Death of the PC? You don’t have a clue what one is

13 10 2015

Apple, Google and Microsoft have only just finished their events and we are now subjected to the usual fanboi articles from the press. Now, I’ve come to get used to this, articles that feel so unbelievable biased to one of these tech giants over the other two, often stupidly so, but recently, the articles themselves just are not understanding the basics of technology or what’s been going on over the past decade, let alone what appears to be happening right now.

My main gripe though in this post is the lack of understanding what a PC actually is. It seems that journalists and fanbois alike, think a PC is a 1990s desktop PC, that’s simply crazy. In addition, people like gartner and forbes with their market analysis constantly needs to re-asses the definition of a PC in the tech market, simply because PC in its pure form covers the vast majority of devices available.

Mobile is PC

First off, let’s just clarify one thing, a mobile phone or a tablet is a PC. PC = Personal Computer, so mobile devices if anything fit that terminology much more closely than what everyone it seems thinks a PC is, a good old 1990s desktop. Mobile is so personal, and it’s a computer, so it’s a personal computer.

As soon as you grasp this, it becomes clear why Microsoft (who seems to be forever linked with desktop PCs) is starting to make its own hardware, specifically aimed at “mobile” and more importantly, expanding that market away from where the likes of Apple and Google dominate. By that, I mean pure “mobile”, as in more focus on personal, less on the computing aspect.

What’s been going on

Since Apple really turned a mobile phone into a form of PC, the market has been shifting towards smaller, more personal devices, and as such, removes the need for homes etc to purchase a good old desktop machine. What has been a complete success is actually removing functionality and reducing computing power. I for one could do more with an original windows mobile pda device than I could do with an iPhone for example. Hell, I used to be able to control servers from that thing. But, the usability of it wasn’t simple, and to be honest, the vast vast vast majority of users use nothing more than a web browser and a handful of simple applications on mobile devices. Because of this, Apple made another great innovation, and that was simply making the phone bigger, so it was easy to use on the sofa. Enter the iPad.

Tablets really are where the majority of day to day users now carry out their computing (if not still on their mobile phone). The reason is because most tablets again, with the web, and access to good apps provides everything the majority of users understand. However, sales if iPads etc seem to have reached that point of market saturation, and that’s not a surprise, end consumers cant keep on buying, buying and buying the same thing. In essence, the PC market is now moving away from desktops to tablets, but that’s still the same PC market.

Microsoft trying to be different?

With the release of Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface, Microsoft essentially said “yes, we are very late to mobile devices, but we have a vision were these devices are just as powerful as the desktop you used to have”. Now the reason this isn’t that popular is because the vast majority of users doesn’t need that power or complexity. Hell, the tech journalists don’t even understand that’s what Microsoft is trying to do, nor why.

However, the Surface Pro device hit some notes with large chunks of the mobile PC market, and that chunk was focussed around productivity. Though the majority of users out there don’t need to be productive, there is a market for people who are productive and want productivity from their devices. How many people do you know (in business) who turn up with their iPad. They may make some notes on there, but then when it comes to carrying out anything worth doing, pull out a laptop that appears to be a number of years old? Essentially that user is now carrying two devices around with them? That’s not the point of tablet or mobile computing is it.

Microsoft therefore tried to provide for that niche market, in the hope to get a foothold I believe and then expand that to us daily users. It’s taken until Windows 10, and the most recent launch event from Microsoft to really start to show how effective this approach is. With the Surface Pro 3, and Windows 10, Microsoft delivers a device that is Mobile. Its not an old desktop vision for the company or Windows, rather its Mobile and personal first, however with no computing or productivity compromising.

Going forward

Who knows what the market will do. However, Microsoft must be hitting the right notes with sales of Surface Pro devices doing well. You have to just look at Apple and the iPad Pro to see that Apple and Google are aware that Microsoft approach will see them selling devices and potentially taking away market share from them both. After all, why carry an iPad and a Laptop? Or have an iPad and an old desktop machine at home or work when you can have a Surface Pro tablet that is a tablet, your laptop and with a “dock” accessory, replaces your desktop machine too. That’s three devices in one?

For businesses, Surface Pro allows them to provide a single device to their employees, and takes away an utter nightmare regarding provisioning of hardware, policies, security, ISMS etc etc. For consumers it brings the same common sense approach. Why have two/three devices? Why not have a tablet that is my laptop and desktop? Apple and Google have spotted this is a real threat, hence the release of their own “pro” versions of their tablets, though neither has the innovation here or capability to compete with Microsoft Windows 10 or its power on a mobile tablet.

