We haven’t heard from many of you out east during the storm and its aftermath. On behalf of the MerchantOS staff I want to say our hearts go out to you. We hope that you and yours are safe and sound. If we can help with anything, please ask.
Checking in with a trip report (with pics!) to the far east reaches of the U.S. MerchantOS attended a trade show called action bike and outdoor in Atlantic City then I headed north to New York City to visit some customers and hang out with my sister at her pad in Harlem over the weekend.
Action Bike And Outdoor
We met two shops using MOS at this show. This is fairly significant given that by my estimate only about 100-200 retailers actually attended! If you want uninterrupted access to vendors attending this show, you as retailers should go. If you’re a vendor and want a lot of exposure to retailers in these industries, don’t go!
I Heart New York
I drove into the city from Atlantic City. My first driving experience on the East coast. What’s with the gas stations and restaurants in the middle of the
highway parkway? How do you go back the way you came? Wrong turns or missed off ramps cost you dearly in time! Tolls as much as $12! I was for sure the n00b on the road out there.
My goal was to visit as many customers as possible on Friday and try to see a few more on Saturday. Here’s a roundup of who I made it out to see.
This children’s apparel shop is on the bleeding edge of hip. I had to score something for my 9 month old and found the perfect howling wolf shirt. Kit runs two nearby locations and has his inventory up on Shopify for E-commerce sales.
Kiosk has an array of styling and sometimes retro items. Due to my unannounced visit, I sadly missed the owners but did get to check out the shop and check in with the present staff. Kiosk has a single store front tucked away in the SOHO on the second floor. They get a lot of touristic traffic passing by but also run a Shopify E-commerce site.
Toga Bike Shop is one of our first twenty customers to use our point of sale. A must visit. They have four locations around the New York City area and I swung by their West side location. Eddie helped fill me in on what we can do better for them.
Up in Harlem these guys have a very pleasantly laid out shop. What I can only describe as a bar layout in back provides a great hangout area for customers to banter with the repair staff. Dale over there gave some great feedback about allowing all employees, regardless of their rights, to be able to see their hours clocked. A great suggestion we’ll try to accomodate.
This shop is delightfully packed with a wide array of inventory. We went over some of the functionality of MerchantOS.
More Shop Visits
One of the best parts about this trip is we get to directly connect with customers to find out what they need and learn first hand how our software works in their shops. This is a great way for us to learn to enhance the software and witness first hand how our software interacts with employees and customers in their store. We’ll try to pre-anounce our trips so shops can request a visit in the future.
See you soon…
With brick and mortar retailers increasingly competing against online retailers for sales, there may be ways to combat online rivals on their own digital turf. One way is to list your available merchandise online. A would be buyer, for example, might be lured by picking up merchandise on their way home from work rather than waiting for (and sometimes paying for) shipping.
At My local Bike Shop (amlbs.com) recently launched a search site that lists available inventory for participating retailers. With a zip code and a product description, online researchers can find if the product they want is available at your shop.
Amlbs.com is a service of Vendor-Link Cycling which aggregates data, providing retailers with helpful analytics along with sell-through inventory levels to suppliers in order to optimize supply chain costs. MerchantOS customers can list with amlbs.com quickly at no extra cost. Sign up here.
We’ve always been very interested in services like this and have attempted but never completed integrations with both Google (Google shelved the project for now) and Milo (Purchased by Paypal) to perform similar functionality. We strongly believe that technologies like this should be embraced by retailers and over time inventory availability information from small retailers will be displayed alongside that of big box and online retailers in places like google product search.
Tagging gives you the ability to organize your products by putting them under one or more tags. We’ve had the ability to tag items for sometime but with the next release you’ll be able tag customers and filter most reports by tag.
In listings you can now filter for records with and without tags. For example you could find all items tagged “food” and exclude all items with the tag “organic”.
We’ve also added tag groups. Simply prefix any tag with a group name and “:”. For example you might tag a few items with the following tags: “bike:road”, “bike:mountain”, “bike:bmx”. If you searched for “bike:” in the item listing, you’d see everything tagged with the “bike” group. If you searched for “bike:bmx”, you’d see just items tagged with that specific tag.
Customer records can now be tagged! You can use tag groups with customers as well. You might use tags to separate customers into lists you will target with various marketing campaigns.
Removing: Season, Department, Shelf Location, Model Year
New accounts will not have season, department, shelf location, and model year. Existing accounts will keep all of these fields for now. Down the road we will be migrating data stored in these fields into tags, and eventually turning these fields off for all accounts.
You will be able to choose when to make the transition for your shop during a transition period. You’ll receive notices and instructions on how to convert when it’s time. All the filtering you do now with your the existing fields will be possible with tagging and more.
