and money), and if you use just one or two services, you may miss out on critical features.

To help you out, I’ve put together this list of the top restaurant management apps in terms of both quality and popularity. From employee management to accounting to raw ingredient tracking, modern mobile restaurant software can help you with every restaurant management task you can imagine.

I’ve divided these top 10 best restaurant management apps into restaurant point of sale (POS) software apps—which are often complete restaurant management systems with few if any third-party add-ons required— and other restaurant management apps which offer more specific, targeted functionality.

Restaurant POS Systems

Toast TouchBistro Breadcrumb ShopKeep Lightspeed Restaurant

Toast

TouchBistro

Breadcrumb POS by Upserve

ShopKeep

Lightspeed Restaurant

ShopKeep alternatives for restaurants

Visit Site 

Review

Visit Site 

Review

Compare 

Review

Visit Site 

Review

Visit Site 

Review

Monthly fee

$79+

$69+

$99+

Get a quote

$69+

Cloud-based or Locally Installed

Cloud-based

Locally installed

Cloud-based

Hybrid

Cloud-based

Compatible credit card processors

Toast only

TouchBistro Payments, Square, PayPal, Moneris, Cayan, Chase Paymentech & more

Upserve Payments only

Shopkeep Payments & some others; contact your processor to see if they are supported

Cayan or Mercury in US; iZettle in Europe

Business size

Small to large

Small to medium

Small to large

Small to medium

Small to medium

The awesome thing about today’s app-based restaurant point of sale systems is that they are often complete restaurant management systems. Or if they do not include essential restaurant management functions, they will typically have integrations that work together with other restaurant management apps (for accounting, staff scheduling, inventory management, etc.). As such, your restaurant POS system is a good basis on which to build any other add-ons to your restaurant application suite.

1. Toast

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Android-based restaurant POS
  • All-in-one restaurant management system
  • Advanced inventory management
  • Add-ons for kitchen display system, kiosk POS, online ordering, delivery management, and more

Try it out: Schedule a Toast demo

Toast is a complete, Android-based restaurant point of sale system and restaurant management system for restaurants of any size. With strong front-end and back-end features, Toast not only takes payments with integrated payment processing, but also tracks your sales, labor, and inventory, organizing that information into useful, internet-accessible reports.

With mobile POS tablets, servers can send orders directly to the kitchen and even process payments right from the table. Kitchen display system and kiosk ordering are some other high-tech add-ons available for purchase from Toast.

Useful Features:

  • Customer data management system
  • Menu creation with comprehensive modifier system
  • Labor management including employee time tracking
  • Inventory management system that includes a recipe costing tool, food cost calculator, and menu engineering chart that shows you your best-selling and most profitable menu items
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Online ordering (extra monthly charge)
  • Delivery management system (extra monthly charge)
  • Customer loyalty program (extra monthly charge)
  • Gift cards (extra monthly charge)

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • Compeat
  • PeachWorks
  • CTUIT
  • CrunchTime
  • PayTronix
  • Bevager
  • GrubHub (online ordering and delivery)
  • Samsung Pay
  • Kitchensync

Toast also has an open API which lets you create your own applications, should you be so inclined.

The Quick & Dirty:

Pricing for this complete POS and restaurant management system starts at $79/month. Overall, Toast is a good option for restaurants that want a complete restaurant POS and management system and prefer a non-iPad POS.

2. TouchBistro

ShopKeep alternatives for restaurants

 

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • iPad POS system for restaurants
  • Affordable
  • Locally installed
  • Compatible with multiple payment processors
  • Table management with reservations add-on

Get started with TouchBistro: Get a custom quote

TouchBistro is a bestselling iPad POS app for restaurants. While it isn’t an “all-in-one” restaurant management system like Toast, it’s cost-effective, easy to use, and very good at what it does. TouchBistro runs as an app on via one or more iPads, with multi-iPad setups keeping in sync via a local Apple server.

TouchBistro does have some online reports allowing you to view your restaurant metrics anywhere with an internet connection, but it does not require a WiFi connection to operate, other than to process credit card payments. TouchBistro integrates with multiple payment processors.

Useful Features:

  • Tableside ordering
  • Table management with visual layout
  • Menu management
  • Kiosk option
  • Employee management
  • Loyalty program (extra monthly charge)
  • Reservations function with TouchBistro Pro

Integrations With Other Restaurant Management Software:

  • 7Shifts
  • Xero
  • Shogo
  • Square
  • Quickbooks
  • JUST EAT (for online ordering)

The Quick & Dirty:

In summation, TouchBistro a very capable iPad POS for small-to-medium restaurants that are budget-conscious and may not have a powerful internet connection. Pricing starts at $69/month.

3. BreadCrumb POS By Upserve

Review

Highlights

  • All-in-one restaurant POS and restaurant management system
  • iPad-based
  • Fully cloud-based
  • Fully integrated online ordering
  • Must use Upserve for payment processing

Compare: Compare Breadcrumb with other top-rated iPad POS software

Breadcrumb is an all-in-one restaurant management and iPad POS system which could perhaps be considered the iPad-based answer to Toast. Comprehensive restaurant-centric management features that let you manage tables, employees, and menu items with a few finger taps make this restaurant software application suitable for any full-service or quick-service restaurant, no matter the size.

Breadcrumb is fully cloud-based and requires no on-premise server. In-house payment processing is provided exclusively by Breadcrumb’s parent company, Upserve.

Useful Features:

  • Customizable interface
  • “Offline” mode allows you to continue using POS and taking payments if internet goes down
  • Table management with color coding and meal progression graphic
  • Choice between “Server” mode with table view and “Quickserve” mode for bartenders and other quick orders
  • Fully-integrated online ordering system
  • Detailed online reporting suite
  • 24/7 support

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • Grubhub
  • Shogo
  • Restaurant 365
  • CTUIT
  • Peachworks
  • 7Shifts

The Quick & Dirty:

Breadcrumb pricing starts at $99/month. Again, it’s a solid all-in-one restaurant POS system for iPad with an array of restaurant features. When compared to Toast, however, Breadcrumb might come up slightly short in some respects, such as inventory management. However, Breadcrumb offers integrations with third-party restaurant apps to help fill in any functionality gaps.

4. ShopKeep

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Powerful retail and restaurant tools
  • Available on iPad (Analytics app on iOS)
  • Multiple hardware options available
  • Pricing based on custom quotes 
  • Loyalty program only as add-on

Excellent all-around POS: Get your custom quote

While it can be used for either restaurant or retail environments, ShopKeep is a great all-around POS software system that’s reasonably priced and extremely easy to use. Aimed at small businesses in particular, this iPad POS software has a pleasant, Apple-centric interface with convenient register buttons for the most popular menu items. ShopKeep uses a “hybrid” data storage system in which data is stored locally on your restaurant’s iPads, and then syncs back to the cloud when there is an internet connection.

As with the other restaurant POS apps on this list, ShopKeep has integrations to make up for any restaurant management features it doesn’t have, such as advanced inventory management and online ordering.

Useful Features:

  • Integrated ShopKeep Payments payment processing
  • Comprehensive register functionality
  • Extensive back-office reporting suite
  • Raw ingredient inventory management
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Staff management tools
  • ShopKeep Pocket App to track restaurant metrics from iPhone or Android

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • MailChimp
  • ChowBot (online ordering and delivery)
  • Quickbooks
  • AppCard

The Quick & Dirty:

ShopKeep is an affordable and capable iPad POS that works well for small restaurants of any type. ShopKeep pricing is customized based on your individual business’s needs and is comparable to TouchBistro or Lightspeed Restaurant. Note that while Shopkeep does provide fairly priced in-house payment processing via Shopkeep Payments, you can also use an outside payment processor.

5. Lightspeed Restaurant 

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Affordable iPad POS for restaurants
  • Fully cloud-based
  • Also works on iPhone and iPod touch
  • Best for small-to-medium restaurants

Try out Lightspeed Restaurant: Free trial offer

Lightspeed Restaurant is an app-based iPad POS system built specifically for—you guessed it—restaurants. Lightspeed is not the most complete restaurant POS out there, but it is highly mobile-friendly and certainly delivers a lot of bang for your buck.

The Lightspeed Restaurant app requires iOS 9.3 or later to operate and you can access the backend via any internet-connected web browser. In addition to iPads, Lightspeed can even be used on an iPhone or iPod touch, though using the app on those two devices is best for basic features such as clocking in and quick orders.

Useful Features:

  • Intricate employee management
  • Raw ingredient tracking
  • Tableside ordering lets servers show pictures of menu items to customers
  • Floor planner
  • 24/7 phone support excluding holidays
  • Ability to set up timed promotions
  • In-depth reports

Integrations With Other Restaurant Management Software:

  • Resengo
  • Orderlord
  • QuickBooks
  • Xero
  • MarketMan
  • AppCard
  • Multiple online ordering services

The Quick & Dirty:

Lightspeed Restaurant pricing starts at $69/month. This cloud-based iPad POS app is perfect for small-to-medium restaurants of any type.

Other Restaurant Management Apps

What follows are some more restaurant management apps. Rather than the complete restaurant management tool that POS systems provide, these apps have a limited, specific function — like reservations or email marketing — and may integrate with your POS system or be used separately.

opentable

6. OpenTable

OpenTable is an online reservation and waitlist system that’s convenient to use for both restaurateurs and customers. You can access the app on your smartphone or tablet to view or change reservations, and to see your waitlist in real time. OpenTable is a highly useful tool for restaurant managers and waitstaff alike.

Useful Features:

  • Guests can make online reservations from your website, the OpenTable app or website, or third-party
  • Monitor status of each table in your restaurant
  • Shift management tool

POS Integrations:

  • Aloha
  • Micros
  • POSitouch
  • Heartland Dinerware
  • Squirrel Systems
  • Toast (coming soon)

The Quick & Dirty:

OpenTable is online reservation software for restaurants of any type, especially favored by trendy, upscale bars and eateries. OpenTable’s “Connect” option has limited features but only costs between $0.25 and $2.50 for each booked guest. The “GuestCenter” option with more advanced restaurant management features and POS integration is $249/month + $1 per reservation.

7. Fivestars

fivestars logo

Fivestars is a mobile rewards program for local businesses such as restaurants. Customers sign up for Fivestars’ loyalty program either at your restaurant or via the Fivestars mobile app and start earning rewards and receiving promotional offers via text, email, or push notification. Your staff then redeems your customers’ rewards and offers from your POS or a mobile device.

Fivestars also has a lot of cool marketing features that vary depending on which plan you choose. Whether you want to encourage repeat business or gain a competitive edge on other restaurants in your area, Fivestars will help you do both.

Useful Features:

  • Automated rewards and promotions
  • Send one-time offer anytime your sales need a boost
  • Multiple options for setting up rewards system, e.g., customers could earn points per-dollar, per-visit, etc.
  • Social media integration
  • Customer data collection

POS Integrations:

  • Clover Station
  • Clover Mini
  • QuickBooks POS
  • Harbortouch
  • Aloha
  • Aldelo
  • Windows POS

The Quick & Dirty:

Fivestars online loyalty software is especially popular among cafes and coffee shops, but it’s also used by full-service restaurants, bars, bakeries, smoothie shops, and every other type of brick-and-mortar eatery. Fivestars’ starter plan—which includes two customer-facing tablets, POS integration, the Autopilot program, onboarding and three training sessions—is $279 per month.

Best Accounting Mobile Apps

8. QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks is essential accounting software for small businesses, and restaurants are no exception. In recent years, this quintessential business software has become has become more online and mobile-friendly, with the introduction of QuickBooks Online and excellent mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Besides making accounting tasks simple and affordable for independently owned restaurants, cloud-based Quickbooks Online also integrates with most modern restaurant POS systems.

Useful Features:

  • True double-entry accounting
  • Live bank feeds for easy bank reconciliation
  • Unlimited estimates and invoices
  • Accounts payable with ability to create purchase orders and convert them to bills
  • Easy-to-use payroll and other employee management features (for additional cost)

POS Integrations:

Quickbooks Online integrates with most restaurant POS systems. Usually, the question is not whether Quickbooks integrates with your POS, but rather, the quality of the Quickbooks/POS integration. A direct, seamless integration is ideal. Here you can read about 7 POS system that have direct integrations with Quickbooks.

The Quick & Dirty:

QuickBooks online is cloud-based accounting software for any internet connected device. Depending on which features you need, QuickBooks online will set you back between $15 and $50/month.

Xero logo

9. Xero

Xero is a QuickBooks alternative which many restauranteurs around the world use every day to manage their restaurant’s accounting tasks. Just like QB Online, Xero has both iOS and Android apps and can be accessed via any internet-connected device. Xero also integrates with many cloud-based restaurant point of sale systems.

Xero doesn’t have as many features as QuickBooks; for example, payroll support is limited to only 37 states and there is no job-costing feature. However, Xero also costs a lot less than QuickBooks.

