Q: Wireless point-of-sale terminals and related software have gotten considerable publicity lately. How can I determine if they're a worthwhile investment for my business? What are the differences and benefits between wired and wireless terminals and software, and how do I choose?
A: The growing popularity of wireless point-of-sale terminals is no surprise, given that the mobile work force in the United States is expected to reach 47 million by 2003. This group of users is composed primarily of business owners who need to travel for business yet want to offer credit and debit card payment options to their customers.
Wireless mobile solutions enable merchants to process credit and debit card payments conveniently and securely, anywhere they go. These terminals offer mobile merchants portability and transaction flexibility, allowing them to use a number of devices to process swiped credit card transactions or e-commerce sales through Internet-based payment gateways. In addition, by using a wireless device to process payment transactions, these merchants enjoy a lower, discounted rate compared to keyed entries. Plus, wireless terminals can capture card information offline and store transactions for later transmission, an important benefit for merchants who find themselves in remote locations. But can your company can benefit from this technology? It depends on your products and services and the kinds of payment options that best serve your customers.
The transaction time for accepting a card with a wireless terminal can actually be less than with a standard land-line terminal, depending on the coverage and the type of mobile device. Some wireless applications allow merchants to move their cashiers and check-out stations to any location in the store, unlike a fixed location that's tied to a land line and a power supply.
Wireless remote technology now includes multifunctional devices that combine cellular phones, PDAs and point-of-sale transaction terminals with various peripherals and software, allowing merchants to merge several pieces of point-of-sale equipment into one unit. This reduces the purchase of redundant hardware, provides a convenient manner for performing several business tasks and offers merchants the option to transmit a transaction from any location. LinkPoint International, Kyocera and MST all manufacture multifunctional terminals that swipe both magnetic stripe and smart cards, a versatile feature that allows business owners to further expand their customers' payment options.
Internet-capable PDAs have become a popular vehicle for credit card transaction processing. Many mobile merchants, who rely heavily on these devices for business communications, now perform credit card transactions on the same pocket-sized unit.
A number of companies offer cost-effective peripherals and software, including Scanning Devices and LinkPoint International, which can convert any PDA into a transaction-processing terminal. These wireless-processing terminals give merchants the option to swipe customers' cards or accept e-commerce transactions through Internet gateways.
Merchants who are reluctant to abandon their wired terminals may prefer adding external devices, such as those offered by U.S. Wireless Data, AIRPAL and IVI Checkmate, which convert standard land-line terminals into remote devices. When plugged into standard terminals and cell phones, these devices perform as wireless terminals and allow merchants to have the best of both worlds--the convenience and mobility of a wireless terminal yet the coverage of a wired one.
As you explore the world of wireless technology, make sure the terminal you purchase offers the following benefits:
- Ability to process secure ATM/debit card transactions.
- Support for Address Verification Service.
- Purchasing card capability.
- Electronic benefits transfer (EBT) capability.
- Integrated network modem (and the capability to support additional networks).
- Built-in thermal printer with drop-in paper loading.
- Support for debit, credit, charge and stored-value cards, as well as loyalty programs.
- Ability to connect to peripherals, such as bar-code wands and check readers, through an RS-232 interface.
- Easy-to-read backlit LCD display that supports non-English fonts.
- Long-lasting, rechargeable battery pack.
This is just a preliminary glimpse into the wide world of wireless terminals and their complementary peripherals and software. Before you purchase one, speak to other business owners who use them, read industry articles and request product literature from the manufacturers. Look beyond the technology and find the wireless terminal that best suits your business needs.
Cardservice International Senior Vice President of Sales John Burtzloff is in charge of sales strategy and execution and thus is responsible for managing all aspects of the company's marketing, communications, telesales, check guarantee, new accounts and sales support activities.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.