by Amy Bussler
It’s important not to get sidetracked by
equipment features that don’t really add to your merchant’s profitability.
Remem-ber, even though available technologies are changing rapidly, the
merchant’s focus does not. Randy Sagar, Senior Vice President of Independent
Business at National Processing Company, comments, “Merchants are interested in
pretty simple stuff — taking cards, processing transactions quickly and
receiving their money. Merchants haven’t changed, although the
issuing/acquiring industry certainly has.”
Certainly, an ISO should not turn a blind eye to new technology — just don’t be blinded by it. To be competitive, you must be able to address all your merchant’s needs thoroughly. Lois Sanderson, Merchant Services Manager at Bancorp South, notes, “My merchants want a vendor who supplies everything under one umbrella: debit, EBT, check verification, credit card processing.” And that’s just it — merchants want tools that will make them profitable. That’s where the ISO focus needs to remain as well.
If you dig deep within the Earth’s crust, you will likely find Tranz 330s buried among the fossils of mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. Yes, this terminal has been around for ages. And you know what? It’s still going strong. VeriFone’s Tranz 330 and its AVS-compatible cousin the Tranz 380 remain useful for many merchants. They are reliable, easy-to-use and universally supported by processors and repair companies alike. It’s true that their memory and speed are slower than some newer models, but if they work for your applications, they may be a fine choice for your merchants. The same goes for older equipment from other manufacturers. Khale Davison is President of Instachek, an ISO based in New York. Davison uses mostly Tranz 330s, 380s and XLs. Most of his merchant base growth is in traditional markets, where this equipment is quite appropriate. Davison comments, “We have some B2B and internet, but out of every 50 apps, 49 are traditional brick and mortar.”
While much new equipment is appealing and
feature-packed, it may not be what your merchants need. If your merchants can
use basic transaction equipment, you’ll find yourself with many low-cost, reliable
choices. Valerie Liddle, Merchant Services Coordinator at Peninsula Bank,
comments, “I know the industry is headed toward integrated units, wireless and
other advances. Sometimes I think maybe we’re staying in the Dark Ages of
equipment, but on the other hand, if it’s not broken, why fix it?”
The refurb marketplace is booming with time-tested, reliable models like Hypercom T7Ps and VeriFone P250s. Numerous VARs offer refurbs, usually for very affordable prices and with generous warranties. One year warranties on refurbs are standard. It’s practically like offering new equipment to your merchants in terms of reliability, but with much lower pricing.
For many merchants, new equipment and/or top-drawer technology is a must. There is no lack of qualified equipment from which to choose. While VeriFone and Hypercom still hold a majority, several additional manufacturers are gaining ground quickly. Their equipment deserves a close look.
There’s no doubt we’ll be seeing much more of
IVI Checkmate in the near future. According to Mike English, Director of
Communications and Marketing, “50% of IVI’s business is currently merchant
bankcard.” Since IVI has been purchased by Ingenico (#3 worldwide in transaction
equipment), this is likely to increase. IVI is set to utilize Ingenico’s clout
in R&D and capital to compete on an even larger scale in the
IVI markets several lines of terminals for ISOs. The Elite line is popular for its wireless terminals. As a plus, all Elite terminals are smart card enabled. The eN-Touch line boasts touch screen technology. The eN-Counter line is best suited for the multi-lane environment.
A new product is the eN-Touch 3000 terminal, a true touch-screen with nary a key in sight. From an end-user standpoint, the touch screen makes it intuitive to use and easy-to-learn. But what really sets this terminal apart is its multiple-host capabilities. Using a Thin Client interface, applications can be host-based and/or terminal- based. In fact, it can communicate to multiple hosts. This situation gives the merchant many choices in selecting added-value programs.
Frank Moore is Senior Vice President of Product Develop-ment and Emerging Technologies at Moneris Solutions, a merchant processor and joint venture of Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal. Moore assisted in the development and market rollout of the eN-Touch 3000. Moore notes, “When we developed this terminal, our goal was to create a device that can handle a merchant’s needs in the marketplace today, as well as being prepared for future technologies. It allows the retailer to easily tailor programs to their specific needs. For instance, one customer is a nationwide hardware chain that appreciates its capability to handle proprietary cards, loyalty programs and gift certificates.”
