It's hip to be Square
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Billy Herrald wants to find businesses to shop at, he pulls out his smartphone. With a finger's tap, he searches through a new type of business directory, called the "Square wallet" application.
The system allows customers to pay for items at participating businesses without exchanging cash or credit cards by using the app on their smartphones.
It also lets businesses process credit cards using a device, called a "Square reader," that plugs into the headphone input on a smartphone. A similar device for tablets, called a "Square register," offers the same credit-processing functions, as well as software options like accounting reports and reward programs for businesses.
Herrald, an account executive in Charleston, started using the Square wallet about two years ago.
"It's very easy to use. My phone is able to detect where I am and automatically checks me into a location," he said. "The transaction is faster. First of all, I don't have to dig around and hand someone a card or cash."
A variety of businesses, including coffee shops, a record store, a hair salon and a tailor shop, are using the system in Charleston.
"We've always had a big focus on local business," said Alex Rafter, a spokesman for Square, the company behind the app. "We want to give them the technology to be able to run their business in the best way and enable them to have great relationships with their customers. Businesses of all sizes should be able to accept credit cards and have access to low, transparent rates."
Herrald said he tends to go to the businesses he can find on his Square wallet app, saying it was another way for businesses to create awareness.
"I think [Square wallet] will expand to everyone," he said. "I think at some point everyone that has a smart phone will want to use this."
Ken Parks, co-owner of The Daily Cup Downtown coffee shop, has seen his monthly credit card fees go down since making the switch to the Square register.
For a small business, Parks said, the system is ideal. There is a flat 2.75 percent charge per credit card swipe, no settlement fees, no monthly fees -- and he gets his money within 24 hours instead of two to three days.
"The monthly fees went way down, which was nice because we were watching every penny at one point, and still are," Parks said.
He expects his fees to be about $100 by month's end. For the same amount of business, he said, he would have paid about $300 in fees on his old credit card processing machine.
Parks also uses the Square register's software to track his business progress at certain target hours.
"That's why we pulled the Friday music," Parks said. "We had the numbers on those and saw that we were grossing about $25 a night, so we shut it down."
Parks is trying to let his customers know the business is using the Square system and they don't have to bring their wallet. He has about a half dozen customers consistently using Square wallet now.
"If they forget something they've always got their phone," he said.
Square wants to streamline commerce by bringing the marketplace closer together through technology.
"This is really about impacting local communities and local neighborhoods," Rafter said. "Our focus is making sure businesses get the tools they need to have a positive impact on their local community."
Dominic Tallarico started using Square wallet at his tailor's request about a month ago and hasn't looked back since. "For day-to-day transactions I prefer [Square wallet] to my wallet," he said.
Tallarico believes that as technology continues to develop society is moving toward paperless transactions.
"I can see the younger generation being more comfortable with the app," he said. "Younger generations carry less cash, just like debit cards and credit cards are making cash obsolete."
Tallarico's tailor, Tony Paranzino of Tony The Tailor, said he's used Square for about two and half years but is now seeing his customers use the corresponding Square wallet in Charleston more.
Paranzino said he values the Square system's security. When customers are ready to pay at his downtown shop or on the go out of town, the customer's picture appears and Paranzino either recognizes the face of a regular customer, or must ensure the picture on the Square wallet account is actually the person about to make a transaction.
The transaction information is "never all together on our server," Paranzino said. "That's just another layer of security that we believe protects the customer."
His business uses the Square register's reward program, which he said offers customers $100 off their purchase after using the Square wallet five times. He also added Tony The Tailor to the online market Square recently launched, www.squareup.com.
"We want to allow businesses that have really strong loyalty in their local community to get their quality products out to customers all over the U.S.," Rafter said. Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.