Useful Features:

  • Accounts payable feature with recurring bills and purchase orders
  • Unlimited users with extensive user permissions controls
  • Double-entry accounting
  • Excellent customer service
  • Easier to use than QuickBooks (in most respects)
  • 500+ integrations

POS Integrations:

While Quickbooks is the most popular accounting software system, Xero is catching up and most major POS systems integrate with Xero as well as Quickbooks. Some of these systems include:

  • Square for Restaurants
  • Nobly POS
  • TouchBistro
  • Lightspeed
  • Vend
  • Shopify POS

The Quick & Dirty:

With pricing starting at just $9/month, online accounting app Xero is a more affordable QB alternative for restaurants that don’t need every advanced accounting feature.

10. MailChimp mailchimp logo

MailChimp is email marketing software you can use to boost the online marketing efforts of your restaurant. While most POS apps include some email features, they are usually somewhat lacking. With a fully featured email marketing program like MailChimp, you can set up automated email campaigns to build customer loyalty, advertise promotions, and grow your social media following.

MailChimp is entirely cloud-based; the company also offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices.

Useful Features:

  • 23 basic templates and hundreds of theme templates
  • Easy list segmentation
  • Advanced email campaign reporting
  • Robust free plan includes up to 2,000 subscribers and sends up to 12,000 emails per month.

POS Integrations:

  • Revel Systems
  • Shopkeep
  • Lightspeed
  • Epos Now

The Quick & Dirty:

MailChimp has a very decent free plan and paid plans start at $25/month, scaling up depending on how large your list is (and how many features you want). This easy-to-use ESP supports both small start-ups and large corporations.

Final Thoughts

A successful restaurant business has the same basic ingredients it did 20 years ago or even 200 years ago: delicious food, happy customers, excellent service, and organized behind-the-scenes processes to keep everything running smoothly. However, the tools used to achieve restaurant success have changed with advances in technology. Everything from taking payments, to advertising, to bookkeeping, to employee management has been digitized.

One important job of restaurant management that can’t be replaced with automation is the restaurant manager herself. Being awesome at your job, I’m sure you will do a great job selecting the management apps that work for your unique restaurant business. Have fun with the selection process and make sure you utilize free trials of all of these apps so you can be sure the restaurant management software you choose works great for your needs before you commit.

The post The 10 Best Restaurant Management Software Apps appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Set Up Gift Cards With ShopKeep

Ahh, the gift card. That classic capitalistic invention that makes every recipient say “Thanks?” Why give cash when you can give something that works exactly like cash…but only at one business (if you remember to bring it at all)?

But, in all seriousness, gift cards are an extremely valuable and important aspect for small businesses. It’s estimated that more than $100 billion is spent annually on gift cards, making it a quick and painless way to increase your profits and improve customer engagement.

ShopKeep, one of our highest-rated point of sale systems, has a highly intuitive gift card integration — one you should seriously consider adding if you’ve chosen ShopKeep as your POS.

Read on for a quick and easy guide to setting up your gift card integration with ShopKeep.

Get Started With Shopkeep

Why Use Gift Cards?

There are any number of reasons why you might want to offer gift cards in your retail store or restaurant. Maybe you want to increase engagement with your brand or make your store stand out from the competition. Or maybe you just want to demonstrate that there are concrete benefits to shopping at your business.

Whatever your justification for offering them, gift cards just make sense for most business models. According to ShopKeep, gift cards provide an easy way to attract new customers by serving as marketing tools. They are “mini billboards,” in essence.

How To Set Up Gift Cards With ShopKeep

You can call ShopKeep to set up gift cards and have someone talk you through their customization options. Please note that ShopKeep only offers gift cards with select pricing plans and they are currently only available in the United States.

Step 1: Activate Gift Cards for your POS

The first thing you’ll want to do once you’re ready is to add gift cards to your tender. To do this, you’ll need to log into your Back Office and click on Options. Then, select the Tenders tab on the left-hand side of the screen.

This will bring up a new page. Scroll down and check the box that says Gift Cards.

Next, you will want to create an item for gift cards that you can easily access from your POS system. Click on the Items option in the top left-hand corner and scroll down to select Items List. In the top right-hand area of the screen, there will be an option for you to add a new item. Give this new item a name (I would suggest Gift Cards or Loyalty). On the same screen, click on the Priced tab and switch the checkmark from Back Office to In Store. Also on this screen, you can switch the taxable tab to No. You will also want to make sure to check the box at the bottom beside Liability.

Right below that box will be a tab labeled Tender. Select Gift Card (or Loyalty, or whatever you may have named it). Make sure that you click the Save button at the bottom once you are finished with this process.

Step 2: Using the Gift Card Function

You should now be able to see a Gift Card button on your front screen, giving you the ability to sell gift cards or accept them for purchases. To add a gift card to someone’s ticket, simply click the button and then type in the desired amount.

Select the Cash button on the right-hand side of the screen when the customer is ready and swipe the physical gift card.

To accept a gift card as a method of payment, the process is simple. After the customer’s ticket is complete select More on the right-hand side by payment options, then select Gift Card. You or the customer will then swipe the card to apply the balance to the purchase. If the customer still owes money on their purchase, you will be prompted to take another method of payment to pay off the balance. If there is still money left on the gift card, the receipt will inform the customer of his or her balance.

If a customer would like to simply check his or her balance, open the Control Panel and click Gift Cards. Then swipe the customer card and you will be able to view the amount on the card.

It may seem like a slightly convoluted process — admittedly, there is a lot of button pushing required to set up ShopKeep’s otherwise convenient and intuitive gift card functionality. However, gift card setup should only take a couple minutes at the most. For more information, ShopKeep has created a helpful introductory video, as well as an FAQ page on its website specifically for gift cards.

Get Started With Shopkeep

The post How To Set Up Gift Cards With ShopKeep appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Accept Credit Cards Online

So you’ve realized you want to start selling online. Good for you! The ecommerce market is certainly booming. But before you can start raking in the money, you probably have a few questions, like “how do I make a website?” and “how do I accept credit cards online?” Here’s the good news: There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from! The bad news? There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from. So how do you choose?

As always, there’s no one perfect solution for everyone. You need to know your business (and where you want to go with it) and have a rough idea of what you need. If you have no idea where to start, never fear! In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic considerations about accepting credit card payments online, as well as types of payment processors and how to accept credit card payments online with and without a website. We’ll also discuss some of our favorite solutions for ecommerce and provide resources to help you learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before You Start

It’s really important, before you dive headlong into any kind of financial investment in your business, to sit down and make sure that you know what you want and what you need. I say that a lot, but with selling online it’s especially important to look before you leap because if you get any component of your setup wrong, redoing it will cost time and money.

So before anything, here are some questions to consider:

  1. How technologically savvy are you? Simply put, are you even able to build and maintain your website yourself? If you’re not exactly a technological wizard, your priority should be finding an easy-to-manage solution. You can also outsource tasks you can’t handle yourself, such as design or even data entry for the creation of products. Of course, if you have an ambitious idea and no ready-made solution exists, or you need a lot of customization, you might need a developer who can work with software APIs to create what you need. You can find freelance developers to help out as you go, but the more high-tech you go, obviously, the more you should consider having a full-time developer.
  2. Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new site to sell a handful of products, payment buttons or plug-ins are better options. If you don’t have a site or you don’t mind nixing your current site in favor of something better, shopping cart software might meet the brief nicely. But of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
  3. What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind the more technically advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise, the busier your site — the more products you have and the more sales you make — the more you can expect to pay. Don’t forget the tangential costs, such as hiring a designer or a developer, or data entry, and of course, the costs of payment processing itself!
  4. What are you selling? Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscriptions/services, or retail products, look for service providers that cater to your industry so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but with add-ons and integrations to make them more tailored. You can also find payment processors and software that offer ready-made specialized solutions and service plans, such as micropayments for merchants who sell low-priced digital goods.
  5. How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, you have to make sure your website is secure. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden — in some cases, you may not need to do anything at all.

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to actually start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor. However, depending on your business model, you might want to first look at what kind of ecommerce options work for you and then select a payment processor from the available options.

We’ll begin by talking about payment processors and go on to look at what other software or platforms you should explore.

Types Of Payment Processors

No matter how you go about finding a payment processor — choosing a standalone, going with the default processor included with your shopping cart, or choosing a recommended partner from a software provider — you need to consider what kind of business model the processor uses. If you’ve been here before and read any of my other articles, you know that I am talking about the difference between third-party payment processors versus traditional merchant accounts.

Traditional merchant accounts are very stable. It would take a clear violation of either your contract or card network rules in order to trigger an account termination, and you’re unlikely to encounter a hold on funds unless you’ve had a series of issues with chargebacks or fraudulent transactions. However, most merchant account providers expect you to have an established business and a monthly volume of $10,000 in credit card transactions. Plus, setting up a merchant account will typically take a few days. It could take longer depending on how many processors are on your short list and how much negotiation is required.

Third-party processors are not quite as stable as merchant accounts. That’s because instead of issuing separate accounts for each of their merchants, everything is lumped together in one giant, communal merchant account. It takes very little effort to apply for an account with one of these processors, and you can often get approved and set up to accept credit cards online within a day. Factor in no monthly minimum volume requirements and third-party processors provide a great way for new businesses to take payments. However, the trade-off is that you’ll face greater scrutiny and a higher risk for account holds or terminations, often with no warning. Check out our article on how to prevent merchant account hold and freezes to learn how to reduce your risk.

While third-party processors are riskier than merchant accounts, they are a great option for new businesses who don’t know what sort of volume they can expect and don’t have an established history. Even for established businesses, there are some advantages: namely, third-party processors offer predictable, flat-rate pricing, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay. The best merchant account providers typically offer interchange-plus pricing, which, while clear and transparent, doesn’t make it easy to accurately estimate processing because interchange rates vary.

It’s up to you to decide which type of processor is right for your business. I do want to point out that some software companies (ecommerce shopping carts, point of sale solutions, invoice platforms, and more) often build white-label payments into their solutions. These solutions can take the form of third-party processors or merchant accounts, so make sure you investigate before just going with the default processor. In addition to their native payment processing services, most ecommerce software providers support integrations with an assortment of merchant accounts and third-party payment processors.

Square is our top-pick for third-party payment processor. In addition to predictable, flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees or contracts, Square offers a whole suite of seamlessly integrated apps to address in-person and online sales at no charge at all. eCommerce transactions process at 2.9% + $0.30 each.

For merchant accounts, we recommend CDGcommerce, which offers flat-rate pricing and an interchange-plus option depending on the merchant’s payment volume. There are no monthly minimums and no contracts, just a $10 monthly fee. Low-volume merchants will pay 1.95% + $0.30 for most transactions, or 2.95% + $0.30 for premium, corporate, or international cards. Merchants who process more than $10,000/month are eligible for interchange-plus pricing with a 0.30% + $0.10 markup.

Does Your Payment Processor Include a Gateway?

If you want to accept credit card payments online, it’s not enough to find a credit card processor. You also need a gateway. As the name suggests, a gateway is an intermediary software program that transfers the payment data from your website to the customer’s bank to be approved or declined (and then routes the money to your merchant account).

Many payment processors offer gateways as part of their services. For example, PayPal, Square, and Stripe all offer gateways bundled with the rest of their services at no additional cost. CDGcommerce offers its Quantum gateway as part of its services for online merchants.

However, some processors will charge you a setup fee and/or a monthly fee for use of the gateway. While it’s fair and legitimate to charge for this service (especially if you’re being offered other discounts or freebies in exchange), there’s no reason for you to overpay, either. Make sure you know how much a gateway service will cost if it’s not offered for free.

While it’s rare to find a processor that doesn’t include some sort of gateway access, they do exist. In the event that you find yourself leaning toward one of these processors, you can find your own gateway. Authorize.net is nearly universally compatible and reasonably priced, which makes it a good option for most merchants. (Worth noting: CDGcommerce’s gateway, Quantum, also includes an Authorize.net emulation mode to maximize compatibility.)

Want to know more about how payment gateways figure into your ecommerce setup? Check out our article, The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway, for more information.

How To Accept Online Payments With A Website

A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary — we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports ecommerce.

Adding Payments To An Existing Site

best templates

If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the sitebuilder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. If you already know which payment processor you want to use, you can search directly for an available add-on. Otherwise, you can browse and see what options are ready-made for you. These add-ons will allow you to securely collect payment information from your customers as well as manage the order fulfillment process. Do your research and go with solutions from your site builder rather than third parties, if possible. Check reviews of any plugins or extensions you add and make sure they are well supported and any glitches are fixed in a timely manner.

If you run a WordPress site, WooCommerce or Ecwid could be good starter options. WooCommerce is actually a free plug-in to add to your site, with a basic theme and your choice of payment processors. It’s a very modular setup, so you can choose from a mix of free and paid extensions that allow you to customize WooCommerce to your needs. That includes payment processors, subscription tools, the ability to create add-ons (such as gift wrap for products), and more. Most WooCommerce add-ons are charged on an annual basis, which could require more of an up-front investment than a monthly subscription, so be aware of this fact.