IVI also has a new wireless device — the Elite 770, which should meet some real market needs. The Elite 770 is a short-range wireless terminal with a range of about 100 feet from the base unit. The base unit is plugged into a physical phone line. Since the wireless unit communicates just to the base and the transaction goes out ground from there, there’s never any coverage problems. English comments, “With the Elite 770, you can enjoy the benefits of a wireless terminal with the reliability of a landline.”
Lipman, manufacturer of the Nurit line, has made a name for itself with a technologically advanced product at a reasonable price. By far, reliability is the greatest factor that sets Lipman apart from the pack. Mike Grossman, Vice President of Sales at Lipman, notes, "We have the least failure rate of any terminal on the market. ISOs tell me once they put a Nurit into a merchant's location, they don't hear back from the merchant. You can't underestimate the importance of reliability in the field." Amen!
Mary Calderara is the Operations Manager at Card Payment Systems in Brockton, Massachusetts. Calderara is a strong supporter of the Nurit line. She notes, "When I came to CPS- Brockton a few years ago, we used several terminal models. We have since switched our product line to over 98% Lipman products. The Nurit line has helped us to run a better help desk. The equipment is easy to use and most changes can be done at the terminal level. Plus, we're found Lipman products really hold their value. Merchants that have leases coming to a close are pleased that their Nurit 2085 is still a top of the line product."
In business for less than a decade, Lipman is already on its 4th generation of wireless products. By offering wireless long before most other manufacturers, Lipman has had time to fine-tune its wireless line. It now holds the lion's share of the wireless market. As we go to press, the Nurit 3010 wireless line just served as the transaction hardware for the venerable PGA tour.
Like Hypercom, Nurit keypads have the same user interface for every front end processor. Thus, there's no need for different overlays, depending on the merchant's application.
Lipman has aggressively pursued class A certification with all the major networks. Some products are class B certified. Lipman augments this certification with its own help desk for merchants.
Countertop Terminals Chart
Formerly Dassault AT, Thales e-Transactions markets the Talento line of terminals, integrated units and PIN pads. While Thales is a large corporation worldwide, it has a smaller presence in the US. Thales has been creative in marketing its terminals. Justin Collins, Product Manager at Thales, says, "Our plan was to create a groundswell of terminals in the market, encouraging processors to look at them and invest in certification." This plan has paid off, as Thales now has class A certification with Vital and FDR and class B with most others. To augment class B certification, Thales operates an in-house help desk.
The T-IPP is Thales' most popular terminal, with an integrated printer and an internal PIN pad. "Our merchants love the T-IPP because it's easy to use, has a small footprint and it's very reliable, comments Julie Black, Vice President of Market-ing at First of Omaha Merchant Processing. "And we enjoy working with Thales. Their customer support is outstanding. They have been very willing to customize applications for us. That's made a big difference to us. We appreciate both their commitment to the customer and their hardware."
Thales also carries the Artema wireless line. One Artema customer is Electronic Merchant Systems of Cleveland, Ohio. Jason Wisniewski, Inventory/Shipping Manager, notes "We've been deploying Artema terminals since October of 2000 and we're very impressed with them. The Artema has been reliable and our merchants like it. We plan to stick with the Artema for all our wireless customers going forward."
LinkPoint is a company with a sharp focus. It has concentrated its efforts on a few specific pieces of equipment for a very targeted market. The LinkPoint terminal, PrintPoint printer and BankPoint PIN pads have been developed specifically for small to mid-size merchants. "Our applications are robust and support all the features small to medium merchants will need," notes Scott Kreher, National Sales Manager for LinkPoint. "We're not focused on far-out technology that only impacts a small portion of the market."
