Several months ago, my favorite coffee shop in Austin switched from using a traditional credit card reader to the free Square device that attaches to an iPhone.
I groaned when I saw it.
I understand why it switched. Square’s credit card swipe fees are simpler and significantly less expensive than other, more traditional options for merchants, making it an increasingly popular choice for smaller mom and pops.
But every time I swipe my card through a Square reader, the whole transaction feels slower and more cumbersome and often takes a few tries to get right.
This week, Square introduced a new product, the Square Stand, designed to fix that problem and make transactions faster and more seamless. The new tool holds the merchants’ iPad upright, like a cash register, and features a built-in swipe machine that’s not only longer than the thumb-size Square reader, but also looks much more stable.
In a press release announcing the newest Square device, company founder Jack Dorsey lauded the machine’s speed — a key selling point for high-traffic merchants, such as my beloved Austin coffee shop, that are often hampered by long lines. (Apparently some retailers, including Nordstrom Rack, are already using the original Square reader to cut down on long lines by directing overflow traffic to cashiers with a portable reader; a faster device may help them even more.)
“Square Stand is elegant, fast, affordable and easy to use,” bragged Dorsey in the release. “Whether you’re selling cupcakes, cardigans or cappuccinos, running your business with Square has never been easier.”
I’m tempted to send a brochure, along with that quote, to each one of my favorite merchants who are still using the old-school Square reader and urge them to switch.
In a Slate article reviewing Square’s latest payment system — which costs merchants $299 a pop — tech writer Farhad Manjoo pointed to something else interesting about the launch of the new device.
First, Square’s renewed emphasis on traditional credit card payments shows that plastic isn’t going to be replaced by other payment methods, such as mobile, anytime soon. “Credit cards just work,” writes Manjoo. “They’re fast, they’re easy to understand, and they’re everywhere. Sure, we could make payments work better, but why should we when everyone really seems to like plastic?”
Second, the Square Stand’s attention to speed underscores a key truth about retail shopping (which may have been why I disliked the original Square reader so much): Slowing down payments forces people to think more about what they’re spending and, as a result, cuts down on their enjoyment. (Who wants to be thinking about the fact that they just blew their budget on that extra mocha latte?)
Paying with a card — which you have to pull out from your wallet and hope it’s not declined — is already painful enough, writes Manjoo, citing an argument that Jack Dorsey previously made about traditional card payments.
“The whole process is impersonal,” writes Manjoo. “As [Dorsey] told me last year, the act of opening up your wallet, finding your card, handing it over and signing creates a kind of psychic overhead — it makes you feel bad. If we made money invisible, we’d all feel better when we shopped.”
No kidding. Manjoo goes on to praise Square’s pay-with-your-name payment system — the Square wallet — which has yet to catch on with a larger number of merchants.
For me, a faster credit card swipe machine is enough. If payments were completely invisible, as Manjoo advocates, then I’d be almost certain to overspend. (I already have a hard enough time reining myself in when I use one-click shopping services, such as the single-click service offered by Amazon.)
However, I appreciate Square helping me get through a line more quickly since I’ll admit: I’d rather not think about the fact that I just spent money on something I don’t actually need.