On a warm late-spring evening, the line at Mrs Curl Ice Cream Shop and Outdoor Cafe stretched down the sidewalk in Old Town Greenwood.
Customers loaded up on chocolate milkshakes, banana splits and nearly overflowing waffle cones. Families ordered pork tenderloin meals, baskets of chili cheese dogs and curl fries. Kids shelled out crumpled dollar bills, quarters and pennies for their treats.
But for the first time in more than 40 years, customers could choose a new way to pay. Mrs Curl employees now can accept credit cards, swiping on their smartphones and then texting the receipt to customers.
No more making a trip to the ATM before going to get an after-dinner treat.
In a world where fewer people carry paper money and coins, business owners have found that they have to adapt to survive. And a wave of technological advances, including swipers that plug into tablets and smartphones, are helping ease the transition.
Specialized tablet and phone applications have allowed small businesses to reach a broader customer base, while adding to the convenience of people who no longer mess with physical money.
“It’s really manageable for your business. We don’t have to worry about paying the costs to a credit card service,” said Angela Abney, owner of Red Barn Meats. “For me, it’s like an easy thing, because it’s one less thing that we need to worry.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more people are using credit cards than ever before. More than 190 million people in the U.S. carry credit cards, and 66 percent of all in-store transactions are being made with a credit card.
To take advantage of that surge, an increasing number of software companies have developed systems that allow business owners to process credit cards anywhere.
PayPal and Intuit have services that charge no monthly fees to join, with a flat rate charge of around 2.75 percent per transaction.
One of the most popular services is the Square Register app. The service charges 2.75 percent per transaction, or a monthly fee of $275. The sale is completed by Square, and the money is deposited in the business owners’ bank account within two days.
All of the credit card information is stored on Square’s secure servers, not on the individual business owners’ phone.
Red Barn Meats, a Bargersville company that raises antibiotic- and steroid-free beef, pork, lamb and eggs for local consumers, started using the Square last year. Every weekend in the summer, Angela Abney and her family loaded up refrigerated trailers with their own meat and head to varying farmers markets throughout the area.
In the past, being in mobile locations meant that the only method of payment they could accept was cash. But last year, she and her family decided to sign up with Square to improve sales.
They had found that in the hot summer months, people preferred to buy frozen meat at the end of the day. Unfortunately, they were often out of cash by that time, Abney said.
“We started taking credit cards, and that helped. People could use their cash on vegetables and produce, but still be able to buy from us right before they left,” she said.
The method also facilitated larger purchases.
“If you wanted to get a roast or stock up on steaks, that’s a big output of money. They didn’t need to clear out their bank account before they come to the market,” Abney said.
Even businesses that have previously used the traditional credit card machines are finding that the process is easier and cheaper on their smartphones.
Viking Lamb has been accepting credit cards at farmers markets for about six years. As one of the first vendors to accept cards, it saw an immediate spike in sales.
People wanting to buy large racks of lamb could easily put the purchase on a card, rather than writing a check or forking over a handful of bills.
“We’re becoming a cashless society. Most people don’t carry cash,” said Terry Knudson, owner of Viking Lamb.
But the cost was prohibitive. Knudson had to lease the swiping equipment for $30 per month on a lease, then $15 a month for wireless coverage. That was in addition to almost 3 percent commission taken off each purchase.
Now, when they set up at the Greenwood Farmers Market, and other locations, they can just swipe cards on their iPhones.
“It’s all about cost and convenience. This is the way society is set up now,” he said.
When someone wants to use their card, the Abneys use a small card swiper provided by Square that plugs into their phone. Customers can sign using their fingers on the touchscreen, and then a receipt is texted or emailed to them.
Having their card swiped in midair using a smartphone may make some customers wary. But Abney has learned that, as credit cards have become more ubiquitous, fewer people think twice about it.
“Some in the older generation are hesitant, but most people don’t mind at all. We’re more surprised how many people don’t want a receipt,” she said.