If you’ve ever stepped inside an Apple store, you’ve seen sales associates armed with iPod touches and iPads ready to help shoppers purchase their gadgets on the go. And as most of the world increasingly turns mobile, many small-business owners are taking note.
The adoption of tablets by small-business merchants has grown dramatically in recent years, especially as the software surrounding organizations moves to a mobile environment. From food trucks to restaurants and coffee shops to craft stores, tablets are becoming one-stop shops for small businesses by opening up new avenues for point-of-sale systems, back-office solutions, and so much more.
Revamping the Register
One of the most popular roles that tablets have taken on in stores is that of the new-age register. For years, businesses have been reliant on the same old cash registers, bulky and industrial units with little functionality besides the ability to calculate change. Yet, the recent inclusion of tablets in small, and some larger, businesses has transformed the merchant point-of-sale. Technology such as Square, which effectively turns the headphone port of some tablets into a credit card reader, has redefined the register, and in turn given the small-business owner more flexibility. Square has also announced the Square Stand for the iPad, noting the increasing demand for iPads as registers in small businesses.
The slimmer and sleeker tablet takes up less space than its clunky counterpart, while it also provides businesses with a creative outlet to redesign their registers with a unique look. The slates also offer more in terms of functionality. Instead of being limited to a cash-only business, merchants can now take credit cards via these devices, making it more convenient for sellers to facilitate a transaction, which as Ted Clark, Executive Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northeastern University, explains, is always a good thing.
Clark also notes that tablets and the accompanying mobile technology are especially beneficial to events like flea markets, high school sports, and farm stands, where potential buyers might not have cash on hand.“Any kind of point of transaction is a great opportunity, and you’ll see it at coffee shops and places where there are remote sales occurring, like a food truck,” says Clark. “If there’s something inhibiting your transaction, then there’s no sale. But this technology can help businesses create a sale, where in the past they weren’t able to do that.”
Of course, many small businesses already have point-of-sale terminals that accept credit cards. Yet, with the recent boom of tablets in the business place, several companies have released payment service programs to take advantage of mobile platforms. PayPal has leveraged its software on existing terminals to create a dongle similar to Square’s offering, dubbed PayPal Here, which charges 2.7% per transaction, while LevelUp is forging new checkout options with their customized QR codes. As more companies compete for a foothold in the emerging digital point-of-sale system market, smaller businesses will benefit from the variety of choices available. Merchants can choose programs that better fit their order volumes, as companies like Square charge 2.75% of each transaction, while competitor Intuit GoPayment offers a per-transaction charge fee of 2.7% or a monthly fee of $12.75 with a 1.7% transaction fee, for those with higher volumes.
While manufacturers like Verifone and software system providers such as Micros used to have a stronghold on the industry, the shift to open platforms has loosened their grip, giving merchants more choices to better suit their needs.
That’s how Matt Hoey, Manager of Green T Coffee Shop in Boston, Ma., sees it. After being burned by several payment providers with hidden fees, the underground coffee shop found a program that worked well with their iPad-equipped point-of-sale system and didn’t charge extra fees. Using an Apriva credit card reader in the store has proved beneficial to Green T, which used to have a minimum for credit card purchases in order to counteract high transaction rates. Their tablet-register has also become a popular attraction in the shop, with Hoey noting that customers are still surprised by the sight of an iPad as a cash desk.
“The tablet makes us look so incredibly tech savvy, which is wild because we’re in an area surrounded by startups and medical facilities and people are still taken aback by it,” says Hoey. “I thought it was common knowledge that you could use an iPad for things like this.”
More than a Toy
While registers are among the most common uses for tablets by small businesses, Kimberly Eddleston, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northeastern University, believes the slates can be used as another tool for handling administrative tasks.
“A lot of small-business owners use tablets and the applications available as tools to quickly look up products, see what’s in their inventory and communicate with employees,” says Eddleston. “It’s amazing how different types of industries are finding uses for tablets.”
With a relatively low price point, tablets are extremely beneficial to small businesses, says Eddleston, as owners can use the devices for multiple purposes. Combined with an array of apps that can help manage and grow a business, tablets have a lot of to offer small-business owners. Applications such as Expensify, OfficeTime, and Harvest are aimed at helping business owners keep track of expenses through receipts and linked bank accounts, in addition to tracking billable hours for employees. Other programs, like Salesforce and Real Inventory, help with sales force management and establishing inventory databases on the iPad, while some applications, like those from the Omni Group, streamline operations all together.
“I’ve seen interior designers use tablets to alter images in real time to show potential customers their designs, while some entrepreneurs use iPads at tradeshows to show demos of products,” says Eddleston. “It’s making things a lot easier for small businesses.”
Some businesses have gone as far as replacing employees with iPads, as D-Dog House in Miami, Fl. did. The restaurant equipped each table with an Apple tablet, allowing customers to place their own orders. While waiters still serve patrons their food, the inclusion of iPads cut the restaurant’s staff dramatically. Carla Hesseltine, owner of Just Cupcakes, a bakery in Virginia Beach, Va., has considered a similar option to cut costs for her small business. Even some larger businesses are using tablets to help make their organizations more efficient, like Nordstrom, which recently equipped their salespeople with iPads to help customers purchase their goods anywhere in store, rather than wait in line.
The versatility of tablets allows small-business owners to perform many important tasks easily from a single device. Whether using tablets as registers or as tools for simplifying administrative tasks, small businesses can benefit greatly from the mobility slates offer. Thanks to the many apps available, as well as the functionality of most tablets, small-business merchants have the flexibility to find programs that work for them and fit their price range.