We see that Microsoft is going further with this, especially with Windows Phone 10 and “Continuum” enabling your Phone to replace your desktop with the simple connection to a dock device! That’s your phone powering a real desktop scree,, keyboard and mouse, allowing any user to be productive with just their phone. Enter universal apps from Microsoft Windows 10 and you really see that Microsoft is banking on mobile pcs as actual computing productivity devices, not just personal devices. This theme continues with Surface Book, a laptop first, that can be your tablet (detach the screen) or desktop replacement.

What’s clear, is that the “mobile” market is the PC marketplace, and that mobile appears to be now embracing the need for productivity and computing power. With the market now moving that way, is Microsoft on the right path to take pole position in our computing lives again? Is Microsoft devices along with Windows 10 on the right path, which is all about mobile computing experiences across a range of devices, providing us with real freedom of choice on how to carry out our computing activities while not compromising on productivity or power?

In a recent article in the daily telegraph (Best of luck Microsoft, but the Surface Book isn’t going to save the PC) I couldn’t but think “Oh my God this guy just doesn’t have a clue”. If you think a laptop is a traditional “PC pitch” from Microsoft then you don’t have a clue about what has been going on, what a PC really is or what we are seeing from the tech giants or the marketplace. To be fair though, graphs showing PC sales don’t get it either, they focus on traditional desktop machines, which is a narrow view of the PC market.

One thing we must also remember is that a desktop is easy to upgrade. Many many many consumers out there have old desktop machines and simply update them. The same can be said of businesses, with simple upgrades to RAM, most desktop machines have their life extended quite considerably. Throw into the mix that you can still run Windows 10 on these devices and why do you need to buy a desktop as often as any other device.

The traditional desktop may not be the entire market anymore, but as for the “PC” market, it is simply growing and growing with many more devices delivering personal computing experiences.  Dominating the PC market is still the playing field, the devices just look different!

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Will HCE revive NFC mobile payments? No.

18 03 2014

As of late there has been a lot of press coverage regarding HCE (Host Card Emulation), which in a nutshell allows devices to make NFC based mobile payments without needing the mobile operators secure element on the device. Both VISA and MasterCard are backing this new approach, in the hope that finally, they can kick start mobile payment offering with NFC, effectively locking merchants back into the card schemes for mobile. Google is also heavily behind HCE, because they need a way of getting their Wallet distributed on actual devices and networks. Google has already had a rocky time with NFC, supporting it, then ditching it, only to now attempt to bring it back to their offering through HCE.

There are many companies pinning their hopes to HCE, touting their solutions and the promise of mobile payments. But is HCE really the saviour of NFC based mobile payments, or is it simply the same old issues dressed up in a new party frock?

 

Secure NFC in the cloud

Effectively HCE allows secure details to be stored in the cloud. This makes a lot of sense if you want to bypass the mobile operators and effectively quash their mobile payment offerings (ISIS in the USA and WEAVE here in the UK). But does it actually add any value for the consumer or for the merchant? Is there actually any real difference? The answer is pretty much no.

If you are using the solution in its pure form, then your phone (no matter how it gets details, from the cloud or a secure element on the device) will broadcast card scheme data to the merchant’s terminal. No matter what that data is, it is being broadcast and is data that is used to complete the payment. This is actually very powerful if you are looking for mass distribution, potentially. I say potentially because though there are businesses accepting NFC contactless payments, they are still small in their numbers. In addition, the merchant still has to opt into accepting contactless payments – and it is worth noting that contactless payments in pure card form are not the same as contactless payments using your mobile phone. In many cases the “handshake” is different requiring businesses to invest yet again in contactless for mobile phone. Do we really think SME owners will continue to invest in technology for zero benefit to their business?

So does HCE make any difference here? No…

 

Availability

HCE and NFC are only available on Android based devices (and not all of them). Though Windows Phone 8 supports NFC, it is locked very much into the Secure Elements, so no HCE support there. If we then look at the most successful mobile smartphone out there (iPhone), we should note no NFC or HCE support (and it doesn’t look like there ever will be). So with this in mind, you are only available to customers on 1 of the top 3 mobile platforms. Though many will say that Android has the lion share in the mobile world, it’s worth noting that they are a distant third in their share regarding mobile web being used. This indicates that the majority of Android users are not embracing all the features on their smartphone, and as such, these probably are the same users that will not look to be early adopters of any form of mobile payment.

