The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created the worst economic disruption for small business owners in the last 90 years. Even in parts of the country where restrictions are being lifted and businesses are slowly starting to re-open, the need to invest in additional sanitation measures and protective equipment to comply with local and state public health requirements has raised costs at a time when incoming revenue is still drastically reduced. Critically important small business supply chains have been disrupted, further increasing the cost of doing business.
As a small business owner, you may feel that you have no choice but to pass as much of your increased expenditures onto your customers as possible if you want to avoid going out of business. In fact, some owners have already done so, implementing what has come to be called a âCOVID surcharge.â This surcharge is a small amount â either a percentage or a fixed dollar amount â thatâs tacked onto a customerâs bill and specifically designated to cover increased pandemic-related expenses.
In this article, weâll discuss COVID surcharges and why some business owners around the country have implemented them. Weâll go over the likely response youâll get from your customers if you choose this course of action (hint: itâs not positive). Weâll also give you several alternative strategies you can implement that will increase your incoming revenue without the need for a surcharge. Finally, weâll show you how you can use business data (often automatically generated by your POS system) to manage your costs and improve your ability to keep up with the additional pandemic-related expenditures.
Why Some Businesses Are Adding Surcharges During The Coronavirus Pandemic
As weâve alluded to above, COVID surcharges are a direct response to the additional costs required to operate a business safely in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Protecting your customers and your employees from a highly contagious, potentially deadly disease requires a lot of extra equipment and safety measures that werenât necessary just a few months ago. Disposable gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, extra signage to encourage proper social distancing, regular fumigation of your business â it all adds up to a significant cost at a time when youâre likely to be severely limited in how many customers you can even allow into your shop or restaurant at a time. For businesses that operate on a very thin (e.g., 2-3%) margin in normal times, the cost can be too much to bear while still turning a profit.
So, how have COVID surcharges worked out for the business owners whoâve implemented them? To put it mildly, not very well. While some customers are willing to pay a little extra temporarily to support a favorite local business during hard times, many others have responded with anger and disgust.
Consider the unfortunate case of Kiko Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge in West Plains, Missouri, which has attracted a lot of attention nationally. Faced with rising COVID-related costs and not wanting to raise prices across the board, the owners decided to implement a 5% surcharge. They went out of their way to explain to customers why they were doing so through social media and signs posted at their restaurant. Despite their best efforts to be transparent about the surcharge, they received a tremendous amount of criticism for it, often from people out of the area who werenât even patrons of their restaurant. They eventually were forced to discontinue the surcharge, and instead raised their prices to cover the extra expenses.
If reading horror stories like this one has you thinking that COVID surcharges are a bad idea, youâre probably right. However, there are some circumstances where they might work. A lot will depend on how your usual clientele has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. If youâre located in a well-off area, and most of your customers are still gainfully employed (either at home or working in an âessentialâ industry), they probably wonât mind paying a little extra to support a favorite business.
On the other hand, if youâre in an area that has experienced a lot of job losses and your customers are struggling, hitting them up with a surcharge is probably not a good idea. You should also take a close look at what your primary competitors are doing. You probably donât want to be the first business in your area to start implementing a surcharge. However, if other businesses are already imposing them and havenât faced a significant backlash, it might be safe to add your own surcharge as well. Overall, we consider COVID surcharges as a last resort that should only be implemented if you have no other way of maintaining profitability and staying in business. Here are some other options you should consider first before implementing a surcharge:
Four Alternative Strategies For Boosting Profit Margins
Businesses that operate on tight margins have always had ways of reducing their costs as much as possible, and many of those tricks might have been effective in ânormalâ times. However, in the face of a worldwide pandemic, youâll need to try some new strategies to keep your costs low and your profits high (or at least, high enough to stay in business). Here are a few things that you might not have considered before that can help you stay afloat until the economy recovers:
Modify Your Menu Items Or Goods That You Sell
If youâre running a restaurant, you already know that some menu items are more popular than others, and some cost more to make than others. By shifting your menu selection to emphasize popular items that have a high per-item profit margin, you can increase your incoming revenue and lower your overall ingredient costs at the same time. If youâre not quite sure how to do this, our restaurant food cost calculator can help you get started.
Of course, this technique isnât limited to restaurants alone. Other types of businesses, especially retail stores, can apply the same principles to help improve their cash flow. We probably donât need to tell you that certain items (e.g., toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer, face masks, etc.) have become much more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides these obvious items, weâve seen dramatically increased demand for just about anything related to working from home, including items like office chairs, desks, and even webcams for video conferencing.
Offer A Cash Discount
One strategy for improving profitability that was already gaining in popularity before the pandemic is to shift the costs associated with credit card processing onto your customers. Often advertised as free credit card processing, this technique can be implemented by either adding a surcharge for customers who pay with a credit card or providing a cash discount to those who pay in cash. With surcharging, a small fee to cover the cost of credit card processing is added to the bill if a customer pays with a credit card. With a cash discounting program, your advertised prices will include the cost of credit card processing, and these prices will be discounted at checkout for customers who donât use a credit card.
While the distinction between these two programs may seem very subtle, there are important legal differences between them. Cash discounting is legal everywhere in the United States, but surcharging is currently still prohibited in four states and several US territories. Your merchant account provider can help you set up either of these programs (assuming there are no legal restrictions in your jurisdiction), including providing you with the required signage to notify your customers and reprogramming your terminal or POS system to apply a surcharge or cash discount automatically.
For more details on how these programs work and how to implement them in your business, check out our article, Your Complete Guide To Credit Card Surcharges.
Raise Your Prices
If the previous two strategies donât produce the desired results, it might be time to simply raise your prices. You may have to do this anyway if the prices you have to pay for inventory or raw ingredients go up due to supply chain problems.
We recommend that you implement targeted price increases, focusing on high-demand menu items or products. However, raising your prices across the board by an equal amount can also be effective. Which option is better will depend on a variety of factors, so youâll have to evaluate the unique circumstances of your business to determine the best course of action.
While most of your customers will be (grudgingly) understanding about the need to raise prices in the face of a national emergency, be careful that you donât overdo it. Check your stateâs anti-price gouging laws, if any, to ensure that you donât get yourself in legal trouble. California, for example, makes it illegal to raise prices for basic goods and services by more than 10% above pre-pandemic levels.
Lastly, price increases should be temporary. Make an effort to communicate to your customers that you intend to bring your prices back down once you can resume normal operations without the need for additional protective measures.
Implement Surcharging As A Last Resort
If none of the above strategies â either individually or in combination â prove sufficient to turn things around and your ability to continue to operate is imperiled, you may find that you have no choice but to impose a COVID surcharge. Obviously, youâll want to communicate this to your customers before making the change, and you should also set the surcharge as low as possible. Ideally, it should be just enough to recoup your additional COVID-related expenses. As weâve seen from the real-world examples above, you will probably receive at least some blowback for the surcharge. However, it can still be effective if your actual customers are willing to support it.
We recommend an across-the-board percentage-based surcharge rather than a flat âconvenience fee.â The latter option will disproportionately affect low ticket sizes and could discourage some customers from making a purchase at all. Your merchant account provider can help you reprogram your processing equipment to apply the surcharge automatically. Again, itâs critically important that you communicate with your customers before you start adding a surcharge to their bills, and be sure to discontinue this extra fee as soon as itâs possible to do so.
How To Use Your Business Data To Track The Impact Of Pricing Decisions
Youâll need to be able to gauge how effectively any pricing changes or surcharges are helping (or hurting) your bottom line. Make sure that all additional fees are entered properly into your POS system, and keep accurate notes of when prices were changed or when surcharges were implemented or discontinued. Modern POS systems and online data analytics tools offered by your merchant account provider can prove invaluable in quickly analyzing the effect of any changes you make, and they can gather and analyze the data automatically for you.
You should also determine the effective rate youâre paying for credit card processing. If your effective rate is too high, it might be time to switch to a more affordable merchant account provider. While you might be reluctant to make this kind of significant change in the middle of a pandemic, doing so can potentially save you hundreds of dollars per month in credit card processing expenses. Take a look at our Merchant Account Comparison Chart for an overview of some of the providers who can save you the most money.
Related: Why Point Of Sale Data Is The Secret To Understanding Your Business And Making More Sales
The Bottom Line: The Pandemic Will Affect Your Bottom Line For The Foreseeable Future
If youâve been reading this far, you probably understand that we donât think COVID surcharges are a good idea. They have a very high potential for hurting your online reputation and driving away customers. As weâve shown, there are many other ways to generate the necessary income youâll need to cover your COVID-related expenditures. Modifying your product or menu item lineup, imposing credit card surcharging (or a cash discount), and targeted price increases can all be used to cover these expenses without the need for a COVID surcharge.
For many businesses, switching to a more affordable merchant account provider can be the most effective strategy of all to improve your profitability and cover any additional expenses you incur during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hopefully, the techniques weâve discussed above can help you get through the current pandemic, especially if the much-anticipated second wave of infection becomes a reality in the near future. Thanks for reading, and good luck!
The post Should You Implement A COVID Surcharge? 4 Ways To Manage Your Profitability During The Pandemic appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
In much of the US, small businesses have been given the green light to reopen after several weeks of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with new cases and deaths still rising and no vaccine on the immediate horizon, experts warn that the coronavirus will likely be with us for some time. Though some types of businesses may be able to implement adequate provisions for social distancing, it is feared that the loosening of social distancing restrictions throughout the country could result in another wave of cases.
There’s still so much we don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but we know a lot more than we did a few months ago. Every day, we are learning more about how businesses can safely reopen, and how they can pivot to stay profitable in these new times. As the weeks go on, we’ll also learn more about what’s not safe and what does not work. In this post, we’ll take a look at some precautions you can take to prepare your business for a possible second wave of COVID-19.
Why The Second Wave Of The Coronavirus Could Be Harder Than The First
You’ve probably heard a lot about the coronavirus possibly being in our lives for 18-24 months. The reason is that this is the amount of time it could take for us to either a) develop a vaccine or b) develop herd immunity against the virus. But what exact course the virus will take in those 18 months to two years is unknown.
A new report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) presents three possible scenarios for the coronavirus, which are based on what scientists know about COVID-19 as well as historical pandemics. Scenario 1 is that after the spring 2020 wave subsides, we get that big dreaded “second wave” we hear so much about this fall or winter, with some smaller waves occurring periodically thereafter. In that scenario, which emulates the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, the second wave is even bigger and deadlier than the first. This model also reflects the warning from CDC director Robert Redfield, who cautioned that a second wave of the coronavirus in fall or winter could potentially be even more devastating than the first, partly because it will coincide with flu season.
Another scenario presented in the report is that after spring 2020, we’ll see a series of peaks and valleys of the virus over a one- to two-year period, varying by geographic region. CIDRAP says that, depending on the height of the wave peaks, this scenario could require “periodic reinstitution and subsequent relaxation of mitigation measures over the next 1 to 2 years.”
The third scenario posited by CIDRAP is that we’ll see more of a “slow burn” with ongoing low levels of transmission but no major spikes. While this hasn’t happened in past pandemics, the scientists say it remains a possibility for SARS-CoV-2 and one which likely would not require reinstitution of stay-at-home orders or strict social distancing measures.
So it’s pretty clear to see how second waves, third waves, and so forth, will impact businesses and potentially require new lockdowns restricting business activity. While we can be cautiously optimistic that the worst-case scenarios won’t come true, we also need to be prepared for the possibility of a second wave of the virus that could result in more business restrictions and lockdowns.
It’s also a sad reality that even if the second wave is less severe from a health perspective, the economic toll of another prolonged closure (partial or otherwise) could be the final nail in the coffin for many small businesses still trying to recover from the economic effects of the first closure.
Is It Safe To Reopen Yet?
With no national quarantine or coronavirus-related business restrictions in place, states are each making their own decisions about reopening businesses. Individual counties and cities have their own business restrictions as well, with some cities and counties requiring masks at places of business and others having no such requirement. As both the pandemic and the recession continue to deepen, there’s a lot of discussion about how to balance economic health and public health, and also whether local governments are being too hasty about reopening businesses.
When you look at what businesses are doing now, there is a lot of variance from one region to the next, with some states, such as California, maintaining stricter social distancing protocols. For instance, California restaurants can offer takeout and delivery but not dine-in service. California is also doing some phased reopening — such as allowing curbside pickup for retail — in response to effective curve-flattening measures that have slowed the growth of new cases and deaths. Higher-risk businesses that require close contact with other people, including salons, barbers, gyms, and theaters, remain closed.
Meanwhile, in states such as Tennessee, dine-in restaurants are already open, as are salons and gyms. Tennessee is also lifting the 50% capacity restrictions on retail and restaurants, effective May 22. The state is even allowing large attractions, such as theaters, amusement parks, water parks, museums, and auditoriums, to reopen, also on May 22.
So, sticking with those two examples, are Tennessee businesses jumping the gun on reopening, even inviting a second wave? While California does have more than four times as many cases as Tennessee, the share of the population that’s infected is actually higher in Tennessee — one in 391 in Tennessee and one in 489 in California, according to New York Times data.
While time will tell the true impact of business reopenings during the pandemic, based on what immunologists tell us about where you are most likely to be infected by COVID-19 — indoor spaces with lots of people — it’s easy to see how even a single transmission event in a crowded gym or restaurant could cause a local outbreak and resulting business closures.
Again, some types of businesses may be able to reopen a lot more safely than others. It’s possible that, given the right circumstances, even higher-risk businesses such as salons may be able to safely reopen with stepped-up health and safety measures. It will be largely up to business owners (and their local governments) to decide if and how they can safely reopen, but generally, the better safety measures you can put in place, the better protected your business will be against a second wave of the coronavirus.
8 Things You Need To Do To Prepare Your Business
What do business owners need to do to get ready for future outbreaks? What should you have learned, and what should you be prepared to do the second time around? Let’s look at some specific things business owners can do to prepare for another wave of COVID-19.
