Hip to be Square

Twelve years ago the e-commerce world was turned upside down when PayPal was founded. It was the solution to money orders, checks in the mail and the still uncomfortable credit card purchase for goods on the web. PayPal came out and Internet buyers no longer had to worry whether their credit card was going to be intercepted by some nefarious hacker and sellers didn’t have to wait for checks to clear before shipping a product.

It was revolutionary for its convenience, safety and near immediate ubiquity. The 2002 purchase of PayPal by eBay seemed about as appropriate as any other acquisition, a much smarter decision than the Skype purchase in 2005. I’d wager that as much as half of eBay’s users already thought PayPal was owned by eBay, only once can I remember using another form of payment than PayPal.

PayPal’s reign on e-commerce lasted over a decade and managed to make it beyond eBay into the mainstream Internet marketplace. However, the problem they were once solving was under fire from other companies like Google and Amazon with their universal logins for making purchases all over the net and Visa’s Secure Pay authorization system.

Purchasing items over the Internet is no longer a risky, scary or cumbersome adventure. We do it more and more every year, much to the chagrin of state and local governments, it’s as natural as handing handing a credit card to the clerk at Target.

There was a new problem on the horizon, one that has existed longer than e-commerce but seemed to have no feasible solution. The problem? How does a consumer easily, quickly and securely pay someone for a product or service in person? We’re back to cash, checks and money orders. Credit card terminals are expensive and PayPal’s solutions aren’t proving to be the panacea they once were.

That’s where Square Inc. comes in. Early this year Square announced their intent to solve this problem by providing a free headphone jack dongle to iPhone/iPod Touch users to swipe credit cards. Instead of requiring both parties to be a member of the service, only the seller needs a Square account. Much like in an Apple Store, a seller is able to swipe a credit card for any amount of money, the buyer signs for it and a receipt is promptly emailed back to to both parties.

The seller can even take pictures of the purchased item and include it in the digital receipt.

The new Square dongle

That was quite the introduction, I know. It shouldn’t take 400 words to explain the principles behind such a tiny and simple device. Perhaps its complexity comes from its simplicity. How can something that small work and why do I need it? Shouldn’t there be a catch? Expensive iPhone attachment, monthly membership rates, minimum transactions per month or high transaction fees?

If Bank of America had created this device, sure. That would be the case. Luckily they didn’t. There are no membership fees, the dongle is free, no minimum monthly transactions and affordable transaction fees.

  • 2.75% + 15¢ for swiped transactions
  • 3.5% + 15¢ for keyed-in transactions

The Square dongle worked great on any iPhone/iPod Touch before expanding to the iPad, Nexus One, Motorola Droid, Motorola Droid X, HTC Droid Incredible, HTC Evo, HTC Hero, HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S series, and the LG Ally.

When the iPhone 4 came out, with its metal exterior construction, users began reporting problems with swipes not registering and other bugs. The metal on the dongle was shorting out on the metal of the phone.

Edit c/o @Arclite

Looks good, one problem: “The metal on the dongle was shorting out on the metal of the phone.” is incorrect. It’s not technically a short—works fine on the metal rim of the iPad. The problem is that the metal is an antenna and the data passing through the antenna causes interference with the dongle, causing the data to be corrupt.

It took months for the original Square dongle to come out. Learning about this new problem with the iPhone 4 made many Square users wince. Luckily it didn’t take nearly as long to release the dongle as it took to create an all new dongle. It wasn’t long before Square sent out the new and improved dongles, as pictured above.

The new design is thinner, smoother and sleeker. It looks more polished, swipes more reliably and maintains its price point of free. It even includes a hoop for a small lanyard (see the front right in the picture above).

I haven’t had more than a dozen times that I have used my Square but I’m also not someone who sells a lot of stuff. This is huge, however, for street venders, artists, wedding photographers, garage sale people and more. No more cash only, no more prepaying and no more worry about checks clearing.

It’s a solution to an age-old problem that only ingenuity, smart devices and the cloud could solve.

