Call it too much of a good thing for small retailers: Their stores are so busy that the checkout lines snake out the door, prompting some customers to leave without buying. Store owner Gordon Russell saw that happen each summer season at his In the Pink retail chain, which dots tourist destinations like Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Last spring Russell took a page from Apple and turned his store associates into mobile cashiers.
The traditional checkout counters? Ripped out in all eight stores and replaced with racks of merchandise. Store clerks, armed with iPad minis, have become roaming fashion consultants who can pull up a customer’s history, check inventory at other stores, and ring up a sale moments after a customer steps out of the dressing room.
Four months after moving to mobile point of sale, the $10 million retailer witnessed a 23% jump in same-store sales compared with the same period a year prior. Says Russell: “We were able to serve more customers more quickly and let them get out the door and on with their day.”
Thanks to the low cost of iPads and new mobile-payment services like Square, more small retailers are doing the same. In fact, mom-and-pops lead the way when it comes to mobile checkout, accounting for 85% of the mobile point-of-sale systems installed in stores today, according to research firm IHL Group. IHL projects that in the next three years, mobile POS systems will replace up to 20% of existing systems in stores today. “It’s growing tremendously,” says Greg Buzek, IHL’s president.
There’s good reason: IHL contends that consumers spend 20% to 25% more when checking out with a clerk standing next to them than they do in a traditional across-the-counter transaction. Notes Buzek: “By standing side by side, you’re working on a problem together.”
Mobile checkout is cheaper, depending on how often you replace equipment. It can cost $6,000 to install a traditional system. By contrast, an iPad costs $400 to $700. (Both stationary and mobile systems require about $1,000 in annual costs for various software and maintenance.)
For rudimentary mobile checkout, apps like Square offer free card readers; they charge per transaction. For more robust cloud software that lets you see what is selling and what isn’t and individual buying patterns, services like Revel Systems, Lightspeed, and ShopKeep charge $49 to $79 a month, plus $669 to $3,000 for hardware such as a credit card reader, receipt printer, cash drawer, and an iPad stand. (Cloud software is cheaper for stationary systems: Retailers that use touchscreen devices and software can pay less than $50 a month.)
Russell of In the Pink is so enamored of mobile checkout that he started another company, Springboard Retail, that makes it available to other store owners. Smarter, cheaper, more mobile systems with real-time data in the cloud, he says, will give small retailers a big competitive advantage. Says Russell: “It’s huge.”
Food+Tech Connect and ShopKeep have teamed up to offer 25 full scholarships to The Power of Brand: Growing Your Restaurant boot camp, taught by former Union Square Hospitality Group CMO Felicia Stingone.
“In today’s increasingly competitive restaurant industry, I have seen firsthand how using brand as a business tool can help restaurants not only survive, but grow,” Stingone said in a news release. “Through this boot camp, I offer insider tips and tools for developing a brand framework to drive smarter, faster business decision-making, like whether to open a new restaurant, publish a cookbook or pursue licensing opportunities.”
Whether starting, growing or scaling a restaurant business, attendees of the program will learn how to use branding to strengthen operations, marketing and culture, the release said. The day includes conversations with industry insiders such as Danny Meyer, founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Richard Coraine, senior managing partner, Business Development and Consulting at Union Square Hospitality Group and others.
Danielle Gould, founder and CEO of Food+Tech Connect, said their objective is to “lower the barriers for success for food entrepreneurs” through online business courses.
To apply for one of the 25 scholarships ($399 value), applicants will need to share how they plan to use their new branding skills in “taking their business to the next level.” Applications are available at Food+Tech Connect and will be considered on a rolling basis through Nov. 7. The Power of Brand: Growing Your Restaurant will be held on Nov. 18, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in New York City.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Data breaches in retail are becoming the “news of the day,” and they’ve crossed multiple types of merchants and categories. In the past 12 months alone (not exhaustive), data breaches have occurred at Staples, Kmart, Dairy Queen, Jimmy John’s, Home Depot, Goodwill, P.F. Chang’s, Target, and Neiman Marcus.
