No Mystery. SME’s Deserve Better from the Payments Industry

I’ve been mystery shopping on behalf of a payment industry client. Together with an associate, we tried to get quotes for a full suite of card payments – merchant account, card machine rental and e-commerce gateway. Calling on behalf of two real businesses, a gastropub and a sports club, we spoke to five merchant acquirers and two ISO’s (independent sales organisations).

Here’s what we found.

  • It’s not easy to get a quote. All seven providers have a web enquiry form. Five of them simply don’t respond to web enquiries.
  • The lead to cash process is analogue. Despite the digitisation of the rest of the economy, payment companies want paper. We were asked for hard copies of company accounts, lists of directors, bank statements etc. One provider even asked for a list of all 600 members of the sports club. “The underwriters need this”, we were told. Really?
  • SME sales leads are often handled by field sales. Despite the simple nature of our enquiries, four providers routed us to field sales reps because our small businesses crossed an internal threshold. Field sales reps proved hard to get hold of – they are often driving or meeting customers – and we had to chase one for THREE weeks to provide a quote.
  • Few sales skills. Even though every provider insisted that we talk to someone (rather than fill in a web form), there were few, if any, sales skills in evidence. Nobody asked what job role we did, who the decision maker was or when a decision would be taken. Most sales reps were solely focused on getting hold of our existing card statement so that they could beat the price.
  • It’s all about price but most providers were keen only to talk about the headline credit and debit rates. We had to push some of them to discover what hidden charges (such as PCI fees or refund charges) they levied. This doesn’t inspire trust.
  • Prices are negotiated. We got better deals in four out of seven cases by pushing back and proposing reductions in items that we’d been quoted for more cheaply elsewhere.
  • There is no common terminology for pricing. This means that it is very hard to compare quotes across providers. One provider even priced on an interchange++ basis, normally a corporate pricing technique that involves providing separate quotes for each of the three elements that make up the normal fee for processing cards. There’s no way an SME can make sense of this.
  • Quotes are scruffy. When they did finally arrive, quotes were normally cut and pasted into free text emails rather than presented nicely as HTML’s.
  • Propositions are largely undifferentiated. We encountered few attempts at differentiation other than price . Only one provider proactively mentioned DCC (dynamic currency conversion) even though our two businesses were based in Central London. Another helpfully mentioned they had recently launched some other retail technology we could pilot.
  • E-commerce is not joined up. One provider that advertises its omni-channel capability, obliged us to call two different offices to get quotes for card machines and an e-commerce gateway. Another said its e-commerce gateway wasn’t very good and we should use whichever one was recommended by our web developer.
  • M-POS is available but not proactively sold to SME’s. The majority of providers had an M-POS product but not sold in a bundle with standard card machines and a merchant account to SME’s. As I’ve written before, this is a missed opportunity.
  • Documentation is often poorly presented and difficult to understand. One provider dropped 8 meg of PDF’s in our inbox following our call. Another sent us FOUR separate emails, each containing important but linked information.
  • Nobody offers online sign-up. The best was one ISO that said we could fill in the application form on the phone as an “assisted call”.
  • It pays to shop around. We were quoted:
  • From £12 to £21/month for portable card machines
  • From 0.99% to 1.6% for Mastercard Credit
  • From 12p to 22p for Visa Debit
  • From zero to 4p for authorisations
  • Retention offers are generous. The best financial offer for both pub and sportsclub were in retention calls to their existing provider. It proactively dropped prices by 20% and kept the business.

SME payment services are simple products that could be bought and sold online just like a business mobile phone service. Instead, the industry runs a significant overhead in with a people-intensive, paper-heavy sales process that serves neither its nor its customers’ best interests. There will be a big prize for the provider that cracks digital first and shares the benefits with SME’s.

B2B Tech Buyers Not Yet Ready for Twitter

I love Twitter. It connects me with journalists, analysts, consultants and competitors. It brings me the latest news in my field. But it doesn’t connect me with customers.

I’ve long suspected that business buyers are too busy looking at cat videos,  tweeting about football or even working to pay attention to the sell-side. Nevertheless, B2B marketing teams have ramped up their efforts to engage the “social buyer”.

This disconnect is shown in a fascinating piece of research from SpiceWorks.

95% of marketers use social media with the aim of improving brand awareness, consideration or purchase justification. Just 23% of buyers are listening.

Source: Spiceworks

It’s time for a re-think. B2B marketers need to inhabit their customers’ worlds and the customers are pretty clear that they’re not living on planet Twitter or Facebook.

SME retail needs an in-store technology hub. Here’s six reasons why it could be Poynt.

In the world of iPhone 6 and app stores, the technology actually deployed by small retailers remains bafflingly expensive, archaic and inflexible. Now, a new idea called Poynt may allow merchants to leap a generation and join the retail mainstream.

Typically, a shop has three technology touch points:

  • A payment terminal supplied by the retailer’s bank (or a recommended partner of the bank). The bank works with the manufacturer (normally Ingenico or Verifone) to control the software, firmware and user experience on the terminal but has little incentive to innovate. 3rd party services such as tax free shopping or gift card schemes are difficult to integrate and generally only supplied on the bank’s terms.
  • An EPOS system provided by one of several hundred sub-scale technology vendors lacking the resources to move ahead. This typically runs installed software on a locked-down Windows PC linked to a touch screen, scanner and cash drawer. EPOS vendors are notoriously recalcitrant when it comes to integration with 3rd party services.
  • A PC in the back office used for payroll, stock control, accounting and placing orders with suppliers. Increasingly, these functions are also available on the shopkeeper’s mobile device too but don’t talk to either the EPOS or the payment terminal.

There’s a huge amount of technology innovation happening in retail right now – cloud based sales analytics, iBeacon based loyalty schemes and P2P financing initiatives to name but three. Sadly, while SME core payment and EPOS systems remain isolated and stranded old, inflexible technology, it will be hard to get full advantage of the best of the new ideas.

Here’s where Poynt comes in. It’s a new concept in payment terminals from Osama Bedier, the ex-Google mobile payments supremo, which could be the hub around which these new applications cluster.

Poynt payment terminal

Here are six reasons why Poynt might disrupt this market:

  1. Poynt has its own Android based OS and comes with an SDK and app store. Developers are welcomed not shunned. This should make Poynt the payment partner of choice for the next generation of EPOS vendors such as Vend. It should also be the ideal platform for loyalty schemes, tax free shopping providers, footfall monitors and anyone else that needs a technology point of presence in shops.
  1. The appstore is already looking good. Launch partners include Vend, Kabbage (financial services), Swarm (sales analytics), Bigcommerce (online sales platform) and Intuit.
  1. Prices are keen.  Poynt says that it’s going to make its money from commission fees from the partners. The device retails at $299 and that compares favourable with a list price of c. $350 for a standard Ingenico iPP350.
  1. Poynt is working with the channel not against it. Most SME’s will continue to rent payment terminals from their bank so Poynt has signed up two large US banks as distributors. Poynt’s enhanced platform should allow these banks to offer a better customer experience than today.
  1. The machine is really elegant and looks rather more Apple-like than any of the old-style machines commercialised by Ingenico or Verifone. It will attract a ready market with brand-led retailers.
  1. The timing is perfect. The Americans are finally adopting chip & PIN so every payment terminal in the States needs replacing. That’s a great market to be selling to.

Poynt represents a break from the locked-down approach of the past. Launching at time of unprecedented market demand and with a very open approach to a previously closed eco-system, it could well become the in-store technology hub we’ve been waiting for.