Essentially, the consumer base that could potentially look to HCE and NFC payments is quite limited.

 

The customer experience

Many articles will talk about adding value into the mobile phone payment option, but when we do this, any distribution advantages you may have due to card schemes and contactless being accepted vanishes. You may ask why, but the fact is that the acquiring banks (the people who actually operate those contactless card devices) will not be accepting data regarding a discount, or loyalty scheme. To be blunt, they simply can’t accept that data as it’s meaningless to VISA, MasterCard, the Acquiring bank and the customers bank. So in order to accept that data, the mobile payment provider needs to sign the merchant up to their particular version of mobile payments, in order for them to enjoy any added value. Therefore the argument for NFC as an open loop environment using card scheme rails doesn’t fly.

So what does HCE bring my customers in terms of experience over what they have currently with a card. The answer is nothing, unless I buy into a particular vision of HCE by a particular company, and if I am going to do that, I may as well look at alternative payment solutions, that save my business money.

 

Payment processing costs

Do these decrease with HCE? Nope, the poor old merchant is still paying full wack for their card processing, and maybe in some situations more. They will be paying for more expensive NFC based infrastructure on a monthly basis too, so mobile is now costing businesses more to accept. That’s simply not good news for any business owner.

 

HCE a game changer? Nope…

To make mobile attractive to businesses it must be cheaper for businesses to run, maintain and it must bring some added value to their business. It also needs to be available to the vast majority of my customers, so that means available to the top 3 mobile operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows Phone). HCE simply doesn’t stack up on any of these basic business needs. It’s more expensive and provides no added value.

Mobile will no doubt be a game changer in the payments world, but it will not be changed by solutions that look to the same old rails dressed up in a pretty new mobile dress. It will be companies that offer real added value through mobile services, and companies that deliver savings back to businesses with large reductions in payment processing fees.

So if you are a small business, look to see what alternative payment solutions out there provide you with the added value and services you want to move your company forward, helping you increase sales and increase your profitability? It’s an exciting time, and a chance for businesses to break away from the old and embrace the new more productive world.





The cost of plastic

7 02 2014

We live in a digital age, and yet all our online and over the phone payments are carried out based on a very non-digital technology – payment cards. Essentially cards are protected by you needing to know a few numbers off the face of the card, and 3 additional security numbers on the back. If you aren’t the only one who knows those numbers, then you aren’t the only one limited to spending on that card.  Yes, there are many new security measures online, such as 3d secure and verified by blah, and yes, there are endless reams of PCI compliancy rules that businesses should follow. But at the end of the day, a bunch of numbers is hardly the easiest thing to secure.

 

The end of cards?

Cards have served us well for a long time now. But the cost of issuing a piece of plastic with some numbers on, isn’t cheap (on such a large scale). The costs of trying to protect those numbers for banks and mainly businesses are always on the increase, and this always results on businesses being charged more to accept a card based payment. What’s worse is, that when that card isn’t physically present, such as online or over the phone (especially when online sales are increasing) the poor old merchant is charged even more for the pleasure of accepting their customer’s payment.

What we must remember is that fraud doesn’t cost your issuing bank much at all. Rather it is the merchant who sold the goods that loses out financially, and they will lose out on the value of whatever they sold. For small businesses that’s quite a risk, especially when they branch out onto the web. I have known many small businesses to be stung like this, loosing thousands in revenue and of course lost product (a double hit for them).

Now we have a number of alternative payment systems and services starting to become available, some in the form of virtual currencies, mobile payments, different payment schemes and processes online (ala PayPal) and these are starting to become quite disruptive to the traditional card schemes and banking business. With alternative payment options growing in popularity, could this possible be the beginning of the end of the card? I say the beginning, as cards are heavily entrenched in our daily lives, and to date, only Starbucks IMHO has shown that consumers and businesses are starting to really make a choice when making a payment – and opting for something other than their card.

 

Digital payments for a digital age

I am a strong believer that when the technology landscape changes drastically, you need to embrace it fully. When cards were first becoming popular, there was no internet, no over the phone payments nor over the phone banking. But the internet is here, and cards haven’t changed at all. The infrastructure hasn’t changed, all that has changed is that software developers let us type in our card details so that the card can be identified. Not much evolution or embracing of the new digital age there.