Is this a “run up” before EMV? Is it symptomatic of old, archaic retail systems, or smarter crooks?
On Friday, October 24, the fifth and last day of Retail Reinvention Week, join us in a live digital discussion held at 11 AM EST with Market Platform Dynamic’s Gloria Colgan as host, Alex Pezold, CEO at Tokenex, Norm Merritt, President and Co-CEO at ShopKeep and Thomas Rand-Nash, Director of Operations and Strategy at Brighterion to find out who really owns the POS and customer data, and get a deeper look at issues related to data privacy, ownership and regulation.
In this digital discussion, you will learn:
Will consumers really choose data security over convenience, production selection or price? Or will they turn to cash?
What will it take to get consumers broadly to feel secure in the mobile space?
Is it a good or bad thing that, perhaps with Apple Pay, tokenization is starting to become more of a common use and understanding? Does there need to be a standard approach?
In the fight against data compromise, what is the single best step a merchant can take?
Will consumers have gotten over their security fears of mobile payments 5 years from now? Will there be significant penetration? Why or why not?
Small business inventory management provides up to the minute data on current stock levels, inbound stock, and connects your key financials like sales and cost of goods sold. This data is critical to fine-tuning profits, cutting losses, and spotting theft and inefficiencies. In this article, we’ll show you how to get your inventory organized and on track in 8 easy steps.
1. Organize Your Product & Vendor Information
The first step in organizing your small business inventory system is to set up your stock and supplier information in a reliable and accessible system. Some businesses use manual tracking methods, but the best option generally is a budget-friendly POS system for retailers or order management system for ecommerce sellers.
Pro Tip: Streamline Inventory Management with a POS
If you’re looking for a POS system, the free Square POS software is a good option for smaller inventories. For larger inventories, a POS with advanced inventory tracking features like Lightspeed is best.
Lightspeed offers excellent inventory tracking methods right out of the box. Purchased items are automatically deducted from your inventory records, and you get notified when stock is running low. Lightspeed also lets you build purchase orders easily when it’s time to reach out to your suppliers. Click here for a free trial.
Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to record both product-specific information and supplier details into your inventory management system. Here’s the typical information you’ll need to track for each item you carry:
Your internal product SKU or code (if you use one)
Manufacturer’s UPC/EAN or other unique identifiers
If you sell less than 30 products, you can get away with using a spreadsheet or handwritten records to track this data. But neither are automated, so both methods are time-consuming and also prone to errors. A POS really is the best way for small businesses to manage their inventory.
Here’s a look at how Lightspeed organizes all of this product information into one intuitive screen:
You also need to record key vendor data in your chosen inventory management method. This lets you quickly access supplier contact information, payment terms, etc. Here you’ll want to include:
Vendor contact name
Vendor billing information
Line rep or showroom contact
If using a POS, you’ll enter this into your system and link it directly to each inventory item. You can even list multiple suppliers for each product in POS systems. This is helpful in case one supplier is out of stock or if you need to compare wholesale prices.
Once you have all of this data recorded in one place, be it a POS, spreadsheet, or notebook, you can ditch all of your paper clutter like Rolodex cards and dog-eared supplier catalogs.
2. Create & Submit Accurate Purchase Orders
Purchase orders (POs) are the easiest way to manage your inventory purchases. They let you efficiently track every stock purchase, from placing the order, to receiving the shipment, to paying the bill. Since they’re essentially financial transactions, inventory orders shouldn’t be done without planning. Ideally, only create POs when you have time to review your cash flow and realistically forecast your stock needs.
You can submit POs many ways, from handwritten orders sent via fax to emails sent from your POS. Nowadays, most vendors prefer to receive electronic POs like those that POS systems send in a few keystrokes. But if you’re managing inventory using spreadsheets or via handwritten methods, you can use the following templates to create consistent POs that can be emailed or faxed.
If you submit POs manually, make sure you use a dark ink, write legibly, and differentiate between letters and numbers that look similar, like 1’s, L’s, and I’s, to reduce errors.
