At the turn of the century there was, for all intents and purposes, no such thing as mobile point of sale. Today, it is a mighty crowded swimming pool to wade in.
At PYMNTS’ last count, there were 171 competitors in the mPOS space – all offering solutions for tablets and smartphones, many offering services that far exceed payments at this point. And, most trying to find the right way to get to scale by tapping the large – but very heterogenous – pool of small and medium sized businesses and ushering it into the next generation of payments.
Slugging it out in that crowded field of competitors is Vend – a cloud-based mPOS platform developed for iOS products – the iPad in particular.
“We want to really enable the millions of SMB retailers around the world in the form of iPad and iOS products,” Vaughan Rowsell, founder and CEO of Vend, told MPD CEO Karen Webster in an interview. “Our goal is to help retailers move away from incumbent and obsolete technology.”
A noble goal, but one Vend shares with many other players – some of whom have household name status like Square or PayPal.
But Vend brings a very unique asset to the field – particularly for a company that has only existed since 2010.
Vend is now officially endorsed by Apple. In fact, Vend is the only mPOS platform that Apple has offered any “official” recognition to – since up until now it has remained largely neutral and removed from the battle of the third-party vendors fighting to be the solution that ultimately gets to scale among SMBs.
Apple, for its part, offered hints that its neutrality in this area might be coming to a close during its most recent earnings call, when it noted its future intentions to work with a select group of business app developers to bring innovative mobile solutions for business to iPad users. Vend is one of about 20 apps that Apple is curating for SMBs that are billed as both working well, and working well in concert with each other.
“Apple is trying to shift its focus to attracting more small business customers. It’s about building this relationship with Apple that, going forward, is easier to get retailers to use things like Apple Pay in their store,” Rowsell told Webster.
Rowsell explained that there are a handful of apps that provide full coverage over the essential parts of what a small business needs to do to manage their businesses – whether it is accounting or inventory management, suggesting that “it’s really about offering a suite of tools that make for an effective experience on iPad that work really well together.” Rowsell’s belief is that, in the cloud space or the SMB space, it isn’t about one killer app, it’s about finding the right combination for small businesses to run their businesses.
So why Vend?
Part of it, Rowsell told Webster, is its exclusive focus – from Day 1 – on iOS.
The iPad, Rowsell thinks now and did then, is in a unique position as the right tool at the right time for a lot of businesses, which just need a mobile dashboard to run effectively — and they need that dashboard to be as inclusive as possible.
Including to accept payments.
“There is a huge disruption that is coming in retail over the next few years in mobile. Some of that is going to be about payment, but a lot more is going to be about changing the way retailers do business,” Rowsell said. “Soon to be gone are the days of being chained to the back counter and driving customers out. Going forward this is really going to be about engagement with consumers who are using mobile devices. The experience of an Apple store is the innovation roadmap here – you can check out, you can research and you can engage all from your phone while you are in-store.”
And while Rowsell thinks that retail – particularly SMB-based retail – is perhaps some time away from mimicking the Apple Store experience, the reality the change is happening now.
“One thing that has to change for any of this mobile innovation to move forward is retailers need to move away from their incumbent offline unconnected technology that is really hampering the innovation in mobile that can be delivered,” he said.
And while he would not speculate on his new partner’s motives, Webster pointed out that Apple’s goal is pretty clear: they want to sell more iPads. And, Rowsell wants to be the provider that can help by making sure that those devices are what powers the retail transformation at the point of sale.
“The point is to get more iPads into service with small business. Any retailer who walks into any Apple store looking for tools – Vend [and other applicable tools from the suit] will be put forward as the solution,” Rowsell noted. “And Apple staff will be trained to show those new users how to use it.”
Yes, being one of the 20 or so apps that work well together and can become the backbone of a small business’ front and back office operation is a pretty powerful starting point for a conversation with SMBs.
And quite possibly a very powerful recruiting tool for Apple.
Tapping the SMB market is hard, because the term applies to boutiques that span the millions of dollars a year in revenue operation to the particularly enterprising teenager who will be feeding your pets this summer while you’re on vacation. And, it’s really hard to serve a market as diverse as that with an “out of the box” solution that works well, is powerful and is geared to a wide variety of understandings.
But Apple has a large network of physical locations and a fleet of “geniuses” who exist purely to help close the gap and widely expand the definition of “out of the box” usefulness.
And while it is far too soon to say if Apple has found the secret sauce to getting SMBs nationwide to do anything en masse – one can’t argue that if you’re Vend, you’re pretty happy about the unique platform you now have to show off its unique solution.
For more on the impact of digital and other innovations in the retail industry, join PYMNTS this August 3-5 in Chicago for Retail Reinvention, a two-day experience designed to help merchants navigate the current and future wave of disruption across the retail payment and commerce landscape.
Click here to reserve your spot today!