One practical feature of LinkPoint equipment is its com-patibility with VeriFone products. Not all merchants use a complete suite of products from just one manufacturer. With this in mind, LinkPoint designed its terminals, printers and PIN pads for plug-and-play compatibility with most VeriFone terminals, printers and PIN pads.
Reducing merchant attrition is an important consideration for LinkPoint. And considering the ongoing curse of merchant attrition for ISOs - anything that lowers this rate is worth a close look!
Equipment reliability is one way LinkPoint believes attrition can be decreased. Kreher brings up an important consideration, "When a merchant's equipment breaks, they don't blame the manufacturer. They blame the ISO who sold them the equipment. That's why reliability is so important. LinkPoint has a warranty return rate of less than one percent (0.5%)."
Gordon Hensley is Deployment Manager at Merchants Choice Card Service (MCCS), which uses both the LP3000 terminal and the LP9000 wireless. Hensley says, "We've been very happy with both models. We usually sell the LP3000 as a LinkPak - this means it's attached to a printer. We like the LP9000 because it's reliable and has great coverage, which is vitally important. We rarely have LinkPoint equipment come back for warranty work. And when it does, it's usually because our sales office has made errors, not because the equipment is actually broken."
Obviously, another way to decrease attrition is to fix the problems that cause your merchants to consider leaving. But how can you do this? As a general rule for any market, only a small percentage of unhappy customers ever complain to their vendor. The rest remain silently dissatisfied and leave. The vendor never has a chance to fix any problems.
LinkPoint has a password-protect feature on its terminals that works well to this end. In order to reprogram a terminal, the merchant must first call the ISO to obtain the password. While the merchant is certainly free to leave, this "last call" gives the ISO a much-needed opportunity to redeem the relationship.
Hypercom's signature model is the ICE terminal. These integrated terminals pack a lot of features into one unit-internal PIN pads, smart card compatibility, internet ready, touch screens and signature capture. The newest ICE models (6000 and up) even boast color screens.
Another popular Hypercom choice remains the T7 line. And why not? It's time-tested and thoroughly supported by all processors. While its many keys can be intimidating to a new merchant, there is actually a good reason behind it. The keys have a set interface - one key per function. There's no need to program them for different applications. OB Rawls, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Hypercom notes, "It's popular because the functionality is straightforward. The keyboard is easy to learn and simple to use."
While the T7 line has an abundance of keys, ICE terminals head in the opposite direction. The ICE 5000 has a whopping two (2) keys. And the ICE 5500 has only 12. But with its capable touch screen, there's really no need for more.
Hypercom has some very loyal users. Rich Ward, President of Meramak Bankcard, comments, "We've had great success with the T7 line. We've looked at some of the newer equipment offered by other manufacturers, but we don't see much of a reason to change. We have a comfort zone with Hypercom because its supported by the processors."
Hypercom offers a generous warranty - 5 years for terminals and 1 year for print mechanisms. As the most positive move yet, Hypercom has started offering repair certification to third-party vendors. And as we all know, competition brings improved service to the market.
When the Omni 3200 was unveiled a few years ago, industry pundits derided it as a "me too" product. But today, this "me too" product has achieved a "me first" position in the market. It's widely appreciated for its clear user interface, fast printer and software capabilities. And it even comes in a wireless version.
As a long-established manufacturer, VeriFone has a wide range of products covering all aspects of the transaction processing market. From basic to complex, you're likely to find a product that will work for your merchants. As the vast majority of VeriFone products are class A certified, you can be confident your merchants will have the support they need from their processor.
Regarding user interfaces, VeriFone set the standard with its original 16-key keypad. This format has worked well for the POS market. Modern VeriFone terminal keypads remain uncomplicated (a boon to merchants), while incorporating useful features like screen addressable keys.
For many ISOs, integrated units just make sense. As a rule, they have a smaller footprint and a modern appearance. They are less confusing for your merchant to install since they don't have a confusion of cord and plugs. And while the up-front cost can be steep, it's often equal to or less than the price of a separate terminal, printer and PIN pad. There are a number of terrific integrated units in the market - really, every manufacturer offers one.
