As smartphones, mobiles and tablets become more prevalent, and wi-fi hotspots mean that data transfer can cost next to zero (a cup of coffee and a bun in many places), so we are seeing an explosion in mobile marketing. Geo-location and location based marketing aim to attract and encourage customers within a locality with services such as Foursquare, location based SMS, and m-commerce to make branding and m-marketing easy for business, and purchases more simple for customers.

However, much of this type of marketing relies on a bricks and mortar presence – you are endeavouring to attract people to your store, restaurant, gym, B&B, hotel, etc so that you can make a sale in the real world rather than online through your e-commerce store and website. But, what happens if you are a market stall, a pop-up, a table top or car boot sale vendor, manning an exhibition stand, or selling hats and wellies on top of a mountain and need to process a card payment rather than dealing only with cash?

The founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, launched Square in May 2011 and whilst providing a mobile payment scheme, Square is more than a little disruptive for the payments industry and hence exciting for businesses, large and small. Sir Richard Branson invested in Square last November and although it is not yet available in the UK, Branson’s investment will undoubtedly bring it to these shores. What Square does, and what other companies are likely to try to emulate, is make any smartphone into a credit card processing terminal. We have recently seen businesses such as Barclays taking potshots at the likes of Paypal for consumer payments via mobile with the Barclays PingIt service, but for many businesses, the rapid approach of multiple payment options eg Square can only be a good thing, especially if it reduces bottom line costs and keeps products competitive.

One option is the card reader, which plugs into the headphone jack on your phone. The sheer simplicity of such a device indicates the likelihood that it will take off, even though there have to be some security concerns about how easy it *could* make kiting and card cloning once apps are undoubtedly produced to help scammers. However, today’s announcements that credit card fraud is down must offer some reassurance on that level.

When you begin to consider the uses to which business can put this form of “payment anywhere”, it makes you itch for it be released in the UK. Not only does it solve the problem of having credit card processing terminals at outdoor events, but it also will herald a new level of competition in the payment processing market which has for too long been monopolised by the banks. Credit card transaction fees can be prohibitive, especially on micro-payments and low profit margin items.

For instance, Paypal charge 5% +5p per transaction on micropayments and 3.4% + 20p for regular payments.
WorldPay charge £19.95 /month for 350 transactions (5p each) and then 10p each for further transactions.
Barclays charge 3% with a £10 management fee and a minimum bill of £10 (no micropayments option, it seems)
Square charges 2.75% per swipe and 3.5% for manually entered cards with a 15c charge (only available in the US, at present).

The ubiquity of mobile phones and their impact on pretty much everything in our daily lives, especially in the world of commerce, is likely to see many more optional extras to plug into your phones over the coming years. We are likely to see far more use made of the headphone jack, as well as mini USB connectors already in mobile phones to offer additional functionality, both for consumers and businesses. After all, it’s not that long since a phone with a camera was a novelty and the Square card reader is precisely the type of disruptive technology that will change the way we do business.

What re your thoughts? How would your company use a mobile card reader? What else would you like to be able to plug into your phone?

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology