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July 12, 2000

Many artists would agree that the ability to accept charge cards is an integral part of their business. However, the numerous methods to actually do this present a difficult choice for the artist. Sorting through all the different equipment choices, processing companies, rates, fees, etc. can be quite confusing.

This report will cover only the processing options for wireless, battery powered credit card processing at the show site. Although it is certainly possible to accept cards at the show, and then key them in later at home or a hotel, most questions from artists seem to be about the portable, wireless machines, as well as the processing companies and banks that will work with, and understand, both wireless technology AND our independent types of business.

This report represents opinions and research done by several people, and should serve as a starting point for your own research into wireless credit card processing. It is not the intent of the NAIA to recommend any one processing company, or type of machine. Indeed, there is no one solution that is the best for everyone, and equipment choices, prices, and processing rates will obviously change. Still, this report will attempt to give you the information you need to ask the right questions, and to provide you with resources to which you may actually ask those questions.

Why go wireless? A few reasons would be:

  1. Lower processing rates. The ability to physically swipe the card through the terminal at the time of purchase will allow your processing bank to offer you a lower rate vs. manually keying in the purchase back at the studio. The higher rates are often referred to as mid-qual or non-qual rates, and can effectively double the percentage (known as discount rate) you will pay to your bank.
  2. Peace of mind. You no longer have to worry about whether the charge will go through back at the studio. You have immediate confirmation. Based on comments from artists who have made the switch to wireless, this benefit provides more value than they originally anticipated. Also, should you somehow lose your sales ticket or manually imprinted charge slip, you will not lose the sale as well, because you have already sent it through to your processing bank. (Losing a sales slip with a customers credit card information on it would, of course, present other problems to you and your customer in the area of fraud risk.)
  3. Time saver. Depending on how many charges you make at a typical show, this can be significant. Not only do you no longer have to come home and key in the transactions, but the money is already on its way to your bank.

What are the currently available wireless technologies?

  1. Radio. A rather vague term to describe machines that use BellSouths wireless data network. The various models of the Nurit terminal, made my Lipman, are the most widely known terminals to use the Radio technology.
  2. CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data). Fancy sounding terminology that is used by the Symphony credit card machine, amon others.
  3. Analog cellular. The Tranz 420 and similar type machines use this. A separate analog cellular phone, and a connecting magic box interface between the phone and the terminal, is required to run the terminal.

Which one is the best?

A lot of that depends on where you are going to be doing your shows.

Analog cellular offers virtually universal coverage, but you will get stuck with various types of roaming charges from your cellular phone company which can vary wildly, and can add up quickly. Plus, the processing units tend to be a bit cumbersome, as you need a terminal (plus its charger), a phone (plus its charger), and a connecting interface. Some artists have avoided this cumbersome set-up by using an all in one terminal called a POS 50, manufactured by US Wireless Data (not sure if these are still available, see Sources at the end of the report). Still, with the arrival of Radio and CDPD units, analog cellular technology is generally considered old technology. It certainly works, and works well for those that are using it, but if you are just now converting to wireless, the newer technologies are likely a better choice.

Radio and CDPD are similar in that you will not incur traditional roaming charges from a cellular company. Still, the various processing companies typically charge a fixed monthly subscription fee in order to use either service. A main advantage of machines that use these technologies is that they are all-in-one units that are compact and lightweight. No extra cables or connections, and you get quick response time when processing transactions. So, are there differences between Radio and CDPD? In the real world, one big difference will be coverage areas. This is where you must ask questions of the company you purchase your terminal from. Find out if Radio or CDPD coverage is in the cities where you do shows. Ask them to provide you with web sites that show updated coverage maps for each system.

What are some of the questions you should ask, and what are some of the things you should watch out for?

