'Paying by smart watch? That'll do nicely'

By Paul Rubens
Business reporter

image copyrightNewcomer Wines
image captionNewcomer Wines' Peter Honegger (right) says customers expect to pay using the latest tech

When hipster customers at Newcomer Wines grab a bottle of Austrian vino, they expect to be able to pay using their Apple smart watches.

Cash is decidedly old hat.

The ability to accept Apple Pay is important to reinforce the wine merchant's trendy image, says co-founder Peter Honegger.

That's because Newcomer Wines is based in the modish Boxpark shipping container retail zone in London's, Shoreditch. Pop-up fashion, food and drink stores abound.

"I guess because we are in Shoreditch, which is a hub for technology companies, it seemed logical to involve technology that enhances customers' retail experience," he says.

image copyrightNewcomer Wines
image captionNewcomer Wines' clientele is typically tech-savvy

"We want customers to be open to new wines, so we need to be open to new payment technologies."

Ways to pay

Consumers have never had a broader choice of ways to spend their money:

  • conventional credit and debit cards
  • contactless or "tap-to-pay" cards
  • digital wallets on smart phones and smart watches.

As well as Google's Android Pay and Apple's Apple Pay, South Korean smartphone maker Samsung plans the UK launch of its own contactless system, Samsung Pay, in the near future.

image copyrightAFP/SONY
image captionThese days people can pay for things using a smart watch like this Sony Wena Wrist model

For small UK businesses this poses quite a challenge: 40% don't even accept conventional card payments today, let alone contactless technologies.

Yet consumers want to use them: contactless transactions more than tripled in the last year, from payments worth £653m in 2013 to £2.32bn in 2014.

In the past, businesses have had to pay fixed monthly fees for card capabilities, making them too expensive for many small businesses.

And the long contracts were a particular problem in the rapidly growing pop-up retail sector where shops and restaurants come and go quickly.

A recent report from telecoms company EE and the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that Britain's pop-up sector grew by 12.3% last year.

media captionSamsung Pay chief talks security and competing with wallets

Jonathan Care, a research director at tech consultancy Gartner, believes that these mobile card readers are ideal for pop-up restaurants and other businesses because they are designed to work using a 3G or wi-fi connection.

"They use encryption and provide a secure portable way for these types of businesses to accept payments over the internet, rather than jerry-rigging some sort of phone-based solution," he says.

The only likely security risk is that a retailer is fooled into downloading malware onto their phone or tablet which could intercept the card payment details, Mr Care adds.

Money on the go

Newcomer's solution is to use one of the new breed of card reader devices that link to a smart phone or tablet running a sales app and providing internet connectivity.

These devices are either free or low cost. The companies that provide them - iZettle, PayPal, Payleven, SumUp, for example - charge a percentage of each transaction (typically around 2% to 3%), with no long contract or monthly fee.

image copyrightIzettle
image captioniZettle's most expensive reader accepts contactless payments as well

Newcomer Wines users an iZettle device that also supports contactless payments, and Mr Honegger says the store does about 400 transactions per month, with a typical value of about £25.

Crucially, that figure is below the £30 limit for contactless card payments, and contactless transactions now make up about 30% of sales.

"We are definitely seeing an increase in contactless, particularly Apple Pay," he says.

In common with most card readers of this type, the iZettle device comes with software that runs on a smart phone or tablet to manage transactions and generate sales reports.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionA customer uses an iPhone and Apple Pay to make a Post Office purchase

"This is very useful as it can send the data to our accounting software," says Mr Honegger. "We can also generate reports for analysis to see which items are performing best."

Any time, any place

Flexible, lower-cost point-of-sale tech is also useful for businesses on the move.

Perfect 10, a mobile beauty company employing 31 people, provides massages, facials and other treatments at clients' homes.

"We looked at a standard card reader for which we would have had to pay a fee every month, and though that might have worked in a salon, it was no good as we have multiple therapists travelling around," says Charlie McCorry, one of Perfect 10's co-founders.

image copyrightPerfect 10
image captionPerfect 10's Claire Aggarwal (left) and Charlie McCorry (right)

Instead, the company has adopted PayPal Here card readers that are issued to every therapist, along with a mobile device.

Operating in London she says staff rarely have trouble connecting their card readers over a 3G or 4G mobile data connection, but as a fall-back they can usually use the customer's home wi-fi connection.

The only drawback to the system is that staff sometimes forget to charge the devices before going out for the day, she adds.

Crafty payments

Even very small businesses can benefit from new point-of-sale technology.

Pandy Grenville-Evans runs a tiny craft shop in Kendal, Cumbria, taking about £350 per week. Her customers can pay by card thanks to a Payleven card reader attached to an Android tablet.

"There is just me in the shop, and I also take it to shows or events," she says. "Customers rarely ask to pay by card - probably just two or three per week.

"But there are no fixed fees, so if I don't use it it doesn't cost anything. I couldn't possibly afford a monthly fee."

image copyrightPayleven
image captionMobile card readers linked to accounting apps are proving popular with small businesses

Her card reader doesn't take contactless payments, but she doesn't see this as a problem in Cumbria.

"There is no demand for it here," she says.

Art market

Cordelia de Freitas also has little interest in contactless payment technology, but the reason is very different.

She and her partner Emma Moir run Box Galleries, a Chelsea art gallery. They make only one or two transactions per day, but the typical value is between £1,000 and £2,000 - and sometimes as much as £100,000.

That's far above the £30 transaction limit for contactless card payments.

image copyrightBox Galleries
image captionCordelia de Freitas sits before some of her gallery's artworks

Before adopting an iZettle device the company had a conventional card reader that used the mobile phone network, but she says the performance was poor and connectivity was always a problem at art fairs.

"Phone reception is always bad at these places so we had to wander around to try to get a signal. The iZettle reader uses wi-fi which is always available at shows, and receipts can be emailed to customers," she says.

"The only drawback to the system is that there is a limit of £10,000 per card transaction."

Many art dealers now use the devices, she says, as awareness is spreading by word of mouth.