We’ll do our best to help all customers with the transition to tagging.
Serial Number Tagging
We plan to add tagging for serial number records in the near future. This will help track the status of serial numbered items that may need to be built or have other statuses.
Payment Processing within MerchantOS got more restricted when we dropped Authorize.net support due to security issues with how their gateway is designed. We’ve been hunting for companies that meet both security and functionality requirements we have for gateways and Mercury Payment Systems fit the bill perfectly.
We’ve wanted to have an additional choice in processing for our customers for some time and we are thankful Mercury has the feature set needed and willingness to help us get an integration done.
Last weekend a subset of our customers were affected by a Saturday morning outage on one of the gateways we partner with then later on all customers were affected by an outage by Visa. This post is to fill you in on the details of what happened and what we are doing to try to prevent future occurrences
Payment Gateway Outage Saturday Morning
On Saturday morning customers using the Element payment gateway were unable to process credit cards. This was due to an upgrade Element attempted to perform on their systems that morning. Element quickly discovered the problem and rolled back the upgrade. This happened early enough in the morning that most west coast customers probably did not notice but the parts of the country that already had their day well under way did notice leaving us 49 urgent voicemails with many more non-urgent messages while we were investigating the problem.
Element has recently contacted us directly to let us know what exactly happened and how they will safely perform this upgrade. They also decided to perform the upgrade over the next three Monday mornings when retail traffic is much lighter. I am now confident they will be able to get this done without further interruption and we’ll be standing by watching out during the upgrade.
Visa decided the weekend wasn’t exciting enough for MerchantOS and had a major outage of their own Sunday afternoon. Fortunately Sunday is one of the lowest retail volume days of the week but customers still noticed and called in. We don’t know too much about what happened here but they did let the press know.
We’re Doing What We Can
These particular events were out of our direct control. Our systems might have been able to handle the Element outage with more grace and we are looking into ways to do that. These kinds of issues are the worst for our customers as they prevent sales and we are doing everything we can to prevent future incident.
I’m writing this post from California as one of the only employees of MerchantOS with power. An unusually large winter storm has covered Olympia with snow and freezing rain knocking out power to most employees houses (some were working from home) and at our main office. Those with power do not have internet. All of our support is run out of Olympia and we are not able to field your calls or emails right now.
I apologize for the trouble. We do have a couple people available with communication to handle emergency situations and continue close monitoring of our systems.
** Point of sale software customer service is now back to normal **
Recently we’ve had a few problems with services provided by other companies that complement our product. What we’ve learned is that very often, companies will choose to ignore problems or blame others for problems that they are in fact causing or have control over.
From this point forward, our response to these situations is, “It’s our fault” – and now that we own the problem, we will help you solve it.
Being Let Down By Other Companies
For the most part businesses we work with are awesome. Every now and then, though, they miss the mark. There can be many reasons for this, such as being too large and unable to manage employees, employees not being empowered to go the extra mile, and not getting your employees invested in your offerings. Whatever reasons they have for failing to meet a customer’s needs, it happens. Worse than that, their response can be seriously lacking.
Before I go on, I do want to say that MerchantOS has certainly failed in the past, and we will probably fail again in the future. We’re not perfect – but we’re aware of it, and working on it!
How We Will Handle the Failures of Partner Companies
Often when a complementary service to MerchantOS fails, it can make MerchantOS look just as bad as the actual service that is failing. That is why it is imperative for us to do our best to correct the situation even if it appears to be out of our control. Here are a few things our support staff will do from now on to help our customers.
- Call the company on your behalf - Often the hardest part of a problem is figuring out what actually went wrong. We will call up anyone we think can help you with your situation. This does a couple of things. First, our customer won’t become the relay of information between us and another company, thus eliminating the risk of confusion over technical details. This will also allow us to gather vital information that we need to resolve the situation. Most importantly, it takes the burden off of you, and you can rest assured that we’re working hard to get you back up and running.
- Not jump to conclusions - In the past, we might have assumed your situation was caused by one problem when in fact it was something completely different. Sometimes multiple customers need to call in to report the same thing before we realize the problem is larger scale than we think. Our support is encouraged to take a step back, be inquisitive, and most importantly, if they are unsure, get help from their team.
- Understand the Customer’s Perspective - Our support is encouraged to be invested in your situation. Our success is dependent upon your success. Support staff sometimes come to me angry about the situation a customer is in, and I strongly believe this is a great characteristic in any employee we have. I want them to feel upset that you are not getting what you need and I want them to do something about it.
The main objective is to get our customers what they need so they can operate their business. Though there are some selfish side benefits for us as well.
- Improved morale at MerchantOS that comes from helping someone, and doing a good job.