  1. What are the fees? Probably the most confusing thing to figure out. You need to make sure you are getting EVERY COST from a company that gives you a quote. A really great looking discount rate could be offset by other fees. Here are some fees to look out for, you must factor every fee in to the equation to determine your true cost..Not every processing company will have ALL of these, but they will have MANY of them. Be thorough and diligent so that you truly compare apples to apples.
    • A. Discount percentage rate (this is the percentage skimmed off the top of your sale)
      1. Get the rate for swiped transactions
      2. Get the rate for manually keyed transactions for those times when, for whatever reason, your terminal will not get a signal
    • B. Application, or set-up fee
    • C. Monthly statement fee
    • D. Monthly subscription fee to the Radio or CDPD service (this will not apply if you are using an analog cellular system, as the charges will come from your cellular company)
    • E. Annual account maintenance fee or membership fee
    • F. Per transaction fee
    • G. Is there a Voice Authorization fee?
    • H. Is there a monthly minimum you will be charged even if no sales activity occurs?
    • I. Are supplies included, or extra?
    • J. Cancellation fee or penalty. WATCH OUT for this one. We have seen contracts that, if you cancel, can severely stick the financial screws to you. READ the fine print.
  2. Coverage. As stated previously, be sure to check on the coverage area for the type of system you are considering. Analog cellular will cover you virtually anywhere, but you will incur roaming charges from your cellular company. CDPD and Radio will cover you almost everywhere, but each of these two technologies has coverage gaps, and WHERE THOSE GAPS ARE LOCATED MAY SURPRISE YOU. CDPD reportedly works better from indoor settings, due to the frequency range of its radio signal, but it is lacking coverage in some major cities such as Kansas City and Atlanta. Also, it is possible that your CDPD carrier may not be licensed to operate in every market that has CDPD coverage (this may change, of course-- ASK for current coverage maps).
  3. Technical support, particularly on weekends, when your terminal goes Burp. We cant stress the importance of this one enough. Still, how do you know if you will actually get good service? How do you know if you will be able to talk to a real human being, or just a machine that says call back on Monday when we are open. Start by asking the sales person of the terminal you are buying what kind of support you will get on weekends. Find out if the bank that will do the actual processing has weekend Tech Support for wireless users. Ask if the Tech Support staff understands our mobile business, and if they are familiar with the equipment you are about to spend a lot of money on. And, of course, ASK other artists if they have used the company you are thinking of dealing with, what kind of problems they have had, and were those problems effectively dealt with.
  4. Does the company you are considering buying from offer more than one type of wireless technology? As we have stated in this report, no one technology is right for everyone. Make sure the company you are considering can offer you all the choices, and work with them to determine which one is right for you


OK, youve just read through the generic answer. The generic answer has hopefully given you an idea of some of the questions you need to ask. For specific answers, start by contacting the following businesses for current equipment and processing information. We have received positive reports on these businesses from artists who use their services. There are, of course, other companies that offer processing solutions, and if your favorite processor is not listed it in no way implies they are not absolutely great. However, the companies listed here have shown they understand our business, and have many satisfied customers.

It should be noted that the NAIA has made attempts in the past to establish group rates and benefits from some of the major national card processing companies, but after looking at the offerings, it has been determined that those large companies tend to not understand or adequately support our independent, mobile type businesses. Also, the rates and benefits were no better than what you will find by contacting the following companies that do indeed understand our business.

Mobile Artisans and Crafters National Co-op
Many satisfied artists, knows our business very well, web site has links to coverage maps for CDPD and Radio

Arts and Crafts Business Solutions

Many satisfied artists, knows our business very well, no web site yet, but are working on one.

Ring On Line 1-248-698-4659 x101 Sells the Symphony CDPD unit, and can set you up with a processing bank. Web site also has links to CDPD coverage maps

U.S. Wireless Data
Services the POS 50, an all-in-one analog cellular terminal mentioned earlier. The POS 50 may no longer be available as a new unit, and is considered old technology.

Google.com Great search engine. Type in credit card terminals or credit card processors and prepare to be deluged with information. Highly recommended if you wish to advance your studies. Just remember to ask your questions, and read the fine print before signing on the dotted line.

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