I love my Square and tip my hat to the brilliant people who made it possible!

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Square isn’t the only company in the mobile purchasing game. Intuit recently teamed up with Mophie to create the Mophie Marketplace iPhone case.

Mophie Marketplace iPhone Credit Card Reader

Their case is much more professional in appearance, sturdier and perhaps more user-friendly. This comes at a cost however, each case will set you back $180. Intuit also charges $13 each month for access to the service, thought their transaction fees are lower than Square.

  • 1.7% + 30¢ for swiped transactions
  • 2.7% +30¢ for keyed-in transactions

Which device is the right one for you really depends on how often you will use it. I for one am happy with my Square!

Why I Hate Chase Bank

Remember when our economy failed?  Like overnight, banks just disappeared?  Well, one of those banks that disappeared, though not overnight, was Washington Mutual.  Now, we’ve had our ups and downs with WaMu but for the most part, they were a really standup-kinda company and I really had no complaints.

Until Chase Bank purchased them.  Ever since things have been hell.

My payments scheduled through Bank of America, which I was told would have no trouble continuing to work as usual, stopped working.  No statements were being sent to my house so I didn’t even know something was wrong.  A few weeks before I found out anything was wrong, I called Chase because my cards weren’t working.  They had been flagged as being stolen, all three, even though I’d only been using one for international  travel accommodations.  I got that sorted out, asked if anything else was screwy and they said nope.

Came back to Missouri with phone calls from a collections agency!  My accounts were all late by a month.  One month and I’m in collections? WTF?!

I paid the accounts, explained what had happened, or what I presumed had happened.  They took it off my record, setup auto-pay from my checking account, all was good.

Until the next week when I got an email letter/phone call that I was still over due.  The last payments didn’t go through on two of the cards because she had transposed two numbers incorrectly from my Bank of America account… but only on two of the three cards.

They charged me $39×4… Basically $160 for their mistake.  That was refunded, they apologized, fixed it, done.

Two weeks later, letter in the mail. I’m overdue, no payments for two months.

WTF?!

I call, they say, oops, yeah that account number was written in wrong, waive the fees, apologize, setup auto-pay, get confirmation the account codes are working.

Today. Get a letter, payments rejected.  “Your bank states the account does not exist”.

Yes it does.

Call Chase.  They see no problem, states online that I paid the amounts required and they are not sure why I’m getting charged for return payments fees of $39 and $15 on each account.  Refund those charges and again state that this will never hit my credit report.  Apologies, etc etc.

Oops.  Not so fast,  payment of $210 is still pending, floating around.  Their solution?  Wait a month.

Why? So I can get ANOTHER $39 fee on that card?

Solution?  As soon as these three cards are paid off, they are going into the paper shredder.  Goodbye Chase Bank.  You have sucked enough life out of me, and I’ve only had you as my card since February or March.  Congratulations on the fastest piss-Justin-off time ever.

Why I Love Amazon.com (again)

I’m certain you all read my last post, “Why I Hate Amazon.com (right now).  I sure wasn’t happy.  The problems with Amazon.com and Washington Mutual lasted from 9:00am this morning and did not finally end until 2:30.

Five and a half hours of me on the phone with Amazon.com, Washington Mutual or both at once.

But, after all of that, I’m proud to display my new Amazon seal.

Yes, you got it. I no longer hate Amazon.com, though I think we all knew my hatred would not last for long.

I talked to five AMZ employees today from India, Costa Rica and the U.S.A.  It was Pablo in Costa Rica who first made things work for me, unfortunately all the good he did was undone by a mistake by one of the other customer service reps earlier in the day.

Finally, after hours of work, a supervisor from AMZ was able to have WaMu remove the hold on my credit card, remove the over $7,700 in extra charges that were holding up my credit and got my camera ordered.

I’m so happy to say that my Nikon D700 camera and Tamrac Adventure 9 camera back will arrive tomorrow… erm, today.  The new 24mm Nikon lens will arrive in a week or so, the memory card I got the other day and yesterday the memory card reader came in.  I accidentally ordered the wrong one BUT 30mb/s is good enough for me.  Though 45mb/s would be great, a good deal faster, the 30mb/s was 66% cheaper.