Ecwid is another plug-in designed for WordPress. However, it also works on an assortment of other website-building platforms, including Wix and Weebly, Ecwid does offer a free plan for businesses with 10 or fewer products, but for higher-tiered plans you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. Ecwid supports a wide assortment of integrations, including payment gateways. With higher plan tiers, you also get access to expanded sales channels.

Wix and Weebly’s website builders can be used for blogging, personal portfolios, and any other purposes. They both offer online store modules. Online stores from Wix start at $20/month with no transaction fees and your choice of processors. Upgrading to an eCommerce plan is fairly simple from within the Wix dashboard and won’t require any substantial reworking. Simply add the “My Store” module to your dashboard, make the upgrade, and start creating products.

Finally, there’s Weebly. Square actually bought Weebly in the spring of 2018, so it’s possible we could see Weebly start to favor Square pretty heavily in the future. For now, though, Weebly’s online store plans start at $8/month (on a yearly plan), with a 3% transaction fee on top of your processing costs. The transaction fee drops off with higher-tier plans, leaving just the monthly fee.

The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports customizable payment buttons. A good payment button creator will give you power over the appearance of the buttons as well as the settings for transactions. The obvious, go-to solution for many is PayPal, which offers a pretty powerful array of tools. PayPal’s buttons are a good option whether you are selling a single product or multiple ones. You can set up payment buttons to allow products to be added to a cart or to go directly to checkout. PayPal even allows nonprofits to create a “Donate” button for their site, which can be configured for one-time and recurring donations.

An alternative to PayPal is Shopify Lite, an entry-level solution. For $9/month plus transaction costs (2.9% + $0.30), you can accept payments on your website by adding payment buttons. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.) And it’s worth mentioning that Ecwid also supports the creation of custom buy buttons.

While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted ecommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with:

Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software

eCommerce software apps, sometimes also called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an ecommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly. Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels, so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.

As far as payment processing goes, some shopping carts have opted to include their own white-label payments as a default part of their services. One such cart is Shopify, which offers its own Shopify Payments service (read our review). However, this is just a white-label version of Stripe. Be aware that choosing a payment processor other than the default can incur additional fees.

Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.

There’s a lot to consider and compare with a shopping cart. Obviously, you can use a sitebuilder such as Weebly or Wix, which both offer eCommerce modules. Then there are ecommerce-exclusive platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce, which make it easy to build your site and customize the design (and even offer blogging so you can centralize control of your website).

If you want a whole lot of freedom and have coding knowledge, an open-source platform such as Magento might be more to your liking. Open-source platforms tend to be chock-full of specialized features (particularly if they have attracted active user communities) and you have almost limitless control of your site. A closed-source, SaaS platform is certainly a lot easier and more convenient for business owners who are just starting out and want to go the DIY route.

If you aren’t sure what you want, we recommend you start by checking out Shopify and BigCommerce, both of which are affordably priced for new businesses and offer extensive customer support resources. They also both offer multi-channel sales manage so you can sell through your own site and through other platforms but manage all of your orders from a single portal.

If you’re still curious about what makes a great ecommerce platform, check out some of our other resources!

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
  • Shopping Cart Flowchart: Choose the Right eCommerce Software for Your Business (Infographic)
  • Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business (Article)
  • Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Shopping Cart (Article)

Managing Services, Subscriptions & Other Recurring Charges

A lot of merchants, from accountants and other professional service provideres to lawn care and cleaning services, could benefit from being able to automate recurring charges. And of course, the ability to automate charges is essential for SaaS providers and subscription-box sellers.

Generally speaking, the ability to accept recurring payments — for monthly services or subscriptions — isn’t a default option for payment processors or shopping carts, which tend to be retail-focused. However, you can find plenty of solutions that will work with your existing eCommerce setup. For example, Stripe and Braintree both offer extensive subscription management tools along with their payment gateway and processing services. Add-on services such as Chargify, Recurly, and ChargeBee work with a variety of processors. Zoho Subscriptions and Freshbooks also offer recurring billing tools. PayPal offers recurring billing tools for its merchants; Square offers “recurring invoices” but not a lot of advanced customization for subscription billing.

Proper research will be very important when selecting a provider that offers all of the features you need, whether you require metered billing for usage-based online services, the ability for customers to upgrade to a higher tiered plan mid-billing cycle, the ability to offer free trial periods and extend them, or a way to calculate taxes. Tools that automatically update expired cards can also help reduce failed charges and therefore improve revenues and reduce customer loss.

Accepting Online Payments Without A Website

Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.

Creating Online Invoices

You could create your own invoices in Microsoft Office and send them out via email, but then you’ve got to keep track of which invoices have been sent and which have been paid — and you’ve still got to deal with waiting for the check in the mail. Online invoicing solutions can eliminate every single one of these hassles.

Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email (or generate a shareable link to the invoice). But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.

Depending on which invoicing software you choose, you can get some powerful features. For example, PayPal allows you to enable partial payments on an invoice if you are willing to accept installment payments. Square’s invoicing links up with the platform’s customer database, allowing you to send recurring invoices and even store customer cards on file to make getting paid even easier. Zoho Invoice, which starts at $0/month, also allows for a customer database, as well as project management (so you can generate an invoice based on the number of hours worked). Shopify offers invoice creation within its platform at no additional charge as well — and this feature is even available on the Lite plan.

For most merchants, Square Invoices may be the most appealing, as it’s available with a Square account at no additional charge. However, Shopify’s built-in invoicing will work for merchants who want to sell with or without a website. Merchants who need project management as part of their invoicing should look at Zoho Invoice.

Using Online Form Builders

So you don’t have a website, but you still need to collect user information and accept payment. Online form builders offer an easy way to do both. Plus, you can post links to forms on social media or send them out via email.

Off the top of your head, you might think of Google Forms, which is free to use and quite advanced for a freemium software. However, it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with payment processors. Your best option, in this case, would be to use PayPal’s embeddable buy buttons and include the button in the form’s submission confirmation page as a second step. However, you’ll have to manually reconcile the payment records versus form submissions.

Subscription-based form builders will cost you money but offer far more capabilities than Google Forms, including direct integrations with payment processors/gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Subscriptions generally work on annual or monthly plans, but one option, Cognito Forms, offers an entry-level plan that charges 1% of the transaction amount instead. (Note, that’s in addition to any processing fees.) Other form solutions worth looking into are Zoho Forms and Jotform. Zoho Forms starts at $10/month and includes unlimited forms and up to 10,000 submissions. It integrates with both PayPal and Stripe. Jotform’s paid plans start at $19/month and are limited to 1,000 submissions, but include integrations for quite a few payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, Square, and even Dwolla. Cognito Forms’ paid plans start at $10/month plus 1% of the transactions and include up to 2,000 form submissions. Integrations include PayPal and Stripe.

And we haven’t even talked about event registration sites. There are a lot of them, but the one many people are likely familiar with is EventBrite. EventBrite allows you to put all the details of your event online and sell tickets — including setting multiple tiers of admission and promotion cards, automatically setting price changes for registration deadlines, and so on. You can even collect marketing data about your patrons, from their zip codes to how they heard about the event. Your event is searchable from within the EventBrite platform, allowing people searching for something to do to discover your event as well. EventBrite does charge fees on top of processing costs, but these can actually be passed onto event registrees, saving you some money at least.

Selling On Social Media

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your own online shop through Facebook, or sell on Instagram or even Pinterest.

With Facebook, you just need a Facebook business page to get started. You can choose your payment processor (PayPal or Stripe) and start manually uploading products, all of which have to be reviewed by Facebook before they can go live. An easier option is to link your Facebook shop to an online store builder such as BigCommerce, Ecwid, or Shopify.

Shopify is actually an interesting solution because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan for $9/month that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and a Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go through the hassle of building a website with Shopify just to sell on Facebook, but you still get more tools than you would by going through Facebook directly. Check out our Shopify Lite review for an in-depth look at the plan and all its features.

Selling on Instagram requires you to have a Facebook shop (because Facebook owns Instagram) to create what it calls “Shoppable posts.” That shop can be managed directly via Facebook itself, or via Shopify or BigCommerce as one of multiple sales channels. I’d like to point out that Instagram isn’t available as a sales channel with the Lite plan; you’ll need to upgrade to Shopify Basic at $29/month to be able to manage sales via Instagram.

Lastly, Pinterest allows merchants with a business account to create “Buyable pins,” so you can sell from your Pinterest page. Unlike Facebook, where you can manage the buyable pins from the platform, to sell through Pinterest you will need to go through either Shopify or BigCommerce and actually apply for approval before you can start selling.

Shopify Lite is an ideal option if you want to start with Facebook and maybe add buy buttons to a website. You can upgrade to Shopify Basic ($29/month) to get your own site, plus access to Instagram and Pinterest if that appeals to you.

Selling In Marketplaces

Online marketplaces are a good alternative to having your own website if you’re selling retail goods. You don’t have to pay for hosting or invest anything in web design. You simply create your product listings using the tools provided and publish them. Marketplaces allow you to get your products in front of a large audience without you having to build a stream of traffic yourself. However, the trade-offs are that you generally pay more in fees (listing fees, seller’s fees, and payment processing) than you would with your own website, and you have zero control over the design of the site or even how your products are displayed. Generally speaking, you are limited to using whatever payment processing the marketplace offers as well.

A few popular marketplaces include:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Jet (owned by Walmart)
  • Ruby Lane

Accepting Payments Through Virtual Terminals 

The final alternative is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but it can be a powerful tool for some merchants. A virtual terminal is a web portal where you can manually enter credit card information to process a transaction. (There’s the stretch: VTs require an internet connection, so they’re technically online payments.)  Virtual terminals are a necessity for merchants who want to accept payments over the phone (or even by mail).

Some payment processors offer a virtual terminal as part of their software package, others as an add-on. These providers include PayPal, Payline Mobile, Square, and Fattmerchant. However, if you want the best value for a virtual terminal, we recommend Square. You pay only the payment processing costs (3.5% + $0.15) and it is interoperable with the rest of Square’s platform.

Beyond Credit Cards: Alternative Online Payment Methods

Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too.

Offering ACH processing as an additional option, especially if you’re in the B2B space, could win you more customers. According to a 2017 Payment Benchmarks Survey by the Credit Research Foundation and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), ACH transfers currently account for 32 percent of B2B transactions, lagging behind checks, which took the no. 1 spot at 50 percent. Credit cards account for just 11 percent of B2B transactions. By 2020, the survey estimates that ACH will take the top spot and account for 45 percent of B2B transactions.

Despite this, most merchant accounts or even third-party processors don’t offer ACH by default. Some offer it as an add-on plan, others may require you to look for a supplemental option for ACH acceptance.

ACH is far from the only option as far as “alternative” payment processing now, too. Mobile wallets are bridging the gap between in-person and online payments, and card networks have implemented their own online checkout options for cardholders. The major advantage to accepting these options is that they offer an extra layer of security for consumers. For example, Apple Pay on the web still requires biometric authentication before approval.

Some of these alternative payment methods include:

  • Apple Pay on the Web
  • Google Pay
  • Microsoft Pay
  • Chase Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Visa Checkout
  • Amex Express checkout

Apple Pay and Google Pay are fairly widely supported, but you may not see the other options on this list everywhere.

Two noteworthy providers that offer ACH, as well as other alternative payment options, are Stripe and Braintree. However, both are developer-focused platforms, so you’ll need someone with the technical know-how to implement them. Merchant accounts that specialize in eCommerce and provide a solid gateway might offer these options too.

We recommend Stripe because of its extensive developer tools, customizable checkout, and resources for recurring billing. The company also offers round-the-clock customer support (an admittedly recent addition to its feature set). Plus, Stripe is great for international merchants who want to be able to accept localized currencies in Europe and Asia.

Begin Accepting Payments Online

Starting an online store and learning how to accept credit cards online can seem like a daunting task! There are so many factors to consider, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the process and point you in the direction of some good options. A merchant account can give you security and stability, but it may not be the most cost-effective option for low-volume merchants. A third-party processor can get you set up quickly with predictable pricing that often favors low-volume merchants, but the trade-off is account stability. And of course there’s the matter of compatibility: You need to make sure that whatever payment processor you choose offers a gateway compatible with the software (and sales channels) you want to use.

But you also need to have a good idea of what you can afford to spend up front and on a monthly basis and understand your limitations when it comes to technology and software. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy. Otherwise, be prepared to outsource tasks to designers, developers, and even admin assistants. Some software solutions make it incredibly easy to do everything yourself, others will require lots of hands-on effort to make them work.

If you’re still not sure where to go from here, we recommend you check out our article: The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies. You can also view our merchant account comparison chart for a quick look at our favorite providers.

Have questions? We’re always happy to hear from our readers, so please leave us a comment!