Invest In Safety
Both to reassure customers and prevent your business from being a source of infection, it’s essential that you step up the health and safety policies of your store or restaurant. Whether that means investing in better personal protective equipment for your staff, putting up signs to encourage social distancing, or improving your building’s ventilation system, you can’t go wrong with a cleaner, healthier business. While most businesses have already implemented some enhanced safety measures, it’s likely you still have some room for improvement, especially if you initially implemented safety measures made for short-term/temporary use.
If you’ve received an EIDL or PPP loan from the SBA, you might consider spending some of it on safety-related supplies, such as PPE, or enhanced sick leave for your staff to discourage them from coming into work sick. (Note that you can only spend 25% of a PPP on non-payroll expenses.)
Revisit Staffing Plans
As businesses reopen, they are having to reevaluate their staffing needs going forward. In some cases, businesses have received PPP funds, but their employees don’t want to come back; other businesses are shutting their doors for good because their loan still hasn’t come through. As the crisis drags on, it’s necessary to view staffing with a long-term view and consideration of what you will do if a second wave forces you to close again. For example, if you’re currently seeing an uptick in demand after reopening, do you need more staff urgently, or can you wait to hire till later to avoid laying people off in the event of another closure?
A POS with employee management can help you make smart scheduling decisions. It’s also a good idea to communicate openly with your employees about your staffing plans because they are probably just as anxious as you about what will happen.
Work On Your Online Presence
If it wasn’t clear already, the pandemic has shown us that having an online presence is an essential tool for communicating with customers about changes to your hours, policies, and other crucial information customers need. Before visiting a business these days, we are more likely than ever to check the business’s website or Yelp profile — we want to make sure they’re still open, and in what capacity. Ahead of a possible second wave, it’s absolutely necessary to get in the habit of routinely updating your website and social media profiles with your current information. You can also use your website and social media for marketing, including offering special online sales during a closure.
If you don’t have a website for your business, you may be able to set one up through your POS — for example, Square POS lets you set up a basic website in minutes. You can also use a website builder to set up a professional website; read Best Website Builders For Small Businesses to learn about options.
Set Up eCommerce Sales
Small business websites have also become an increasingly vital sales channel during the coronavirus pandemic, as eCommerce = socially distanced commerce. If your business doesn’t have eCommerce options, it’s time to set them up. Depending on your business model and industry, you may want to implement the following eCommerce options:
Online Ordering/Local Delivery: Customers can order items or food from your website and have the items shipped or delivered to their homes.
Curbside Pickup/Order Ahead: Customers order from your website and then visit your store to pick them up without having to go inside.
QR Code Shopping: Customers can scan an item’s QR code in your store or store window and then buy the item online.
Online Gift Cards: Customers can buy digital or physical gift cards from your website and spend them on your website or in your store at a later date.
Contactless Payments: This is more of a POS option that can allow for socially distanced payments, but adding a digital payment option, such as Apple Pay,Â can also add another convenient option for customers to pay on your website with one click.
Social Media Selling: Even if you don’t have a full-on eCommerce website, you can sell products and services on social media. Multichannel POS systems, such as Shopify, make it easy to sell on social media, and Square also has a new Square Online Checkout payment option that makes it easy for customers to buy straight from your social media page.
Gather Important Paperwork In One Place
Being organized is key when applying for financing or any kind of aid. If you need a second round of emergency loans, speed will be essential. Make sure you keep all your important paperwork in one place, so you can access it when you need it. If you have received a PPP loan, you’ll also need to keep good documentation practices for when it comes time to apply for PPP forgiveness or if you are unlucky enough to face a PPP audit.
Look At Sales Data
When you need to pare-down operations (reduced business hours, limited customer capacity, online-only, etc.), you need to be super-strategic about what you sell. To this end, your point of sale system should have a wealth of POS data about when you were busiest, what sold well, slow-selling items, etc. You can leverage that data to do things, such as raise prices on hot sellers, lower food costs on a higher-cost dish (for restaurants), adjust your hours and staffing based on your busiest times, and much more.
Small businesses that can use data wisely to adapt quickly are in the best position to survive a second wave of the coronavirus and even a prolonged economic downturn. If you do not have a modern cloud POS with good reporting and analytics, now might be the time to upgrade. Check out our top POS software comparison to look at some of your best options.
Prepare For Shortages & Price Fluctuations
The pandemic has drastically affected the global supply chain, and it is very likely that your business could see shortages of products, supplies, ingredients, or raw materials. Even if you can get the items you need for your business, you may have to deal with price increases. These shortages and resulting price increases could be exacerbated by future waves of the virus, even if your immediate region is not affected. For example, restaurants are now seeing meat shortages and higher meat prices due to outbreaks at meat-processing plants.
In some cases, however, you might get lucky and see price decreases for some supplies, due to decreased demand and possible deflation. For example, gas prices tumbled during the early days of the pandemic. Overall, US producer prices posted their largest annual drop in five years in April 2020. The downside to falling prices is that customers will expect lower prices as well.
For more insight into the supply chain and COVID-19, read Why Small Business Owners Need To Understand Supply Chain & Risk Mitigation: COVID-19 Edition.
During times of uncertainty, it’s important to keep a close eye on your business finances and your cash flow in particular. Crunch your numbers and project your future earnings under different scenarios. If you’re facing another closure, how could your cash flow be affected? What about debts? If you’re not used to making these sorts of calculations, it might be a good idea to employ the services of a financial advisor who can offer a cash flow analysis and give you sound advice about how to handle your business’s finances in the current climate. Accounting software can also help.
15 Resources To Help You Weather Another Wave Of COVID-19
Here is a list of resources you can use to adapt your business to the new times we’re living through. Use these resources to learn more about socially distanced selling, emergency financing, and software that can help you sell smarter during COVID-19.
Take Advantage Of These Small Business Grants For Coronavirus Relief: Find out if your coronavirus-affected small business is eligible for a COVID-19 relief grant from an organization, such as Facebook, Amazon, Spanx, or others.
5 Clever Marketing Tactics For Small Businesses During The Coronavirus Pandemic: Keeping in touch with customers is even more important as businesses temporarily close or switch to online and delivery. Here are five marketing tactics to help.
Social Distancing For Small Business: How You Can Adapt & Survive The Coronavirus:Â Social distancing can help contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has hit small businesses hard. Your business can weather the storm by getting creative.
Coronavirus Payments Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Switching To Online & Phone Payments: This article has everything you need to know about accepting payments online and over the phone instead of in-person.
Quick Business Loans: The 6 Best Lenders & 10 Tips For Fast Approval:Â Looking for fast cash for your business? Read this one for a look at six reputable lenders that provide quick business loans and fast approval.
What The Coronavirus Means For eCommerce & What Your Business Can Do About It:Â What does the coronavirus mean for eCommerce business? Learn the top eCommerce trends and how your small business can leverage them.
Everything You Need To Know About NFC Technology & Why NFC Payments Are The Future:Â Are you ready for the future of payments? Business owners should learn how NFC works and adopt contactless to protect customers — and yourself.
The Business Owner’s Retail Guide To Surviving The Coronavirus:Â Are you a small business retailer worried about the state of your business? Check the top tips and resources to keep your business strong during COVID-19.
Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants:Â Learn how your restaurant business can adapt to new business conditions in the age of coronavirus, including resources on how you can save your business from closing and continue serving customers during this crisis.
5 POS Systems With Exceptional eCommerce Integrations For Online Sellers:Â eCommerce sales are growing, but retail stores arenât going away any time soon. Get the best of both worlds with these great eCommerce-friendly POS systems.
Restaurant Delivery Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Implementing In-House Delivery: Considering expanding your restaurantâs services to include delivery? Hereâs what you need to know to implement restaurant delivery successfully.
What Is Square Online Checkout? Your Guide To Using This New Square Payment Option:Â Square just launched a brand new payment service called Square Online Checkout. Learn about this online payment option and how it can help businesses in the age of coronavirus.
Why Point Of Sale Data Is The Secret To Understanding Your Business And Making More Sales:Â Your small business is sitting on a gold mine of information locked away in your POS system. Learn how to use that point of sale data to your benefit.
Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses: Find easy accounting software for your business no matter what your level of accounting experience is. These top seven choices are easy to learn, set up, and use.
Employee Management With A POS System: The Secret To Simplified Timekeeping, Scheduling, & Reporting:Â Your POS system probably has employee management features that can make timekeeping and scheduling much easier. Hereâs how to make the most of these tools.
The Bottom Line: Your Business Isnât In The Clear Yet
We are starting to see some signs of small business recovery, and that’s a great thing. But business owners must stay vigilant and be prepared for the very real possibility of more pandemic-related business disruptions in the near future.
It can be difficult to plan for the future when you’re still working through the first wave, and there is still so much uncertainty. You might also have the thought that you don’t want to over-prepare for something that might not happen (at least, not in your local area). But the fact of the matter is that even before the pandemic, businesses were moving in the direction of eCommerce, contactless payments, online ordering, cloud POS, etc. The pandemic only accelerated the changes that were already in motion. Also, even after COVID-19 is over, customers will likely remain more mindful of health and safety and will continue some socially distanced shopping practices that they relied on during the pandemic (e.g., curbside pickup). So even if you get lucky and don’t have to deal with a resurgence of this particular virus, your business will benefit from adapting to modern sales technologies, safer health practices, and data-driven ways of making business decisions.
For more information on COVID-19 and small businesses, be sure to check out our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guides & Resources.
The post Is Your Business Ready For A Second Wave Of COVID-19? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Sometimes you don’t appreciate the simple things that make your life simpler until they’re gone. Case in point, one of the hardest days working in retail came when our simple receipt printer broke down, which just happened to correspond with one of the busiest rushes I had ever seen on the job. Having to jot down orders on scratch paper, complete with modifiers and special instructions to give to my co-worker who then had to interpret my scratch marks, all while we both tried in vain to fix the broken hardware when we had a spare second or two, was extremely stressful.
My point is that kitchen printers can make your life as a restaurant worker much easier. If you’re running a business that is at all larger than a simple cafe or quick-service operation, you’ll almost assuredly need one and potentially multiple devices. They can streamline your ordering process and dramatically cut down on errors, ultimately leading to happier customers and higher profits for you. And many high-quality printers won’t set you back much either. In fact, if you’re just starting up, you can generally purchase a hardware bundle that includes one. But let’s step back for a minute and show you exactly how kitchen printers work and why you should consider them.
How Does Kitchen Printing Work?
If you’re thinking that this seems like it should be a pretty simple process, you’re right! Nearly every point of sale system with a halfway decent set of features will offer this functionality. When you type an order into the POS, it will then come out wherever you have your printer set up in your kitchen, presumably somewhere that’s convenient for your cooks to see and hear. This replaces the days of a server or cashier jotting down an order by hand and delivering it on foot to the kitchen or pinning it to a corkboard. And, as you’ll see, it can dramatically improve your efficiency with how quickly you can turn around tables and by decreasing mistakes.
What To Look For In A Kitchen Printer
While a printer is, at heart, a relatively simple piece of equipment, not all kitchen printers are created equally. There are a few very basic things you’ll want to consider before making your purchase. The biggest decision you’ll likely have to make comes down to whether you want an impact printer or a thermal printer. Impact printers use an ink belt to make, well…an impact on the paper. They are also generally much louder than thermal printers, which, in the restaurant industry, is actually a good thing, as it can serve as an alert to your kitchen that an order is up. Thermal printers are typically used in smaller establishments and can work fine in that capacity, but when orders are coming in fast and furious, thermal printers can get hot, which can lead to breakdowns and smudging when printing.
When choosing your printer, ideally, you want that to be the last time you ever think about it. Ease of use and durability should be paramount. Durability is going to be a key factor, as your printer is going to be jostled and, quite likely, dropped on occasion in a busy restaurant. Online reviews generally do a pretty good job at weeding out particularly flimsy models, so do your due diligence. But there are a few other practical features you should at least consider that could make your life easier.
Having a printer go down can very quickly send your kitchen and, by association, your entire restaurant into chaos in no time. That’s why your printer needs to have an internal battery to keep it functioning in case it’s unplugged or if there’s a power outage. Another easy-to-overlook feature is the ease in which the printer’s paper can be changed. Take it from someone with firsthand experience working in a restaurant where only one person knew how to change the paper properly: it can be a headache. Plenty of models make this process a snap. Make sure you get one of them.
4 Ways Switching To A Kitchen Printer & Kitchen Receipts Will Improve Your Restaurant’s Efficiency
You may be old school, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s something charming and endearing about a handwritten ticket with shorthand that only the server and cook could distinguish. But if it’s efficiency (and potentially happier customers) you want, then a kitchen printer should be on your restaurant shopping list, and here are a few reasons why.
Accuracy:Â With a kitchen printer, the cook sees exactly what is punched into the point of sale system. There’s no need to second-guess someone’s handwriting or the sweaty smudge of a pen. Cooks can stay in the kitchen, and both the front and back of the house can be confident that the order will be accurate.
Speed: Once the order is placed, the ticket immediately prints out to its appropriate spot in the kitchen where the chef can hear it and quickly get started. There’s no time for a server to get distracted by another customer or task between the register and the kitchen, and although that might seem like a small amount of time saved, it can add up.
Streamlined Technology:Â Going along with speed, if you incorporate other modern equipment into your restaurant, kitchen printers can be even more useful. If you’ve implemented tableside ordering, a server wouldn’t even have to go back to a POS station to fire the order back to the kitchen, and, in some instances, customers can order from the table themselves if you have individualized stations. You may also want to consider multiple printers for different areas of your kitchen if you have a larger establishment. Then you could have different dishes automatically printed to the appropriate section, appetizers to one printer, entrees to another, cutting down on potentially confusing and chaotic conversations in your kitchen.