With a POS, the ordering process is quite easy. Since a POS tracks your sales data and inventory for you, you can quickly place orders based on up-to-the-minute sales numbers and inventory levels. You can even set up automatic reorders or be notified you when products hit a low-stock level. If you sell in any sort of volume, this automated convenience is a major timesaver.
Here’s a look at how Lightspeed POS lets you quickly create purchase orders from a convenient screen:
“Not having a system and process in place to accurately receive inventory is one of the most common small business inventory management mistakes, and the data backs that up. According to the National Retail Federation, 28% of inventory shrink is attributed to supplier mistakes that aren’t caught during the stock receiving process. A sound process that includes checking all stock receipts against purchase orders minimizes these losses.”
— Jason Richelson, CEO, StaffKeep & former CEO, Shopkeep
The most high-tech PO in the world can’t remedy stock receiving errors. So another key aspect of small business inventory management is to have a standard method for receiving inventory shipments. This ensures:
All boxes are received and unpacked together
All items received are accurately counted
All received items are checked against your PO for accuracy
It’s especially important to ensure that you check all received items against your PO. Suppliers generally include a packing slip that lists the items and quantities in your shipment. It’s easy for stockroom and warehouse staff to check in a stock shipment in with only the packing slip, but that’s a big mistake.
If the supplier made an error during order entry, their packing slip will match the shipment, but it won’t match your PO. If this isn’t caught by checking the received items against your PO, you’ll think you received stock that didn’t actually arrive. That leads to stock shortages, backorders, and ultimately, cash losses.
So, always check your receipts against each PO, not just the supplier’s packing slip. In fact, check your vendor’s invoice against each PO as well, to catch any price errors or changes.
How to Accurately Receive Stock Shipments
Ensure that you receive all boxes, containers, or other units in the shipment
Unpack the shipment and organize items by product
Check the items and counts against your PO
If the counts and products match, receive the PO in your POS, as shown below. Or, adjust the stock counts in your spreadsheet or manual inventory management system
If you find errors like wrong, shorted, or missing items, note these on your PO and contact your supplier immediately to resolve
Shelve or store all correctly received stock, tag or label first if needed for your system.
Receiving stock is another task made easier by a POS. Unlike manual inventory management methods, when you receive the PO for a stock shipment in a POS, your inventory numbers are automatically, and correctly, adjusted.
You need to tag and label your inventory for two reasons. First, price tags and product labels display an item’s selling price to shoppers. Second, product labels, particularly barcode labels, help you closely track your inventory and speed up the checkout process.
For basic price tags, you can use a standard price tag gun to quickly price items, or even use hand-written price tags if they fit your store’s motif. Both work fine with spreadsheet or hand-entry inventory management methods, but they don’t help you automate the overall inventory management process.
If you carry a large inventory, say over 100 unique products, barcode labels can make many key functions quick and easy. They speed up the checkout process, help you do fast and accurate inventory counts, and link each inventory item to your sales. Most POS systems, including Lightspeed, support barcode labels and some are even starting to work with the higher-tech electronic tags (RFID tags).
Regardless of the type of price tags or product labels you use, a good time to tag and label inventory is during the stock receipt process. That ensures the task isn’t overlooked and prevents unlabeled stock from being shelved or displayed for sale. You can simply build this step into the stock receipt process we covered above.
If using a POS, you can even have barcode labels print automatically when you receive stock into the system, like this:
Print barcode labels automatically with Lightspeed
Once printed, labels can be affixed directly to product packaging or attached to hang tags. Some inventory might even arrive pre-labeled with manufacturer’s barcodes, which you can also track in your POS. In that case, your job is easy. You can just add a price label.
5. Track Your Sales & Products Sold
Tracking sales is a must for any business operation and it involves more than just tallying up the totals at the end of the day. A good small business inventory management system also records every order in detail, including each item sold. With a manual system, you’ll record orders by hand or track them within a spreadsheet, then manually adjust the inventory quantities for each item sold.