Expect new pictures as soon as the camera comes in!  I’m no longer pissed off, hurray!  Boy oh boy though, my Twitter was all sorts of crazy with the play-by-play of today’s Amazon.com issues.  Check it out and I’d love another follower/tweeter to follow!

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Why I Hate Amazon.com (right now)

This is why I hate Amazon.com (right now)

So last night, I finally made the jump and bought the Nikon D700 I’ve been wanting.  I didn’t technically have all the money saved up the way I wanted but I made the decision to jump in and get the new camera.

I went to Amazon.com and bought the Nikon D700 with a Tamrac Adventure 9 laptop/camera case, Sandisk UDMA Compact Flash memory card reader and a Nikon 24mm f2.8D lens.

The first two items I purchased on my company credit card.  I only used it because it extends the 1 year warranty into a 4 year warranty.  The rest of the items I purchased on my usual card.

But then I remembered that I could get next day air for only $3.99 per item for the camera and the bag.  So I did it.

I called Amazon.com and they said there would be an additional charge for $6.98 on my account to cover the new shipping costs.  Sounds great, no problem, awesome, thanks! I even went as far as to compliment Amazon.com on my twitter account.

Then, while out with Micheal at an admittedly, mostly crappy comedy show, I got an email from Amazon.com that my order could not be processed, that there was a problem with my credit card.

Not a good thing.  Probably made the rest of the comedy that much worse.

When I get home I check my account and see what happened.  Instead of Amazon.com charging me $2,459.90 for the original order of the camera and the bag with an additional charge of $7.98… they charged me $139.95 (for the bag) and then $2,319.95 (for the Nikon D700) adding up to a credit approval of $2,459.95…. but then they added the $6.99 (should hav ebeen $6.98) by running a charge of $2,459.90+7.99 separately.

Washington Mutual, my business credit card holder, was then hit with a second request of funds, which exceeded my limit on the card.  That was the problem.

This is why I hate Washington Mutual (right now)

Washington Mutual told me that in order to have that authorization lifted, so that the new charge could go through, I’d have to have Amazon.com call in and make the change.

I call Amazon.  The guy, who’s English I could barely understand, spends about 20 minutes trying to figure out what happened.  Once he does he says he has fixed it, that the order has gone through and that my camera and camera bag will arrive Thursday.

He says that he will send me an email with all that in it, that he has actually already sent it.  I also got his name just to be safe.

The email comes. It says the same thing the earlier email said. WTF.  This guy lied to me.

I call back.  This time I get a woman who is equally as impossible to understand.  She understands the situation more quickly and we make the call to Washington Mutual.

We sit on hold for… 30 minutes.

Washington Mutual says all they need from Amazon.com is their Merchant ID Number and they can immediately clear the old charge and approve the pending charge.

Amazon.com’s customer service woman has no idea what the number is and after two or three “trips” to her supervisor comes back and states that there is no such number.  WaMu will not release the charge without the number, which basically just proves that it truly is Amazon.com that they are talking to.

So now, instead of getting the camera in one day, it will be more like ten days.  And all because Amazon.com didn’t do as they originally stated.  They said they would charge me $7.98 for the  shipping.  If I had known this would happen, I would have said no to getting the camera one day sooner and have waited an extra 24 hours.  Now I’ll be waiting at least ten days for the authorization from Washington Mutual to expire so I can put in a request for another one.

I feel like Amazon should do something to fix the situation, but what?!  Big discount? Sure. But that doesn’t change the fact that I spent two hours on the phone trying to fix this and mostly that I am now $2,500 poorer with zero to show for it.  I don’t have access to that money and can’t send my business elsewhere.

So that is why I hate Amazon.com and Washington Mutual (right now).  If they fix this, then that hate will subside but until then, they are on my shit list and my short list of total fuckupery.

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