How to fall in love with your first Mobile POS

Mobile POS at Camden Market

Which Mobile POS is best for you? Here we start with 9 of them and we whittle it down to one or two.

Any Mobile POS device that you pick up will have been designed, developed and delivered to the same global standards, which means that there are very few technical differences. You are a small merchant, and you have more important things on your mind … rightly so! You don’t care about the technical differences as long as the device does the job and looks the part.

Owning your own POS terminal enables your business to break free from monthly fees or binding contracts with big-boy merchant acquirers, while still accepting cards payments. It’s difficult to make direct comparisons between monthly service fees and pay-as-you-go transaction processing as merchant rates are considered to be commercially sensitive and therefore rarely published. One has to take the view that the market is competitive and if cheaper rates were viable for smaller pay-as-you-go merchants, then some organisation would have implemented them – I would like to think that they’re not operating a cartel.

All the pay-as-you-go rates covered below fall within the same narrow band, and as a rate for low transaction volumes, they do not seem unreasonable. That’s my starting point: the technologies are pretty much the same and the rates are pretty much the same. It’s all about the look and the feel, what the device looks like in your environment and how you feel about the customer services.

I am assuming that this is your first time looking.

I am thinking that you like cash. You know where you are with cash and it’s always been there for you.

It just works but … maybe there are alternatives.

What is Mobile POS?

Let’s start by thinking about definition of a POS system.

It won’t take long.

What is a POS?

The acronym POS stands for Point of Sale … I suspect that you knew that.

In its simplest form, the Point of Sale is the place where goods and services are exchanged for some kind of payment. In the retail environment, it’s the endpoint of the customer journey.

The simplest POS devices were cash registers that recorded the individual cash transactions associated with purchases. The fact that they recorded every transaction helped to reduce fraud as all parties could see the value of the transaction and the cash register recorded the amount. The value of the physical cash taken during the day should match the cash amount recorded by the cash register.

Dead Cash Register

Todays POS devices are considerably more sophisticated than the largely obsolete single-feature cash register. They are multi-functional devices capable of supporting much of the small, medium and large retailer’s business requirements:

  • receipts
  • cash payments
  • card payments
  • coupons
  • payment reconciliation
  • inventory management
  • support for loyalty
  • coupon printing

Most of today’s fixed POS systems can support most of the above business services with their individual configurations depending on the needs of the retailer.

A Mobile POS device is not the same. A Mobile POS device will generally only be required to support a small subset of the features of a fixed POS, essentially card payments and maybe receipt printing. Some mobile devices also support customer orders, like those you see in restaurants but whilst they are mobile, they are not the Mobile POS we are talking about here.

The Mobile POS devices that we are considering here are those that only take card payments and rely on the mobile phone networks for communication.

What is a Mobile POS?

A Mobile POS provides all the functionality a seller needs to be able to accept payment cards … in a stand-alone package.

The Mobile POS devices that we are considering here are those reasonably simple devices that allow a seller to offer their customers the ability to pay by card. We are not going to be considering the mobile, or portable, devices that rely on there being additional kit nearby in-store. We are therefore not considering so-called Mobile POS devices that are advertised as mobile simply because they are not connected to the wall by a wire.

The Mobile POS card payment device is built around a stand-alone card reader and:

  • only accepts card payments,
  • uses a mobile phone or a mobile phone equivalent,
  • uses mobile phone data networks,
  • requires no additional hardware.

The devices you’re going to be interested in are going to be:

  • card reading widgets that connect to your phone using Bluetooth,
MobilePOS icon
Mobile Phone and Card Reader
  • or devices that look like mobile phones but read cards instead of making calls.
Stand-alone Mobile POS
Integrated “phone” and Card Reader

From a payment perspective, both of these options will do exactly the same thing:

  • Payment Request,
  • Payment Authorisation,
  • Payment Completion.

The difference is that one uses your phone and the other combines the card reader and the phone functionality in a single unit.

Functionally, all the available devices are going to operate in pretty much the same way. They have to, the standards that determine how they operate are global and are tightly monitored and controlled. Sometimes your choice is just going to come down to the aesthetics.

Why do I need a Mobile POS?

There are several reasons why a Mobile POS solution might be right for you.