Simple Modifiers:Â A customer with a handful of specific instructions, or a dish that gives a customer multiple options, can be a tricky challenge for a server and cook to handle. Having a well-organized ticket through your POS and a well-functioning printer can make the orders crystal clear. In most cases, a POS system will allow a server to type in any specific, unique instructions as well, saving them a trip back to the kitchen.
How Much Does A Kitchen Printing Setup Cost?
Like anything else, prices on kitchen printers vary, so you’ll want to shop around even once you’ve decided what printer you might be interested in. You can purchase a printer from a variety of online retailers, and, in general terms, impact printers can run between $150-$350. Again, I’d suggest checking out some online reviews to see what printers are durable and easy to load with paper. You may also need a simple ethernet cord, depending on your setup and receipt paper. Most office supply stores will sell all of this online and in-store.
You’ll also want to see if your POS company has any deals on kitchen printers, and if you’re just starting up, you can often purchase hardware bundles that include everything you need, from the POS system itself to cash drawers and printers. Certain printers may also integrate better with your POS than others, and if you just need a single piece of hardware, you can buy directly from your POS provider in most cases. But, again, make sure you price check first.
Is A Kitchen Printer The Right Choice For My Restaurant?
Now the only thing left to do is decide if your particular establishment could benefit from a kitchen printer. If you’re running a small operation with just a few employees or have close quarters where your till and your grill aren’t far apart, you can probably get by with doing things the old-fashioned way with pen and paper. But if you have customers lining up to give their orders or multiple servers and cooks taking and filling orders throughout your restaurant, kitchen printers become nearly essential.
In this instance, efficiency is paramount. You don’t have time for errors or constant checks between the front and back of the house, and you need a convenient way to track and organize orders. Kitchen printers can dramatically improve the accuracy of orders, making customers happy, and by popping up immediately in a place where cooks can see and hear the tickets coming in, they can help you turn your tables around faster and increase your revenue.
Be sure to check out more of our hardware content for restaurants and our reviews as well and happy shopping!
The post The Complete Restaurant Guide To Kitchen Printers & Kitchen Printing Setups appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
I love living in the age of online reviews. Poring over personal testimonials and scanning star ratings feeds my obsessive need to optimize every decision. With rare exceptions, I won’t watch a movie unless it scored at least an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Why waste my precious time otherwise? I seldom read a book without checking reviews on Goodreads first. Every savvy bookworm knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Online reviews about anything and everything is so prevalent in today’s culture that most of us fancy ourselves not only as connoisseurs of the best goods and services out there but as consummate experts on reviews themselves. Most importantly, we can all spot a fake review a mile away, right?
Well, it’s not as simple as we might think. First of all, those who are out to game the system by soliciting or generating fake reviews are only getting better at doing just that: gaming the system. Fake reviewers are well aware that folks are on the lookout for illegitimate testimonials, so fraudulent techniques are only becoming more realistic and insidious. At the same time, our “BS meters” and sense of general skepticism run at full throttle in the modern era. This typically leaves us over-vigilant and even more confused, often resulting in no more than a 50-50 shot at separating the fake from the genuine.
A direct recommendation from a friend or a colleague will probably always be the gold standard for a reliable testimonial, regardless of the industry. In fact, a popular business management metric called the Net Promoter Score was developed based on what’s commonly known as The Ultimate Question: “Would you recommend us to a friend?” In the B2B space, however, personalized recommendations can be particularly hard to come by. You’re also wise to want the weight of a solid online reputation to back up such an important decision for your business. So while several of your friends may have read the latest NYT bestseller, you may be forced to turn to strangers on the internet to find relevant experiences with a particular credit card processor or point of sale system.
Let’s unpack the user review landscape in the B2B world, so you can increase your odds of spotting the fakes.
Are Fake Reviews Really That Common?
By now, you’ve probably heard of the massive fake review problem at Amazon.com, and the various ways Bezos and company have worked to combat the issue. Nonetheless, the problem of fake reviews is still rampant in all areas of B2C commerce. Once we leave the realm of consumer goods and shift focus toward B2B products and services, however, a slightly different set of rules can apply.
Business software and services are typically much more complex and nuanced than consumer goods. The stakes for making a poor choice are very high, and even real users often don’t understand the product well enough to make accurate evaluations. The mix of genuine, fake, and confusing user reviews in the B2B realm is frustrating.
The first step toward understanding the B2B product and service review landscape is awareness of the places fake testimonials may show up around the web. Typical spots include the provider’s website and third-party websites that aggregate the reviews of multiple products. Particularly brazen providers may even set up or manage a site of their own that looks like a third-party aggregate site as a place to collect fake reviews. Still, others may simply partner with companies that manage fake review sites or with sites that have extremely biased and unethical rating systems. Clearly, there are varying degrees of culpability on the part of the actual B2B vendor in question in each case. In other words, there’s plenty of blame to shift around!
Why Fake Testimonials Are A Big Problem For Small Businesses
Before we proceed any further, let’s acknowledge that managing an online reputation is no small feat. This is true for your average small business owner and also for any company that provides products and services to other businesses. Rare is the case in which a slew of glowing testimonials from customers simply falls into a vendor’s lap.
We must be abundantly clear, though: Soliciting and propagating fake reviews is illegal and could get a business in big trouble with the FTC. Even if that doesn’t happen, chances are the business will still eventually get caught and called out, only damaging the reputation it was trying to bolster in the first place. At Merchant Maverick, we won’t hesitate to highlight any suspicious user testimonial activity for the vendors we review.
Still, to be realistic about all of this, most companies end up asking a few clients for testimonials at some point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. A company may gather testimonials for its website or direct customers to an aggregate site to leave feedback.
However, you should know that some aggregate review sites solicit reviews by offering money, gift cards, free merchandise, or other perks. While the ethics of this practice remains debatable, the resulting user reviews can still be genuine in this scenario. Some even argue that incentives result in better-quality genuine reviews for B2B products — both positive and negative. The real problem is that whenever a reward system is in place, you’ll always find a set of enterprising people eager to exploit the system to make a quick buck. Even sites that are trying their best to stay above board in collecting genuine testimonials can still attract fakers.
Some Online Reviews Might Be Genuine But Can Still Be Misleading
In the quest to maintain the best public image possible, many companies enlist dedicated online reputation management services. The integrity and ethics of these services vary widely, but a user review “curation” component is almost always part of the package. The service helps its clients proactively generate more positive reviews from genuine customers while also mining the web for existing reviews.
It sounds like a great idea, right? You know exactly where this is going. To paint their client in the best light possible, only the positive reviews and ratings get pulled to display. This leads to an inflated, misleading rating and reputation for the vendor.
A related problem occurs when reviews are solicited from brand new customers at the time of signup. This is a common practice across many industries. With little-to-no-time to test the product or service, the vendor’s rating becomes inflated by these genuine — but largely useless — testimonials. And, speaking of unhelpful reviews, let’s not forget reviews from users who have had the product or service for a while but still don’t understand how the product (or the corresponding industry) works. Fortunately, these reviews are usually complaints — not the fake positives we’re most concerned about — and are pretty easy to spot as your knowledge of the product and industry increases. Unfortunately, all types of unhelpful reviews still muddy the waters.
How To Spot Fake Reviews: 10 Signs An Online Review Isn’t Legitimate
If the thought of all these fake reviews and fake review websites makes you want to give up on online testimonials, please don’t despair. User feedback on B2B software and services is essential data for Merchant Maverick in our research and rating process, so the last thing we want to do is give up on them entirely.
We’re now ready to look at a few telltale signs of fake B2B product reviews. Note that some are similar signs of fake reviews of consumer goods, while others have their own spin. Also, it’s more important to spot suspicious patterns across multiple reviews than to look at any single review.
1. Sketchy Review Site
Always consider the quality and reputation of the review site itself first before digging into individual reviews. Appearances aren’t everything, but if “vague” is the word that repeatedly comes to mind as you peruse the website, you’re probably on to something. Can you find any details about the company that runs the site? Any policies regarding how it collects or verifies its reviews? Any explanation of how the site makes money? Do links on the site lead where you’d logically expect them to? If the review site lacks substance, detail, and basic logic, put up your guard straight away.
2. Lack Of Information About The Reviewer
Enough information should be provided for you to identify that a reviewer really is who they say they are. When it comes to B2B product reviews, expect to see the full name of the reviewer and the business name, at a minimum. Basically, if you can’t figure out who this person is apart from their review, it’s a red flag. Testimonials on a vendor’s website should clearly display this information. Most of the better-aggregated review sites also gather identifying details about each reviewer. They may include additional specs, such as a job title, length of time using the product, or even a direct link to the user’s LinkedIn profile.
3. Reviewer’s Profile Doesn’t Quite Add Up
You’ve checked that the key identifying details of the reviewer are present, but you notice something is still off. Maybe you’re visiting a review site that features profile photos of each reviewer, but the headshot in question looks like a weird stock photo of something unrelated or even a picture of a random celebrity. Perhaps the reviewer’s job title is “Social Media Marketer,” but the review is for accounting software. The reviewer’s profile should add up to a believable (and verifiable) person and scenario.
4. Illegitimate Business
Related to the above, a fraudster may not only completely invent a reviewer’s persona but also may invent a business. Just because the information about the business is there doesn’t mean it’s true. You should be able to find proof the business exists or that it at least recently existed. Find the website for the business, see if it looks legit, and find out where it’s based. If you’re still suspicious, try contacting the business directly.
5. Unnatural Language
This one is tricky because we must first acknowledge that not all genuine customers of the vendor may be native speakers. However, lots of glaring typos, horrendous punctuation, and strange strings of words that add up to nonsense are still important warning signs, especially when combined with other factors on this list. Note the number and proportion of these oddly-worded reviews as well. A large volume of poorly constructed testimonials signals an offshore content farm is likely at play.
6. Repeated Or Formulaic Elements
In addition to unnatural language, watch for a large number of reviews containing repeated language and other elements. Hired fake reviewers are often instructed to include certain buzz words, phrases, or talking points. It could be one reviewer creating these testimonials en masse or multiple people being given the same instructions. Meanwhile, some reviewers are not provided any specific instructions but are simply lazy or incompetent, using the same stock wording each time with only minor changes.
7. Many Reviews Over A Short Time Period
As mentioned before, many vendors initiate targeted campaigns to solicit testimonials and ratings from real customers and may even employ a dedicated service to assist. This practice can lead to a spike in reviews over a few hours or days, even from genuine customers. Nevertheless, always check the date and time stamps of reviews and take heed if you notice this pattern. Especially if the reviews are also low quality, formulaic, or lack most of the reviewer details you’re already looking for, you’d be right to suspect the work of a fraudster cranking out bulk reviews for pay.
8. Extra, Unhelpful Details
We’re all pretty good at spotting bot-speak these days. Fake reviewers know this, so they often try to overcompensate in their efforts to sound like a real-life human. This just means that if they come across like they’re trying way too hard, they probably are. A common tactic is to include a lot of unnecessary scene-setting and backstory. In trying to sound relatable, the reviewer may also use a lot of “I” and other personal pronouns. By contrast, most legitimate testimonials cut straight to the chase with concrete, boring details. The review shouldn’t read like a flashy, flowery sales pitch or infomercial.
9. Suspicious Reviewing Patterns For A Given Reviewer
Many review sites allow you to see other products and services someone has reviewed simply by clicking on their profile. The obvious thing to check is whether the reviewer only doles out glowing 5-star ratings, but you can often unearth deeper patterns with additional cross-referencing. When researching a particular vendor recently (let’s call it Vendor A), I found four ratings within its Google profile. Each rating was exactly 5-stars, which already made me suspicious. As I clicked on each reviewer profile of Vendor A, I found each of the four reviewers had also reviewed the same two additional companies: Vendor B and Vendor C. By a miraculous coincidence, four reviewers somehow just happened to review the same three unrelated vendors and no others and gave them each 5-stars. Paid reputation management on behalf of all three companies was likely afoot here, at best. Fraudulent reviewing by professional reviewers could just as easily have been at play on top of this. Neither is ideal.
10. Extreme Reviews Only (The “Missing Middle”)
Due to our inherent tendency as a species to speak out only when furious, you’re likely to encounter plenty of complaints about most B2B products and services in existence. Positive reviews may be more difficult to come by, but the reputation management and fake reviewing industries have each done their part to fill in the gaps for mediocre and poor companies. For these reasons, you ought to be suspicious if you can’t find any middle-of-the-road feedback about a given vendor. You should be able to locate a least a few reviews that highlight both the pros and cons. These reviews will also help ground you in the patterns to look for in the more extreme reviews.
How Merchant Maverick Verifies Its User Reviews
Each of our B2B vendor reviews on the Merchant Maverick website includes a section for user comments. In managing our comment section, we adhere to a strict comment policy when publishing any reader feedback. For example, we require that each commenter includes their full name and business name when submitting their feedback. We also have internal systems in place to flag suspicious patterns, such as a group of reviews from different email addresses but the same IP address.
Most importantly, a real human being looks at every single comment before it gets published to our site. When checking each comment, we use many of the same signs and techniques we’ve already discussed in this article to identify suspicious activity. At Merchant Maverick, we believe effective technology, clear policies, and a discerning human touch are all necessary to combat the problem of fake reviews.
Go Forth & Don’t Fall For Fake Online Reviews & Testimonials
I know I said at the outset that I love living in the age of online reviews, but I also cringe at the overwhelming, befuddling mess of feedback generated via crowdsourced opinions. Perhaps “love-hate” would have been a better term.
Fake reviews will continue to compound the problem for the foreseeable future as small business owners struggle to cut through the noise and make sound decisions. There is no single, fail-safe trick to spotting fake reviews, but we’ll leave you with these key takeaways:
Place more weight in patterns and trends than any single user review
Watch for multiple signs and patterns at play at the same time
Learn about the place you’re reading user reviews in the first place (e.g., how the site makes money, its rules for displaying vendors and ratings on the website, its process for verifying user reviews, etc.)