- Stronger customer loyalty to MerchantOS
- Customers that will tell other businesses about MerchantOS
- Making other companies we work with look good (or at least not look bad), which hopefully encourages them to do the same for us.
Calling Us Out
Finally, it is critically important that you (our customers) let us know where we have failed. The only way we can improve a situation is by knowing that there is a problem. We do this with the companies we work with, and typically they respond well. Don’t forget that we are far from perfect and that we don’t always know what’s going on, but we do know that together we can ensure that we all succeed!
Have you ever had situations in your business that could have been handled better? Share your stories below.
The folks at VendorLink Cycling have completed their integration with MerchantOS. Setup is extremely simple, the service is free, and will provide benefits to your shop. Hopefully this is the first of many integrations through our new API that will make running your shop easier.
What does VendorLink Cycling Do?
VendorLink collects your store’s sales and inventory information and reports it only to the vendors you deal with. Your vendors will in turn use this information daily to better forecast conditions and patterns for their products. The information will be organized into reports to improve your ability to run leaner inventories and discover trends more quickly.
Retailer Reports: Dashboard
This soon to be released feature will provide you with valuable metrics about how your shop is performing. It will help reduce missed sales opportunities from stock outs or committing too much capital to the wrong products. Comparative reports will help you discover patterns in your shop compared to aggregate regional sales for particular products.
There are also plans to make the VendorLink Cycling dashboard available from directly within MerchantOS.
What Specifically Is Shared With Vendors?
Only your suppliers see your data, and then only for items they actually sell to you. Information specific to your business is never sold, transferred, or shared with anyone except your suppliers.
Trying to buy merchant processing services can be daunting to any retailer. This guide will lay out some basic facts and tips on how to select your merchant processor if you’re in the market.
What Merchant Processors Do
All merchant processors can get money deposited in your bank account after running a customer’s credit card. They are all selling this service sometimes with very slight variations.
What this means as a consumer of merchant processing
You probably already have experienced the flurry of phone calls. How many processors have told you “We are the largest”, and “We are the cheapest”? The merchant processing sales person is fighting among tons of other sales people for your business. The good news is you have many possibilities to pick from in a highly competitive market.
Things to watch out for
- Merchant Processors who ask for your statements from your current processor to prepare a quote. This is a very common practice in the industry. The processor will use your statements to prepare a quote. Their objective is to show you how much money you’ll save by using them. They are trying to set the prices as high as possible to make the most money for themselves but low enough compared to your previous processor to entice you to switch to them. They should just be offering you the best price without having to see your statements.
- Contracts! Many processors will have you sign a contract that locks you in as their customer for up to three years. Contracts that lock customers in to a service for such long durations are just an easy way for the processor to keep your business without having to take care of you. You could discover you are way over paying for processing services and they would have no motivation to do anything for you if you signed a contract with a long duration. Fortunately this practice is becoming less common as time goes on.
- Other fees (gateways, statements, etc…) It is common for there to be additional monthly fees with your processing. It’s a good idea to find out what these are in advance and make sure they are acceptable.
- Deposit Time Make sure you are clear with your processor how long it takes for money to get from batch out to your bank account.
How To Choose A Payment Processor
Since they’re all more or less selling the same thing, processors have to compete on price. If you spend even a little time checking out your options, you should be able to get a great price. One thing you can do to get the best price is bounce the offering price of a couple processors you like between each other. When one offers you a rate, tell the other the rate you were offered and ask them to beat it. You can then go back to the original processor and do the same until they won’t budge anymore.
One thing to watch out for on pricing is there are several different formulas to calculate your cost. For a while, three tiered pricing was popular. This groups your accepted cards into one of three groups to determine the rate you pay (there are over a hundred different types of Visa and Mastercard types and they all have different actual costs to process). Often this structure leads to inflated pricing as some cheaper cards to process in one of the three tiers can have quite a markup.
The method growing in popularity, though confusing when glancing your first statement, is called interchange plus pricing. With this method, you pay the actual cost of the card being processed plus an additional rate. For example your rate may be ten cents per transaction plus 0.4 percent of the transaction in addition to the actual cost the processor pays to run the card. This is the fairest and most transparent pricing model available so far.
Normally you shouldn’t have problems running your cards. When you do, it is important to be able to get the help you need. The image you present to your customers might count on the customer service of your merchant processor. Ask your fellow retailers about their experiences with their processor and look online for reviews.
Some processors compete by giving you no choice or making it very expensive for you to chose another processor. For example they may have an exclusive relationship with a point of sale software company. If you chose to use that point of sale software you must use their processing. Companies that perform coercion like this, might not be the best to work with. Note: MerchantOS allows you to use other processors through the use of a payment gateway. We do not agree with locking and want to allow our customers a choice.
Do you have a story or advice on purchasing payment processing? Please comment below.