You don’t have a shop: there are many businesses that don’t operate a physical storefront … painters and decorators, mobile hairdressers, market traders and the like, and for all these people, cash (and cheque) has been the only option.

It’s also the case that these businesses are not supported particularly well by the banks. To a degree, though that degree is reducing, small and medium enterprises (SME) fall down the crack between Corporate Banking and Personal Accounts.

Until fairly recently, the advantages of being able to accept card payments as a mobile business was almost impossible. Now there are truly portable card reading devices that can support customer payments using mobile GSM networks.

You need something more than your in-store POS system: you already have an in-store POS system which manages your business admirably, but you also conduct business off-premises and you have no way of taking payments (other than cash) on the spot. You do have the option of completing a Cardholder Not Present (CNP) transaction but this is messy and looks unprofessional. It also carries a higher risk than the Card Present alternative and costs more to process.

A Mobile POS solution could be the answer, supplementing the in-store POS rather than replacing it, and reducing a lot of the hassle associated with remote payments.

You have limited financial resources: without a doubt, Mobile POS is a much more cost-effective means of taking card payments … for lower card payment volumes.

The average Mobile POS device doesn’t cost a huge amount of money when compared to the integrated POS alternatives. However, the transaction processing costs are higher, so the Mobile POS option will become becomes disproportionally more expensive as your transaction volumes increase.

The Mobile POS option is the low-cost option, so far working very well for small businesses … and it is cost-effective with small transaction volumes.

You want something that’s easy: if nothing else can be said, it can be said that the Mobile POS option is the simple option. All Mobile POS solutions have been designed with simplicity in mind, most have achieved it.

You can easily get yourself up and running with Mobile POS by buying a card reader and connecting it to your mobile phone. Alternatively, you can go for the stand-alone option that incorporates both card reader and telephone functionality (Data Only!) into the same device.

Assuming you are a legitimate business, you can then register for a Merchant Account to process your payments.

You want to minimise contact with cash: this is especially relevant today as we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that handling cash increases the chances of passing on the Covid-19 virus, there is a widespread public perception that it might. The WHO says that currency doesn’t transmit COVID-19 but retailers are taking precautions.

As a retailer or service provider, making the move from cash to card payments (especially contactless card payments) in these challenging times shows your customers that you care.

What should you be looking for in a Mobile POS

The bottom line is that you don’t really need to look too far or too deep … because the underlying technologies are the same for all devices. This has to be so because payment cards need to work everywhere, and because the payment devices also need to be able to accept all cards. Everything is tested and certified against the same global card payment standards before being released into the outside world. This means that if you take the lid off and have a look inside, they are all going to look pretty much the same – metaphorically speaking.

I can say this as I spent 30 years working in the industry helping to ensure that everything worked, and that it worked everywhere.

If you are reading this because you are looking to purchase a Mobile POS device, I suggest that you first go with your heart and look for the device that appeals to your sense of aesthetics. Then you should dig around and look at the reviews – next to looking nice comes customer service. If something goes wrong, it needs sorting … it’s your money!

If you do want to know all the low-level detail, there are lots of sites that will do that for you. However, I suspect you are more interested in your business than in the finer details of your payment technology.

The reason for me writing this piece is down to my local Rotary Club, so I am now looking for a simple to operate Mobile POS device that should also be relatively inexpensive … and I need to consider that it is probably going to be passed around and used by more than one person.

You may have slightly different needs.

Which cards should I accept?

The ability to accept Visa and Mastercard cards is absolutely a requirement; the acceptance of any of the other card brands is a bonus. There are lots of clever people out there who will tell you that accepting a wide range of cards gives the consumer more choice and that this will improve your business. I’m not so sure. The reality is that most of your customers already understand that some cards are not accepted by some retailers, and a lot of them will be able to tell you which are the tricky ones … especially if they have one of those cards.

Don’t forget that your customers are standing in front of you because they want to buy what you are selling … they will have prepared themselves for the situation.

Most people are able to produce at least one card from one of the two main global card brands.

You may have legitimate reasons for wanting to accept one of the others. If you are doing a lot of business with people travelling from the Far East, for example, the ability to accept Union Pay becomes much more important.

Rather than provide you with information that might be out of date, you can click on the Mobile POS image for the currently accepted card list and up to date information about fees and charges.

9 mobile POS