A small operation can handle this manually as long as inventory reductions are tracked regularly, say at the close of each business day. But as you grow, a POS system will dramatically streamline your operation by automating your inventory reduction with every sale. That means every time you make a sale, each item sold is automatically removed from your inventory records. Plus, each recorded sale lists each item sold. It’s all very tidy.
A POS also gives you up-to-the-minute sales totals. You don’t have to wait for an end of day closeout to know your daily sales since you can run reports at any time. And remember those POs we covered in Step 2? As your inventory numbers click down with each sale, reorder alerts or automatic POs will generate. This makes stock reordering quick, easy and, most importantly, bases your reorders on actual sales trends, not your best guess.
“In the early days of my online business, I accepted orders without having the product on hand, but thought I had plenty based on my manual spreadsheet. Luckily, I was able to quickly restock and fill those orders. But what if I hadn’t been able to? It would have been a disaster. Now my POS system ties inventory management to every sales task. It keeps up with how many units I sell order-by-order and alerts me when I’m running low. This gives me peace of mind. I never have to worry about selling a product that I don’t have in stock.”
— Zondra Wilson, President of Blu Skin Care
6. Take Regular Physical Inventory Counts
Physical inventory counts certainly don’t top anyone’s bucket list. But done right, physical counts can dramatically reduce all types of inventory problems. Most small businesses do a full inventory count once each year for tax purposes, but it’s a good idea to smaller partial inventory counts regularly, too.
Here are the 2 primary types of inventory counts that most businesses use:
Annual Inventory Count
This is the full inventory count done at the close of each fiscal year for income tax purposes. For some small businesses, it’s the only real inventory count they perform. But beware! If you only do inventory counts once each year, you’re likely to uncover shortages due to miscounts, misplaced stock, and receiving errors. By year’s’ end, it’s too late to fix most of these issues. To catch them before they become costly, you’ll want to conduct periodic counts, called cycle counts.
Cycle counts are periodic spot-counts that you can easily fit into your daily activities. With cycle counts, you just count a small portion of your stock on a rotating basis, such as a single category or product line each week. Done regularly, cycle counts uncover receiving errors, misplaced stock, and theft shortages quickly before they become costly, long-term problems.
Pro Tip: Reorder Time is Cycle Count Time
“When it’s time to reorder items you are running low on think of it as a good time to do inventory. All the items you are about to reorder probably are down to a few. It’s a good time to make sure your inventory systems exactly match what’s on the shelf. So if your inventory system says 3 and you only have 2 then make that adjustment before you create the PO for the new order.”
— Jason Richelson, CEO, StaffKeep & former CEO, Shopkeep
The Inventory Count Process
You need to start every physical inventory count with the current Quantity on Hand (QOH) for every item you’re planning to count. This is the amount you should have in stock for each item you carry, according to whatever inventory management system you’re using.
Stock counts are tracked as a running tally, so figuring your QOH for each item follows this basic formula:
Previous QOH + Received Inventory – Sold Inventory = Quantity on Hand (QOH)
How quickly you can figure up the QOH for each item in stock depends on your chosen inventory management system.
Counting Inventory Using a POS System
With a POS system like Lightspeed, you can quickly print an inventory list for physical counts.
This list includes the name of each product to be counted, SKU, barcode if using a scanner, and the quantity of each product that you should have on-hand. This is termed your expected or starting QOH for purposes of your inventory count. Your POS does the math for you by tracking your received items and subtracting the sold items to give you an expected QOH for each item you carry.
Using your printed inventory sheet, you’ll physically count your stock and record that quantity next to your expected QOH for easy comparison. If the counted quantities match your expected QOH, your inventory is accurate. If they don’t, you have an error in your process and need to do some digging to uncover the reason for the shortage. We’ll discuss how in a minute.
Counting Inventory Using a Manual System
If you don’t use a POS, you must tally up the starting QOH totals yourself manually, or by using your inventory records in your spreadsheet. Then you’ll need to create your own inventory count sheets to record your physical counts, like these free inventory count templates.
