If you’re a band, often times your best chance of generating income is selling music and merch directly to your fans at the shows. As a fan, there have been plenty of times where I might have purchased an album or t-shirt, but just didn’t have the cash on me. Most venues have ATMs, but I can recall at least two occasions where I’ve had to convince the door guy to let me leave the venue to go to the gas station to use their ATM and come back in because the venue’s ATM was broken. Even working, there’s a surcharge and of course the mental hangup some people have about pulling cash from an ATM. All that aside, I don’t need to convince anybody that people spend more money when they can just swipe a card and be done with it.
This is where Square comes into the picture. Square is an app you can download from the Android Market or the Apple App Store, and it uses a physical card reader that plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack. Once you’ve created an account online, you can sign in via the app, and simply start taking payments. The app is very simple and has the learning curve of a pen and a piece of paper. There’s an area for the description of the product you’re selling, the ability to take a picture using the phone’s camera of the product (either in addition to, or instead of a description), and an area where you can enter the amount of the product. Once that’s entered, you simply swipe the customer’s card. Just like any other payment terminal, the card is verified, and then it prompts for the customer’s signature, which they can enter using their finger. It then allows you (or the customer) to enter their email address to have a receipt emailed directly to them. It’s very simple, very easy, and very quick.
Obviously, you need an Internet connection for this to work, but most venues have Wi-Fi and of course it still works over the phone’s data connection anyway. Another plus is that if you use the iPad version of the app, it allows you to store preset items. That way, you can just choose from a list of your merch instead of having to enter the price/description each time. Hopefully, that feature will make it into the Android/iPhone versions of the apps too.
The fee per transaction is a very fair 2.75%, which is better than anything PayPal (or anybody else that I know of) offers. That’s a flat rate for unlimited transactions, and there’s no monthly fees. Oh, and not only is the app free, they will send you the card reader for free after you’ve signed up. Alternatively, it was just announced that retail Apple Stores will carry the reader in their stores, and while it will cost you $10 up front, it comes with a redemption code to get the $10 back immediately, making it cost nothing in the end. There is also no fee to have your money transferred electronically to your bank account. Finally, you can also manually enter a credit card number if the magnetic strip isn’t working or the cardholder isn’t present, but that carries a different per-transaction fee of 3.5% plus $0.15. The transactions themselves are encrypted and secure, and no customer data is stored on the phone or online for that matter. Not even for a second, so there are no privacy or security issues with the system.
Personally, I’ve had a Square account for almost a year now and have only used it as a means to test it (I don’t really have anything to sell), but I just signed up one of the bands I’m working with, and I’ll be sending it with them on their upcoming tour. It will be interesting to see how many people use it instead of cash. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if they otherwise wouldn’t have bought anything had it been cash only, but it will be interesting nonetheless.
You can sign up for a Square account or find out more information at squareup.com.
As a fan, are you more likely to buy music or merch directly from a band at a show if they accept credit cards? Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to buy merch at a show but couldn’t because you didn’t have cash?