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Maximizing merchant services Featured

9:13am EDT March 28, 2002

Retail business owners focus a majority of their energy on servicing customers to build strong relationships, increase client loyalty and produce repeat business. In doing so, they consider every aspect of the customer's buying experience, from interaction with the sales team to merchandising and the showroom environment.

With merchant services, an owner's attention switches from the external process of selling to the internal process of conducting the transaction in a way that optimizes customer service and meets the business's needs. Many owners fail to understand the opportunity presented when the customer is ready to pay for purchases.

By accepting bank card and nonbank card payments, merchants increase buying convenience and gain increases in average sales, cash flow and the number of satisfied customers.

Many companies provide numerous options for merchant services, but not all services fit all retailers. So how do you know what merchant services you need? Every business needs to weigh the services based on its situation, but here are some options.

* Credit cards may support a favorite organization or entice the cardholder with frequent flyer miles, purchasing discounts and other benefits based on usage. Programs have expanded to support business efforts to control purchasing and expense management with credit cards, and can also benefit your business.

* Debit cards allow businesses and consumers to access their money anywhere via an ATM and pay for purchases with a debit from a checking account. This method has been embraced by consumers as a quick and efficient payment method

* Electronic benefit transfer (EBT) allow merchants to support state and federal programs such as food stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children by letting recipients to use a card at the point of sale, much like a debit card. EBT transactions have increased convenience and cut down on fraud and benefit misuse, as well as provided efficiencies to sponsoring government agencies.

* Check authorization, an expansion of traditional services, protects merchants from fraud and losses, and the technology continues to improve.

* Gift certificates. The newest frontier for merchant services is the movement from the traditional paper-based gift certificate to a card-based program that provides detailed information on consumer spending and increased management oversight. Available in predetermined amounts or customer-requested denominations, card-based gift certificate programs provide new opportunities for businesses to market their products and services.

Merchant services may seem complex, but a well-designed package enhances a business's bottom line and the customer buying experience. Start with an experienced provider and develop a payment acceptance plan that fits your business plan.

Working in a way that allows your customers maximum convenience and ease of payment helps guarantee return business and a healthy future for your business. Jay Barker is a merchant sales representative for the Midwest Payment Systems Division of Fifth Third Bank. Reach him at (614) 233-4345 or jay.barker@53.com.