You are here

What Matters to Small Merchants (Hint—It Isn’t Payments)

I live in Atlanta, and aside from being famous for bad traffic and payment processing, it’s a major center for barbecue, which is arguably more important than payments without anything else being said. There’s a barbecue place near my house, Grand Champion Barbecue, and they’re one of the best. It’s a family-run business in a strip center, and they have a sign on their door with their hours. Here’s what’s on the sign:

“Open 11:00 – 8:00, or until we run out of meat”

These people are serious about their product. Their smoker holds a limited amount of meat, and they won’t compromise on quality, so there’s only so much available each day. If they have a big lunch crowd, it’s not surprising if they run out of meat half way through dinner, and this is a major drag if you like barbecue. The tradeoff, of course, is the quality of what they serve is superb, and it reflects the care and even love that they put into it.

It strikes me that a lot of small-business owners, maybe even most of them, really care about what they do and what they offer to their customers. People who run places like Grand Champion Barbecue don’t work 80 hours a week to get rich, they do it because it’s a passion, or even a calling. Their sole interest is delivering the very best whatever it is that they’re best at to their customers and building a business that can sustain their family. Nothing else matters. Nothing.

So, the moment we start to talk about omnichannel, mobile wallets, EMV, NFC, mPOS, or pick your acronym, we have immediately gone to a place where the merchant has almost no interest. I know it’s hard to understand how anyone could not be fascinated by the payment space (just ask our spouses), but the reality is that small merchants aren’t interested. So if they’re not interested in the central focus of our professional lives, how do we help them with their businesses in a way that will be relevant to them?

The simple answer is to help them do more of what they love and less of what they don’t. That means offering payment solutions that are really simple, never break, and provide exactly as much capability as they need and not a bit more. And, if this can be delivered with a pricing model that’s easy to understand and assures the retailer that she’s not being ripped off, then there might be something there. It also means that as POS platforms become more robust and new business management capabilities are added, payment providers have a responsibility to help keep things simple for the merchant by curating the available applications. The people at Grand Champion Barbecue aren’t going to care about the 100 or so apps that are being delivered with their new tablet POS system. But they will care about the two or three that help them run the business. Bundling capabilities into simple, high-value packages for specific business categories or functions would make a lot of sense. It also makes a lot of sense to provide them with a “future proof” platform that can handle whatever is coming next so they don’t have to think about the tender type the customer is presenting. 

As the POS environment becomes more sophisticated and additional value is pushed down to even the smallest of merchants, it’s going to be critical for providers to remember what’s important to these customers—their own product—and tailor their payment offerings to help the customer do what they love. If the offerings are too complicated, or don’t help the customer get back to their passion, there’s a real risk that they’ll throw up their hands and go back to something really simple … like cash. 

Another merchant in my area is Bagelicious, the finest deli that I have found anywhere. Tommy has run the place for at least 20 years, and the place is always busy. Tommy doesn’t take checks or cards. Tommy just takes cash, and his customers understand the rules and are fine with that. Payments providers can help a merchant do what they do best, but unless we understand what’s really important for the small merchant (and it isn’t payments), we will offer solutions that don’t help them do what they love, and we will have missed the point of what it is that we do.

Reblogged from Mobile Strategies 360.