Payment schemes need to be designed with their current landscape in mind, payments need to be designed for the digital world, which with mobile devices now blends seamlessly at times into the real world. This is what we have done at CloudZync. We have designed a payment scheme for the digital world that can be used online and out there in the real world, day to day via your personal mobile device.

For me, this is just the beginning of looking at how we transact, how commerce takes place, how customer relationships are forged in the real and digital worlds, and it’s an exciting time to be in this space. CloudZync is pushing the boundaries of what we expect from financial products, commerce, customer relationships and in terms of technology making our lives easier. Technology making my life easier and safer as a consumer, and the same applies to businesses. Technology making sales, transactions, experiences and relationships easier to manage and more profitable. To achieve these goals, we must always challenge what has gone before and that includes cards and banks…





Tech looking for a business problem to solve

4 02 2014

There are some wonderful new technologies coming to the market at an alarming pace it seems, some technology really helps a particular market, perhaps speeding up processes, changing our experiences, even having quite an impact on our lives. Then we have numerous technology that seems to be made, simply because it can be.

Just in 2014 alone (already and it’s the start of February) I’ve been exposed to a number of new technologies that are technically impressive, but they don’t have a problem to solve. They don’t have a real way of impacting our lives as consumers, or as businesses. Technology for technology sake is a phrase that I find myself uttering quite often, and none more so than when I look at the world of mobile and of-course, mobile payments.

 

My friend, NFC

NFC is a technology that has been around for years now. I remember it in an early Nokia phone (dumb phone not a smartphone) and it’s never really delivered anything in terms of impact on my life. I will be honest, most phones I have owned have supported NFC, and yet I have never used the technology for anything more than showing that it works.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful applications of NFC, but it’s a technology that doesn’t really solve any real issue, no matter what it is used for. Sure, it’s great for sharing data quickly, perhaps triggering music from my phone to play on a set of speakers when I rest my phone on them, great, but has that changed much compared to playing via Bluetooth? No, not really, if anything, NFC is more limiting than my Bluetooth pairing of speakers to my phone.

When we look at mobile payments, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s a great technology trying to fit into this space, even though it doesn’t quite fit.

At the end of the day, NFC feels like a great technology, but for the sake of technology. NFC doesn’t change the game.

 

Bluetooth beacons

The latest mobile and mobile payment tech to raise its head is beacons. Apple launch their iBeacon and PayPal have released information on their own Beacon project coming in 2015 (possibly). Both are quite neat, and pretty cool technology, they demonstrate well, and when you read about them you do think “wow – that could be cool”. However, the actual use of the technology again doesn’t solve anything, or remove anything from a process (deals or payments).

Even if a Beacon checks me into the store, I still need to have my mobile phone app (maybe even open), I still need to pay at the till using a payment account (maybe PayPal which isn’t exactly cheap or merchant friendly) and I still need an additional way of assigning that transaction to me the customer. With that in mind, is it worth me having Bluetooth switched on and having my phone pinging off beacons?

Even if PayPal manage all this, has it changed my life as a consumer? Probably not. Because there is no added value. All I have done is identify myself to a PayPal system that I am in that store, and at the expense of battery life. There is no added value to the merchant nor to the customer, only a technology that demonstrates well. We must remember too the practicality of all this for the consumer, even if all stores supported beacons, how long before I need to charge my phone? Having my phone constantly pinging beacons via Bluetooth is not good for my battery life, or my sense of security as a consumer. So much so, that most people have Bluetooth disabled on their devices by default, rendering the whole proposition pointless.

Apple beacon is a different approach, it’s not focused on payments and you have to open the app as the consumer, giving you a little more control. However again the concept of only providing deals or information through the beacon app or iPhone won’t stop businesses having to show deals visually in the store or online. Has this made life easier for the business, or actually made it harder? After all, a business won’t want to lose those customers who aren’t on the Apple iPhone platform. What about the majority of smartphone users who are on Android? That growing number on Windows Phone? What about the number of people who don’t even have a smartphone? Do we really expect a store to not provide all those offers exclusively to their iPhone customers? No, so life isn’t easier for the merchant, it’s more complex. No matter the merits of beacons, it still isn’t a game changer for businesses or consumers.