Here are the steps:
Start with your beginning inventory count. This is the QOH you recorded for each item after your last inventory count.
Add the received inventory to the beginning QOH for each item. This is the stock you received since your last inventory count.
Subtract your items sold. This is the number of each item sold since your last inventory count.
The ending number is your new expected/starting QOH
Now that you have an expected/starting QOH for each item, you can begin your physical inventory count. Again, if the newly counted quantities match your expected QOH, your inventory records are accurate. If they don’t, you have an error in your process and need to do some digging, which we’ll discuss next.
See why a POS system is such a timesaver? Doing the manual steps listed above is time-consuming and prone to math and recording errors. Plus if you use a POS system with barcode scanners, you can save even more time since your physical counts can be integrated with the rest of your POS data in real time.
But no system, however sophisticated, is 100% foolproof. Next, we’ll explore what to do when your physical counts don’t match your expected QOH.
7. Reconcile Inventory Differences
In a perfect world, you’ll have no discrepancies at the end of your physical count. If that’s the case, bravo! Your small business inventory management techniques and systems are working great. But even the best process and system can have an occasional glitch. When these occur, you’ll need to investigate the problem, and if not solved, reconcile the QOH differences for accounting purposes.
The first step is researching the count discrepancy. There are many reasons inventory goes missing, physically and figuratively. It can be an actual loss, like theft, damaged goods not reported, or stock recorded as received but that never actually arrived. Other times, the stock is there, it’s just in the wrong place or incorrectly labeled.
If you can’t locate the stock, then you need to adjust the QOH for that item in your system to what you actually have on hand. This is as simple as just changing that number in your POS, spreadsheet, or written inventory record.
After that, you need to adjust your inventory value for that item in your accounting system to track the dollar value of the loss. This usually is reflected on your balance sheet as Inventory Shrink. Accuracy here is especially critical since you need to supply inventory valuation for insurance policies, investors, or if you’re applying for an SBA loan.
Pro Tip: Using a POS to Monitor Theft
Frequently, inventory levels don’t match because your vendor either sent less than you requested or an item walked out the door without anyone paying for it. As we saw earlier, a POS systems like Lightspeedcan improve the accuracy of receiving orders. Once you know you received what you ordered, you can tell if the discrepancies between the items sold and those still on the shelves represent theft or shrinkage and take actions to protect your inventory.
8. Organize your Stockroom or Warehouse
So far, we’ve focused on the sales, stock receiving, and counting processes that drive good small business inventory management. But this discussion is incomplete without looking at ways to keep all of that stock organized and readily accessible.
Whether you have a retail store with a small stockroom in the back or an expansive warehouse for your ecommerce business, organization is key to smart inventory management. Even if you operate in a tiny space, it’s good to have organized overstock space so you can take advantage of discounts and deals on quantity purchases.
“After my first stock order of over 1000 units, we had boxes of inventory everywhere and were shipping orders from multiple locations. I realized I had a huge inventory management problem when we needed a balance sheet with accurate inventory counts for investors. Assembling that took days, and made me really stop and think.
Ultimately I hired someone to focus on inventory management. We organized the inventory by type, stored it all in one location, and started shipping from that one location. We also integrated our WooCommerce website with QuickBooks Online to ties sales to inventory in real time. With this system in place, I’m free to concentrate on what I’m best at: content creation for my website, managing my team, and finding potential partners.”
— Nicki Zevola Benvenuti, Founder, FutureDerm
In retail stores, tall storage shelves or double-tier hanging racks can maximize storage space along walls, yet allow movement through the space to access stored goods. In ecommerce fulfillment warehouse settings, you generally have more room to store goods on aisles built using light-duty metal shelving or heavier-duty shelving, depending on your needs.
Whatever your inventory storage method, your stored inventory needs to be well-organized, clearly labeled, and accessible for pulling and inventory counts. This can be done using the boxes goods come in, stacking bins, or even hanging separators for hung apparel. Periodic cycle counts of overstock also help keep track of extra inventory and ensure it’s not lost or misplaced over time.