The post How To Accept Credit Cards Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Guide To Buying ShopKeep Hardware

There are a lot of reason why ShopKeep is among our most recommended point of sale systems for small businesses. This product remains one of the more affordable options on the market while giving you a wide variety of features to help your retail or restaurant establishment function efficiently. Chances are, if you’ve decided to go with ShopKeep or are heavily leaning in that direction, you appreciate convenience. You don’t want to spend any more time than absolutely necessary sweating some of the seemingly mundane aspects of starting a business — such as researching and purchasing all of the necessary hardware you might need.

Fortunately, ShopKeep makes this process easy as well. ShopKeep offers an impressive array of hardware bundles and individual items from some of the top-rated companies around all for purchase through their website, making it possible to get absolutely everything you need in one convenient stop. Here’s a brief overview of the hardware that ShopKeep has to offer.

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Hardware Delivery & Shipping

To get started, ShopKeep will ship all hardware within the continental United States for free with no minimum purchase and all orders generally arrive within 7 business days. They will also ship to Hawaii, Alaska, and Canada for an additional fee.

ShopKeep has a generous replacement policy, offering to replace any new equipment that fails to work properly within one year. The same agreement applies to refurbished hardware for 90 days. You may also return any hardware, no questions asked, within 30 days of purchasing it to receive a full refund. Shipping back to ShopKeep is free.

Get Started With ShopKeep

Hardware Bundles

ShopKeep offers some convenient Starter Kits to get your business up and running quickly.

  • Basic Starter Kit for iPad: $809 or $839 if you choose Bluetooth printer
    • 14×16  Cash Drawer
    • Epson 2″ Ethernet Printer or Epson 2″ Bluetooth Printer (
    • iPad Air Stand
    • Ethernet Credit Card Reader
    • Compatible with Apple iPad Air/Air 2 and Apple iPad Pro 9.7″
  • Basic Quick Service Starter Kit for iPad: $1166 or $1196 if you choose Bluetooth printer
    • 14×16 Cash Drawer
    • Epson 2″ Ethernet Printer or Epson 2″ Bluetooth Printer
    • iPad Air Stand
    • Ethernet Credit Card Reader
    • Epson Kitchen Printer
    • Ethernet Cable
    • Compatible with Apple iPad Air/Air 2 and Apple iPad Pro 9.7″
  • Basic Restaurant and Bar Hardware Kit for iPad: $1166 or $1196 if you choose Bluetooth printer
    • 14×16 Cash Drawer
    • Epson 2″ Ethernet Printer or Espon 2″ Bluetooth Printer
    • iPad Air Stand
    • Ethernet Credit Card Reader
    • Epson Kitchen Printer
    • Ethernet Cable
    • Compatible with Apple iPad Air/Air 2 and Apple iPad Pro 9.7″
  • Basic Retail Hardware Kit for iPad: $1297 or $1327 if you choose Bluetooth printer
    • 14×16 Cash Drawer
    • Epson 2″ Ethernet Printer or Epson 2″ Bluetooth Printer
    • iPad Air Stand
    • Ethernet Credit Card Reader
    • 1D Laser Barcode Scanner
    • Compatible with Apple iPad Air/Air 2 and Apple iPad Pro 9.7″
  • Complete Quick Service Hardware Kit for iPad: $1369 or $1399 if you chose Bluetooth printer
    • 14×16 Cash Drawer
    • Epson 2″ Ethernet Printer or Epson 2″ Bluetooth Printer
    • iPad Air Stand
    • Epson Kitchen Printer
    • Ethernet Cable
    • Cash Drawer Mount
    • Thermal Paper – 50 Roll Case
    • 1-Ply Bond Paper – 50 Roll Case
    • Ethernet Credit Card Reader
    • Compatible with Apple iPad Air/Air 2 and Apple iPad Pro 9.7″
  • Complete Restaurant and Bar Hardware Kit for iPad: $1369 or $1399 if you choose Bluetooth printer
    • 14×16 Cash Drawer
    • Epson 2″ Ethernet Printer or Epson 2″ Bluetooth Printer
    • iPad Air Stand
    • Epson Kitchen Printer
    • Ethernet Cable
    • Standard Duty Cash Drawer Mount
    • Thermal Paper – 50 Roll Case
    • 1-Ply Bond Paper – 50 Roll Case
    • Ethernet Credit Card Reader
    • Compatible with Apple iPad Air/Air 2 and Apple iPad Pro 9.7″
  • Complete Retail Hardware Kit for iPad: $1519 or $1549 if you choose Bluetooth printer
    • 14×16  Cash Drawer
    • Epson 2″ Ethernet Printer or Epson 2″ Bluetooth Printer
    • iPad Air Stand
    • 1D Laser Barcode Scanner
    • 7 Series USB Charging Cradle
    • Cash Drawer Mount
    • Thermal Paper – 50 Roll Case
    • 1″ x 1.5″ Barcode Labels
    • Label Printer
    • Ethernet Credit Card Reader
    • Compatible with Apple iPad Air/Air 2 and Apple iPad Pro 9.7″
  • Mobile Register Kit: $198
    • iPad Mini Handheld Enclosure
    • Lightning Credit Card Swiper
    • Compatible with iPad Mini 2/3
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Get a complete POS hardware bundle for free! For new customers only, while supplies last. Act soon – expires 9/30/2018. Get Started

A La Carte Hardware Options

Of course you can also purchase hardware a la carte if you don’t need everything in one of the packages or already have existing hardware that is compatible with ShopKeep.

Card Readers:

  • Magtek Lightning Credit Card Swiper: $99
  • Ingenico Credit Card Reader (EMV Enabled): $329
  • Ingenico Bluetooth Credit Card Reader
  • Vault Credit Card Reader Stand: $49

Printers:

  • Epson Bluetooth Printer: $269
  • Epson Ethernet Printer: $239
  • Epson Kitchen Printer: $331
  • DYMO Label Printer: $119

Cash Drawers:

  • APG 13×13 drawer: $109
  • APG 14×16 drawer: $112
  • APG 16×16 drawer: $139
  • Cash drawer mount: $35
  • Cash drawer till: $29
  • Cash drawer till cover: $29

Barcode Scanners:

  • Socket Mobile 1D Scanner: $269
  • Socket Mobile 2D Imager Barcode Scanner: $449
  • Socket Mobile 7 Series USB Charging Cradle: $79
  • Socket Mobile 2D Imager Stand: $149

iPad Enclosures;

  • iPad Mini Handheld Enclosure: $99
  • iPad Mini Stand: $109
  • iPad Pro Stand: $139
  • iPad Stand: $129
  • Freeform Made iPad POS Stand: $199

You can also purchase gift cards, labels, printer and receipt paper, and a variety of USB and ethernet codes directly through ShopKeep.

Get Started With ShopKeep

Ready To Buy ShopKeep Hardware?

No matter how equipped or completely green you are as you’re starting your business, ShopKeep has you covered. Not only do they provide you with a wide variety of hardware options, they are stocked with some of the most trusted and best-reviewed brands on the market.

If you’ve decided to go with ShopKeep, you’ve already made an informed decision for your POS needs. They also make it very difficult to go wrong when selecting all of your necessary hardware. Hopefully, we’ve just simplified the process slightly.

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The post Guide To Buying ShopKeep Hardware appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Should I Buy A Franchise & How Do I Start?

buying a franchise

Becoming a franchise owner is a career path some people look into when their life circumstances change. For example, recent retirees or veterans returning to civilian life often turn to franchising. But really, you don’t have to have any special circumstances or qualifications to become a franchisee. You do, however, need to know what you’re getting into before you make such a major decision.

While there are plenty of benefits to owning a franchise, there are some downsides too, and you’ll need to determine which things you can live with and which will be dealbreakers for you.

There are specific perks to purchasing an existing franchise, also sometimes called a “franchise resale,” as opposed to opening a new franchise location: you will start out with a cheaper initial investment and an established customer base, with minimal setup or hiring requirements, provided that equipment and employees are included in the sale.

However, when buying an existing franchise, you’ll also need to do careful pre-purchase research to make sure the franchise is a good investment—the owner could be selling because the franchise is underperforming due to a poor location, for example.

In this post, I’ll go over the pros and cons of buying a franchise to help you figure out whether you should make the leap of becoming a franchise owner. I’ll also give you some useful tips on how to start down the path of owning your own franchise business.

Pros Of Buying A Franchise

Buying a franchise is not for everyone. But there are some unique benefits to this career move, making it perfectly suited to the right type of entrepreneur.

1. Turnkey Business

A franchise can be considered a “turnkey business,” which means that it has pretty much everything you need to start operations immediately. All you need to do is “turn the key,” so to speak, to open up for business and start selling.

With a franchise purchase, the sale typically includes the facilities, equipment, and software systems (including the point of sale and accounting software), and even the (already trained) employees in most cases. Your raw materials suppliers, operating procedures, and advertising strategies are already in place as well, requiring only your capital investment and personal labor to get started.

Besides having all the ingredients to start operations, as a franchisee, you open for business on Day 1 with a proven and successful business model. This helps undercut the risks of owning your own business, especially if you are new to business ownership.

2. Minimal Startup Costs

Aside from the cost to purchase the franchise, and sometimes the franchise transfer fee (you should try to get the selling franchisee to pay this if you can), there are negligible startup costs to get your franchise resale up and running, since, well, it’s already up and running!

You will, of course, have to start purchasing your own raw materials to keep operations going, though you will need to invest less startup capital overall than you would if you opened a franchise from scratch.

While business acquisitions have lower startup costs in general compared to new businesses, this is especially the case with franchise acquisitions, as the uniform nature of any franchise brand allows for few, if any, significant changes in operations from one owner to the next.

Note that when you buy an existing franchise, most franchisors will not have you pay a franchise fee—the costly fee required to open a new franchise—but they may require you to pay for initial training.

3. Built-In Support

Technical support, customer support, and other assistance is an inevitable and potentially costly part of just about any business endeavor. A big benefit of being a franchise owner is that you don’t have to figure these things out for yourself. The parent company typically provides training, marketing campaigns, assistance with management, and customer support. And when purchasing an existing franchise, support channels such as technical support, employee support, etc., will already be open and readily accessible, so all you’ll have to do is learn them.

Aside from an initial training fee when you join the franchise, the cost of training and other support channels is included in the royalty fees you pay the franchisor from your gross sales.

As a franchisee, can also easily access a network of support and advice from other franchisees online. Even if you just want to vent or relate to other franchise owners, there are plenty of websites and message boards where you can do this.

4. Brand Recognition

Everyone already knows your franchise brand and you already have tons of fans on day one. A well-known product advertises itself, meaning you will need to devote very little time and energy to marketing.

Though you will be required by the franchisor to spend some of your profits on advertising, you can rest easy knowing that your personal efforts will not be the only way people will find out about your business. In many cases, you simply pay the franchisor an advertising fee and do not undertake any marketing efforts yourself.

There’s also always a chance your franchisor will come up with a new product or viral national marketing campaign that could make your product even more popular, with no blood, sweat, or even tears required on your part.

5. Easier To Get A Loan

It is typically much easier to get a loan to buy a franchise than it is to get a loan to buy an independent business. A franchise is seen by lenders as less risky, as there is an established business model; with a franchise acquisition, there is an established revenue stream as well.

Many franchisors provide their own financing programs for franchise owners, and there are also alternative lenders who specialize in franchise financing. You might even be eligible to get a low-interest loan through the Small Business Administration if your franchise is listed in the SBA Franchise Directory.

For quick capital at somewhat higher interest rates, you will find plenty of alternative online lenders willing to help finance your franchise purchase or provide you with working capital or line of credit, should you need a loan later down the road.

Cons Of Buying A Franchise

Okay, so now that you know the upsides of buying a franchise, it’s important that you understand the pitfalls as well. Whether or not you can live with these downsides will determine whether becoming a franchise owner is right for you.

1. Fees & Expenses

Although there aren’t too many startup fees involved in a franchise resale, there are still significant fees and operating costs involved in franchise ownership overall.

It is a general rule in the franchise world that after various fees are taken out, about one-third of pre-tax profits go to the franchise. Some one-time and ongoing costs of franchise ownership include:

  • One-time franchise transfer fee (if the seller does not agree to pay it)
  • Initial training fee when you first start working for the franchise
  • Royalty fees, which allow you to use of the franchise’s logo and proprietary assets; often calculated as a percentage of gross sales, e.g., 5% of all sales, but may also be a fixed amount that is charged periodically, irrespective of sales
  • Advertising fees to support franchise-wide marketing campaigns (even if you don’t have any say over how your advertising dollars are spent)
  • Proprietary product costs—usually, you’ll have to purchase your products and/or raw materials from the franchisor or from their dedicated distributor, even though you might be able to find the materials cheaper elsewhere
  • Audit fees for periodic financial audits of your franchise
  • Renewal fee charged to renew your franchise contract once the current contract expires

All of these ongoing expenses cut into your margins, and if you’re not meeting your sales goals, it’s possible that your franchise will lose money and not be profitable, at least not right away.

Because of the various costs and fees associated with running a successful franchise, it’s important that you have some money saved or another source of income that you can live off of and use to help pay these costs until your franchise starts making decent money.