Finally, while user recommendations are extremely valuable, we’d strongly suggest combining them with long-form, detailed analyses of the product or service you’re considering for your business. In Merchant Maverick’s reviews, we always aim to thoroughly cover both the negative and positive aspects of each vendor in a balanced, non-emotional manner. And if we’ve uncovered suspicious testimonial-gathering practices as we scour the web for user feedback about the company, we most definitely let you know.
To learn about how Merchant Maverick operates as well as tips for navigating the B2B world, check out these resources:
How This Site Makes Money
Our Vendor Rating & Scoring System
Understanding Negativity Bias
The post The Fake Review Spotter Guide: Everything You Need To Know About How To Check For Fake Reviews appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Are you looking to start selling online? With the steady increase in popularity of online shopping, developing your own online store is crucial to ensuring you meet the needs and expectations of your customers.
But for many new online sellers (including those who already operate a brick-and-mortar business, as well as those who are just beginning), the costs of operating an online store can feel overwhelming. There’s the monthly subscription rate that you pay to your eCommerce platform, as well as the cost of transaction fees, payment processing, software extensions, and integrations.
Fortunately, you can ease some of the costs of opening an online store when you use a free eCommerce platform. Although you still have to pay for other expenses related to online selling (such as the cost of payment processing and software extensions), at least you won’t have to pay to use the actual selling software. This reduction in costs can lower the barrier to entry and help many businesses take the first steps to start selling online.
Free eCommerce software tends to come in two forms. Some software is available as a free plan on an all-inclusive cloud-based software. These free plans tend to give users the basic features they need for online selling while placing limits on product listings and advanced features. The other form of free eCommerce software is downloadable open-source software. This software is always free to use, and it does not limit its users in any way. That said, it is not nearly as user friendly as cloud-based software, and the software does not include web hosting or customer support.
It’s clear that each type of free eCommerce software offers its own advantages and disadvantages. Fortunately, both cloud-based software and open source software are great options for sellers who are looking to get started with a free eCommerce platform.
Best Free eCommerce Platforms
In this article, we’ll cover the best free eCommerce platforms on the market. Some of these options are free plans for cloud-based eCommerce software, while others are free open source eCommerce software. All of the free eCommerce platforms in this list meet our standards for security, available features, customer support, and usability.
Best for makers and artists who plan to list only a few items at a time.
Big Cartel is a cloud-based online store builder that is designed specifically with artists in mind. Content creators and makers of all types use Big Cartel to establish a website, build out an online store, and sell their digital and physical products. Big Cartel is incredibly simple and easy to use, which makes it an excellent option for anyone who is new to online selling.
Additionally, Big Cartel is a great alternative to marketplace selling, and their free option makes it accessible for everyone. Using this free plan, sellers can list up to five products on their online stores, and they gain access to Big Cartel’s most basic selling features. Keep reading to learn more of what’s available with Big Cartel’s free plan.
Easy to use
Geared toward artists
Customer support available for all users
Big Cartel Pricing
In this article we will be focusing primarily on Big Cartel’s free plan, but it’s important that you know about their paid plans as well. Big Cartel keeps pricing for their plans fairly low, ranging from just $10/month to $30/month. Each increase in pricing gives users access to more product listings and features. At the highest level plan, sellers can list up to 300 products.
Big Cartel’s Gold (free) Plan includes all of the features you need for basic online selling, although it limits users to just five product listings.
The Gold Plan includes:
One image per product
Use your own domain
Full code customization
Automatic tax calculations
Advanced tax settings
Product option groups
As we’ve mentioned, Big Cartel is a simple selling solution. Its aim is to provide sellers with an easy-to-use platform, and part of the way Big Cartel accomplishes this mission is by including only the features that most merchants need to sell online. You won’t find any fancy bells and whistles here–just the basics. Here are a few of the features you can expect from Big Cartel:
Sell on Facebook
SEO features like plain-text URLs and automatic sitemap generation
There are a few potential downsides to using Big Cartel. The first is the limited feature set and the reduced ability to customize your software. If you have a number of specific needs that you are trying to solve, Big Cartel might not be the right option. In addition, Big Cartel has a fairly small selection of extensions and payment methods. This further limits your ability to customize the software to suit your business.
Fortunately, Big Cartel does a good job when it comes to customer support. Although they do not offer any phone support, they do have a very good response time via email (we consistently receive replies in under two hours) and their self-help tools–such as the help center, the pre-recorded live classes, and the blog–are good resources for figuring things out on your own.Â
When To Use Big Cartel
We think that Big Cartel is best for small businesses and artists. Because of the limits on product listings, the free plan in particular is best suited to hobby sellers or artists who sell only a few pieces at a time.
Best for small to mid-size businesses that want to add an online store to their WordPress site.
WooCommerce is an open-source shopping cart plug-in designed for use on WordPress. WooCommerce is free to download and use, and it allows you to easily add an online store to your existing WordPress site. With over 84 million downloads, WooCommerce is incredibly popular. The software currently accounts for 26% of the top one million sitesÂ worldwide.
Although WooCommerce is free to download, it isn’t totally free to operate. You’ll have to pay for your WordPress account, as well as web hosting, security, and extensions. That said, WooCommerce is still an excellent choice for many businesses. The open-source software is completely customizable and full of useful features for online selling. All-in-all, WooCommerce is one of our favorite open-source solutions. Keep reading to learn more about why we love WooCommerce.
Numerous integrations available
Limited customer support
Site hosting not included
Add-ons often necessary
Steep learning curve
WooCommerce is an open-source WordPress plugin that’s free to download and use.
That said, there are a few expenses you should account for as you implement WooCommerce. You still have to pay for your WordPress site, along with your web hosting and domain name. You also will likely need to purchase a few add-ons and extensions for your online store. These add-ons range in price from free to hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, they are all available as one-time purchases.
WooCommerce follows a Core + Extensions model when it comes to features. In an effort to keep the software easy to use, they offer only core features already built in. These core features include everything the average merchant needs to get started. Any advanced features are available as extensions. Here are a few of the core features that come built-in with all WooCommerce downloads:
Sell physical and digital products
Create coupons and discounts
Although WooCommerce is a generally well-liked software, there are a few downsides to the platform. One downside is the learning curve that users must overcome. While it isn’t the most difficult software to use, it isn’t necessarily intuitive, and it will likely take some time to get the hang of daily use. What’s more, the cost of adding new features via extension can quickly add up. If you aren’t careful, WooCommerce could become more expensive than a cloud-based software with a monthly payment plan.
When it comes to customer support, WooCommerce is like most open-source software. There are very few options for personalized support from WooCommerce representatives. Instead, customer support takes the form of self-help resources. Available resources include a knowledge base, developer documentation, and a community forum. If you need personalized support, you can also hire a WooExpert to help out.
When To Use WooCommerce
We recommend WooCommerce to small to mid-size businesses. In particular, WooCommerce is best for businesses that want to add an online store to their WordPress site. WooCommerce works well for sellers who want a customizable solution and who don’t mind figuring things out on their own.
Best for mid-size businesses that can handle a technical challenge and need a way to sell internationally.
PrestaShop is a open-source eCommerce solution with an international reach. PrestaShop allows users to sell their goods across the globe with multiple available currencies, languages, and international payment processors. As an open-source solution, PrestaShop is free to download and use, although you’ll still have to foot the bill for web hosting, support, and extensions.
PrestaShop is one of the more technically complex options on this list. In order to get the best use of the software, you need a solid understanding of code, or you need the resources to hire someone who can manage the technicalities for you. In exchange for this complexity, however, you gain access to a strong selection of features and customization. Keep reading to learn what we like best about PrestaShop.
Excellent support materials
Strong user community
Expensive customer support
Developer skills required
PrestaShop is free to download and use.
That said, you will still need to account for a few expenses related to running an online store. PrestaShop users pay for their own hosting, domain name, site security, payment processing, and technical support.
PrestaShop offers over 600 features already built into their free software. Here’s a bit of what those features include:
Create coupons and discounts
Reports and analytics
Despite these positives, however, PrestaShop is not a perfect solution. The software shares many of the drawbacks that are typical of open-source software. Although the program is free to download, users still have to account for the cost of hosting and integrations, as well as expenses related to hiring a developer. In addition, in order to get the best use of the software, you really need to understand how to code.
Similarly, PrestaShop is like most open-source software in that support is available primarily through self-help resources. You can use the knowledge base, user forum, and some web ticket support to find answers to your questions about the software. In order to get a dedicated support representative, however, you’ll have to pay an additional cost.
When To Use PrestaShop
Because of the technical challenge involved with using the software, PrestaShop is best suited to mid-size businesses that have the resources to hire a developer. PrestaShop is great for businesses that need advanced features, including the ability to sell internationally.
Square Online Store
Best for sellers who already use Square to process in-person payments.
Square is a payment processing company that has revolutionized the way small businesses are able to accept payments. Now, Square is expanding its offerings to provide sellers with an omnichannel selling platform. You can now create an online store that connects seamlessly with Square’s Point of Sale system. And the best part is, this online store (with hosting, domain name, security, and customer support) is completely free for merchants who use Square.
Square Online Store was designed using Weebly’s website building software. This means that the software is incredibly easy to use. Square Online Store is available for free to anyone who processes their payments via Square, and they also offer a few paid plans that include additional features and payment processing options. We’ve been impressed with Square Online Store as a free, cloud-based option for online selling. Keep reading to find out why.
Easy to use
Ideal for low-volume merchants
Sell in-person and online
Integrates with the Square ecosystem
Only one payment option
Square Online Store Pricing
Square Online Store’s free plan includes a basic feature set, up to 500 MB of storage, and the ability to process payments through Square. Three paid plans are also available, ranging in price from $16/month to $79/month. These paid plans include additional features, storage, and payment processing options (lower processing rates and access to PayPal processing).
Square Online Store’s free plan includes:
2.9% + $0.30 per transaction (via Square)
Automatic inventory, orders and items sync with Square POS
Free SSL security
Order status text alerts
Automatic tax calculator
Square gift cards
Lead capture and contact forms
Support via a community forum, email, chat, and phone
Square Online Store’s free plan gives users access to only the basic features that you need for online selling. Here’s a quick list of some available features:
Sell digital and physical products
Sell memberships, services, and carry-out orders
Sync with Square POS
Automatic tax calculator
Create coupons and discounts
Sell and accept gift cards
As with all free plans, Square Online Stores comes with limitations. You can only process payments through Square, and you do not get access to real-time shipping rate calculations.
Fortunately, there are no limitations placed on customer support. You can reach customer support via phone, email, and live chat. You can also always access the help center, community forum, and tutorial videos. We’re impressed that Square Online Store offers personalized support even on their free plan. This is a very uncommon benefit.
When To Use Square Online Store
Square Online Store is best for merchants who already sell using Square Point Of Sale, and who are looking for a way to take their store online. We recommend Square Online Store’s free plan to individuals and startups, and we recommend the paid plan to small businesses.
Best for individuals and beginning sellers who need an easy to use platform.
Ecwid is a cloud-based shopping cart widget that allows you to add an online store to any website. With Ecwid you can choose to build an entire website from scratch, or you can add an online store tab to your pre-existing website by just copy-pasting a couple of lines of code. Ecwid allows you to sell on multiple different channels at the same time, including on social media sites, on marketplaces (such as Amazon and eBay), and in person.
Ecwid is a very affordable platform, with the highest pricing plan set at just $30/month. They also offer a free plan, which we’ll be discussing here. Ecwid is user friendly, which makes it an excellent option for small businesses and startups. Many individual sellers will likely find that Ecwid’s free plan offers the features and usability they need to venture into online selling.
Suited for startups
Easy to use
Add an online store to any existing site
Basic design tools
Ecwid’s free plan comes with a paired down feature set. In order to get access to the full selection of features, you have to subscribe to a paid plan. These plans range in price from $15/month to $35/month. Each step up in pricing includes more features, more products listings, and more available sales channels.
Here’s what’s available in Ecwid’s Free Plan:
List 10 products
Advertising on Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and Snapchat
Instant Site builder
Sell on multiple sites
Apple Pay (via Stripe)
Self-help support options
Ecwid’s free plan includes only the fundamentals of online selling. You can list up to ten products, market your products on social media, adjust the look of your online store, accept payments, and process orders. Here are a few available features:
Sell on multiple websites and in-person
Social media integrations
List product variants like size and color
Automatically translate your store in 50 different languages
Although Ecwid certainly has a lot to offer its users, it has a few limitations as well. The biggest drawback of Ecwid’s free plan is the limit they place on available features. You do not get access to features like automatic tax calculation, inventory tracking, discount creation, or digital products. You are also restricted to just ten product listings. This makes Ecwid’s free plan only good for the smallest online sellers (those who are just starting out, or artists who sell their pieces as a profitable hobby).
Support for users of Ecwid’s free plan is available via email. You can also find answers in self-help resources like the help center, tutorial videos, and community forums.
When To Use Ecwid
Ecwid’s free plan is best for individuals and beginning sellers who are looking for an easy way to take their products online. Growing sellers will quickly have to transition to a paid plan, but Ecwid’s free plan is a great starting point for many.
Best for mid-size and large businesses that want a customizable solution and can handle a technical challenge.
Magento is a software company that offers multiple solutions for online selling. In this article, we are focusing on Magento Open Source (formerly called Magento Community Edition), which is a free, downloadable selling software. Magento Open Source is completely customizable, and it comes with loads of features already built-in.
As an open-source solution, Magento is not known for its ease of use. In fact, you really need to have a good amount of experience with software development in order to implement this platform. With that in mind, we recommend Magento primarily to mid-size businesses that have a team of software professionals on hand.