The Bottom Line
Follow the inventory management techniques above and your retail store or ecommerce business will soon be running an efficient and effective small business inventory management system. Whether you’re looking to switch from spreadsheets to a modern POS system, reinvigorate an existing system that has become disorganized, or starting a system from scratch, these basic principles will help you set up and streamline your operation.
If you’re looking to switch to a small business POS, check out Lightspeed. As we’ve already seen, Lightspeed’s robust POS system makes it quick and easy to track inventory and place and receive orders. You can even set up automatic reorders that trigger when your inventory is low so you can get your products back on the shelves faster. Click here to try Lightspeed for free.
David Donohue has a tough relationship with his wallet and the items inside it.
He has lost his wallet twice in the past year. He has fallen victim to credit card theft three times. On one occasion, a thief plucked a credit card replacement sent to his home directly from his mailbox.
Mr. Donohue said that is why he was excited to use Apple Pay, the tech giant’s new e-commerce product released on Monday. By pushing a button on his iPhone, he can make a purchase at one of the thousands of retail locations, including Macy’s or Walgreens stores, using the new service. No wallet, cash or plastic card necessary.
“I’d be beyond thrilled to be walletless, simply because I don’t enjoy carrying one,” Mr. Donohue, 42, who works at a social media marketing start-up in San Francisco, said in an interview. “My dream scenario is to carry only my phone and cash.”
Large tech and telecom companies like Google, Verizon and AT&T have tried for years to replace the traditional wallet with smartphone apps, having a click here or swipe there replace a credit card or dollar bills at the register. But commerce experts say they believe that the involvement of Apple, which helped revolutionize the mobile industry, could be the impetus that moves mainstream consumers to digital payments — the latest in an evolution of the way people buy goods and services.
Generation after generation of Americans used cash as their primary payment. They then turned to bank checks, later to credit and debit cards. Within a few decades of their introduction, credit cards became ubiquitous: By 2012, nearly three quarters of a billion credit cards were being used in the United States, according to the Federal Reserve.
Think of Apple Pay as taking the card out of credit card. After entering their credit card information into the latest iPhones, customers can wave their phone in front of a properly equipped payment terminal at retailers like Whole Foods and McDonald’s. Customers verify the transaction with the iPhone’s fingerprint scanning hardware.
Today, relatively few people buy things with a wave of a smartphone. In the United States last year, consumers spent $1.6 billion using contactless mobile payments of the sort allowed by Apple Pay, according to estimates from eMarketer, a market research firm. That is just a tiny fraction of $264.3 billion in e-commerce purchases made last year, and an even smaller portion of $4.26 trillion in traditional in-store retail purchases.
“Right now, mobile wallets are sort of like e-commerce in 1995,” said John Collison, co-founder of Stripe, a payments processing firm. “Amazon was one of the big companies that made people feel O.K. to put their credit cards online.” Apple, he said, will do the same for the mobile wallet.
But others point to previous mobile wallet efforts from Google, Verizon and Square, among others, all of which failed to gain wide adoption. And Apple’s largest difficulty could be to persuade thousands of retailers to accept Apple Pay at the checkout line.
“Apart from the cool factor, there’s really not a lot of value for the average merchant at the moment,” said Denée Carrington, an e-commerce analyst for Forrester Research. “Especially when you think about how merchants want to capture more information from consumers with each transaction.” She pointed out that Apple Pay did not connect to loyalty and awards programs that merchants often find valuable.
Industry experts, however, say that Apple’s offering has advantages that its predecessors did not.
Accepting Apple Pay and some other mobile payment technologies usually relies on technology inside the payment terminals at registers, like at the stations where a consumer swipes a credit card. By next fall, though, American merchants face a deadline to upgrade their credit card terminals to accept E.M.V. — which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa — a technology that makes credit transactions more secure for consumers. Many believe those new terminals will also accept payments from Near Field Communication-enabled devices like the iPhone 6.