 

Wrapping up someone else’s tech

This is a particular bug bear of mine. There are lots of technologies now out there, and proposed solutions (especially in the mobile payments space) that don’t actually deliver anything at all. Rather, they wrap up someone else’s tech / app, and all they do is pass information to it to semi streamline a process. Now I don’t have anything wrong with streamlining processes in this way, after all, I spent 14 years as a TA doing this for corporates. But does that make my own technology massively valuable? No, it really doesn’t….I don’t want to point fingers at all, but if you again, look at the mobile payment space you will see a fair few of these examples.

 

Payments, tech first, solve a problem second

Unfortunately most technology companies at the moment seem to rush to get a technology together, then try to shoe horn it into some business problem or experience that either it doesn’t fit in, or simply doesn’t work for. The mobile payments industry is rife with this, with a multitude of different approaches to payments, all based around technology first, user experience second and practicality for the business and others a distant last.

 

Look at a problem, and then solve it with technology

I must be “old school” when it comes to creating technology. I still like to have a problem to solve, either in terms of a real business need / driver, or an experience we need to get to before I start designing and creating solutions and new technologies. I still maintain that if you want your technology to work it needs to exhibit all of the following 3 points:

  1. Make life easier for you and or your customer
  2. Add value to your current process
  3. Reduce your costs

If your solution doesn’t do all of these potentially for the majority of your customers, then it’s not worth investing in or using.

Shameless plug here, but when you look at mobile payments, Zwallet is the only mobile solution that ticks all three of these points off, and that’s because it’s a technology and solution that looked at real problems, needs, drivers and experiences first.





Zapp mobile payments, great concept or dead idea?

17 01 2014

Zapp has been getting a lot of press coverage these past few days, no doubt to help bolster their fund raising efforts. (Read an article here at Finextra and have a look through the comments made too, very insightful) The company that hopes to deliver mobile payments for UK banks is trying to raise £100m on-top of the £16m funding it has already received to date. But what is Zapp? What will it deliver?

Zapp, great concept or dead end idea?

Zapp, great concept or dead end idea?

We must start with the cold fact that Zapp has not got an actual solution for mobile payments. Zapp has to date delivered nothing in terms or architecture and physical code. With that in mind, everything we read from Zapp is vision based, it’s fluffy and isn’t backed by something tangible like an actual real live working environment. So we must take their comments on what they can deliver with a little pinch of salt, as no one as yet has tried to deliver what they are claiming.

 

The proposition

So let’s now look at the proposition in the wake of Zapp announcing a number of major banks signing up to their solution. When you first read articles or headlines regarding Zapp, you may believe that Zapp has access to your bank account, and that means they can complete payments directly from your bank account for you. The fact is, this is wrong. Zapp does not have direct access to any consumer’s bank account, not ever consumers of those banks that have signed up to the Zapp vision. In addition, Zapp doesn’t have access to faster payments either, again something that many believe they do have. So what do they have that warrants the headlines coming from Zapp….

Well, what they have is an understanding with the signed up banks to be able to send information from their Zapp wallet app to the banks mobile banking app. This information is pretty basic, essentially it’s a reference, an amount and a destination bank account. So in the world of Zapp, you use your Zapp wallet to get a transaction under way, however, in order to actually pay, you are then pushed from your Zapp mobile app into your banks mobile banking application. There you input your PIN for your banks mobile app and then confirm the faster payments transaction that Zapp has set up for you. Complete it in your banks mobile banking app, and then back to the Zapp app you go. It’s also this integration that lets Zapp show you your bank balances in the Zapp app (no direct access to your bank account at all, rather a copy of functionality from Microsoft’s Wallet and Apples Passbook, reading data from other apps).

 

Great concept or dead end idea?

So, is this a winning mobile solution? Should companies like PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, CloudZync be worried. Well the short answer is no. Zapp isn’t offering anything that hasn’t been shown before. Zapp isn’t providing me as a consumer with any incentive to use the app, nor are they providing any incentive to a business to accept Zapp mobile payments. The experience isn’t even one that sounds “cool” for a consumer. Moving between two apps to manually authorise a bank payment is not exactly smooth. But, you can see why the banks they have on board are interested, these are all banks that have no form of P2P transaction apps, nor any foot in the door of the mobile payments industry. Of course they are going to sign up to Zapp, after all the promise is Zapp delivers mobile payments through their own current banking apps. The real proof that Zapp offers nothing new or an experience that consumers will opt for can be seen by looking at Barclays position. Barclays have NOT signed up to Zapp, and you can see why. Why would they, when Zapp is simply a very clunky vision of Barclays own Pingit/buyit app, of which isn’t pie in the sky, is an actual app already out there in the wild with millions of downloads and one that works a lot smoother than the Zapp proposition.