Free to download
Impressive feature set
Active, global user community
Developer skills required
Steep learning curve
No customer support
Magento is free for users to download and use.
However, Magento is not a “cost-free” selling solution. In order to get your online store running, you’ll have to pay for web hosting, a domain name, integrations and extensions, and payment processing. Also, if you don’t have experience with code (especially PHP), you’ll have to hire a developer.
Magento offers an incredible number of features, even without any add-ons. Here are a few available features:
Coupons and discounts
Share on social buttons
Sell digital products and bundles
Tax and shipping calculations
Unfortunately, in order to access these features, users have to overcome a steep learning curve. Without the support of a developer, this learning curve may be too much for some businesses. In addition, while Magento is free to download, the platform can quickly turn into an expensive option when you consider the cost of hosting and integrations, as well as the cost of hiring a developer.
Magento is also a challenge for some users because of its limited customer support. Magento does not offer any support through phone, live chat, or email. Instead, you have to figure things out on your own with the user guide, community forum, and developer documentation.
When To Use Magento
Magento is a great solution for mid-size to large businesses that need a customizable and feature-rich selling software. Magento is only a good option for smaller businesses if they have the resources to hire a developer.
Free Shopping Carts VS Open Source eCommerce
All of the solutions we present above fall into one of two categories: a free plan on a cloud-based software, or an open-source downloadable software. Lets take a closer look at these two categories to find out which option is best for your business.
What Is Open Source eCommerce?
Open source eCommerce software are software that are made available to the general public. You can typically download the software for free, and all of the documentation that was used to build the software is available for public use. In general, open-source software is highly customizable, with strong features. Typically, companies that create open-source software make money on software extensions and technical support, rather than sale of the software itself.
The Pros & Cons Of Open Source eCommerce Platforms
Take a look below for the common advantages and disadvantages of open source eCommerce platforms:
Free to download
No monthly subscription costs
Web hosting not included
Users manage their own security
No personalized customer support
More difficult to learn and use
Developer support often required
Businesses that benefit from open source software are typically mid-size to large businesses. These businesses need customizable software, and they often have access to a developer.
What To Look For With Good Free eCommerce Software
Here’s how to identify a secure, high-quality free software option:
Open Source: For open source software, look for an option that is free to download and doesn’t make you pay for software updates. Look for lots of built-in features and a strong user community. Dive into the community forum and online reviews of the software to find out if general opinion of the software is positive or negative.
Cloud-based: When it comes to free plans on a cloud-based software, you should look for the ability to list at least 5-10 products. Double check that the software offers free hosting and domain names, as well as customer support options. It’s also a good idea to look for affordable paid plans in case you need to upgrade from the free plan in the future.
As you look for a free eCommerce software, you should also keep your eyes peeled for warning signs that a software may not be worth your time. Be wary of free plans that are so limited they are largely unusable. You should also be cautious of software that are not well reviewed online. Software without a significant number of reviews or software with a large number of negative reviews are often out-dated and clumsy to use.
Look below for answers to some Frequently Asked Questions regarding free eCommerce software.
Which free eCommerce software is best?
We think the best free eCommerce software overall is WooCommerce. WooCommerce provides the tools that most businesses need to sell online, and it is relatively easy to use. For sellers who prefer an all-in-one selling solution, however, we recommend Square Online Store. This software has the advantage of including web hosting, even though the feature set is much more limited than WooCommerce’s.
Are there free website builders with eCommerce built-in?
BigCartel, Ecwid, and Square Online Store (built on Weebly’s software) all offer elements of both website building and eCommerce. However, many popular website building software, like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace, do not offer any free eCommerce features.
Do any free eCommerce platforms have unlimited products?
All open-source eCommerce platforms allow users to list unlimited products. Square Online Store is the only cloud-based eCommerce solution we know of that has unlimited products on their free plan (although, they do place a limit on data storage).
When would I have to upgrade to paid eCommerce software?
Typically, you have to upgrade to paid eCommerce software in order to list more than ten products and access features like real-time shipping and tax calculation. This only applies to cloud-based software since most open-source platforms are always free.
How To Choose The Right Free eCommerce Platform
Choosing the right eCommerce platform for your business is a process that involves careful consideration. In order to land on a great choice, you’ll have to make a number of smaller decisions along the way.
The first choice you should make is between cloud-based software and open source software. This decision should be based on your technical experience and your preferences regarding customization. Sellers who’d prefer to have their site’s hosting and security managed on their behalf should choose cloud-based software, while sellers who prioritize customization should choose open-source software.
Now that you’ve decided between cloud-based and open source software, you should take some time to come up with a list of features that your business absolutely must have. These should include key features like the ability to list digital products, calculate taxes and shipping costs automatically, and track your inventory totals. You should also look into customer support options–make sure that your business can manage with the support options available.
Once you’ve found a few software options that might work for your business, dive into the available customer reviews. Find out if users have a generally positive experience with the platform. If not, look elsewhere!
Finally, once you’re narrowed your options to one or two platforms, take the plunge and sign up for (or download) the software. Since it’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose, and there’s no harm in testing multiple products. Trying out the software for yourself will give you a good understanding of whether or not a software can work for your business.
If you choose to use any of the software on this list, we feel confident that you’ll have a positive experience. Even if the software isn’t a perfect solution, it is free, and it’s hard to go too wrong with a free option! No matter which software you select, we wish you the best of luck in your venture into online selling.
For more information on setting up an online store, check out our Complete Guide To Starting An Online Store For Your Brick & Mortar Business as well as our free eBook: The Beginner’s Guide To Starting An Online Store.
The post The Best Free eCommerce Platforms & Shopping Carts appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
For many restaurants, adding the option of online delivery may be something they’ve either been casually considering or maybe just started to implement as an experience. However, with the recent sudden health crisis that COVID-19 has brought, being able to stay open for deliveries has become almost a necessity for many businesses. The good news is, even if you’re starting from scratch, it can be a relatively simple process. However, you want to make sure that you’re still making enough of a profit to stay viable. In this case, you may want to consider going with your own in-house delivery system. And while that may sound daunting, there are plenty of tools available to you that you may not have even known existed. It’s possible to set up delivery in-house in just a few hours in some cases, and it may end up helping to grow your brand and expand your customer base in the process.
Why Should You Keep Delivery In-House?
The most obvious reason to handle your own delivery is quite simply the cost. While third-party apps are inarguably convenient, they drastically eat into your profits. Some studies estimate it can be close to 50% cheaper to run delivery in-house rather than outsourcing that service. With margins that low, sometimes using third-party delivery can be more trouble than it’s worth quite literally. By keeping things in-house, you’re in control. You don’t have to worry about rude or careless drivers who don’t have a vested interest in protecting your brand. And, speaking of branding, you can create your own unique packaging and marketing to expand your visibility further. Also, if you’re lucky enough to be using a point of sale system that integrates with delivery (or offers that option as an add-on), it will integrate with your software seamlessly and require minimal additional training for your employees.
The Alternative: Third-Party Delivery Apps
Restaurant delivery is a competitive business, and while we’ve already briefly discussed that using one of these popular companies will take a big bite out of your profits, it’s still easy to see their appeal. To begin with, they are exceptionally simple to partner with. If you are a busy restaurateur who doesn’t have the time, energy, or know-how to start delivery in-house, you can simply pair with one or multiple services and potentially reach a whole new market. These apps are widely used and can help you reach a broader customer base. They also require very little money upfront if you’re just starting and are low on cash. In short, there’s a reason why these third-party apps are so popular with customers and businesses alike. But while it’s easy to see their appeal, they still might not be the option that ‘s right for you.
Must-Have Tools For Taking Online Orders & Managing Delivery
Point Of Sale App
While you can still technically operate a successful delivery service by simply jotting down orders and hand-delivering them back to your kitchen, a point of sale that comes with or integrates with in-house delivery options can make your life significantly easier. In fact, if you’re just starting out or are currently in business but plan on making delivery a large part of your operation, having a POS with a good delivery integration is almost essential. A quality POS can help you track and manage your orders as they come in, particularly when paired with a Kitchen Display System. This helps give customers accurate delivery times and can help you stay on top of important things, such as your inventory levels.
Online Ordering Tools
If you’ve decided to keep your delivery business in-house, there are some handy options available to you that your POS may already integrate with or that you can easily set up through your website. These companies provide software that is tailor-made for the restaurant industry and can simplify things even more.
GloriaFood:Â GloriaFood provides free software for restaurants, allowing you to take an unlimited number of orders for no fee. You can easily install a simple widget and be up and ready to sell in a single business day. GloriaFood can even help you set up your website to streamline the delivery process and is available on iOS and Android devices.
Menufy:Â This is a similar service to GloriaFood in that it offers free software and can help you create a sleek website for online ordering. The service fee is charged to customers, and the restaurant is only on the hook for the processing fees. There are no contracts, and you can be notified of orders on a wide variety of devices and through many different POS companies.
ChowNow:Â This is another popular online ordering software that can work with your specific brand and logos to create a personalized experience for your customers. ChowNow offers software with zero fees but also has hardware options that you can purchase that can run your delivery orders separate from your in-restaurant orders for added convenience.
There are plenty of other online ordering options available as well, so do a little research to see if one fits best with your specific business.
Using an in-house system for delivery also gives you control over who is handling and delivering your food and who is the face of your restaurant for customers who are ordering from home. These will be an integral part of your delivery business’s success, and there are plenty of things you’ll need to consider to ensure their success. First, you’ll need to decide if you’ll be using a company car or cars for delivery or if you’ll allow your couriers to use their vehicles. Either way, you’ll need to make sure that you have the proper insurance. And if your drivers are using their vehicles, you’ll need a way for them to track and log their mileage for reimbursement.
Next, there are some things you’ll want to make sure your online ordering system has, whether you’re using an online ordering service or your POS’s features. Certainly, you’ll want a reliable and accurate navigation system. It’s also valuable to have a delivery tracker, so you can tell where your driver is at any given time. The ability to quickly communicate with drivers is essential as well as having a system that allows for text notifications in case of changes or special requests.
Staffing Concerns With Restaurant Delivery
If your fancy new delivery service is a success, you may also start to experience some growing pains. You don’t want to overwhelm your hard-working staff, so you’ll likely need to hire some additional employees. Along with couriers, you’ll need to make sure that your kitchen is staffed well enough to handle the increase in demand, and you may need to carve out a separate space solely for online orders to help eliminate confusion. It may also be beneficial to have an employee whose entire job is to oversee and handle the online ordering process, ensuring that orders are being received correctly and filled and distributed in a timely fashion.
Other Logistical Considerations
We’ve already touched on a handful of things you’ll need to consider for your delivery business, from essential tools to simple conveniences. But here’s a quick recap of things to look for when you’re implementing this feature for your restaurant.
KDS:Â A Kitchen Display System can alleviate numerous headaches in any restaurant, but it’s especially valuable when your restaurant also handles deliveries. A system that receives and organizes orders directly can dramatically cut down on errors and help your kitchen prepare orders in a timely and efficient fashion.
Dedicated Kitchen Space:Â You may be operating with limited space in your kitchen, but if you can swing it, setting aside an area specifically for online orders can alleviate some headaches and make sure that orders aren’t getting confused.
Packaging:Â This is something that might be easy to skimp on; however, the way you package your delivery options can be vitally important. It’s an opportunity for you to brand and market, and it can be easy and inexpensive to order packaging products with your logo. It’s also essential to make sure that you have durable packaging that can withstand a drive and maybe even a way to keep the items hot or cold, depending on the order. You want to make sure your food is presentable and as good as it would be in your restaurant to avoid poor reviews. You’ll also need to think about what to include in delivery orders, such as napkins, utensils, and portable condiments.
Payment Options:Â You’ll definitely want to lock down how people ordering online will pay you and what types of payments you’ll accept. The ability to prepay online will help you track your money and tips easily while equipping your couriers with a card or chip reader provides an added level of convenience. Also, with restrictions from COVID-19, setting up the option to take payments and drop off deliveries without contact with customers could be an important feature that allows you to continue making sales in difficult times.
Add An In-House Delivery Option To Keep Customers Happy & Business Rolling In
While online ordering and delivery options have been rapidly growing in the restaurant industry over the past few years, we are in a time when having that feature may actually be essential for keeping your business afloat. It may seem a bit daunting if you’re just getting started, but remember, you have options. While third-party apps are undoubtedly easy to utilize, you may not end up receiving the type of return that can significantly boost your business. In that case, going with in-house delivery might be the most economical decision. There are plenty of tools at your disposal to help you.
See what your POS system offers for in-house delivery or what companies it integrates with. If you already have an online presence, getting started can be as simple as installing a widget or downloading an app. And many of these products, whether it’s the POS company itself or an online ordering service, can walk you through the setup process as well.
Looking for more resources to help small businesses navigate the coronavirus pandemic? Check out our Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants, or read a variety of other articles on our Coronavirus resource hub.
The post Restaurant Delivery Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Implementing In-House Delivery appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
If you’ve been searching for a payment gateway, you’ve probably come across these two names: Stripe and Authorize.Net. Or heck, maybe you were just searching for a way to take credit card payments online, and these appeared near the top of your search results.
Both companies offer a powerful suite of payment services along with robust support for developers who want to integrate their services into their websites. Both companies provide excellent support for foreign eCommerce transactions.
While Stripe and Authorize.Net aren’t exactly the same type of company — Authorize.Net is not a “full-stack” payment service — it is possible to get most of the same services through either company.
Stripe VS Authorize.Net: Quick Comparison
Evaluating Stripe vs. Authorize.Net comes down to the sheer volume of features vs. flexibility.
Both Stripe and Authorize.Net provide payment gateway access, but Stripe does so as merely one part of a gigantic payment services package. Authorize.Net gives you the option of pairing its gateway service with any merchant account, potentially making it a better choice for businesses with established, stable merchant accounts. On the other hand, Stripe — which has no monthly fee — will probably be the more efficient option for newer businesses.