2. Competitive Threat

As a franchise owner, whenever a new location of your franchise opens in your area, you will wince and worry about how much of your business will be lost to the competing location.

Franchisors do maintain strict control over franchise territories to prevent market oversaturation, but they will err on the side of opening more locations in a territory to squeeze every last dollar out of that region, even if an individual franchise’s profit margins suffer.

Thus, every time a new franchise location opens in your territory, your market shrinks, and you have no recourse against your competitor; it’s not like you can just decide to move your franchise in a place of your choosing, or change up your product offerings, as you could with an independent business.

3. Less Control Over Business

Running a business where all procedures and policies are mapped out for you can be easier, in some ways. You don’t have to figure out how to run your business effectively because business-critical decisions have been decided for you, and are typically based on significant market research.

However, if you are a creative thinker or are used to managing a business on your own terms, franchise ownership might make you feel trapped and frustrated. Individuals who love coming up with innovative business solutions or who excel at finding more efficient ways of doing things will likely have more success as independent business owners.

4. Possibility Of Contract Terminations & Changes

One of the areas you don’t have any control over as a franchise owner is your business’s future as dictated by your franchise contract.

At the end of your contract term, the franchisor might cancel your contract if they’re not impressed with your franchise’s performance, or they could amend the contract to terms you don’t agree with. In such cases, you could be forced out of business or see reduced profits due to contract changes such as higher royalty rates, territory shrinkage, or others.

Although it is possible to negotiate the terms of any franchise agreement with the help of a franchise attorney, it is inevitably a David vs. Goliath type situation when going up against a big corporation with a lot of money and resources at their disposal.

5. Negative Press Can Hurt Sales

Yet another aspect you have little control over as a franchise owner is the company’s overall reputation. Consider how the following events could affect your business:

  • The company makes a tone-deaf advertising campaign that offends a lot of people
  • Employees at another franchise do something shocking/illegal
  • A company executive says/does something controversial or offensive

All of these are potentially newsworthy and hashtag-worthy events — you can probably think of several recent examples just off the top of your head.

Through no fault of your own, any bad press that attaches to your parent company in the public eye could hurt your franchise’s sales and even cause people to boycott your business.

Tips On Starting Your Franchise Journey

If you think you might want to buy a franchise, you can start with some simple tasks today or whenever you have some free time to do some research.

1. Be Strategic When Choosing Your Franchise Sector

Food —  particularly fast food — is typically the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about franchises, but there are plenty of franchising opportunities even if you don’t want anything to do with food service.

In addition to quick-service and full-service restaurants, other major players in the franchise industry include:

  • Gas stations & convenience stores
  • Clothing/shoe stores
  • Gyms
  • Beauty salons
  • Janitorial services
  • Hotels/motels
  • Real estate agencies
  • Car dealerships
  • Vision centers/optical goods
  • Private postal centers
  • Children’s services (e.g., daycare, preschool, kids’ sports)
  • Pet stores and services
  • Medical services

When determining which type of franchise you’d like to purchase, it’s important to consider market trends in addition to your own personal preference.

  • Which franchise sectors are growing, and why?
  • Which sectors are shrinking?
  • Which franchise brands have been doing well in recent years? Which ones are suffering?

These are just a few quick market research queries you can answer with some targeted Google searches.

2. Talk To Other Franchisees

Of course, you will want to talk to the owner of any franchise you’re considering buying and ask them why they’re selling and other pertinent questions. But it’s also important to get feedback from other franchise locations so you can get a well-rounded view of the particular perks and pitfalls of owning that type of franchise.

You can find the contact information for other franchisees in the Franchise Disclosure Document (I’ll talk more about that document in a moment) and also check message boards and blogs to find whatever “dirt” you can about the franchise. This way, you can know more about what you can expect and decide for yourself whether you’re willing to risk having a similar experience as other franchisees.

3. Determine Your Budget & Financing Options

Before you get too ahead of yourself, you need to know all the costs involved in purchasing a franchise and what you can afford.

Besides the cost of purchasing the franchise, startup fees, and working capital, you also need to factor in your personal expenses. According to the FTC’s Consumer’s Guide to Buying a Franchise (a must-read for any potential franchisee), it could take a year for your franchise to become profitable. Potentially, it could take even longer to turn a profit if the franchise was not profitable at the time of purchase. As a buffer, it’s important to have access to enough capital to ensure you will be able to survive even if your franchise doesn’t!

Once you have a rough idea of how much money you need, you can look into franchise financing options, if necessary. My posts on the best loans for franchises and how to get business acquisition loans are required reading if you’re researching loans to acquire an existing franchise.

4. What Is The USP?

When it comes to any business, the USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, is crucial in determining the business’s success. This is especially true with franchises, as the brand’s uniform nature makes it difficult to differentiate one franchise from the next. With that said, there are still important differences between different franchises within the same brand, and you need to figure out if the franchise you’re considering purchasing has something that makes it unique. Some examples include:

  • Prime Location: Is the franchise right off a popular freeway exit? How close is the nearest location of this franchise?
  • Added Features: For example, some McDonald’s restaurants have play structures and others do not.
  • Unique Building Or Business Space: A building’s age, design, and layout can all affect how attractive it is to patrons.

It may also be possible to add your own USP to a franchise. When working within the confines of a franchise contract, it can be difficult or impossible to offer something unique in terms of your products or services. However, there are still ways you can make your franchise location outshine the rest.

For example, you can keep your gym franchise much cleaner than the other gym locations in your city. Or, if you read online reviews saying that the tax preparation franchises in your town have incompetent staff, you can take efforts to make customer service shine at your tax prep franchise. You may also be able to invest in structural improvements before your grand reopening, such as improved equipment or a new franchise point of sale system.

5. The FDD & Other Pre-Sale Due Diligence

Once you determine which franchise interests you, you’ll need to do various pre-purchase due-diligence, such as reviewing financial documents, performing a business valuation, and making sure the franchisor approves of the transfer (they may not approve in some cases). Assuming you don’t have a legal background, hiring a franchise attorney can help you with most of these pre-purchase tasks.

Another important part of the pre-sale process reviewing the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD). This document contains important information about the entire franchise brand as well as individual franchise locations and franchisees. If you find out in the FDD that the franchise you want to buy has had a lot of owners in the past few years, this may indicate that the franchise location is not profitable or that the franchisor has not provided adequate support to this location.

Final Thoughts

Buying a franchise is not right for everyone. However, it might be right for you if …

  • You want to own a business but don’t necessarily have a specific skill or vision
  • Lack of control over how to run your business doesn’t bother you
  • You have savings or additional income to live on until your franchise opens and becomes profitable (for example, retirement income)
  • You are a hard worker by nature and good at following the rules
  • The franchise you’re considering purchasing is a successful one and/or you have something unique you can add to make it successful

If you follow all of the tips I’ve laid out in this post, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful franchisee.

Quickly compare franchise loan options:
Lender Borrowing Amount APR Req. Time in Business Min. Credit Score Next Steps

$2K – $5M

Varies

6 months

550

Apply Now

smartbiz logo

$30K – $350K

6.36% – 9.57%

2 years

650

Apply Now

applepie capital logo

$100,000+

Approx. 9% – 16%

N/A

N/A

Compare

$25K – $500K

7.4% – 36%

2 years

620

Compare

For more information on lenders that will help finance your franchise purchase, contact us and we’ll be happy to suggest a suitable lending service to help you get that franchise loan.

The post Should I Buy A Franchise & How Do I Start? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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3dcart VS Volusion

3dcart-vs-Volusion

3dcart VS Volusion
✓ Pricing
Ease of Use ✓
✓ Features
Web Design ✓
✓ Integrations & Add-Ons
✓ Payment Processing
Tie Customer Service & Technical Support Tie
Tie Negative Reviews & Complaints Tie
Tie Positive Reviews & Testimonials Tie
Winner Final Verdict
Read Review Read Review
Visit Site Visit Site

Everyone knows starting a business is a challenge, and setting up an online store can be particularly difficult. Not only do you have to find a product and make a business plan, you also have to build an entire website that can operate as your selling platform. This was an almost impossible obstacle for many sellers just a few years ago, but modern software has eliminated many of the hurdles merchants would otherwise have to overcome.

Cloud-based, all-inclusive store building software programs like 3dcart and Volusion can give you the tools you need to make your idea a reality. And because these software place a strong focus on ease of use, all sellers (even those with little technical knowledge) can get a store up and running in just a few weeks–or less!

As a fully hosted solution, 3dcart aims to be accessible and affordable for all merchants. Small and large businesses alike can use this eCommerce platform successfully, as is evidenced by the 22,000 current users. What’s more, 3dcart is continually expanding its features and services to fit even more users.

In the same way, Volusion is a comprehensive shopping cart solution for small to large businesses. Volusion hosts over 30,000 stores and is now offering two versions of their software: the more feature rich V1 and the easy to use (but still developing) V2. Volusion gives merchants the option of choosing between the two.

So, which of these shopping cart solutions should you choose? Well, it depends.

3dcart and Volusion both come with unique advantages and disadvantages, and your choice will depend on your business’s needs. To learn which solution is right for your online store, keep reading. We’ll compare the two shopping carts head-to-head in categories such as pricing, ease of use, and web design. Read on.

Don’t have time to read an entire article? Take a look at our top-rated eCommerce solutions for a few quick recommendations. Every option we present here offers excellent customer support, superb web templates, and easy-to-use software, all for a reasonable price.

Web-Hosted Or Licensed

Both platforms are web-hosted.

Hardware & Software Requirements

None. You just need a computer, secure internet access, and an up to date browser.

Pricing

Winner: 3dcart

3dcart and Volusion follow similar pricing models. Both services are billed on a monthly basis, no contract required, with advanced features included in higher level plans. If you commit to a year-long purchase, you can benefit from a discount of 10%. Keep in mind that many software solutions do not offer refunds on year-long purchases, so don’t commit to a full year until you’re sure the platform will work for you.

3dcart determines pricing levels by the number of staff users and availability of features. All plans beyond the startup plan come with unlimited products and bandwidth. Take a look at a brief breakdown:

  • Startup: $19/Month
    • 1 Staff User
    • 100 Products
    • Sell Up To $10K/Year
  • Basic: $29/Month
    • 2 Staff Users
  • Plus: $79/Month
    • 5 Staff Users
  • Pro: $229/Month
    • 15 Staff Users

3dcart also makes an enterprise platform available for any merchant with an annual revenue of over $400K/Year. There are also discounts available for charities and non-profits.

Pricing for Volusion differs between their two versions: V1 and V2. The most notable difference is that pricing for V1 does not include any transaction fees; however, bandwidth on this plan is limited and bandwidth overage fees apply. On the other hand, V2 comes with unlimited bandwidth, but merchants will have to pay transaction fees on all their sales. See both pricing models below:

V1 Pricing

  • Mini: $15/Month
    • 1GB Bandwidth
    • 100 Products
  • Plus: $35/Month
    • 3GB Bandwidth
    • 1,000 Products
  • Pro: $75/Month
    • 10GB Bandwidth
    • 10,000 Products
  • Premium: $135/Month
    • 35GB Bandwidth
    • Unlimited Products

V2 Pricing

  • Personal: $25/Month
    • Unlimited Products & Storage
    • 2% Transaction Fee
  • Professional: $75/Month
    • Unlimited Products & Storage
    • 1% Transaction Fee
  • Business: $135/Month
    • Unlimited Products & Storage
    • 0.5% Transaction Fee

When we compare 3dcart and Volusion, we can see that monthly rates for each pricing level are similar, with Volusion offering cheaper premium level plans. However, Volusion also charges fees in addition to these monthly rates (either bandwidth overage fees or transaction fees, depending on the version). For this reason, we’re awarding the category to 3dcart.

Get Started With 3dcart

Get Started With Volusion V1

Get Started With Volusion V2

Ease Of Use

Winner: Volusion

3dcart and Volusion both claim to be easy to use solutions. Let’s take a closer look at each software.

3dcart offers all potential users a risk-free, 15-day trial, so you can test out the platform for yourself without handing over any credit card information.

When you log in, you’ll get to explore 3dcart’s dashboard. 3dcart organizes all features in a toolbar on the left. Use categories and subcategories to navigate the software. Use video tutorials to learn the basic procedures.

Adding a product to your store is a two-step process.  First, you have to input and save basic product information. Once you’ve saved that page, you’ll be able to add in more detailed product information. For example, you can adjust shipping, inventory, and SEO settings.

3dcart is relatively easy to learn, though you may have difficulty locating features initially. Some features are buried in places you wouldn’t expect under titles you might not know to look for. Discounts features, for example, are available under “Promotion Manager.” Overall, we give 3dcart a four out of five stars in ease of use.

Volusion also offers trials of their software. You can sign up for free 14-day trials of both V1 and V2. Let’s start with V1.

When you log into your trial, you’ll find this dashboard:

Use tutorial videos to quickly learn your way around.

As it is with 3cart, adding a product on Volusion is a two-step process. First, add your basic product information. When you’ve saved that, you can add advanced information like SEO and shipping details along with more product descriptions.

