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Q-and-A: Why mobile payment technology isn’t always the answer

4 min read


Many small businesses are ditching traditional POS systems in favor of mobile app-based technologies that offer convenience and flexibility at a low price. For food truck operators who are constantly on the move and small-business owners who may not have much in the way of startup capital, these mobile options may seem like a perfect solution. However, most app-based payment solutions lack the durability and extra features that full-featured POS systems offer. I interviewed Jared Isaacman, CEO of POS provider Harbortouch, about why mobile isn’t always the answer.

Why are mobile apps not a replacement for full-featured POS systems?

Most mobile apps only allow you to swipe cards for payment and offer limited capabilities beyond that basic function. POS systems, on the other hand, streamline a merchant’s entire operations while providing countless time- and money-saving features. POS systems deliver advanced reporting functionality to empower merchants with valuable information about their operations, enabling them to make more informed business decisions.

Additionally, POS systems provide employee management, inventory tracking and a customer database to create a complete business-management tool. In addition to the back-end advantages of a POS system, the robust software included in a POS system offers a more efficient transaction process for customers and employees. Industry-specific software also include features that cater to the particular business type. For example, features like check splitting, bar tabs, item sharing and food modifiers are essential for restaurants, while layaway, gift receipts, employee commissions and a color/size/style matrix are perfect for retail locations. These are all features that are well beyond the capabilities of mobile payment apps.

In addition to the software benefits offered by full-featured POS systems, the hardware also delivers a substantial advantage. Mobile apps rely on flimsy plastic “dongles” and mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads. These mobile devices are consumer products and are not intended for high traffic retail locations or restaurants where they are exposed to dust, steam, smoke, high heat, grease and other spills. POS systems, on the other hand, are built-for-purpose equipment designed for durability and reliability in these types of business environments.

What could be done to create a better mobile POS system that doesn’t rely on flimsy “dongles” and machines that don’t always hold up to hectic retail or restaurant environments? 

The fact that these systems are based on a consumer mobile device like an iPhone or iPad creates an inherent limitation. These solutions are okay for a certain type of merchant — contractors, flea market vendors and other “micro merchants” without a brick-and-mortar location — but for restaurants and retail businesses, these solutions just don’t provide the benefits of a built-for-purpose device.

What solutions are there for small businesses that don’t have much to spend on a POS system or mobile businesses (such as food trucks or traveling vendors) that need a POS system that can easily be transported?

Harbortouch offers a full-featured POS system with no up-front costs. Merchants only pay an affordable monthly service fee, making the benefits of powerful POS technology accessible to even the smallest merchants. For mobile businesses, app-based solutions offer a viable option, but the merchant must realize that there are trade-offs involved when utilizing a mobile app for payments.

Can mobile apps be used in conjunction with traditional POS systems?

Typically, mobile apps are not integrated with traditional POS systems. While a business could use both (for example, a POS system at a pizzeria and a mobile app for their delivery drivers), the data would not sync between devices.

What are some tips for keeping data safe, regardless of what type of POS system you use?

The major credit card associations and debit networks have created a set of security standards called the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCIDSS). These regulations detail security requirements for merchants and merchant service providers intended to prevent security vulnerabilities and protect payment information. It is critical for merchants to adhere to these regulations in order to protect their customers’ credit card data and protect themselves from costly data breaches. To remain compliant, there are various best practices that a merchant must follow, but one of the basics is that merchants should make sure they are using PCI-compliant processing equipment. All Harbortouch POS systems meet the stringent requirements of compliance. Additionally, Harbortouch has created an online resource for our merchants to learn best practices and other information about PCI compliance at