“Apple’s timing here is an astute stroke of brilliance,” said Norm Merritt, president of ShopKeep, a start-up that sells point-of-sale products for small businesses. “People will already have to invest in new E.M.V.-enabled machines. N.F.C. is just a few bucks more.”
Apple is also promoting Apple Pay’s security measures, calling it far safer than the credit cards consumers use on a daily basis.
“We’re totally reliant on the exposed numbers and the outdated and vulnerable mag stripe,” Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in Cupertino, Calif., last month. “Which all of us know aren’t so secure.”
Apple is working with major credit card companies like Visa, American Express and MasterCard to integrate a so-called tokenization system into Apple Pay. The technology sends a secure code to merchants instead of a credit card number, which experts say will make credit card data theft less likely. Every transaction will also come with a unique encoded passcode that will help determine whether a transaction is legitimate.
“Their brand, their technology and their choices in security made it compelling to us,” said James Anderson, senior vice president of emerging payments at MasterCard, who also pointed to Apple’s fingerprint identification system in the iPhone 6 as an impressive additional way to fight credit card fraud.
Still, consumers can use Apple Pay at a physical retailer only if they have the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. More than half of American smartphone owners use an Android device, which does not work with Apple Pay.
Also, cash is still hugely popular. It may not be easy for Apple to persuade millions of people to switch from a familiar payment system to a novel one.
Apple Pay will most likely need to overcome a sort of chicken-and-egg dilemma: Popularity may come, but only if a lot of people really want to use it.
“There’s a type of network effect that occurs in markets like this,” said Jerry W. Kim, a professor at Columbia Business School. “The more people that use it, the more valuable it becomes.”
For people like Trevor Mason, a 33-year-old finance buff from Ann Arbor, Mich., Apple Pay can’t go mainstream fast enough. “I never carry cash in my wallet,” he said. Knowing “that I could just pay with my phone — that would be great.”
CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) — Apple’s mobile payment system, Apple Pay, made its debut Monday. Now you can flash your new iPhone in the checkout line to pay for food, clothing and other goods. There’s no need to pull out your credit card.
But don’t leave your wallet or purse behind quite yet: Despite a few dozen retail chains pledging support for Apple Pay, so-called contactless payments are still new. Smaller merchants, in particular, aren’t likely to have the necessary equipment right away.
Here’s a guide to how Apple Pay works and what to expect:
Q. What do I need to use Apple Pay?
A. To fully use Apple Pay, you’ll need an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus with iOS 8.1, a free software update released Monday. You’ll also get some online-only features with the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 coming out later this week. Older devices won’t work, even with the 8.1 update.
You’ll also need a credit card that works with Apple Pay. Major credit card issuers such as American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citibank and Wells Fargo are backing Apple Pay. Apple says more than 500 banks are participating, representing about 83 percent of the card volume in the U.S.
To get started, use the Passbook app or go to “Passbook & Apple Pay” in the settings.
Q. Is it secure?
A. Although security measures are never foolproof, the Apple Pay system is safer than many current pay methods.
For one thing, a substitute account number is assigned when you set up Apple Pay. Merchants get that instead of your real card number. In addition, a verification code is created for each transaction, based in part on unique keys on the phone. Even if hackers get that substitute number, they wouldn’t be able to generate the verification code without having possession of your phone, so fraudulent transactions would be declined.
Other services are starting to use one-time verification codes, too, but not all of them use the substitute account number. By using that substitute, a credit card issuer could cancel the number just for the phone, should you lose it. You wouldn’t need to replace the entire card.
Apple says it knows nothing about your transactions, which are handled directly by the credit card processors.
Q. Where can I use Apple Pay?
A. Most retail stores that accept contactless payments should be able to use Apple Pay, as well as Google Wallet, Softcard and other services that are based on a wireless-chip technology called near-field communication, or NFC. It’s possible that some stores have the hardware in place, but haven’t turned on the functionality yet. The debut of Apple Pay is likely to prompt those merchants to do so.
