A Look At First Data’s Clover POS System
For many businesses, First Data is the brand for credit card processing. First Data serves more than six million locations around the world. The second best in the industry, Chase Paymentech, serves just one million. First Data have been around since 1969, and they really are the no-brainer option if you just want to use a credit card system that you can count on.
What Are The Features?
Here are the features and options First Data offers:
• Virtual terminal
• Merchant accounts
• Terminal sales and leases. If you don’t have a terminal of your own, you can buy or rent one from the company. In fact, you might have to. First Data’s proprietary model means that the equipment that you have right now might not even be compatible.
• Online reports. This might not sound like such an exciting feature right now, but wait until next April. Having all of your data right there in an online report can make your life a lot easier when it comes to bookkeeping, accounting and taxes.
• Mobile processing, meaning that you can process with a smartphone if need be. If your customers use an app so that they don’t have to carry a credit card with them everywhere, then First Data’s Clover system is responsive to that.
• Point of sale software. Basically the operating system through which you make your sales, place orders and so on. It’s surprisingly versatile. just as capable of running a restaurant or cafe from a single hub as a specialty retail shop or a major department store location. It’s all pretty easy to navigate and just as easy to customize.
• Comprehensive encryption. From the first slide to the day you file your taxes, everything is encrypted. All of the credit card information you use to make a sale is pretty hard for a cyber criminal to crack into.
• Loyalty programs. Rewards programs, coupons and etc. are all built right into the system.
• Specialized options for your industry, whether that’s restaurants, retail, education, marketing, you name it. When you get your system set up, let First Data know exactly what you need, and they’ll help you out.
First Data: Why The Numbers Matter
Six million locations use First Data, but what does that matter? There are songs that they play on the radio all the time, songs whose Youtube videos have more than six million views, but you can’t stand them. So why does it matter how many people use First Data?
It basically comes down to resources. Sometimes, the system you use works a little like insurance: The more people you have who are signed up, the better a deal it is for every individual customer. By drawing feedback from millions of users, by relying on millions of users for financial support for the brand, First Data are always at the forefront when it comes to new technology and developments in credit card processing.
When people started using their phones to pay the check, First Data was an early adopter. When people start paying with microchips or barcode tattoos, First Data will be one of the first to utilize that technology, as well.
The sheer scale of the company also ensures that they can be responsive. They have a round-the-clock help desk and if any part of the system throws you for a loop, there’s a ton of documentation, and very active forums and message boards that can help you to get what you need out of the system.
What Will It Cost?
Here’s where things start to get tricky..
By and large, we can recommend First Data’s Clover systems wholeheartedly. The software is cutting edge, the hardware is reliable and secure, but once we start talking about the cost of the system, things get tricky.
Here’s the first problem we encounter with First Data: The website won’t tell you what the system costs.
As near as we can tell, the basic setup will run you five hundred dollars for the hardware, though you’ll have to buy the printer separately, and then there’s a monthly fee of twenty five or fifty dollars to use the system. That’s fair for most small businesses. Upgrade that package though and you could be spending over a grand on the equipment, and hundreds a month on the fees, which can be a bit much if you’re just getting your food truck or mall kiosk off the ground.
But we can’t tell you what the actual costs are, because instead of just letting you in on the secret, First Data will send you to one of their many third party vendors, and these guys range from fair to disreputable. Some of them will gouge you on the price, charge extra fees or even take your money and run, never actually delivering what you paid for.
Our advice: Before signing with any third party, do your research. And we don’t mean just go online and look up a couple reviews. Reviews are easy to buy. Talk to someone who’s worked with them and see what they tell you. Or, better yet, contact First Data directly and see if they can set you up with no middle-man. Go right to the source and avoid the whole third party problem from the start.
Here’s our biggest complaint about First Data. Yes, our biggest. We mentioned that there are scammers lurking around out there, but they’re easy enough to dodge. What you can’t avoid, however, is the Clover system’s proprietary approach.
Proprietary means that you’re stuck using First Data branded and approved equipment if you want to use the software at all. On the one hand, this isn’t that big a deal if you’re looking for an all-in-one system. Truth be told, you can spend less buying the whole package through First Data than picking and choosing your slider, your touch screen and etc.
But there are two big problems here.
First, maybe you already have some equipment. If you’re looking for something to replace your previous software, then it can be disappointing to find out that your keypad isn’t going to work with the new setup.
Second, this means no free trial. If you want to take the system for a spin, your only options are to either work a weekend at someone else’ store to see how the software performs, or commit fully, right up front. Plus, there are termination fees, and those can be pretty steep, so buy-and-return isn’t an option.
So Is First Data Worth It?
There are certainly a few major issues with how First Data does business. The third-party selling and the website’s reluctance to tell you what everything costs are both major red flags. If they weren’t already an established global brand, this would be a sure sign that they’re some fly by night corporation, a business that exists only on paper, looking to make a quick buck by duping random business owners. Being number one means that First Data has a lot of power behind their brand, and that has plenty of upsides. It also means that they can get away with some things that would be suicide for a smaller brand.
The proprietary nature of the system also means that some small businesses won’t even consider using them. If you’re building your business piece by piece, buying a used printer here, an iPad there, you don’t want to go with the brand that’s going to ask you to throw all of that in the trash and start over.
In short, they’re asking you to take a risk on their system, and if you don’t like how it works, tough luck. So with that in mind, is it worth getting their Clover system even with these issues to worry about? It depends on a few factors, and the big one is budget.
The truth is that you can’t really ask for a more robust, responsive, intuitive system. But you could be spending a couple thousand before you have the system up and running, and if you don’t like it, then you’re going to have to pay even more to cancel the service. If you do your research and make sure that you’re not signing up with a shady third party seller, then the commitment is worth it, it’s just a big commitment.
So Who Is First Data For?
Because of the big investment that First Data asks for to start, we can’t whole heartedly recommend it to smaller businesses. Big businesses, medium businesses, and small businesses on the verge of medium couldn’t ask for a better system. But if you’re still at the point where every sell excites you, if you’re still in the early days of building your empire and making your mark on the industry, then it might be best to skip Clover for now and look for something more affordable, and more accessible.
On the other hand, if you have the budget for it, think about it this way: You can get an entire setup, have it delivered all in one big box, plug it in and get it running by the end of the day, or you can spend a month shopping around on eBay and Newegg and Amazon and build your system piece by piece and try out a half a dozen free trials of different POS software packages. If you have the budget, the money will save you the time it takes to build your own system and find the right software, and you can use that time to make more money.
So in short: It’s a big leap of faith for small businesses, but an easy choice for anyone with a little extra money to spend.
What If I Like The System I Have Right Now?
There’s really no such thing as “best” when it comes to credit card processing systems. You’ve got to find the system that works for you, that you feel is safe and secure, and that you find easy to use.
There’s a reason that you’ll find First Data systems in six million locations around the world. They’re easy to use, everything’s included in your startup package, and while the initial costs may seem a bit steep, there are plenty of systems out there that are considerably more expensive. Although some of their business practices are, you might say, questionable, they earned their spot at the top of the food chain.
So here’s our final verdict: If you’re a new business, if you’re still growing, shop around. Find something that’s a little cheaper to get started, something that lets you build your own hardware setup. On the other hand, if you’ve already been growing and you’re ready to step up your POS software game to match that growth, you probably couldn’t ask for a better system than First Data’s Clover package.