Mobile devices accepting campus cash catching on
At a major east coast university, a campus-sponsored student group runs a series of coffee shops. Because they operate outside normal campus food services and sales volumes are low, they could not obtain the same point-of-sale solutions used by other dining locations. Thus they could not accept payment cards or declining balance, and because the modern student hardly ever carries cash, sales lagged.
That was until one enterprising student signed up for a merchant account and started using small mag stripe-accepting payment reader that hooked into his personal smart phone. Other student workers followed his lead and got their own readers. This enabled the coffee shops to accept open loop payments. Periodically, the students would transfer the proceeds from their personal bank accounts to the group’s account.
Sales skyrocketed as word spread that the student-run shops accepted debit and credit cards. Only a few of the university’s official dining locations had made the leap to open payments, so this offered a welcomed alternative to cash or campus card payments.
All seemed good … until the university found out.
When the officials learned of the practice, they were understandably concerned about the lack of financial controls and called for its end.
In a perfect world the student group would be able to accept the campus card – and perhaps even open payment cards – for these sales. But a primary obstacle has been the expensive buy in for point-of-sale payment technology. The terminals found in a bookstore or cafeteria have traditionally cost thousands of dollars and been bulky and complicated. But universities are recognizing the need to accept payments at places other than a traditional point of sale, and campus card providers are stepping up to provide inexpensive, portable systems that can be used all over campus.
Salem State University in Massachusetts used to loan out large terminals to student groups running sales or fundraising on campus, but there were always concerns, says Robert Thayer, manager of Salem State’s Clipper Card Office. “You had to make sure they were plugged in and they were expensive – if a student group lost or damaged the device they would have to buy a new one,” he explains.
Non-traditional POS off campus
A gripe for off-campus merchants has been the separate point-of-sale terminal that is often required to accept campus card transactions. The device needs Internet access and takes up counter space, which can be sparse.
The CBORD Group has started offering off-campus merchants another option for accepting payments, an iOS device with a mag stripe reader that plugs into the headphone jack.
The new system has proven popular with some new off-campus merchants, says Sami Takieddine, director of operations for off-campus programs at CBORD. “We have a lot of people using it, food trucks and local farmer’s markets,” he explains. “Our goal is to provide a choice for the merchants and let them choose what’s best for them.”
Merchants that opt for the iOS device and reader are typically charged the same transaction fees as someone using the normal point of sale, but the monthly program fee is reduced since they own their own equipment, Takieddine says.
Salem State operates CBORD’s Odyssey PCS for its campus card transaction system. About 18-months ago the university opted for a new system that used an iPod Touch and a mag stripe reader that connected to the device’s lightning port, Thayer says.
Student groups can sign out the devices for different events, and the Clipper Card Office programs the hardware and handles the reconciliation. All the device needs to work is WiFi access. Students running the event simply enter the amount of the transaction, swipe the card and a receipt is emailed to the customer, Thayer says.
“Students find it beneficial because they don’t carry a lot of cash,” he explains. “It’s one of the things that add to the convenience of having Clipper Cash.”
The devices have been used for fundraisers, t-shirt sales and a variety of other purposes. The Biology Department has one on hold for a week every semester when it has its semi-annual plant sale. Health Services also uses the device to track free flu shot recipients.
Santa Clara University has enabled their food truck and other stakeholders to use a tablet POS device with mag stripe reader to accept the campus card as well as credit cards payments via a Verifone MX 915, says Nirmal Palliyaguru, director, of the ACCESS Card office at Santa Clara University. The California university uses Blackboard Transact and a point-of-sale system from Sequoia Retail Systems.
When Dining Services decided to rollout the food truck there were a couple of options considered for a payment system to accept the campus card, Palliyaguru says. One options was to pull cable and install a network port at the food truck site but this seemed inconvenient and antiquated. Instead, they opted to use a wireless static IP connection from a cellular service provider that went through the Santa Clara firewall to both Blackboard Transact and Sequoia. In addition to accepting the campus card stored value accounts, the POS device used at the food truck can also accept open-loop payments.
Santa Clara uses Sequoia’s iValidate mobile payments app that runs on handsets and tablets, Palliyaguru says. In addition to using it at the food truck, the ACCESS Card Office rents the devices so that student groups can use them to accept the campus card as payment option for their fundraisers. These devices have a mag stripe reader embedded in a sleeve that connects to an iPhone.
The university will be testing the new Quad pay module from Sequoia Retails systems in the next few months to further enhance the student experience. “It’s a value added service and gives students more touch points where they can use the campus card,” Palliyaguru adds.
This is just the start of mobile payments at Santa Clara. The university bought its existing point-of-sale devices in 2009 and as the university launches the new payment solution Palliyaguru envisions replacing them with sleeve-equipped tablets. “The tablet gives SCU more flexibility,” Palliyaguru says.