Summer is here, which means Americans will be decamping to the beach en masse this summer — hoping to escape the heat, get a tan and, hopefully, finally kick back relax to enjoy the season. Not as many Americans take vacations as they did in a bygone era — the Great Recession seems to have cured many people of the desire to take time off work, likely for fear of not still having working upon their return — but, according to estimates by AAA, tens of millions of Americans will decamp for parts unknown over the next three months.
The beach is always a particularly favored hangout, which means for the merchants who work beachside, summer isn't just an important season: It is the season.
"The good news is our beach season here is a little longer," said Bell Parker of an Emerald Isle, NC Surf Shop told PYMNTS. "But for us, starting in May, every day is like the Super Bowl for us — we have to hit it hard because our season is, at best, about six months long."
It was a story we heard often among the beach-serving merchants, even those that are open all year, noted Sherri Reynolds, owner of a Beufort N.C. boutique. She said, "With the exception of Christmas, where we obviously see a lot of traffic, we all pretty much depend on this summer season for our businesses."
This was a sentiment that showed up everywhere we asked — at an old-timey candy shop, high end seafood restaurant, Christmas ornament store, a shave-ice stand, even a sole proprietor selling shrimp and scallops out of a cooler on the side of the road. Summer is here: We work at the beach and the time to sell is now. That is what we expected to hear.
What was surprising was the adulation for mobile payments that came up incidentally in the conversations, because beach merchants love it when consumers pay with their phones.
According to Mike Diamore, proprietor of The Original Shaved Ice Pushcart in Cape Charles, VA, "I had never thought about taking cards before ... I would say, about five years ago — because who pays for Italian Ice with a credit card? It's like $2. But people, a lot of the time, just didn't carry cash. So, 20 or 30 times a day on a hot day, I'd get someone coming up and asking if I took cards. At some point, I got tired of turning away businesses."
It was good start, he noted, but when you work at the beach, you run into a frequent problem: "Women's bathing suits don't got pockets. Some men's suits got pockets, but people don't carry their wallet."
However, no one fails to carry a phone, he said. And when one sells something as Instagram-ready and multi-colored as flavored ice, it's become increasingly common for customers to buy their frozen treat and snap an immediate picture of it all with the same phone. The development, Diamore noted, was slow. He's had the ability to take Apple, Android or Samsung payments for the last few years, but it's only been in the last two summers he's had people using it. Now they are, he said, "it feels like about one-third of people pay me with their phone," particularly if he prompts them with the knowledge they can.
Though Diamore was the most vociferous mobile booster on the beach, he wasn't the only one. Reynolds noted that, while card payments have long been a part of her business (since boutique shoppers generally come ready to pay with cards), she hasn't thought about mobile payments, or even known what they are, until the last 18 months. That changed in the summer of 2016, she said, when tourists began asking specifically if she took Apple Pay.
She said, "I did not, at the time, know what that really meant, but again, I hate turning away a customer for any reason. So, we looked into it and it wasn't hard to add."
She added that while she wouldn't say they see a "huge number" of Apple payers, they see enough that it makes sense to have switched on. That's because, in summer sales at the beach, every sale literally counts. None are options or can be easily waved off.
If mobile is the secret weapon that makes it happen surfside, well, it seems the small business owners we talked to are more than happy to ride the wave.