While we don’t think Volusion V1 has the easiest dashboard in the eCommerce industry, it shouldn’t take too long to learn. You’ll find plenty of features available in the tool bar up top; you just have to figure out how to implement them the first few times.

Volusion V2 is the company’s newest attempt to make an easy to use eCommerce platform. The software is still in development, and while it is missing a few features, the UI is looking pretty good.

We’d still like to see a bit more work done to this admin. In particular, we’d like to see subcategories added to the toolbar on the left. This would make navigation require fewer clicks, which can really add up for online sellers.

V2’s “add a product page” is inviting in its simple and colorful design.

We have experienced some frustration with V2’s simple design, however. V2 tends to railroad users through basic operations, which can be a pain when you don’t need the help.

For example, when you go to set up a discount, you will encounter this screen:

You have to select the appropriate options before you’ll be presented the more typical discount creation page:

I would rather enter my information first into this second page. I don’t find the first page to be particularly helpful.

Volusion’s goal with V2 was to create a platform that’s easier to use, and they accomplish that goal. Personally, however, if I were to choose a version of Volusion, I would still pick V1. I think it’s worth learning a slightly more difficult software in order to access better features.

With so many versions of these software available, it’s difficult to directly compare 3dcart and Volusion. As far as ease of use goes, I think 3dcart and V1 are comparable, and V2 is slightly easier to use.

For this reason, we’re giving ease of use to Volusion.

Features

Winner: 3dcart

To get the best idea of these shopping carts’ features, a good plan is to visit each platform’s website and review the full list. However, if you don’t have time to do that just now, we’ll provide a brief overview of a few special features that each software offers below.

3dcart offers users lots of features, even at the lowest pricing plan. Here are a few:

  • Sell Digital: Sell digital products alongside your physical products.
  • Checkout Options: Choose either one-page or three-page checkout.
  • Automatic Calculators: Use tax and shipping calculators to generate real-time quotes.
  • Abandoned Cart Saver: Email customers to remind them to complete their orders.
  • Built-In Blog: Boost your brand and SEO with a blog.
  • SmartCategories: Create an “On Sale” category to showcase items.
  • Bulk Import / Export: Migrate platforms or make large scale edits with import and export features.
  • POS: Sell in-person with 3dcart Point Of Sale.

As you might expect, Volusion’s two versions come with different feature sets. Here are a few V1 features:

  • Abandoned Cart Reports & Emails: Encourage more conversions.
  • Allow Reviews: Let customers leave reviews on your products.
  • Returned Merchandise Authorization (RMA) Tool: Easily process returned products.
  • Sell On Facebook, Amazon, eBay: Sync channels with your store and manage your multichannel orders from Volusion.
  • Content Delivery Network (CDN): Use a CDN to deliver site content faster.

And here are features for V2:

  • Instant Search: Let customers search products on your storefront.
  • Checkout On Your Domain: Customers will not be redirected to a Volusion subdomain at checkout (available for merchants on the Professional and Business level plans).
  • Shipping Features: Create shipping options like signature-required shipments, discounted shipping, and flat rate shipping.
  • Bulk Import: Use CSV files to import new inventory in bulk.
  • Returned Merchandise Authorization (RMA) Tool: Process returns easily.
  • Dropshipping App: Use Volusion’s already-integrated dropshipping app to fulfill orders without handling merchandise.

3dcart is well known for their robust feature set. Volusion, on the other hand, is still working on expanding their feature set to better match their competitors’. 3dcart wins this one.

Get Started With 3dcart

Get Started With Volusion V1

Get Started With Volusion V2

Web Design

Winner: Volusion

As hosted software, 3dcart and Volusion work to provide elegant, easily customizable design templates for their customers.

3dcart users can find 90 free themes in 3dcart’s marketplace, all of which are mobile responsive. These themes are rather middle-of-the-road. They aren’t spectacular, but they aren’t ugly.

3dcart also has a few dozen premium themes available for purchase. These themes cost $99-$199.

Sellers can edit these themes in a variety of ways. Tech savvy users can edit the HTML and CSS, and less experienced users can use the WYSIWYG editor to make changes to your store’s language (like buttons, tabs, etc.). 3dcart also has a drag and drop available for merchants who request it, but it isn’t a very strong editing option.

Volusion features different themes for V1 and V2. V1 has a selection of 46 themes, 11 of which are free. V1 also sells premium themes at $180.

V2 has a much smaller set of themes–just 14–and all of them are free and mobile responsive. There do not appear to be any premium templates available for V2.

Theme editing between the two versions is different as well. V1 users are equipped with code editing tools. You can use HTML and CSS editors. There are also a WYSIWYG editor and visual style editor, which you can use to adjust and add blocks of content to your site.

Theme editing with V2 is much more focused on ease of use. You can use V2’s visual editor to make larger changes without touching the code. Or, if you’d prefer, you can make changes directly to the CSS.

While 3dcart provides more template options, we think Volusion has more user-friendly editing tools. Volusion wins web design.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: 3dcart

3dcart’s marketplace features plenty of add-ons that offer a variety of features, including order management, shipping, security, social media, dropshipping, channel management, advertisement, and more. There’s also a RESTful API that developers can use to build more customizations and connections.

Volusion also has a strong app marketplace for merchants on the V1 version. There are over 70 integrations available for shipping, email, accounting, and more.

V2, on the other hand, does not provide so many options. There are only 22 applications currently available. It’s worth noting, however, that one of those applications is Zapier, which facilitates connections to many, many more integrations. Zapier is a paid service.

Both versions of Volusion also have APIs available for further development.

We’re basing our decision for this category on numbers. 3dcart wins!

Payment Processing

Winner: 3dcart

3dcart connects with over 100 payment gateways. You’ll have plenty of options.

Both versions of Volusion connect with significantly fewer payment gateways. V1 has 30+ payment gateways, and V1 only connects with two options: PayPal and Stripe (if you connect with Stripe, you can also enable Apple Pay).

In addition, Volusion offers its own in-house payment service for V1 merchants only: Volusion Payments. Volusion Payments lets you process transactions for around 2.15% + $0.30 per transaction with no monthly fee (note: this rate is a ballpark number. Your actual rates may be lower or higher). Volusion Payments requires users to sign a three year contract. If you terminate this contract after the 45 day grace period, you will be charged a $99 termination fee. While we’re happy that Volusion has its own payment services, we are displeased with the way they provide information about the services. Volusion is not very upfront about their fees on their website. We wish they were more transparent.

We’re giving the category to 3dcart.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Tie

All 3dcart plans come with personalized support via email, live chat, and phone. Self help support options include a knowledge base, video tutorials, a support forum, webinars, and an e-university. 3dcart’s response times are good for inquiries via phone or web ticket. However, their response times for live chat support are significantly delayed. Essentially, “live chat” is just another way to submit web tickets. It takes hours for support reps to get back to you.

Customer support is the same for both versions of Volusion. All plans (except Mini on V1 and Personal on V2) come with 24/7 support via phone, chat, and email. Self help resources include a knowledge base, webinars, video tutorials, a blog, and guides. There are mixed reviews only about the quality of Volusion’s customer support. Some have great experiences, others don’t.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

Every shopping cart comes with its fair share of negative reviews. Here’s what users dislike about each platform:

3dcart

  • Poor Customer Service: Users claim customer support is slow to respond to inquiries. Note below in the “Positive Reviews” section that this is not a universal experience.
  • Plain Templates: 3dcart’s templates aren’t bad, but they lack pizzaz.
  • Expensive Add-Ons: The cost of using multiple integrations and extensions can add up.

Volusion

  • Additional Fees: Merchants on both versions face additional fees: bandwidth overage fees on V1 and transaction fees on V2.
  • Dated Software: Users complain that Volusion’s features are not up-to-date with cutting edge software.
  • Misleading Sales Reps: I have seen a lot of reports of misleading sales tactics. It’s worth noting that Volusion has recently put a lot of work into improving their support system, and they claim higher levels of customer satisfaction.
  • No Free SSL On V1: Merchants on V1 have to purchase their own SSL certificate. These are normally included for free with hosted software.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

Despite these negative reviews, there’s still a lot of good things to say about both of these platforms. Here’s what users love about 3dcart and Volusion:

3dcart

  • Low Price: 3dcart’s prices are competitive with other leading eCommerce software.
  • Good Customer Support: Some users have positive experiences with 3dcart’s support team.
  • Easy To Use: 3dcart’s UI is easy to learn, no matter what your technical ability level is.
  • Many Features Built In: 3dcart offers a robust feature set right out of the box. You’ll be able to access advanced features without add-ons.

Volusion

  • It Works: Users like that they can get started right away with all the necessary features. In addition, Volusion users say the software is bug-free, which is a huge plus.
  • No Transaction Fees On V1: Merchants on V1 do not have to pay transaction fees. They just need to monitor their bandwidth usage to make sure it stays within limits.
  • Ease Of Use: Volusion’s UI are very user friendly, especially on V2.

Final Verdict

Winner: 3dcart

It’s a close race, but in the end, 3dcart takes the lead. A strong feature set, low pricing, and high ease of use make 3dcart an excellent eCommerce platform for many merchants.

Despite the results of this comparison, Volusion may still be the right choice for your business. Volusion’s two versions give merchants a level of choice that 3dcart can’t offer. You may find that V1 or V2 fits your needs perfectly.

Whichever you choose, we hope you’ll consider signing up for a free trial of the software before you purchase. You can learn a lot from just a couple of hours exploring a software’s admin panel. Click the links below to get started with a trial of 3dcart or Volusion.

Get Started With 3dcart

Get Started With Volusion V1

Get Started With Volusion V2

The post 3dcart VS Volusion appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies

Business owners today know that it’s more important than ever to be able to accept credit cards. Customers carry less cash, and rely on credit and debit cards for the majority of their purchases. If you’re an eCommerce merchant selling online, taking “plastic” is just about your only option. Unfortunately, you can’t accept credit cards unless you have a merchant account, and merchant accounts aren’t free. In fact, they can be very expensive – especially for a small business – if you choose the wrong provider.

The credit card processing industry can be very bewildering, especially for a first-time business owner. There are dozens of companies providing processing services, and each of them offers different processing rates, fees, and contract terms. A provider that’s a good deal for a very small business might be prohibitively expensive for a larger one, and vice versa. Naturally, merchants want to cut through the confusion and get a quick answer to the question “Which one is the cheapest?” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to save money, especially for a new business that has to count every penny. However, if you look up “cheap” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you’ll note that while cheap can mean “charging or obtainable at a low price,” it can also mean “of inferior quality or worth.” If you’ve ever been disappointed with a product purchase when you thought you were getting a good deal, you know that these two definitions often go together.

Here’s a quick look at some of our favorite low-cost credit card processors. Some are free to use. You just pay for the transaction you process. We don’t cover all of these in-depth in this post, but you can check out our complete reviews for all the details. 

The Overall Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies for 2018

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Best Choice For Small-ticket, Canada, Mobile, eCommerce  All businesses, Mobile, Retail eCommerce, Mobile Canada, Restaurants Large-ticket, All-in-one, Recurring billing
POS and Other Features Included Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Rate Matching/ Negotiable No Yes No Yes Yes
Pricing Structure Flat Rate Interchange-Plus Flat Rate Interchange-Plus Subscription
Retail Rates 2.75% 0.30% + $0.10 2.70% 0.20% + $0.10 0.00% + $0.08
Basic Monthly Fee $0 $0 $9 $9.95 $99

Before we delve into specific processors, there are two important points that you need to understand:

  1. The company offering the lowest processing rates or fees isn’t necessarily the cheapest. The total percentage of your credit card sales that you’ll have to fork over to your merchant account provider isn’t an easy thing to calculate in advance with any precision. Variable processing rates and hidden (or at least unanticipated) fees can easily result in you paying much more than you thought you were going to for processing. Companies offering flat-rate pricing fare much better in this regard, as their simple pricing structure makes it relatively easy to estimate your monthly processing costs.
  2. The “cheapest” processor isn’t necessarily the best one for your business. While you naturally want to be able to accept credit cards while paying the least amount of money for the privilege, companies offering the lowest rates often cut corners in other aspects of their service to make those low rates possible. Poor customer service, for example, is a common problem among the least-expensive processors. If you want the best overall, you might also check out our top picks for small business credit card processing.

Types Of Providers

With the advent of new, low-cost providers, there are now two broad categories of companies providing credit card processing services. These include traditional (or full-service) merchant account providers, and payment services providers, who offer credit card processing, but without some of the features of a full-service merchant account. It’s very important that you understand the difference between the two.

