Oct 21 2011
I have a bunch of trade shows going on this fall and winter, particularly NCTE‘s annual convention, and customers frequently ask if they can pay by credit card. I now have an iPhone, and one of the main reasons I got it was because I knew I could use it to take credit cards (via any of several apps.)
I only go to a few shows a year, so I ruled out most of the services which require an actual merchant account, as those involve a monthly fee*. The leading services with no monthly fee are Square and Intuit GoPayment. I decided to sign up for both of them, try them out for myself and compare the results.
Both services require personal info such as your birthdate, SSN/EIN, and bank account, so they can pay you, and presumably also so they can run a credit check. GoPayment also called me to verify some information before they would complete processing on my first batch of transactions. Both services also have a weekly maximum, and this is a sore point in many of the negative reviews. Square will only release $1000 per week, and anything over that they hold for 30 days. Intuit does the same thing, but the limit is $1250. If you do a lot of large sales, you may want to go with a merchant account for this reason. If you’re like me and you have small sales that occasionally exceed those limits in aggregate, you can split them up between the two services, which is what I’m planning to do next month at NCTE.
I went to a small trade show last weekend where I used both services without the card-swiper hardware. I found that both apps performed very well. My customers were amused that we live in the future, and not at all squeamish about entering card info on my phone. I definitely captured at least a few sales that would have otherwise escaped.
Square starts up quickly and allows you to immediately punch in any amount for a charge, but it does not allow you to keep a list of individual products and prices, so if you sell multiple products like I do, you’ll have to do the math elsewhere — in your head, on a piece of paper or a calculator — and then enter the total. You can also enter any description you want for the transaction. The signature box is nice and big, which is important because it turns out to be a challenge signing with your finger.
GoPayments requires you to log in every time you start the app (even if you switch back and forth using the tray; though not when going in and out of standby mode while still in the app). This is annoying when you’re in a hurry. However, they DO allow you to create a product list, so tallying up a multi-item sale is much easier, AND the receipt it generates is itemized. This is a huge advantage for my purposes. If you want to charge an arbitrary amount, however, you need to add a new item, which is a bit of a pain.
Both services allow you to send a receipt by email or text message, and both keep a transaction history which you can refer back to.
This week I received the card-swiper hardware for both apps. Square’s hardware is a tiny white square. Intuit’s is a sort of half-circle. They both plug into the headphone jack. They both feel a little flimsy, partly because they’re small and light, partly because the jack allows them to rotate. Intuit’s has a little bar that catches on the phone and keeps it from rotating in one direction, but it still freely rotates in the other, so this doesn’t make much difference. Intuit also includes a potentially handy plastic case and a lanyard, so it might be harder to lose. Both readers worked well in initial tests. I did about half a dozen swipes using 3 different cards, and square only made me re-swipe once, while Intuit made me re-swipe twice on one card and once on another. I will let you know how they hold up after I stress-test them at NCTE next month.
Bottom line, I think these are both great little services. If your primary use is selling a bunch of products with fixed prices, GoPayment is easier and gives an itemized receipt. If you are selling a service and want to easily charge arbitrary amounts and enter custom descriptions, Square is easier. I should also mention that Square’s support is basically email-only, while Intuit has phone support.
Since there’s no sign-up or monthly charge, there’s also no reason you can’t get them both and try them for yourself.
On a side note, I find that this technology fills me with glee. Perhaps it simply appeals to the greed and techno-lust which lurk in the twilight parts of my psyche, but I find myself excited to “play” with them more than any game on my phone. It’s a game where you make money! I just need to get more people to play 😉
(*Merchant account services have a lower percentage fee for processing each transaction; you can see which route makes more sense based on your monthly sales using this handy calculator.
GoPayment offers two pricing plans, one like Square and one like a merchant account.)