News Column

Smartphones Bring New Level of Technology to Art Fairs

March 22, 2013

J.D. Sumner, The Albany Herald, Ga.

smartphones Technology

There is one annoying facet of craft-fair shopping that has plagued consumers as long as people have had hand-made wares to sell.

How much cash do you get out of the ATM beforehand so that you have enough to buy items that you may like, without having to call in your own personal Brinks truck to escort you to the venue?

Mobile technology is easing that burden, as witnessed recently at the Calico Arts & Craft show in Moultrie.

Each year, more than 200 artists and tradesmen come to Spence Field with their pieces hoping to make a little money and give consumers a unique item that they can't find in traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

But while perusing the hand-crafted items for sale at booths and displays at the event, one thing among the unique items stands out -- the growing number of vendors who have turned to technology to give customers a more convenient option to pay.

"I'm finding that technology allows for customers to shop cashless because many vendors to take credit cards using smartphones or Ipads using the square or intuit or other services," Janet Byrd, the artist behind Wind Chimes with a Purpose -- hand made windchimes that are crafted using repurposed items around the home like tea kettles and flatware.

She uses the "Square," a nearly matchbox-sized device that plugs into her I-Phone's headphone jack and allows her to swipe credit or debit cards for purchases.

Customers then sign their name using their finger on the touch-sensitive face of the smartphone and their purchase is consummated, with funds coming directly from the customer's credit or bank account and flowing seamlessly into Byrd's coffers.

"For people that aren't really familiar with it, they get a kick out of signing their name with their finger," Byrd says with a bit of chuckle.

There are several card-swiping devices out there. The aforementioned "Square;" small business accounting firm Intuit has their own reader; as does online commerce giant Paypal; and they basically all have the same terms and conditions.

Vendors pay a small price for the device -- or in some cases, as with Square, it's free -- and download the app on their smartphones. Then, for each swipe, between 2.7 and 2.75 percent of each purchase is deducted off the top by the manufacturers with the balance headed to the vendors bank account.

For those pesky times when the cards won't swipe and the vendor has to type in the credit card number directly, the fees jump to 3.4 percent for some manufacturers.

But Byrd is finding that the convenience for customers and the security that comes with her not having to carry large amounts of cash as she travels around the Southeast is worth it.

"It makes it a lot easier because customers sometimes don't have a lot of cash on them or a vendor may not accept checks so it's just more convenient," Byrd says. "And from a safety perspective...well the people who travel from out of town as vendors do stay at motels and things like that so you have to be more careful and this helps me avoid having large amounts of cash just sitting around."

Positioned just next Byrd at Calico was Jessica Drexler. An artist displaying her vintage redesigned jewelry, decor and art from her business, J. Drexler Designs.

She had plugged into her smartphone the Intuit device and pointed out that, especially in more rural areas where data coverage by the major cell companies is still slow to reach the speeds that are commonplace in urban areas, the devices can have their drawbacks.

"Sometimes, though, like anything technical, we do get in some locations where we don't get the best signals and that makes it tough to carry out transactions and then it can get frustrating because the customer might have to be patient to wait five or 10 minutes before it will go through," Drexler says.

Interestingly enough, two vendors -- with different cellular providers -- who are in booths positioned right next to each other can often either swipe with impunity or in vain just based on who their cell carrier is.

"I've been having a bit of trouble with mine in here...with getting a good data signal, but Jessica has had really no problems and we're like 10 feet away from each other," Byrd says. "But she also has a different cellular carrier than I do."

And with the latest data from the Federal Reserve showing that U.S. credit card usage is on the uptick -- up .06 percent in January from December -- you'll likely see more vendors at craft fairs and festivals turning towards technology to keep up.

Source: (c)2013 The Albany Herald, Ga. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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