Application Critique - Square Register
Square is a mobile POS tool that processes all major credit cards. They have a data analytic component that tracks and reports popular products with customers.
Most Important Takeaways from the Presentation
1. Square is Mobile
This is definitely the most important feature and competitive advantage that Square has would allow it to triumph over the other POS systems. The presenting group is right to emphasize on this point through their mini-skit (which I admit I found amusing). However, I have mixed feelings about it.
Well, most companies now accept payments online first then deliver the goods. The delivery of goods is usually no more than just a deliveryman (from FedEx/DHL/Singpost) passing on the goods to the customer.
When I first hear about Square, I thought it was an awesome idea. It could revolutionalise the way deliveries are made. If payments are made in person instead of through the net, it means there is an additional opportunity for contact between the business and their customer. It opens up a window of opportunity for the business to cross-sell complementary products to customers in person right before they deliver.
The psychology behind why this will work is that people are vulnerable to relatively small impulse purchases, and especially right before they pay. Since they are already paying for a big ticket item, if you sell them a perceived useful item that is much cheaper relative to what they are paying for, they are more likely to think "Well, it doesn't cost a lot and I could use it" than when they have time to evaluate the choices. I am not kidding you, just google around and you'll see. One famous example I can cite here is this: If you needs to drive across town to save $7 on a $25 dollar pen, you are likely to do it because that's a huge discount. However, if it were about saving $7 on a $495 suit? You most likely wouldn't because the perceived savings is less, even though the savings is the same. Similarly, customers will think less about a small purchase if they are already making a large one.
But upon deeper introspection, I decided that it is very hard to put this theory in place.
For one, the person receiving the product is usually not the same as the one purchasing it nowadays. If delivered to customers' home, it may be any of his or her family members receiving the purchase. If delivered to an office, the receiver is usually the mail room or receptionist first. The window of opportunity is not consistent and hence, not profitable if you ask me.
The other thing is that shifting from a "pay first, deliver later" system to a "payment on delivery" model is going to increase risks for businesses. If you don't have to pay immediately when you purchase it, people may get irresponsible with their purchases, such as cancelling it even though it is being delivered. This means more volatility or write-off and is definitely not favourable.
Hence, even though it is mobile and has the ability to change the way deliveries work, the incentive for businesses is not high enough for the switch.
2. Square POS is free...
except for processing Credit Cards, which is virtually all the transactions that will go through it. Technically, 2.75% is the market rate and is even cheaper than Paypal's processing fees (see here).
Like the previous point, this initially looks like an enticing choice, but I can also see why businesses do not want to take this up.
I did a basic market research on the rates businesses charge for POS systems, but I didn't manage to get any reliable figures. My anecdotal experience from doing sales for Prolink is that businesses are charged 2% for processing credit cards locally. If this were true, at 2.75%, Square would not be able to compete locally with the typical retail bank merchant services.
A little off topic here, but my research also revealed that the popular retail banks such as DBS and Citibank can provide both wired and wireless terminals, which sort of made Square's mobile competitive advantage a moot point in retail businesses..
Back on topic, another major turn-off for Square is that even though the reader is free, every reader needs to be accompanied by a corresponding mobile device (probably a tablet). The point here is obvious, the implicit cost of adopting Square is that the businesses need to buy hardware to support it as well. After all, I wouldn't trust a business with my credit card if their POS system (i.e. the mobile device) is something the salesman also uses for his social life and brings home every day.
So, after these costs are added up, Square still has to be cheaper than conventional methods for it to be a viable alternative.
3. Data Analytic Service
Square provides you up-to-date sales information that would be very useful for businesses. Such information includes top items by sales, new vs returning customers, average visits/spending, etc.
This is something that I feel is a competitive advantage of Square. From the interface shown in class by the presenting team, it looks very polished, targeted, and relevant to all kinds of businesses.
To the best of my knowledge, these monolithic organizations trying their best to hold the rubbish from legacy systems together, otherwise known as banks, have yet to catch up with such post-modern feature of rolling out analytic to the businesses.
The crux of implementing useful data analytic will lie in the execution. From the interface, one can see that many fields need to be filled in per transaction. With a card reader and no bar code scanner, I just hope that inputting the sales item will not require much manual effort. The reason why many data is unclean is because the fault lies at the point of input, where the cashier or salesman input what takes the least time or is the most convenient to them (probably during peak periods), rather than ensuring each input is accurate. If the whole process from purchase to payment is as seamless as their interface, I am sure data analytic will automatically become useful.
The competitive advantage of Square lies in its mobility and data analytic service. While its mobility feature can be positioned better, the data analytic service provides huge incentive for businesses to switch.
In my opinion, the target market of Square would be the more educated, tech savvy crowd, who are aware of the benefits of data analysis.
There are business owners who may not be educated, but have very good business acumen, which they have relied on to build their enterprise. This market would be harder to penetrate because the owners often do not choose to rely on data, but on their instincts instead. The educated crowd would be aware of the latest buzzwords (such as big data) and would more likely have an interest in analytic,
These more educated owners would also be less resistant to switching to a more modern POS tool, presumably because they would also be dissatisfied with the outdated and clunky UI of conventional POS tools.
Square is also very suitable for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). These are the businesses that do not have enough profits to justify the exorbitant fees charged by data analytic companies such as SAS and would benefit from Square's payment scheme to get a basic data analytic.
Small businesses may not have the infrastructure to support collecting data as well, and this is where Square can also enter as the solution to their lack of infrastructure.
Would Square be a success venture? I feel that it has the potential. The group mentioned that Square isn't doing very well in the US. While I do not know what is their implemented strategy, it is of my opinion that if they implement the entire experience well enough, from front-end to back-end, and target the correct group of people, Square would be able to gradually grab a slice of the market before its much larger competitors take notice. Hopefully, by then, Square would have invested enough resources in its infrastructure and offerings to be able to compete with the big players by itself. Only then will it be able to change the industry.