Payment service providers (PSPs) can process your credit card transactions, but they don’t provide you with a unique merchant ID number for your business. Instead, your account is aggregated together with other merchants. This lowers the cost of things like monthly account fees and PCI compliance, but it also means that your account is much more vulnerable to being suddenly frozen or shut down for the slightest hint of fraud. Getting your account working again is complicated by the fact that most PSPs provide little in the way of one-on-one customer service. For a very small business, a PSP may very well be more affordable than a full-service merchant account, especially since you won’t have to pay so many recurring fees just to keep your account open. Be aware, however, that you’ll constantly be running the risk of suddenly losing access to your account and not being able to accept credit cards at all with a PSP. If your business processes a high number of credit card transactions on a daily basis, the loss of business you’ll incur if your account is frozen is quite high. Popular PSPs include PayPal, Square, and Stripe.

Traditional merchant accounts include a number of features you won’t find with most PSPs. The primary distinction is that you will be assigned a merchant identification number that is unique to your business. This number automatically identifies you to processors, issuing banks, and credit card associations. While it might not sound like much, having a unique merchant ID number helps to lower the risk of fraud and improves the stability of your account. While you still might have to endure a hold on funds for an unusually large transaction, the chances of your account being completely frozen for no apparent reason are much less than they are with a PSP. Merchant account providers also offer a host of ancillary services, including PCI security scans, customizable payment gateways for online payments, support for ACH (eCheck) payments, and many others. These bells and whistles don’t come cheap, of course. You’ll pay more in monthly fees than you will for an account with a PSP. However, you’ll also pay lower processing rates, especially if your merchant account provider offers interchange-plus pricing. For many medium-sized and larger businesses, a full-service merchant account will actually be less expensive than a PSP.

How We Chose

We used a number of criteria to determine which processors offered the lowest overall costs and the best service in most situations, including the following:

  • Pricing: Since we’re profiling the cheapest processors in the industry, it should come as no surprise that pricing would be our top criterion. It isn’t that simple, however. Pricing can be very complex, and there are a lot of variables to analyze in making a cost comparison between one provider and another. Fortunately, flat-rate pricing is relatively easy to analyze, as there’s usually little or no variability in the processing rates. Interchange-plus pricing, on the other hand, is very complex, as there are a bewildering number of possible rates charged under the “interchange” portion of the processing rate formula. To get a better idea of just how complicated processing rates can be, check out our Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates & Fees.
  • Contracts: No one wants to be stuck in a long-term contract with an expensive early termination fee if you close your account early, but that’s what many traditional merchant account providers will offer you. All the companies profiled here – including both PSPs and full-service merchant account providers – offer month-to-month contracts. You can close your account and switch to a different provider any time you want, and with no penalty.
  • Hardware: Unless you’re running an eCommerce-only business, you’re going to need some equipment to process your customers’ credit cards. Most of the companies profiled here offer a variety of EMV-compliant credit card terminals, POS systems, and mobile card swipers. Equipment is offered for sale at competitive prices – sometimes it’s even free! You can also buy your own equipment and have it reprogrammed to work with your provider’s service. Note that Stripe is eCommerce-only and PayPal only offers a mobile payment solution through their ancillary service, PayPal Here.
  • eCommerce support: Buying online continues to overtake traditional retail shopping, and all our profiled providers offer support for eCommerce. This includes both a payment gateway to send payment data to the processor and a virtual terminal to allow you to enter transactions on your computer or mobile device. Each provider also offers options for integrating your website with online shopping carts and developer tools for customizing the interface between your site and their services.
  • Customer support: While every provider offers customer support and service, some do a much better job at it than others. We looked for vendors that provided 24/7 telephone support, as well as an online knowledgebase that allows merchants to troubleshoot common problems on their own. As we’ve noted, some PSPs don’t provide very good customer support at all. That’s one of the trade-offs you’ll have to be aware of if you want to go with the “cheapest” option for credit card processing.

Remember, there isn’t a single processor out there that can offer the lowest costs to every merchant. What might be a very inexpensive solution for you might not be such a good deal for someone else. Also, paying the least amount of money for processing won’t be of much use to you if you have to worry about your account suddenly being frozen or shut down, or if the customer service behind your account isn’t adequate to solve technical problems for you when they arise. That said, here are our six top choices for the cheapest credit card processing companies:

Square Payments

Everyone has heard of Square (see our review) by now. With its free Square Reader, app-based payment system, and simple pricing structure, it’s one of the most popular processing services on the market for small businesses. Square’s pay-as-you-go system allows businesses that ordinarily couldn’t afford a merchant account to accept credit cards.

Retail businesses love Square for its low-priced card readers, which replace traditional credit card terminals with a smartphone-based system that’s both affordable and mobile. In addition to a card reader, you’ll need the free Square app, a smartphone, and an Internet connection. Square’s original card reader is free and you’ll receive one when you open your account. However, it can only read magstripe cards and requires a headphone jack to function. Most users will want to shell out a few extra bucks for a newer, EMV-compliant reader. The Square reader is only $49.00, and supports both EMV and NFC-based payment methods. It also uses Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone or tablet – no headphone jack required.

 

Cheapest Mobile Credit Card Processing Company

The Essentials:
✓ $0 monthly fee
✓ 2.75% for all card-present transactions
✓ Exceptional POS app included free
✓ Free credit card reader available
Proprietary software suite includes:
• Point of sale software
• Inventory management
• Mobile app
• Virtual terminal
• Invoicing/billing
• API for custom solutions
Visit the Square website
Read our Square review

Square’s pricing structure is about as simple as it gets. There are no monthly fees whatsoever for a basic account, and none of the types of “hidden” fees that traditional merchant account providers like to tack on. While some advanced features require a monthly subscription, these are entirely optional, and most businesses probably won’t need them. Square’s processing rates are also very simple:

  • 2.75% for all card-present transactions (including magstripe, EMV, and NFC)
  • 2.90% + $0.30 for all invoices and eCommerce transactions
  • 3.50% + $0.15 for all virtual terminal and keyed-in transactions

That’s it! You don’t have to worry about non-qualified transactions, batch fees, or anything else. Funds are deposited into the user’s account within 1-2 business days in most cases. Billing is month-to-month, so you don’t have to worry about long-term contracts and early termination fees. You can quit anytime you want without penalty.

This all sounds great – and it is – if you’re a small business that has to watch every penny and can’t afford to shell out a significant amount of money every month just to have a merchant account. For a larger business, however, Square’s pricing actually isn’t the best deal available. Flat-rate pricing is deliberately on the high side because it has to pay for all the other services that most providers bill you separately for. At a certain point (roughly $10,000 per month in processing volume), you’re actually better off going with a full-service merchant account provider that offers interchange-plus pricing. Yes, you’ll have to pay those pesky account fees, but your processing rates will be so much lower that you’ll save money overall.

Besides high processing rates, Square has a few other drawbacks as well. We’ve already mentioned that your account is much more likely to be frozen or terminated unexpectedly, but what makes this situation worse is that Square’s customer service isn’t so great. The company didn’t even have telephone support for several years after it launched, but it does now. Unfortunately, it’s only available during business hours, and the large number of complaints about it suggests that the quality of support you’ll receive if you call in with a problem is inconsistent at best.

But is it really the cheapest way to go? Well, it depends. For a very small business that doesn’t have a high processing volume, Square’s lack of account fees and predictable pricing can make it very affordable. On the other hand, a larger business with a high processing volume will end up paying much more under those flat-rate prices than it would with an interchange-plus pricing plan.

Square keeps costs low by aggregating accounts together rather than issuing each user a unique Merchant ID number. Because of this, you won’t get a true full-service merchant account. The trade-off is that there’s a much higher chance that your account will be frozen or terminated without notice if fraud is suspected. This might be a minor inconvenience to a retail business that mostly deals in cash and only occasionally takes credit cards, but it’s catastrophic to an eCommerce business where cash isn’t an option.

PROS:

  • No monthly account fees
  • Low-cost EMV-compliant card readers available
  • No long-term contracts or early termination fees

CONS:

  • Not a full-service merchant account; no unique Merchant ID number
  • Frequent account holds and terminations
  • Flat-rate pricing is more expensive than interchange-plus for larger businesses

For a more detailed look at Square, be sure to check out our full review.

Payline Data

Payline Data (see our review) covers all the bases for small business transactions, from mobile and online payments to in-store sales. They offer easy-to-understand pricing plans that are very affordable, especially for low-volume sellers. However, the company’s website fully explains all of the extra features and their associated costs, so you know up front what you’ll have to pay. Payline also stands out from the crowd for their corporate philosophy of charitable giving and support for non-profits through discounted pricing and their “Commercial Co-Venture” program.

 

Cheapest Merchant Account Provider

The Essentials:
✓ No early termination fees
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pass-through pricing
✓ Outstanding $0 monthly fee option
✓ Exceptional ecommerce shopping cart compatibility
Proprietary software suite includes:
• Excellent mobile processing app
• Easy integration API for customization
• Virtual terminal
• Billing management
Visit the Payline website
Read our Payline review

For brand-new or mobile businesses, Payline Start is the most affordable plan. There’s no monthly fee, and pass-through markup rates are set at 0.30% + $0.10 per transaction. In addition to the free virtual terminal, you’ll also receive a free Ingenico GX5 card reader and the Payline Mobile app to go with it. If you’re looking for value, but want better equipment and lower rates, the Payline Shop plan might be right for you. This plan includes the same features as the Payline Start plan, but lowers your processing rate. The plan costs $10 per month, and markup rates are set at 0.20% + $0.10 per transaction. Mobile businesses and small to medium retailers will benefit the most from this plan.

For more information, see our complete Payline Data review.

CDGcommerce

No account setup fees. No PCI compliance fees. No gateway fees. No monthly minimums, either. There’s a lot of things that CDGcommerce (see our review) doesn’t charge you for, making them a very affordable option for small businesses and those just getting off the ground. They also offer month-to-month contracts with no early termination fee, so in the unlikely event that you aren’t happy with their service, you can close your account without penalty.

So, what do you pay for? Besides processing charges, you’ll only have to pay a $10.00 monthly account fee. This gets you both a full-service merchant account and a payment gateway. You can select either CDG’s own proprietary Quantum gateway or Authorize.Net. Either way, there’s no fee for using the gateway, and no additional per-transaction processing fee. While this is a great deal, you also have the option of adding the cdg360 security package for an extra $15.00 per month. It comes with customized security alerts, PCI-DSS vulnerability scans, and $100,000 in data breach/theft protection. It’s well worth paying a little extra for, especially for eCommerce merchants.

Good Option for Online Payment Processing

The Essentials:
✓ No early termination fees
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pass-through pricing
✓ Free payment gateway option with activation within an hour
✓ Exceptional ecommerce shopping cart compatibility
✓ Over 20 years with excellent reputation
Proprietary fraud prevention suite includes:
• Automatic high-risk order detection
• Dialverify phone order verification
• Cardholder authentication (VbV/MSC)
• Chargeback defender
• Easy integration and API for customization
Visit the CDGcommerce website
Read our CDGcommerce review

We don’t recommend leasing a credit card terminal, but CDG has a program that’s very different from traditional leases, and is actually a good deal. For only $79 per year (for terminal insurance), CDG will provide you with a terminal and keep it updated. This works out to $6.58 per month, a fraction of what most terminal leasing companies will charge you. If you need a wireless terminal, you’ll also have to pay $20.00 per month for wireless data and an additional $0.05 per transaction in processing fees.

You won’t need to negotiate with CDG to figure out your processing rates. All their rate plans are interchange-plus and are fully disclosed on their website. The company offers a choice between Simplified and Advanced pricing plans, with Simplified pricing being designed for merchants processing less than $10,000 per month, and Advanced pricing being for those processing $10,000 or more per month. Here are their current rates:

Simplified Pricing:

  • Online: interchange + 0.30% + $0.15 per transaction
  • Retail (swipe or POS): interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Mobile: interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Non-profit: interchange + 0.20% + $0.10 per transaction

With very low account fees and competitive interchange-plus processing rates, CDGcommerce offers a great combination of price and value. If you’ve been using Square or PayPal and want to upgrade to a full-service merchant account, they’re an excellent option.

PROS:

  • Interchange-plus pricing
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Free payment gateway with virtual terminal
  • Excellent customer service

CONS:

  • Only available to US-based merchants

For more information, see our complete review here.

Dharma Merchant Services

Headquartered in downtown San Francisco, California, it should come as no surprise that Dharma Merchant Services (see our review) is far more socially responsible than just about any other merchant account provider in the industry. For you, that enlightened corporate philosophy translates into fair and transparent pricing, reasonable contract terms, and excellent customer support.

Because they don’t try to squeeze extra money out of struggling small business owners, you won’t have to pay an account setup fee or an annual fee. There’s no monthly minimum, either. You will pay a $10.00 monthly fee and a $7.95 per month fee for PCI compliance. Other fees (most of which are per-occurrence, such as chargeback fees) are fully disclosed on their website. Like many of our other favorite processors, Dharma doesn’t have long-term contracts, either. Billing is month-to-month, and there’s no early termination fee if you close your account.