I struggled with this one for a bit despite, at a glance, it being pretty obvious that Stripe is just a far more massive service than Authorize.Net. That begs the question of whether it’s a fair comparison. Stripe is designed to be a one-stop-shop for your payment processing needs. Authorize.Net focuses on a much smaller part of the payment processing environment. If it offered everything that Stripe does, it wouldn’t be Authorize.Net anymore. In fact, Stripe can be overkill for a lot of businesses, and if all you’re looking for is a payment gateway, it just doesn’t make sense to choose Stripe over Authorize.Net.
Authorize.Net has some niches where it excels, particularly where security is concerned, but let’s give credit where credit is due: Stripe can just plain do a lot more than Authorize.Net. From its more comprehensive support for global eCommerce to its more flexible development environment to its plethora of add-on features, it lives up to its “full-stack” claims.
Stripe is a powerful brand for international eCommerce. Stripe is available to businesses in 34 countries. The company’s reach, however, is significantly greater; you can accept payments from all over the world thanks to Stripe’s support of over 135 currencies and numerous regional payment methods.
Stripe Supported Payment Methods
Stripe breaks its support for payment methods into two categories: universal, for payment types accepted throughout the world, and local, for payment methods that are only supported in specific regions, with particular attention given to the US, European, and Chinese markets.
Stripe accepts the following universal payment types:
Amex Express Checkout
Masterpass by Mastercard
Stripe supports these payment methods in their markets:
SEPA Direct Debit
Stripe Core Features
Listing all of Stripe’s features would make this article unreadable. It’s an enormous ecosystem, with numerous optional features. Here’s a quick rundown of the main features:
Payments:Â Stripe Checkout is a prebuilt form that you can just drop into your site. But if you need something more customizable, Stripe Elements will let you design a form that suits your needs. You can build payments into your website or your mobile app.
Connect: Stripe’s Marketplace tools are some of the most robust out there, allowing you to build and manage your platform, including automated payouts to your merchants. Connect also facilitates connecting Stripe to other services (such as building native payments into eCommerce software).
Billing:Â “Billing” now encompasses all of Stripe’s subscription, invoice, and recurring billing tools. Stripe’s subscription tools have always been powerful, but with the addition of invoice capabilities and the option for metered billing, it’s safe to say that you really can’t beat what Stripe has to offer.
Additional Stripe Features
Sigma: Stripe offers an assortment of standard reporting tools in its dashboard. However, if you want advanced reports, then you’ll need Sigma. For an additional monthly fee (based on volume, see the Pricing section below for more details), you can generate custom reports based on SQL queries.
Radar:Â Stripe’s fraud monitoring tools include machine learning to identify and flag suspicious transactions. Merchants can review and override transactions they know to be legitimate or set up custom rules for fraud transactions, all with far less fuss than you’ll see with Braintree. If you’re very comfortable with fraud management, this is definitely an advantage.
Multi-Currency Displays & Conversions:Â Stripe has spent a LOT of time billing itself as the platform of choice for global businesses. It should come as no surprise then that Stripe allows merchants to display pricing in local currencies and automatically handles the currency conversion. You can connect multiple bank accounts to save money on conversion costs, too.
Account Auto-Updater:Â Keep recurring transactions from failing when customers get new cards. Stripe will automatically update card data in your vault to ensure continuity of subscriptions.
Atlas:Â Atlas allows international businesses to incorporate in the US, set up a US bank account, and get tax and legal guidance. Stripe says it has had more than a thousand startups apply in more than 120 countries, and it has added more than 100 partners to the network since the launch.
Payouts:Â ThisÂ is an automation toolset designed to help you send mass payouts to sellers, freelancers, or service providers. It’s also designed to help simplify compliance requirements with third parties and global markets.
Relay:Â Relay’s features allow merchants to link their eCommerce catalogs with your app or directly upload product information. Relay creates in-app buy buttons and forwards all the sales information to the merchants to fulfill the order.
Integrations: Stripe has more than 300 integrations with all kinds of other software and services that a business might need. The sheer number of supported integrations could be a significant advantage for some merchants. You can browse the integrations by category on Stripe’s “Works With” page.
Stripe Developer Tools
Stripe’s built a reputation on being extremely developer-friendly, and, to be fair, it’s largely earned it. Stripe’s SDK is easy to work with for novices and extremely customizable for experts. Stripe’s documentation is also second-to-none, with detailed tutorials, clone-able boilerplates, and support for mobile platforms.
Stripe supports the following server-side languages:
Authorize.Net’s business support isn’t quite as widespread as Stripe’s; it’s only available to merchants in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia. Its currency support is also more limited. Authorize.Net supports different currencies, depending on the region in which your business is located.
US & Canada: USD, CAD
The UK & Europe: CHF, DKK, EUR, GBP, NOK, PLN, SEK, USD
Australia: AUD, NZD, USD
Authorize.Net Supported Payment Methods
Authorize.Net supports the following payments methods:
Authorize.Net Core Features
Authorize.Net’s feature set is considerably smaller than Stripe’s, but at their core, they do many of the same things.
Payment Gateway:Â If you’re working with Authorize.Net, you’re there for the payment gateway. Or even more likely, the payment services company you signed up for is using Authorize.Net as its gateway. It is, however, possible (though not necessarily advisable) to work from the other end and sign up directly with Authorize.Net, in which case the company can help set you up with a merchant account through one of its partners. Just be aware that, unlike Stripe, the merchant account isn’t in-house.
Virtual Point Of Sale, Mobile Point Of Sale & Simple Checkout: Authorize.Net offers ways to accept cards both on the web and through mobile devices. The virtual terminal also allows you to key in card information manually. Authorize.Net is integrated into a dizzying number of third-party shopping carts through Simple Checkout, which allows you to generate HTML snippets for “Buy Now” and “Donate” buttons to add to your website easily.
Billing:Â Authorize.Net allows you to process recurring subscription payments and permits you to not only customize pricing but also offer free trials and installment packages.
Authorize.Net Additional Features
Advanced Fraud Detection Suite (AFDS):Â Included for free with your account, AFDS consists of a set of thirteen filters that you can customize to your own needs to help flag and block potentially fraudulent transactions. This feature helps to prevent inventory loss due to fraud and lowers your liability for chargebacks. While Stripe’s security features are nothing to sneeze at, Authorize.Net’s have a reputation for being some of the best in the business.
eCheck.Net:Â This is an optional feature. You can addÂ echeck processingÂ to your existing merchant account or sign up for the eCheck Only Pricing Plan. Pricing is 0.75% per echeck, a much lower rate than you’ll pay for credit or debit card transactions.
Customer Information ManagerÂ (CIM):Â The CIM, one of Authorize.Net’s most powerful standard features, allows you to securely store customer information, such as billing address, shipping address, and payment method information. Because this includes your customers’ sensitive credit card information, the data is securely encrypted. As we’ve noted, however, this security comes at the expense of data portability (see Negative Reviews & Complaints).
Sync For QuickBooks: While a QuickBooks integration is fairly standard these days, it’s still nice to have and will keep your accountant happy, especially if that accountant is you.
Authorize.Net Developer Tools
Authorize.Net also has a healthy developer subculture with excellent online resources and the option to create a sandbox account in which to test out your code. It doesn’t support quite as many languages as Stripe, but where the two overlap, you’ll probably see variable preferences from developer to developer.
Authorize.Net supports the following languages:
Both Stripe and Authorize.Net offer similarly priced services, although making a direct comparison isn’t easy. For purposes of this comparison, I’m only looking at the costs of features the two companies have in common. If you want a complete look at Stripe’s pricing, check out our guide.
If you take Authorize.Net up on its merchant account partnership offer, you’re looking at identical flat-rate transaction costs for both Stripe and Authorize.Net. Beyond that, you have to dive into the secondary fees. If you process a lot of subscriptions, you may incur a processing fee with Stripe. On the other hand, Stripe’s chargeback fees are $10 less. International transactions are more expensive with Authorize.Net unless you need to do a currency conversion, in which case Stripe is more expensive.
And then there’s the gorilla in the room: You can buy Authorize.Net as a humble gateway service without any of the other bells and whistles. With Stripe, if you want to use the gateway, you’re also getting the payment processing bundled up with it.
What ultimately breaks the tie in Stripe’s favor is its lack of a monthly fee. Stripe’s fees are almost entirely usage-based, making it easier to get a sense of where you’re getting value and where you’re not. By comparison, if you’re interested in Authorize.Net, it’s often cheaper to get it bundled with another service than directly from the company.
Authorize.Net Fees & Transaction Costs
Authorize.Net breaks its services into three plans:
All-In-One (includes a merchant account with one of Authorize.Net’s partners)
Monthly Gateway Fee: $25
Per Transaction: 2.9% + $0.30
Payment Gateway Only
Monthly Gateway Fee: $25
Per Transaction: $0.10, daily batch fee $0.10
Enterprise Solutions (for companies processing over $500K/year)
Contact Authorize.Net for pricing info
International transactions cost an additional 1.5%. Chargebacks cost $25 per occurrence. Note that, should you choose the All-In-One package, you may be subject to additional fees associated with the merchant account provider you are paired with.
Stripe Payments Fees & Transaction Costs
Since Stripe has a lot of add-on features that Authorize.Net does not, we’re going to ignore those for purposes of this comparison and just compare pricing for those features that they both offer.
Card Transactions:Â 2.9% + $0.30
Subscription Fee:Â 0.4% after the first $1 million
Stripe charges $15 per chargeback incident. International transactions cost an additional 1%, with another 1% added on if currency conversion is required.
Ease Of Use
Both companies are reliant on a mix of do-it-yourself developer culture and third-party services that integrate Stripe or Authorize.Net into their product.
Starting with the first case, as we touched on above, both companies offer extensive documentation for developers who want to add payment functionality into their websites and apps through the services’ APIs. Stripe’s documentation, support, and interfaces feel just a little more extensive and modern than Authorize.Net’s, but your mileage may vary.
Some users report that Authorize.Net is a little bit faster on average when it comes to payment processing time (one to seven business days vs. two to seven business days).
On the third-party side, your ease of use will depend entirely on the method of integration you’re using, for example, a shopping cart such as WooCommerce. With most of these services, activating your payment gateway is pretty simple, just tweaking some toggles and entering security keys; the challenge with most of these is mastering the eCommerce environment more than the payment integration.
Customer Service & Support
Both Authorize.Net and Stripe offer numerous ways to resolve problems should they arise.
Phone Support: This avenue of support is available 24/7, minus major holidays.
Support Center: The online resources include a knowledgebase, articles, white papers, and video tutorials.
Ticketing System:Â You can open a support case online through the integrated ticketing system.
Social Media: You can reach out to Authorize.Net on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You can also check out video tutorials and customer testimonials on YouTube.
Phone Support: This avenue of support is available 24/7.
Live Chat: This is also available 24/7 to customers.
Knowledgebase & Documentation: Stripe’s documentation is the gold standard. Developers will have no trouble here, whether they’re searching for a term or clicking through the sidebar. The knowledgebase is a little more sparse but serviceable.
Email: Stripe offers 24/7 email support but doesn’t give an exact time frame on how quickly someone will get back to you.
Freenode IRC Chat: Stripe’s developers seem to spend their time in the #stripe channel if you need technical assistance. Unsurprisingly, most developers seem to like this aspect of support.
While Stripe offers more methods of contact, Authorize.Net seems to have a better reputation for quick, responsive, and useful customer service. Stripe’s made efforts to improve — including offering phone support — but it still has some ground to make up.
User Reviews, Complaints & Criticisms
Both Stripe and Authorize.Net have avoided any scandals grave enough to drop their BBB ratings below an A+, though both do register a fairly typical spread of complaints. They tend to garner similar scores on various review aggregators, with a few outliers here and there rating one substantially higher than the other.
Stripe High Points
Pricing:Â While it’s not the cheapest possible option, it does offer a lot of functionality for the price.
Global Utility:Â Stripe is a truly international platform, giving businesses the ability to conduct eCommerce all over the world and in different currencies.
Freedom & Control:Â Stripe’s API allows for great flexibility for developers and makes it a good fit for various integrations.
Stripe Low Points
Account Holds & Terminations:Â Like all third-party processors, Stripe ends up doing a lot of its due diligence after the fact, which means it’s easy to run afoul of its opaque quality control processes. Most user complaints about Stripe fall into this category.
Lack Of Fraud Protection: While Stripe’s security features are strong, most of the advanced ones cost extra, leaving some users more exposed to chargebacks than they’d like.
Unresponsive Customer Service:Â While Stripe’s customer service is much improved, many customers were frustrated by Stripe’s inability to resolve or contextualize sudden account holds and terminations.
Authorize.Net High Points
Recurring Billing Support: Many users were pleased with how easy this feature was to activate and use.
Flexibility:Â Between Authorize.Net’s robust API and the ability to pair the service with any merchant account, users were generally happy with the amount of freedom it offered them.
Customer Service:Â Many positive user reviews involve good experiences with Authorize.Net’s customer service.
Authorize.Net Low Points
Billing Issues:Â Most of the complaints you’ll see about Authorize.Net revolve around that pesky monthly fee. The timing of the monthly payments seems to cause confusion for a number of customers, resulting in disputes over what interval of time they were paying for.
Non-Refundable Fees: Related to the previous issue, customers found it difficult to recover fees for which they believed they were wrongly charged. Be aware that if you sign up for an account online, you will be charged the gateway fee.
Data Portability:Â Authorize.Net has a reputation for being a difficult platform to migrate from, although some of this appears to be due to issues that have been at least partially addressed.
If you’re running your credit card through any eCommerce site, there’s a very good chance it’s passing through a Stripe or Authorize.Net gateway. The number of integrations for both services is staggering, and both can be easily plugged into most eCommerce environments with just a few lines of code. In general, you should have very little trouble getting either to play nice with the program of your choice.
