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Why Every Farmer’s Market Should Accept Cell Phone Payments

A funny thing happened at the farmer’s market yesterday – I forgot to bring cash. I had totally forgotten that I gave my daughters all my cash to see a movie over the weekend and it never occurred to me to re-up at an ATM before hitting the weekly produce bazaar downtown. So imagine my surprise when I find myself standing at the checkout counter with a bag full of red onions and two whoopee pies and nothing in my wallet but plastic.

But then a funnier thing happened – the merchant just whipped out her cell phone and told me it wouldn’t be a problem, because she now accepts credit. It turns out that a few of the merchants met with each other earlier last month and decided that they were all going to take part in an initiative to start using those little phone gadgets to start accepting credit and debit cards. “Everybody’s doing it now,” she told me.

I was a bit surprised. Previously, I had been under the impression that the only places you could find the little phone card readers were Brooklyn coffee shops. I was also nervous about letting her swipe my own card, because I wasn’t sure it would be totally safe. But in the end, my desire for the onions won over and I let her process my card anyway.  

I was kind of curious about how readily the farmer’s market merchants were adopting these things so I decided to do my own research at home. After a bit of time on Google, it turned out she’s right. Everybody really is doing it these days. Huh.

Let’s be clear here. I’m not a fan of nascent technology. My husband and I are still trying to figure out our “dumb” phones and my relationship with my computer can be described as “Love/Hate” at best. So I was kind of sad to find out that cash-only farmer’s markets are dying out. Keeping cash on you can be a pain in the butt, sure, but there was just something nostalgic about handing a guy with dirty hands and a plaid shirt a few bucks for a bag of produce that I loved. It’s sad to see it go.

But when I get to thinking about it, it makes sense. Farmers have it hard enough as it is, so why blame them for adopting new technology to increase sales? Especially when you consider that the majority of customers at these markets aren’t old farts like me, but young kids who are used to swiping their credit cards for everything. If you can sell a few more bushels of apples by using a phone to accept cards, then power to you.

It’s not like merchants are being fleeced by the card companies, either. I know from my experience with my parents’ restaurant that in the past, if you wanted a credit card processor, you had to rent one of those clunky machines from a company for a few thousand dollars. Then you had to cough up a bunch of money per-transaction to your processing company as well. Now, it looks like these new, smaller companies are offering lower rates and more flexible pricing for online bill pay features.

So currently I’m sitting here wondering why more farmers markets aren’t jumping on top of this as well. It seems like a winning formula, assuming you already have a smart phone. You just need to get the little gadget thing, which is free, and then you only pay a small percentage for the credit card transactions you process. The fees suck, but it’s better than throwing away money, right?

If there isn’t already a movement to get more farmers involved with accepting credit cards, then maybe there should be. I’m not talking about endorsing any particular company, just pushing to get our friends and fellow growers to get with the times. What do you think? Does your local market use these gadgets, and if they don’t, do you think they should? Let me know. Maybe we can start some sort of initiative here.

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Comment by Jennifer on March 12, 2013 at 4:28pm

Can't decide which I love more, this sentence: "Previously, I had been under the impression that the only places you could find the little phone card readers were Brooklyn coffee shops," or the trend of farmers and market vendors embracing new technology to get more veggies into more hands. OK, OK. Probably the latter. But I do love a friendly ding at Brooklyn's expense.

Comment by Jennifer on March 13, 2013 at 10:12am

I *think* forms of payment accepted would be up to the individual farmer, rather than the market—right? But this seems to make a lot of sense. Any farmers out there tried using the smartphone card swiper and found it useful in increasing sales? Any downsides we're not seeing?

Comment by richard maxwell on March 13, 2013 at 12:34pm

I like the smart phone card readers, it's easy to use we use and you can also email receipts. the only downside I have noticed is some cards take 4 or 5 swipes to read which can discourage some people. 

Comment by Carrie Seal-Stahl on March 22, 2013 at 12:30am

Interesting... I've been seeing ads for the readers, but I'm honestly a bit hesitant to embrace it as a consumer. I don't see any reason a decent hacker couldn't find a work-around to save your info into the phone swiping the card for later nefarious usage. Also, there is a service fee the farmer must pay on each purchase, thus biting into their profits. It's great technology for occasional usage with a vendor you trust, but...


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