A few dozen chains, including Macy’s, McDonald’s, Subway and Whole Foods, are expected to accept Apple Pay right away, though some of their stores might not be ready yet. Other retailers expected to do so by the end of the year include Staples, Urban Outfitters and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
Apple is distributing logos to merchants that accept Apple Pay, similar to symbols for Visa and MasterCard, though the lack of a logo doesn’t necessarily mean Apple Pay isn’t accepted.
In addition, you can use Apple Pay to make online purchases within apps, without having to enter card numbers, billing addresses and other information. It’s up to merchants to enable this with app updates. Groupon, OpenTable, Staples and Target are among the initial ones to do so. You’ll see a button for “Apple Pay” or “Buy with Apple Pay.” The new iPads will be able to make in-app payments, but they lack NFC chips for in-store payments.
Q. What about smaller merchants?
A. Dry cleaners, local restaurants and other smaller businesses are less likely to have the equipment ready. All told, there are more than 200,000 payment terminals in the U.S. capable of making “contactless” transactions, but that’s out of several million.
Starting late next year, merchants will be liable for fraudulent transactions if they don’t have equipment with an enhanced security system called EMV. Because merchants have to upgrade equipment to EMV anyway, they can get the NFC capability for not much more.
But many equipment makers hesitated because demand for NFC hasn’t been clear. Soon after Apple announced support, iPad-based retail payment system ShopKeep decided to start including NFC and plans to distribute new equipment to its 10,000 merchants over the next year. Other equipment makers are expected to do the same.
Even though relatively few small merchants can now accept NFC payments such as Apple Pay, that’s bound to change in a year when the EMV deadline comes.
Q. Do I have to pay to use it?
A. Apple hasn’t said much about how it plans to make money from Apple Pay transactions, but it’s safe to say that credit card companies would be the ones covering any fees. Card companies might factor in those costs in the regular fees that consumers and merchants pay. However, those companies might be able to use savings from fraud reduction to cover any Apple Pay costs.
Q. How does this differ from other contactless systems?
A. Most noticeable will be the use of the fingerprint ID sensor to authorize transactions. Right now, it’s easy to pull out a plastic credit card, so any mobile-payment system will have to be just as easy. That can’t be said when you have to spend time typing in a passcode at the checkout line. The fingerprint ID lets you bypass that with one tap.
It’s only been a few days since Apple CEO Tim Cook rocked the house in Cupertino, Calif., with the unveiling of the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, the wireless payment system that will be available with the iPhone 6. But already companies, developers and venture capitalists on the East Coast are scrambling to find ways to work with the new devices, which promise to attract a constellation of new business applications.
“These are exciting moments for us: new platforms draw really curious engineers,” said David Pakman, a partner in the Manhattan office of venture capital firm Venrock, who tweeted an invitation Sept. 9 for people to “reach out” if they were working on apps for the Apple Watch. He got “a few really interesting ideas” in reply.
Much the way mobile phones spurred development of messaging applications, new communications methods could be uniquely suited to a watch that will be “like an electronic representation of your identity,” he said.
Mr. Pakman added that the “New York media ecosystem has been really good at adapting” to smaller screens, as usage of mobile devices has overtaken that of desktop computers. Now the question will be how to “optimize for a super-small screen,” he said. “I think New York will be a thought leader in that.”
The introduction of Apple Pay is also posing opportunities and challenges. The system, which will launch in October at 220,000 locations—primarily big-box retailers and restaurant chains—uses near-field communication technology to allow payment transactions from the phone’s digital wallet.
For smaller merchants the first job will be installing NFC readers at their cash registers and connecting them to their systems.
“We’re going to be working very hard to make sure we can support our merchants in accepting Apple Pay payments the same way the big-box retailers are going to be able to do it,” said Jason Richelson, CEO of Shopkeep.com, a Manhattan-based startup that provides point-of-sale software solutions to 10,000 independent merchants around the country.
Mr. Richelson said the company is looking for the right hardware device to offer its customers and making sure the back end of Shopkeep’s system can handle the transactions. He also sees an Apple Pay solution as a chance to attract more users.
“Potential customers are already asking about this,” he said. “This is a good thing for us.”