Since we are splitting hairs, however, it’s worth mentioning that Stripe is just a bigger fish in the pond, possessing a higher market share and more widespread adoption. That translates to more integrations, should you need to work with something more niche and obscure. But again, both are extremely well-supported.
Which Is Best For My Payment Gateway Needs?
We’ve arrived at the moment of truth. If you’ve been following along until now, you probably already have a sense of the recommendations I’m about to make. If you’re impatient and skipped to the end, and who can blame you, here are my recommendations.
Choose Stripe Payments If…
You Need Payment Services In Addition To A Gateway:Â Stripe works best as a comprehensive, all-in-one platform offering both a payment gateway and third-party payment processing. It delivers the gateway functionality at the same per-transaction cost as Authorize.Net and without the monthly fee.
You’re Doing Business Globally:Â Authorize.Net’s support for foreign transactions is good, but it’s not anywhere near as extensive as Stripe’s. Stripe supports local payment methods in addition to the popular international brands and can handle over 135 currencies.
Choose Authorize.Net If…
You Already Have A Merchant Account You Like:Â If you’ve been taking card payments for a while and are pleased with your merchant account provider, you won’t be able to take it with you if you migrate to Stripe. On the other hand, you can simply add Authorize.Net onto your existing services.
You’re In A “High-Risk” Industry:Â Because it’s a third-party processor, Stripe isn’t keen on taking chances with industries that are flagged as high-risk. As a payment gateway, Authorize.Net has far fewer restrictions regarding the types of businesses it’s willing to partner with (just make sure your merchant account provider is also cool with your industry).
Neither Option A Good Fit For You? Try These Alternatives To Stripe & Authorize.Net
Stripe and Authorize.Net are both excellent gateway options, but they’re not the only ones. If Stripe has too much bloat and Authorize.Net feels too much like a clumsy add-on, consider one of the following options.
If you’re looking for a Stripe alternative with brand name recognition, PayPal’s a no-brainer. PayPal covers most of the same bases as Stripe. It’s a third-party processor/gateway combo that plays nice (even better, arguably) with international markets. Like Stripe, it’s a sprawling platform with tons of optional buy-ins. Just be aware that it doesn’t support recurring billing.
Square is another popular “full-stack” payment services provider. Compared to Stripe and PayPal, Square is a bit more focused on brick-and-mortar transactions, offering a wide variety of productivity-related functionality as well as POS hardware. Square supports eCommerce, but don’t expect the international support that Stripe offers.
It may not be a household name, but Payline Data is one of our favorite merchant account providers here at Merchant Maverick. It offers stable merchant accounts with interchange-plus pricing, not to mention its own proprietary payment gateway free of additional charge.
Comparing Authorize.Net & Stripe Payments: The Final Verdict
The battle between Stripe and Authorize.Net comes down to a big hearty buffet vs. a tasty side dish that can be served with almost any meal. Newer businesses that don’t want to add unnecessary complexity will probably prefer Stripe’s comprehensive payment services. Veteran businesses with stable merchant accounts that want to add gateway functionality may appreciate the flexibility Authorize.Net offers them.
If you’re scratching your head over a lot of the terms used throughout this post, don’t feel bad; payment processing is a very confusing industry. If you want to learn more about it, start with our complete guide to getting a merchant account. You may also want to read more about what a gateway is and how it fits into accepting payments online.
The post Stripe VS Authorize.Net: Which Is Better? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
In the time of the novel coronavirus outbreak, hairstylists, makeup artists, nail technicians, and salons in general are all in a really, really tough spot. Many state and city governments have mandated closures of these types of businesses. Some states that have ordered the closure of salon businesses include Minnesota, Ohio, Kentucky, and Nevada—and the list is sure to grow. Salons in some states are still open for the time being, but business has slowed to a trickle.
In this article, I’ll offer you some useful advice on how your salon can adapt and survive during this incredibly trying time.Â
Why The Beauty Industry Is Going To Be Hit Hard By Coronavirus
Given the current state of things with social distancing guidelines and mandatory closures of nonessential businesses, hair salons, makeup artists, barbershops, spas, and other similar businesses are all suffering. Salons, their employees, and independent contractors who rent space will all be affected.
Even if your business is still legally allowed to remain open, you might have to make the difficult decision to close temporarily due to the pandemic. Salon workers have a job that requires close physical contact with people, putting both the customer and the worker at risk. Worse still, many salon workers are contractors, who have to build their own business from the ground up and keep a book of clients—and many of these workers don’t have health insurance.
4 Things You Can Do Right Now To Protect Your Business
Here are some actionable steps you can take to limit the spread of coronavirus and protect clients and workers if your business is still open:
Relax Cancellation Policies
Obviously, many customers are going to be canceling right now, and for good reason. Although there’s no rule or law that says you need to waive cancelation fees or refund down payments right now, there’s a good chance that if you don’t, the customer will not return to your salon once the current crisis is over.
Revisit Sanitation & Hygiene
Make sure your business in compliance with the CDC’s sanitation and hygiene guidelines re: COVID-19 (see CDC: Interim Guidance for Businesses & Employers). If you operate a medical spa that employs doctors and/or nurses, you should also follow the CDC Guidelines For Healthcare Professionals.
Revisit Attendance Policies For Employees
Now is the time to encourage sick employees or workers who may have been exposed to the virus to call in sick—with or without a doctor’s note. This may require you to relax your current attendance policy. Specifically, here’s what the CDC is recommending right now:
Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4Â° F [38.0Â° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines.
Communicate With Clients
Remind customers to not come in if theyâre sick or have been exposed to someone who might be carrying the virus. You should also communicate with your clients about whether or not your location is still open, if your hours of operation have changed, and information about your sanitation policy. You can use email and social media for these communications.
6 Things You Can Do To Keep Your Business Going In Hard Times
Here is a list of things you can do today to help keep your business afloat during this time of extreme uncertainty.
Analyze Cash Flow
Take a look at your bank account, your bills, and your income. How much money do you have, and how long will it last you? Can you survive a closure or reduced business? How long can you reasonably afford to close for? Interest rates are at rock bottom right now, so it could make sense to invest in a small business loan that will help you bridge the gap during this temporary lack of cash flow.
Add Gift Cards
Selling gift cards allows clients to buy services now and redeem them later. Some POS systems, including Square, Shopify, and Clover, allow you to sell digital gift cards, which makes things even easier during this time of social distancing. Depending on your setup, you may be able to sell gift cards on your website or on social media. Once you’re all set up, send a text or email to customers with a link to buy a digital gift card from you, perhaps at a discounted rate.
In addition to gift cards, an eCommerce website allows you to sell merchandise, such as beauty products, “home spa” kits, or anything else that relates to business. And again, you can use text or email marketing to advertise whatever it is you’re selling. If you don’t have an eCommerce-enabled website, you can look into options offered by your salon POS system or use a web builder such as Wix or Squarespace to set one up.
Look Into Business Interruption Insurance
If you have business interruption insurance, find out whether your insurance policy includes disruptions from communicable diseases. If you don’t have an insurance policy that would cover a closure related to COVID-19, find out if you can get one before it hits your area. It may be too late to get a policy to help you with COVID-related business losses, but it doesn’t hurt to check, or to protect your business for the next crisis.
Talk With Creditors
Stay in communication with your landlord, creditors, and vendors to whom you owe money or have contractual obligations. They may be willing to work with you and will appreciate that you’re making an effort rather than just dropping off. Some relief may be available to help you meet your obligations or pause some of your bills—for example, governments in some states and cities are prohibiting evictions and utility shut-offs.
Look Into Unemployment Benefits
Even if employees are not fully laid off and are on reduced hours, they might be able to claim for time off during the outbreak. Put together some resources to provide unemployment information for your employees. As a business owner, you should be able to file for unemployment if you were paid a normal salary that had unemployment taxes taken out. Self-employed individuals and independent contractors are not generally eligible to receive unemployment benefits, but it is possible that states may expand unemployment benefits to these types of workers as the epidemic progresses.
Coronavirus Resources For Small Business
Here are some additional resources for beauty/wellness professionals and small businesses in general:
What SBA Disaster Loans Are & How To Qualify For One
The Fed Has Cut Interest Rates To A 12-Year Low: Hereâs What It Could Mean For Your Business
Small Business Outbreak & Pandemic Guide: Coronavirus Edition
How To Implement A Gift Card Program For Small Business: What You Need To Know & How To Get Started
Social Distancing For Small Business: How You Can Adapt & Survive The Coronavirus
Coronavirus Payments Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Switching To Online & Phone Payments
If you need funds for your salon right now, I would head straight to the SBA’s disaster loan assistance hub, as the SBA has made disaster relief funds immediately available for businesses suffering economic injury due to COVID-19.
Being Proactive Is The Best Safeguard For Your Business
Now is the time to act. Even if your business is still doing okay, you need to get on top of this now and start making plans before the epidemic hits your area. If all you do today is send out emails to customers, you’re still taking action to keep your business going, even if your salon’s doors are temporarily closed.
For more advice, be sure to check out our complete collection of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guides & Resources where you can find more helpful advice about coronavirus and small businesses. We’re adding to this information hub every day, so keep checking for more small business advice and updates.
The post Salon Survival Guide: Coronavirus Edition appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
The COVID-19 (or coronavirus) pandemic has changed the world we live in. This global emergency is all that anyone’s talking about, whether you flip on your TV or log onto social media. One thing that has been circulating throughout the news in recent days is the term “social distancing.” For consumers, social distancing may be an inconvenience that ultimately helps slow the spread of the virus. For business owners, on the other hand, social distancing has a much bigger impact. With states putting restrictions in place and the majority of consumers opting to self-isolate, many businesses are shuttering their doors. It may feel like too much for you and other small business owners to handle.
It is a scary time for everyone. And while we don’t know what the future holds, there are a few things you can do starting now so that your business can adapt to and survive the coronavirus. In this post, we’re going to take a look at social distancing. We’ll talk about what it means, how it may affect your business, and how you can adapt and grow closer to your customers during this challenging time.
What Is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is a strategy designed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. On March 15, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that events or gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks to slow the spread of the virus. If you do go out in public, it’s important to stay at least six feet away from other people, as one of the ways that the virus is spread is through close contact.
It’s also recommended to limit going out in public unless necessary, such as when buying groceries or receiving medical care. Travel bans are being put in place by countries around the world, and unnecessary travel should be canceled or rescheduled.
What Does Social Distancing Mean For Small Businesses?
Many businesses are also taking steps to protect their employees and customers, either by law or simply by choice. In states like Illinois and Ohio, all bars and restaurant dining rooms have been required to close. Other states may follow suit, while some businesses are choosing to close their doors before it’s even required. This includes retail stores, gyms, daycares, movie theaters, hotels, and casinos. Others aren’t completely shutting down but are closing public spaces, such as restaurant dining rooms and hotel conference rooms.
Unfortunately, social distancing means that most small businesses will see a downturn in their business. Reduced operating hours, closures, and fear and uncertainty among the public all equal a reduction in customers. The good news, though, is that there are ways that you can better connect with customers and continue to bring in revenue — strategies that we’ll discuss a little later.
With all that’s going on in the world today, there’s no better time than right now to evaluate your business policies for now and the future. For starters, take a look at your staffing policies. It’s a good time to inform employees that anyone that is sick should stay home to protect themselves and others. Not only does this apply to the coronavirus, but also to other contagious illnesses such as the flu.
Next, reevaluate your cleaning and sanitation policies. It’s likely that you already have some in place, but are you doing enough? In addition to your typical cleaning and disinfecting routine, consider cleaning more frequently. Many businesses are changing their hours so that employees have extra time to clean and sanitize surfaces before opening again the next day. Taking the time to clean and sanitize your business helps protect you, your employees, and your customers from the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Another thing to take a closer look at is your payment policy. Will this remain the same, or will you only accept payment cards? If you’re now taking orders online or by phone, do you have a way to do that securely? If not, it’s time to explore your options to make payments safe and convenient for customers. Learn how to get started by checking out Coronavirus Payments Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Switching To Online & Phone Payments.
No matter what you choose to change within your business, there’s one thing that you must do: keep your customers in the loop. Send out emails, post signage (if your business is still open), or use social media to provide updates, such as new hours, online ordering options, and measures your business is taking to protect customers.
4 Ways You Can Adapt To Social Distancing & Keep Your Business Afloat
The coronavirus has already made its impact on the world, and there’s no predicting what will come next. Instead of sitting around and waiting, it’s time to take initiative and find new ways to serve your customers and keep the money flowing. You may have to get creative, but there are options that can help keep your business operating despite social distancing. And the best news? Many options don’t even require a huge financial investment!
Unsure of the next steps for your business? Consider adopting one (or more!) of these strategies:
Self-ordering kiosks & checkouts
Online ordering & carryout
Selling on social media
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these strategies to help you determine which is best for your business.
Adding Self-Serve Kiosks & Checkouts
If your business is a retail shop or quick-service restaurant, consider adding self-serve kiosks and checkouts. Implementing this technology into your business allows your customers to scan products they’re buying, place orders from your menu, and even pay for their purchases all through a kiosk or checkout terminal.
How does this benefit your business? There is less interaction with other people, so this strategy can mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. If you’ve reduced your staff due to illness or expenses, self-serve kiosks and checkout terminals help ease the burden that falls on your remaining staff.
However, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider. First, not every business will be able to use this tech in their business. Retail stores and quick-service or fast-food restaurants would benefit the most from the addition of self-serve kiosks and checkouts. And while these conveniences can lighten your load, you’ll also need to remember that your equipment must be cleaned and sanitized thoroughly, and often.
