Getting Hip to Square

Sometimes field testing new mobile payment apps means you have to make certain sacrifices. Today it required I eat a donut.

A few days ago, ‘Square’ announced the introduction of a merchant loyalty platform inside of the ‘Pay with Square’ app. Square is the credit card processor that revolutionized the payment industry by allowing merchants of all shapes and sizes take credit card payments by inserting a square dongle in the headphone jack of their smart phones. In the food cart/ arts and crafts mecca that is Portland, there are lots of Square users. With the release of ‘Pay with Square,’ that number is likely grow much larger.

Simply put, in the convergence of mobile payment and customer loyalty, Square has just raised the bar.

Here is how it works:

When launching the ‘Pay with Square’ app the user defaults to a ‘Directory’ that lists all Square merchants within a ½ mile or so radius. Any merchant that is close enough to the users current location has a green ‘Open Tab’ button next to the merchants listing. Conversely, a merchant that is outside of the acceptable radius has a listing, but does not have the ‘Open Tab’ button. As it turns out, this is a nice security feature.  Ditto the requirement that you upload a picture to prove your identity to a merchant. And since I decided to link my credit card to the app, and since none of us are sure that mobile payments are completely secure (what is?), I appreciated the extra security.

Of the businesses within walking distance of my downtown Portland office, I settled on Coco’s donuts. A great facet of this ‘Directory,’ from the merchant standpoint, is that it allows customers to discover your business. Prior to launching the ‘Square’ app, I had never heard of Coco’s, even though it was only a few blocks away. In addition to the listing, merchants can also entice new customers by advertising a discount.

As I arrive at Coco’s I discover that it is not a food cart, but a bona fide ‘brick and mortar’ business. As such, they have a full implementation of Square, including an iPad with the free ‘Register’ app installed. This combination allows a merchant to do away with a traditional POS (point of sale) system. Given the expense of a POS, why would a new business like Coco’s NOT do this?

Once inside the store, I click the ‘Open Tab’ button, walk up to the counter and order a Maple Bar and a cup of drip coffee. The clerk taps the iPad twice and says ‘That will be $2.50.’ I reply ‘I’m Brandon’.  She taps the iPad once more and says ‘have a nice day’. Huh? While I stand there stunned, my phone buzzes with a push notification and a link to my receipt.

The disruptive landscape:

There was no need to swipe the credit card, as the merchant has this on file via the Square app. No need for a paper receipt, a complete listing of all items purchased was sent directly to my phone. And finally, no need for a paper punch card, as my visit earned me my first virtual reward, neatly stored inside the app on the merchant’s digital ‘card.’ The user can also add a ‘shortcut’ to their phone’s desktop. . .which has the appearance of a custom merchant app. . .for businesses that they frequent on a regular basis. Wow.

As great as this app is, it is not perfect. Abuzz from the frictionless payment experience at Coco’s, I set out in search of a brewery and tasting room that, according to the Directory, is on my way home.  When I arrive at the address listed, there is no brewery or tasting room to be found. So I switch gears and click on the wine shop that is listed, but they have not listed their address (which begs the question of how and why the app thought it was close by). As the number of merchants in the app proliferates, some better filters would be nice to help the user focus on the need at hand.

And at the moment, that need is food. Off to the food carts.

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