Mobile payments will not take off if we view them as simply an evolution of card payments onto mobile, and this is where Zapp is standing. There is no point for consumers or businesses to invest time and money in an evolution that delivers no improvement for either party. Mobile payments will only succeed when there is incentive and added value to a transaction, and that is why companies like CloudZync and their Zwallet mobile app are light years ahead of the competition. Wrapping other peoples technology to try and make something a little smoother (such as inputting payment information for a faster payments transaction) isn’t visionary and its hardly innovative. When we look at mobile and digital wallets, they need to be innovative, they need to provide real tangible and easily measurable incentives to businesses and consumers to make a conscious effort to use mobile phone as opposed to cards and cash. That’s exactly what Zwallet delivers…

Zapp future

I have no idea what’s ahead for Zapp. I am sure they can deliver the technology to wrap a banks mobile app, it’s hardly rocket science and they aren’t attempting to solve anything that hasn’t been solved already. The question really regarding Zapp is why do they need that size of investment? Do they have anything else planned or is it all marketing, marketing and more marketing money? Who knows.

What I do know is that Zapp is already behind the competition, and has a lot of thinking outside of the box to do if it wants to deliver experiences that get close to its competitors…





Mag-strip to EMV chip and pin

23 08 2013

I’ve seen few articles on countries now looking to finally move away from mag-strip debit and credit cards, ditching signatures and opting for EMV chip and pin cards. This is the most recent I’ve read, “Bank of Israel sets deadline for EMV switch”. But what makes me chuckle a little is that EMV is really old hat now, so to start moving to EMV in the next 3 years seems a little out dated already.

In a recent article on Finextra, Bank of Israel sets a deadline for moving from mag-strip to EMV, banks and card schemes have been given 3 and half years to make that switch. In that time, surely many more of us smart phone users will be looking to mobile transactions, so the move seems just like the move from CD to MiniDisc – one with a very short lifespan and rather large investment…(Keep in mind the numbers of smart phone users as opposed to dumb phone users is increasing daily)

 

Card schemes are big

Yes, most of us have a card and therefore card schemes will be with us for a very, very long time. But moving forward, the role cards play in our lives will only get smaller and smaller. With this in mind, is it worth making the investments to move to EMV? Why not now at this late stage stick with what you have and await a mobile revolution?

 

Go mobile

If I were the head of a large bank in this situation I obviously would be looking at migrating to EMV because I am being forced to. If I wasn’t being forced to, I think I would be tempted to leave things as they are. After all the switch will not be cheap, it will also involve lots of customer relations with businesses and no doubt (just like in the UK) waves of consumers complaining about using a PIN (though we seem to love Chip and Pin now).

But my main focus I believe would be looking at pure mobile schemes, looking at what’s out there and how my customers will want to access and spend funds via their mobile devices. (Obviously I would be looking at CloudZync’s infrastructure and technology 😉 but maybe I am very biased on this)…

 

CD to mini-disc to MP3

Currently updating a card scheme, be it to EMV or containing LCD displays in a card, or pairing cards to Bluetooth apps on phones seems, well, very pointless. Many of us believe the physical card will play a smaller role in our future lives, so why keep investing in it? After all, would you as an IT company keep developing and spending money on solutions that had a shelf life of only a few years? Or would you be looking at a longer game plan?

Maybe I’m being harsh on “mini-disc” here, at least Sony were not that aware of the pending doom just a few years down the line with MP3 players (especially the iPod). They were taken by surprise the uptake and demand in MP3 and as such, mini-disc (though a great invention) died a quick death. Here with cards, it seems we have already foreseen their death, and yet we simply ignore it and plough on forward….curious….





The cost of taking our money

29 07 2013

As consumers we don’t really think about the costs involved with doing business, all we care about are the products or services we are looking for, and getting them at the lowest possible price. Oh, and to be fair, there is nothing wrong with that. All consumers know there are costs involved in running a business, but some costs, like a business paying to take our money, we often forget about…

This is something that even the EU is now trying to look into, proposing a cap on the “interchange fee” charged by your bank back to the merchant for taking your money from your debit / credit card. The problem here though, is that those fees will probably move elsewhere, meaning it will be pushed onto the consumer – more than likely in the form of us having to pay annually for the privilege of having a debit / credit card (something many EU banks already do).