Dharma Merchant Services review

Good Option for Nonprofits and B2B Payments

The Essentials:
✓ Provides discounted rates for nonprofits
✓ Exceptional customer service
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pass-through pricing
✓ Proven track record with nonprofits
Free MX Merchant Software includes:
• Level 2 and level 3 data for lower interchange rates on B2B processing
• Virtual terminal
• Invoicing/billing
Visit the Dharma Merchant Services website
Read our Dharma Merchant Services review

The company uses interchange-plus pricing exclusively and lists their rates right on their website. Here’s their current processing rate information:

  • Storefront: interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Virtual: interchange + 0.35% + $0.15 per transaction
  • Restaurant: interchange + 0.20% + $0.07 per transaction

If you need a terminal, Dharma will sell you either the First Data FD-130 or Verifone Vx520. They’ll also reprogram your existing terminal, if you have one. Need a POS system? Dharma offers the Clover Mini, and will sell it to you outright rather than leasing it. If you need a mobile payments system instead, Dharma offers the Clover Go for $99.00, plus a $10.00 monthly fee. For $139, you can upgrade to the Clover Go Contactless, which connects via Bluetooth instead of your phone’s headphone jack.

Dharma doesn’t have a minimum monthly volume requirement, but they do acknowledge that their fees and rates aren’t the lowest on the market for businesses that process less than $10,000 per month. You’re still free to sign up if you need a full-service merchant account, but they recommend either PayPal or Square if you don’t.

PROS:

  • Transparent interchange-plus pricing
  • Minimal account fees
  • Full range of services and equipment for both retail and online businesses
  • Great customer support

CONS:

  • Not a good fit for low-volume (less than $10,000 per month) accounts

For more information on Dharma, see our complete review here.

Helcim

Headquartered up in the Great White North, Helcim (see our review) provides outstanding service and affordable prices to both Canadian and US-based merchants. They offer interchange-plus pricing exclusively, and their website features one of the most detailed and transparent explanations of their rates and fees that you’ll find anywhere.

Transparency and honesty are major themes with Helcim, which is something you won’t often find with many other providers. Reading their website will give you a quick education on all the sneaky, misleading tricks that other companies use to squeeze more money out of their merchants. Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about this kind of behavior with Helcim. Not only do they fully disclose their processing rates, account fees, and contract terms, but they also provide all their services at fair, competitive prices.

 

Good Option for Canadian Businesses

The Essentials:
✓ No early termination fees
✓ Transparent interchange-plus pricing
✓ Exceptional reputation in Canada
✓ High-quality all-in-one payment platform
✓ Great educational material
Proprietary Helcim Commerce solution includes:
• Point of sale software
• Inventory management
• Billing and invoicing
• Virtual terminal
Visit the Helcim website
Read our Helcim review

Unlike many of their competitors, Helcim encourages merchants to buy their credit card terminals outright rather than leasing them. The company offers a number of popular models, most of which are EMV-compliant. For a little extra cash up front, you can also get an NFC-capable terminal that supports Apple Pay and other similar mobile payment methods. If you already have a terminal, they’ll reprogram it to work with their system for free. Unfortunately, Canadian EMV-compliant terminals are not designed to be transferred or resold, so Canadian customers will have to use the rental option or buy a new machine. Renting on a month-to-month basis (which is not the same as leasing) is usually the best choice for Canadian merchants.

Helcim offers three basic pricing plans: a Retail Plan, an eCommerce Plan, and a combined Retail + eCommerce Plan. The Retail Plan costs a flat $15.00 per month. This fee covers PCI compliance, and there are no account setup or statement fees. There’s also no monthly minimum. All swiped transactions are processed at a rate of interchange + 0.25% + $0.08 per transaction.

Helcim’s eCommerce Plan works the same way, but it costs $35.00 per month. This gives you access to the company’s proprietary Helcim Payment Gateway, which includes support for recurring billing, a customer information storage system, shopping cart integration, and a customizable payment gateway API. The plan also includes a virtual terminal that allows mail order or telephone order businesses to key in transactions on any computer. All online (i.e., card-not-present) transactions are processed at a rate of interchange + 0.45% + $0.25 per transaction.

The Retail + eCommerce Plan includes all features of the other two plans, and costs $50.00 per month. Processing rates are the same as for the other two plans.

There are few downsides to Helcim’s services. One way they’re able to keep costs so low is to exclude high-risk merchants from signing up. This policy lowers the company’s overall risk profile, but it also means you’ll be out of luck if you meet their high-risk criteria. Because they charge a monthly fee (albeit a very reasonable one), they’re also not quite as affordable as Square, PayPal, etc. if you’re processing below $2,500 per month. We’re also still waiting for the company to introduce an EMV-compliant mobile card reader. They currently offer a basic, magstripe-only reader that requires a headphone jack to communicate with your smartphone or tablet.

PROS:

  • Extremely transparent fee structure
  • Very competitive rates for businesses processing over $1,500 per month
  • Excellent customer service and support

CONS:

  • Not suited for very small businesses processing less than $1,500 per month
  • Not available for high-risk merchants
  • Mobile card reader isn’t EMV-compatible

For more information, see our complete review here.

Popular (But Less Reliable) Inexpensive Options

PayPal

Everyone has heard of PayPal (see our review). And just about everyone uses it. With an active user base of almost 200 million customers in 200 markets around the world, it’s a good bet that most of your customers use it, too. But can the company fill all your processing needs? The short answer is yes. PayPal has all the features you would need to run a business – either retail or eCommerce – using just their payment processing services and equipment. But would this be cost-effective? Here’s where it gets complicated. While the company offers flat-rate pricing and no monthly fees for its basic accounts, those flat-rate prices are kind of on the high side. Also, if you need features such as a virtual terminal, your account isn’t free. Instead, it’s $30.00 per month, plus your processing charges.

PayPal doesn’t offer true, full-service merchant accounts. Instead, they function as a payment service provider (PSP), which keeps costs relatively low, but also means that they’re quick on the trigger to freeze your account if they suspect that fraud has occurred. Like most PSPs, they don’t have long-term contracts and don’t charge early termination fees. Billing is month-to-month, and an account that doesn’t have a monthly fee is good for a business that only processes credit card transactions occasionally.

PayPal’s basic rate for online transactions is 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. International payments and transactions processed through their virtual terminal cost more, while registered charities and mobile payments get a discount. PayPal fully discloses their rates on their website, so you’ll always know in advance what you’ll be paying.

While PayPal is designed primarily for eCommerce businesses, the company also supports retailers through integration with numerous third-party mobile POS systems and their own mobile payments system, PayPal Here. The latter now includes a Bluetooth-enabled EMV card reader. While many companies offer a free virtual terminal, but charge a monthly fee for the payment gateway needed to use it, PayPal does just the opposite. Their PayFlow Payment Gateway comes with no monthly fee, but if you also need a virtual terminal, you’ll pay $30.00 per month for it. There’s also a small additional per-transaction processing charge.

While these are all great features, there are also some not-so-great things about PayPal that you should be aware of before you sign up. Customer support through their telephone support line is very inconsistent. Some customer service representatives are quite knowledgeable and helpful, while others are not. Fortunately, the company provides an online knowledgebase that should help you solve common problems on your own. As we’ve mentioned, sudden account holds or terminations are also a possibility. If you simply can’t afford to lose access to your account temporarily, consider a different option.

For some businesses, PayPal is really all you need. If you don’t need a virtual terminal or any of the other features of the $30 PayPal Payments Pro plan, you can avoid monthly fees altogether and operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. For larger businesses and those with more specialized needs, PayPal makes an excellent secondary payment option on top of your regular merchant account.

PROS:

  • No monthly fees (for standard account)
  • Transparent flat-rate pricing
  • Most customers have a PayPal account

CONS:

  • High flat-rate processing charges
  • Frequent account freezes, holds, and terminations
  • Inconsistent customer support

For more detailed information about PayPal, see our complete review here.

Stripe Payments

Stripe logo

Just like Square is popular with small retail businesses, Stripe (see our review) is the darling of the eCommerce world. The company functions as a payment service provider (PSP), aggregating accounts and keeping costs low for their clients. There are no monthly fees, and their flat-rate processing plan is extremely simple.

Stripe is so focused on eCommerce that they don’t offer much of anything to retailers. There are no credit card terminals, POS systems, or even mobile payments systems for your smartphone or tablet. So, if you’re a retailer, you can skip right on ahead to the next company profiled below. Stripe is not for you.

eCommerce-only merchants, on the other hand, will find a very robust variety of services to help them sell online. Integration is the name of the game at Stripe, and their payments processing service works with just about every online shopping cart on the market. They also have a vast library of APIs that allow businesses to customize the interface between Stripe and their websites. If you’d like to sell your products through your own app as well as on your website, they offer an impressive in-app purchasing capability.

So, how much does all this techy goodness cost? The short answer is not much – at least under certain circumstances. Since all your transactions will be processed online without a physical card being swiped or dipped, Stripe charges a flat 2.9% + $0.30 for all credit and debit card transactions. eCheck (ACH) and Bitcoin payments are charged a mere 0.8% per transaction. This is the same rate that Square and PayPal also charge for online transactions. There are no additional account fees, although you will be charged $15.00 for each chargeback. Chargeback fees are unavoidable with any processor, but unlike most companies, Stripe will refund your money if the chargeback investigation comes out in your favor.

You also won’t have to worry about long-term contracts or early termination fees, as Stripe bills on a month-to-month basis. This is a useful feature for a growing eCommerce business, as Stripe’s flat-rate pricing suffers the same flaw that plagues Square and PayPal: for a high-volume business, their flat-rate pricing is actually more expensive than what a full-service merchant account can provide through interchange-plus pricing.

While Stripe has some very impressive features, it also has a few serious drawbacks. Like other payment service providers (PSPs), account holds and terminations occur frequently and without notice. Stripe uses a machine learning-enabled algorithm to scan accounts for possible fraud, and it’s definitely programmed to err on the side of caution. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could call up a human customer service representative on the phone and resolve the situation. Unfortunately, you can’t – Stripe doesn’t offer telephone support at all. Instead, you’ll have to contact the company through email and wait for a response. Judging from the many complaints about Stripe’s customer service, the quality of those responses leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite its shortcomings, Stripe is a good choice for a new eCommerce venture. You’ll enjoy pay-as-you-go service with no monthly fees, and you won’t have to worry about long-term contracts. The company’s extensive library of developer tools can offer you options that you might not be able to find with other providers. Just be aware that when your business grows beyond a certain point, you’ll need the security and reliability of a full-service merchant account. You’ll also save money on processing charges by switching to interchange-plus pricing.

PROS:

  • Simple flat-rate pricing structure
  • No additional fees or long-term contracts
  • Huge API library for developers

CONS:

  • Flat-rate pricing is more expensive than interchange-plus for high-volume merchants
  • Frequent account holds and terminations
  • No telephone customer support

For more information, see our complete review here.

Final Thoughts

As you’ve probably noticed by now, pricing for credit card processing is a ridiculously complicated subject. With dozens of interchange rates and a wild assortment of fees, trying to figure out how much accepting credit cards is going to cost your business inevitably comes down to guesswork. While you can make a reasonable estimation based on your processing history and your business type, it’s not realistic to expect that you’ll be able to come up with a precise figure. Fortunately, the companies we’ve profiled here fully disclose their processing rates and fees, making your job of estimating your costs much easier.

We’ve only listed six of the most popular and most affordable processors here, so be aware that the cheapest processor for your particular business might not be one of them. There are plenty of other providers out there who are also competing for your business, so check them out, too!

Here are a few very general rules of thumb regarding merchant account pricing:

  • If your business has a low processing volume, you’ll want to find a provider with low monthly and annual fees. One of the most appealing aspects of Square or PayPal is that they don’t charge any monthly fees. This is a great feature if your business is seasonal or you only occasionally have a need to accept credit cards. Processing rates won’t be as important for low-volume merchants.
  • If your business has a high processing volume, fees aren’t as important, and you’ll want to get the lowest processing rates you can find. Paying one or more monthly fees for a merchant account is an insignificant expense for a larger business, but higher processing rates can make a serious dent in your profits.
  • Carefully analyze both the percentage rate and the per-transaction processing fee when evaluating rates. While you’d ideally like them both to be low, which one is more important will depend on your average transaction size. If you process a lot of smaller transactions, a $0.30 per transaction fee can add up quickly. On the other hand, if your transactions are usually larger, you won’t need to be as concerned with the per-transaction fee, and should try to get the lowest percentage rate you can find.

While all the companies we’ve profiled here provide excellent service at an affordable cost, some are better suited to particular types of businesses than others. Square, for example, works best for very small retail businesses. PayPal and Stripe, on the other hand, are a better fit for small eCommerce merchants. Full-service merchant account providers like Helcim, CDGcommerce, and Dharma are more well-rounded, but CDG is a better fit for smaller businesses, while Helcim and Dharma work better with larger ones. For a side-by-side comparison of some of the companies listed here (and a few other excellent providers), please see our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

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Best Choice For Small-ticket, Canada, Mobile, eCommerce  All businesses, Mobile, Retail eCommerce, Mobile Canada, Restaurants Large-ticket, All-in-one, Recurring billing

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