Keep in mind one drawback to integrated units. If one component breaks, your merchant is entirely down. Because the printer module has moving parts, it tends to break more often than the terminal module. If your merchant had a separate terminal and printer, you would still be in business. Be that as it may, integrated units are here to stay.
Integrated Unit Terminals Chart
Whether consumers really use it or not, debit capabilities are a necessity for most merchants. However, it generally remains an under-utilized asset. Mike English, Director of Communications and Marketing at IVI Checkmate, wonders, "If merchants really understood the benefits of debit, they'd be on the debit bandwagon just like supermarkets. Transactions cost less, funds are guaranteed and you get your money faster. What's to lose?"
Currently, sales of separate PIN pads remain strong, but many manufacturers are now adding internal PIN pads to their integrated units. It seems like a smart move - all the merchant's transaction needs in one simple box. Justin Collins, Product Manager of Thales, notes, "Our biggest seller right now is the Talento T-IPP, which is an integrated terminal, printer and PIN pad. Merchants seem to appreciate having all the equipment in one small footprint."
On the other hand, not everyone considers an internal PIN pad to be beneficial. Mike English comments, "We recently completed a study of debit and found that internal PIN pad are not always the most practical solution. Sometimes external are better." The IVI study had four major findings:
1. Swiveling can actually take up more counter space.
2. Merchants don't normally place their terminal in a consumer-accessible location.
3. Merchants may not want customers handling their payment terminal.
4. Strain on cables caused by swiveling can increase equipment failure rates.
It's getting to be a wireless world and it stands to reason that transaction terminals are in the front of the pack. Wireless is a fast evolving technology and a sensible choice for many merchants. It's faster than landline transactions. Its portability is particularly applicable for service industries.
Wireless has promise in the debit environment. A beta test of Hypercom's new ICE 4000 was recently completed by Orion Commerce Group, an affiliate of MSI New York and a Hypercom VAR. In this test, a Tampa, FL restaurant had great success using three 900 MHz portable units connecting to one base unit. John Arato, Hypercom's Vice President of Sales, comments, "They converted 25-30% of their transactions to debit and saved hundreds of dollars in transaction fees per month."
However, wireless is not foolproof yet. Just as you encounter coverage problems with your cell phone, you can encounter receptions problems with a wireless terminal. Khale Davison of Instachek comments, "Wireless is fine and well if you live along the Beltway, but when you get out in the country, coverage can be spotty."
Some industry experts feel that wireless is being held back in this country because of fragmented communication protocols. CDPD, Motient, Mobitex - everyone wants a piece of the pie. As a result, only about 85% of the country is covered adequately. Europe is a shining example of how wireless could be. Over there, standardization is a way of life - the Euro for currency, EMV for smart cards and GSM for communications. In the US, it's likely that we will move to similar radio standardization in the next couple of years. This should eliminate most coverage problems, enabling wireless to blast wide open
Wireless Terminals Chart
Ah, smart cards . . . the darling of all technology writers and a favorite of POS manufacturers too. Smart cards are booming worldwide, but here in the US we're digging in our heels and refusing to cooperate. However, modernization has a way of creeping up on even the most steadfast traditionalists. It's likely that smart cards will eventually become a significant force in the US.
With that in mind, manufacturers are planning ahead with smart card compliance. O.B. Rawls of Hypercom notes, "Worldwide, 40% of all the terminals we deploy today are smart card enabled." Smart cards are in fact coming and we might as well plan to capitalize on the benefits they will bring.
Long gone are the days when a basic 16-character display was standard. Graphical backlit LCD displays are a must for most new equipment. Some models even boast color displays, while others weave in touch screen technology. These displays open up added-value options for merchants. Loyalty programs, couponing, logoing - all these are dependent on a merchant interface that can offer intricate choices and instructions. As another advantage, your merchants can read real English (or if your processor is truly marketing-savvy, the language of their choice).
With so many choices out there, it can be hard to know what's best for your merchants. Keep your focus on your merchant's profitability and keep your mind open to technology that can add to their bottom line. You can't go wrong.
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