So in this post I want to quickly look at costs businesses have to pay in order to take our money…

Someone has to pay, every time we use these

Someone has to pay, every time we use these

 

The average costs

When a business accepts debit / credit cards, they pay for being able to provide that option to us, the consumer. Now you may think that it’s a cost based purely on the transaction process itself, but you would be wrong. Typically, in order to take card payments, a business has to register for merchant services (SMEs and independents usually go through high street banks – though the actual merchant service is usually sub-contracted out). The business pays a monthly fee for this, and the cost of that will depend on the business, amount of transactions they process and their value. But many small businesses, start-ups etc pay around £30 per month per terminal. On top of that, there is a standard flat fee per transaction that goes through the machine, again this will vary in price. For debit cards though, a start-up maybe looking at loosing 20p per transaction, while credit cards may also have a fixed fee associated with them, but will include a fee based on a percentage value of the transaction value. To give you an idea here, this fee could be anything from 1% right up to 4% of the value of the transaction, again depends on your business, your provider etc etc.

Now these fees may seem small, but remember these fees per terminal are per month, and that every single transaction is subject to these fees. When you look at tight operating costs and small profit margins, you all of a sudden see why providing card facilities isn’t always an option for a business.

Here are some facts and figures. The average cost of a credit card transaction (remember average) to a business is 36.2p. This cost drops to 9.6p for debit cards, while handling cash is 1.5p. If you were to calculate your shop sold 100 items in a day – that would mean you have spent £36.20 in handling those transactions (if credit card). Now multiple that by 300 working days (just for simple maths) and you see you have £10,860 lost in credit card charges (not including the monthly fees). Now, for many SMEs, independents, start-ups, actually any business, this is a large chunk of money lost.  Obviously these are just some figures to illustrate my point, and that point is that actually, processing cards is not cheap.

So with these sorts of costs, is it any wonder that businesses want a cheaper alternative, and are actively looking for alternatives.

 

Will Mobile drive down costs?

Mobile payments are the most obvious alternative to typical card transactions. But there are 3 different form factors of mobile payments at the moment:

  1. Typical card processing, but using a mobile phone as a card terminal
  2. Using NFC technology for contactless payments
  3. Use real mobile payments, originating from mobile devices and no need for cards at all

 

So, option 1: Companies like Square, iZettle, Sumup etc provide a dongle that allows any business to turn their smart phone device into a device that allows them to process card transactions. This proposition brings down the monthly cost to the independent and SME business – they no longer need to pay for their merchant accounts with high street banks etc. But these solutions are still expensive for the merchant. Typical fees are at least 3.75% per transaction! That’s very high and ultimately expensive for the merchant. You must remember that these are still card transactions, so in our example earlier, the £30 per month fee may have been removed (saving the company £360 over the year), but their fees have gone up, so still looking at £10,000+ in card charges.

Option 2: Use contactless technology…Well you still need merchant accounts here, so you are still paying your £30 per month (if not more if your bank charges etc for NFC enabled technology). However, your card processing fees will drop a little – and this is because at the moment the interchange fees on an NFC transaction are lower than those associated with Chip and Pin transactions, signatures, and card not present. But this is making only a small dent in the overall fees paid, and again the merchant in our example is shelling out £10,000+

 

Option 3: Real mobile transactions offer real options to merchants. Since they aren’t dependent on card schemes such as VISA, MasterCard, there are less companies involved in the transaction handling process. This means savings can be made in every step of the process, and these savings are passed onto the merchant. Companies like CloudZync and their Zync Wallet product provide drastic savings to businesses. Take our merchant example, with CloudZync the merchant pays no monthly fees, and since they are processing 100 transactions per day, are simply charged 1p per transaction. That means their daily processing fee has dropped from £36.20, down to £1. So the business annual handling fee drops from in excess of £10,000, down to just £300 for the year.

 

Cost of business, and cost of not adding value

What we must remember with mobile though, is the potential here to add value to the merchant – consumer experience and relationship. While cards, cheque and cash provide payment methods, mobile has a lot more to give (just as it does with our emails, social connections, organisers etc). Mobile transactions can be the gateway to greater consumer merchant engagement, better shopping experiences and ultimately, provide a potential tool to ensure business growth.

So while this post really is focussed on the cost of doing business, and potentially doing business with mobile devices, we should also remember the cost of potentially not doing business with mobile devices….Can a business afford to not make processing savings and not increase customer engagement and retention? I don’t know any that can afford to miss out on both…