Another drawback is the expense. Installing self-serve kiosks and terminals can get pretty expensive, and businesses that were struggling prior to the epidemic may want to look at more cost-effective options. However, it may be well worth the cost for a number of small businesses. Adding this technology to your business can help you better compete with your competitors — and in some cases, even give you a leg up. More businesses are moving to the latest point-of-sale (POS) systems and terminals, so now could be the time for your business to get set up.
If pricing still has you on the fence, know that there are options. Some POS providers provide financing, allowing you to make affordable payments over time. You can also write your equipment off come tax time.
If the concept of self-serve kiosks and checkouts is foreign to you, learn more about this technology and why it could be right for your business by checking out, A Basic Guide To Self-Service POS Systems.
Adding Online Ordering, Delivery, & Carryout
Many governments around the world are ordering the closure of restaurant dining rooms. Whether a closure is mandated in your area or you simply choose to close the dining room on your own, there are still ways to bring in revenue. Many restaurants are now offering online ordering, delivery, and carryout services.
If this sounds like a lot of work, in many cases, it’s hardly any work at all. In fact, you may already have everything you need to start serving your customers in new ways. Before you get started, determine what strategies will work best for your restaurant. For example, do you have an unused drive-thru window? Do you have servers and bussers that you could keep on staff to deliver orders or box up takeout options?
Now is a good time to get really creative, too. For instance, if you plan to shorten operating hours in the evenings, consider offering “take and bake” meals that customers can heat up at home for a quick and tasty dinner. Or you could take a load off of your fatigued customers by offering curbside pickup — they place an order, park their vehicles, and one of your staff members brings their order right to their car.
How do you get started in offering these new options to customers?Â It may be easier than you think. Here’s how to get started.
How To Accept Call-In Orders
Some customers may not have access to the internet or simply prefer to call in their orders. Call-in orders can be used for delivery, in-store pickup, or curbside carryout. There’s a good chance that your restaurant’s POS system already offers this feature. If you’re unsure of how to do this, contact your POS company to learn if this feature is available.
If your POS system doesn’t have this feature, it’s possible to do this manually. Have someone man the phones, take down orders and relay them to the kitchen, and ring up each customer.
How To Accept Online Orders
During the pandemic, many people will be at home placing restaurant orders online. The easiest way to offer online ordering is by seeing if your POS system integrates with third-party services such as GrubHub, Postmates, or DoorDash. Customers can easily place online orders for pickup or delivery, and you won’t have to add extra staff to handle your deliveries.
If you want to keep your employees busy, consider adding in-house delivery services. While this will require more work on your part, you can utilize current employees to take on this task. The benefits of this option are two-fold: you’re providing a needed service for customers while allowing your employees to continue to work and get a paycheck. Like the other strategies in this post, this is also one that you can maintain after restrictions have been lifted and life begins its return to normalcy.
If you’re in the restaurant industry, this time can be a challenge. Keep serving your customers and bringing in revenues by checking out our Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants.
Expanding To eCommerce
If you are a retailer, you’re in luck. Even if your doors remain closed during the pandemic, you can still provide your products to customers that shop online. If you’re new to eCommerce, making the switch can seem long, difficult, and expensive. But you’d be surprised at how easy this is for may retailers.
This option will be easiest for retailers with limited inventory. If you’re a larger business with a lot of inventory, setting up an online store isn’t impossible but may take extra time and effort.
While you can certainly set your web store online manually, first look into the capabilities of your POS system. Many systems already integrate with popular web store options and even offer automated features like importing inventory.
New to eCommerce? Learn how to get started in just five easy steps.
Selling On Social Media
If you’re unable to easily set up a web store or you have a large online following, you can put social media to work for your business by selling on selling on Facebook or using Instagram Shoppable Posts. The advantages of selling on social media are that it’s quick, easy, and inexpensive. This is a great option for any retailer that doesn’t want to set up a full eCommerce site but still wants to reach customers and bring in revenue.
The Best Ways To Stay Close To Your Customers (While Practicing Social Distancing)
Social distancing may mean that your business sees fewer customers. Even when the pandemic is over, it may take some time for business to return to normal. This doesn’t mean that you have to drop off the radar of your customers. Use these strategies to continue to connect with customers while practicing social distancing.
Use Social Media
Many people are stuck at home right now checking their social media. Why don’t you let your posts be among those that they see? Use your social media pages to keep customers updated on what’s happening with your business. Post updated store hours, closures, and any other changes to your regular operating schedule. You can also use social media to announce new services (such as your new online store or delivery services), post current and upcoming promotions, and keep your customers excited for what you have to offer during and after the pandemic.
Use Email Lists
Not everyone uses social media, so make sure to keep all customers updated that have signed up for your email list. If you don’t already have an email list set up, make sure to add a sign-up option on your website and social media pages. Just as you did on your social media pages, you can update customers on changes within your organization. You can also use your email lists to offer exclusive promos to subscribers.
Offer Gift Cards
Now is a fantastic time to offer gift cards that can be purchased now and used later. This is a great way for customers to plan future purchases or even provide a quick and simple gift for their loved ones. E-gift cards are easily purchased online and sent right to the customer — no plastic cards or in-store pickup required. Many POS systems, payment processors, and online stores integrate with gift cards, so check with your provider to learn more. You can also read our post How To Implement A Gift Card Program For Small Business to learn how to get started.
Promote A Good Cause
While you want to remain top-of-mind for your customers, don’t just think about the hardships of your own business. Instead, spend time encouraging your community to give back in any way possible. Donations to food banks or local organizations and volunteering are just a few options that can bring the community together during these difficult times. You may even consider launching a fundraiser or directing customers to other fundraisers, events, and news in your area.
It’s a scary time for all of us out here, so try to remain positive and keep your customers in good spirits. There is enough negativity throughout the news and social media that can raise fears and anxiety. Don’t pretend that nothing is happening in the world around us, but instead, put out positive and encouraging messages. There’s no better time than right now to connect with your community and offer your support for your followers and customers.
Adapt Your Business To Social Distancing To Weather The Storm
People are dealing with a lot of fear and uncertainty worldwide, and business owners are no exception. Your health, the health of those around you, and maintaining your livelihood can easily overwhelm you. But just know that there are options available that will help keep your business afloat. While you may have to dedicate your time and may even need to consider a small investment, these efforts can boost sales and help your business come out on the other side. Good luck!
For more resources on surviving the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus, check out our COVID-19 hub for small businesses.
The post Social Distancing For Small Business: How You Can Adapt & Survive The Coronavirus appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
It’s no secret that owning and operating a restaurant can be one of the riskier small business ventures you can undertake. Trendy “It” spots in seemingly ideal locations open and shutter rapidly, and even a seemingly successful establishment with a consistent customer base can find itself struggling to stay above water. It goes without saying that operating with peak efficiency is of the utmost importance. According to a 2019 survey by point of sale company Toast, 52% of restaurant professionals cited operating and food costs as their No. 1 challenges. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; the costs of ingredients can be volatile, and if not properly tracked and monitored, may literally be the difference between success and failure.
Many restaurants operate with margins as low as 2-3%, meaning that if any area of your business is leaking cash, it could drop you into the red. And food costs are often a likely culprit. There are a number of reasons why you may be spending too much on ingredients while not getting back an appropriate return. You may be offering the wrong sized portions, certain menu items may be priced wrong, or you may be buying too much of an ingredient and letting a percentage of it go to waste. This is why it’s vitally important to be able to accurately calculate your food costs.
In this article, we’ll let you know what percentage of food cost you should be targeting and how to make sure you’re hitting that goal.
What’s Included In The Food Cost Formula?
Now let’s get to the good stuff. How exactly do we calculate food costs? It’s actually a fairly simple equation — with a catch. The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out your actual food cost.
Easy enough right? So, as an example, let’s say that you value your inventory at the beginning of the week at $10,000 (because we love the Base 10 system). You then make $3,000 in purchases. At the end of the week, your inventory is valued at $12,000. Using the calculation, we see that the first number would be $1,000. If you also had $3,000 in food sales, then you would divide $1,000 by $3,000 for an actual food cost of 33.3%. Make sense so far?
$10,000(starting inventory)+ $3000(purchases) – $12,000(ending inventory) / $3,000(sales)= 0.333(an actual food cost of 33.3%)
Industry standards vary slightly, but generally, an actual food cost percentage of roughly 30% should be your target. If you’re coming within a couple of percentage points on either side, you’re probably doing something right. Now, if you’re math-averse, unfortunately, that’s not the only calculation you should be making. There’s also the ideal food cost.Â In a perfect world, this percentage would match up directly with your actual food cost total, but nothing is ever that simple. The difference between these numbers is what helps you detect where you may be losing profits, either through waste or potential theft.
Ideal Food Cost Formula
Ideal Food Cost = Cost per menu item / Sales per menu item
To go off of the above example, if your total inventory cost each week for the ingredients in a dish is $900 and your sales on that menu item add up to $3000, you are left with an ideal food cost of 30%.
$900(cost per menu item)/ $3,000(sales per menu item)= 0.30(an ideal food cost of 30%)
Exactly where you want to be, right? However, let’s look back at the actual food cost we calculated earlier. There’s a 3.3% discrepancy in your actual and ideal numbers. Now you can start trying to figure out the reason behind that gap. Keep in mind that, although the goal is for those numbers to be as close as possible, you’re likely never going to cut down on waste entirely.
Download Our Food Cost Calculator For Restaurants
Restaurant owners (and managers) are busy people! We know. Sometimes you just want a tool that will do the work for you, with minimal time or effort required. I mean, honestly! Who wants to spend hours totaling up inventory purchase orders just to see how much you’ve spent?
(Spoiler alert, if you’re doing this manually it’s time to invest in a better system.)
To that end, we’ve put together a handy food cost calculator for you. This downloadable file will help you calculate both your ideal and actual food costs and highlight the difference between the two.
Get Our Food Cost Calculator Google Sheet
Or Download The Excel File
Strategies To Manage Your Food Costs & Increase Your Profit Margins
In the above scenario, a difference of 3.3% between ideal food costs and actual food costs probably isn’t going to make or break you. However, if you find the gap to be higher than that, you should probably try to lock down the culprit as quickly as possible. Left unchecked, a food cost discrepancy could bleed tens of thousands of dollars from your bottom line over the course of a year.
Here are a few reasons why you may not be getting an optimal return on your food costs.
Menu Items Mispriced: Menu pricing can be tricky, and restaurant owners often make choices based on gut instincts. But even micro-adjustments, particularly to popular items, could make a significant difference in bettering your food cost percentage. You can also try to redesign your menu to increase profitable items’ visibility. Keep your customers in mind and stay on top of current food trends; if you have seasonal items on your menu, make pricing adjustments accordingly.
Overspending On Ingredients: It’s important to shop around to make sure that you’re getting the best value for the items you include in your dishes. Buying in bulk can be a cost-saver, but you can offset those savings if you’re purchasing too much and letting ingredients go to waste. Carb-heavy items like breads and pastas are usually cheaper, so implementing more of those menu options could increase your profits. If your ideal and actual percentages are off by a large margin, you may want to hold back on giving away items at tables (like bread or chips).
Dishes Portioned Incorrectly:Â One easy thing to check that may end up making a big difference is simply whether the dishes you’re serving are too large. If you see the same dish coming back half-eaten again and again, that may be a sign that you need to adjust your recipe. Make sure that all of your cooks are on the same page. Even one lone cook with a penchant for adding more sauce or dishing up a larger portion can affect the bottom line.
Not Utilizing Your POS:Â If you’re running a full-service restaurant, chance are good you have a strong point of sale system. If any of the above measures seem too daunting, a strong inventory management and reporting system can do the bulk of the heavy lifting. A POS with strong inventory can help you keep precise counts of ingredients and can tell you what items sell best and if there are things like seasonal trends that you can utilize to your advantage.
Find A POS System That Helps You Control Your Food Costs
That last bullet-point above is of particular interest to us because helping you find the perfect POS system for your business is kind of what we do. Most POS systems will have some form of inventory management, but they are not all created equal. If inventory management is going to be crucial for your restaurant, there are some areas where you’ll want to make sure your system excels.
First, if you have a large number of SKUs, having a system that can import and edit items in bulk is going to virtually be a necessity. Most good systems, but not all, will allow you to import via a CSV file and some will even let you import existing barcodes. Features like this in the back end that cut down on how much you’ll need to input manually will save you countless hours. Along those same lines, having a system that allows you to create and print your own purchase orders is a huge benefit. While this is a common feature, it can occasionally be a time-consuming process depending on the POS, so be sure to utilize a free trial or demo when you’re shopping around.
Raw ingredient tracking could be the feature in inventory management that will help you cut down on food costs the most. And again, while most restaurant POS systems worth their salt will have this feature, some are more robust than others. Make sure your system provides real-time alerts to let you know if stock is running low. You can also usually set levels to automatically place a new purchase order when an ingredient is nearly out. Other systems automatically track waste, which can save you time when trying to calculate your ideal food cost. It’s also nice if your inventory syncs with your reporting, giving you detailed numbers on how much of a certain ingredient is selling and how much profit individual dishes are turning. In short, your POS can (and should) do a lot of the heavy lifting for you when it comes to calculating your inventory to make sure you’re running at peak efficiency.
The Bottom Line: Managing Food Costs Is Key To Improving Your Profit Margins
If you’re running a restaurant, you’re already aware of how volatile the industry can be. When you’re working with narrow margins, you need to find ways to cut costs anywhere you can. And while food costs are one of a restaurant’s biggest expenses, the good news is that it’s possible to shave down those costs if you’re vigilant. Calculating your actual food cost and your ideal food cost may seem like a tedious and perhaps arduous process. However, a POS system with a robust and easy to use inventory management system can make things much easier. In the process you might find some key areas of waste or some simple fixes that could save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Get Our Food Cost Calculator Google Sheet
Or Download The Excel File
The post How To Calculate Food Cost For Your Restaurant appeared first on Merchant Maverick.