November 8, 2011

Sci Fi Comes to Open Studios

        This weekend was another Open Studios show and for me it was the biggest sales weekend in years.  Yay!  A portion of those sales were made possible by a little bit of science fiction that has just reached the world of art shows.  Of the 18 or so artists showing in the large auditorium where I had my display, at least four of us were using The Square for the first time this weekend.  The Square apparently first came out in a very limited way about a year ago, but it's obviously hitting its stride now.  What is it?  A small square plastic thingy that plugs into the top of an i-phone and allows you to swipe credit cards.  After you swipe, the transaction works about like ordering something on-line: the card is authorized, the money is transferred directly into my bank account, and a receipt is e-mailed or texted to the purchaser if they want.  A record of the transaction is also e-mailed to me.  If you want you can take a photo of the piece that was sold and attach that to the e-mails.  And the part everyone gets a kick out of is when the buyer signs the i-phone screen with their finger!
        I don't actually have an i-phone, but D does and he very generously allowed me to take it with me to my show this weekend.  (I treasure this as a symbol of True Love, because sometimes it can be hard to tell which he loves more: me, or his technologies!)  Over the weekend I had eight people request to pay with credit card.  A small aside here: when I first started selling at Open Studios shows seven years ago everyone assumed that the artists wouldn't be able to accept credit.  If people were expecting to buy something they brought their checkbooks or wads of cash.  If they hadn't expected to buy anything they might run out to the nearest ATM and return with cash later.  But as more and more artists began to get portable card swipers of various sorts, more and more buyers began to expect it.  In the past couple of years I've begun to lose the occasional sale, although I will say that when people really want something they usually find a way!  How many of the eight sales that used credit this weekend would have been lost completely if I had not had the Square I don't know, but I think it's safe to say that I would have lost at least a few sales.  And I think it's also true that as more and more artists get the ability to accept credit, the number of buyers who are prepared to pay by check or cash will shrink ever faster.
        So, my over-all review of the Square?  Highly Recommended.  The little device itself is free and there are no up-front costs or monthly fees.  If you get one and never use it, you're out nothing.  It's tailor-made for those of us whose use is likely to be seasonal or sporadic rather than constant.  Having an account with a monthly fee doesn't make much sense when I won't be doing any sales at all seven months out of the year, so I like that I pay for it only when I actually use it.
        One of the four of us using Square this weekend said she had trouble getting hers - it didn't arrive in time for one sale, and then in the ensuing muddle she ended up with two.  She pointed out that they have no customer service to speak of and it's hard to talk to someone in case of a glitch.  The other three of us, however, all received our Squares in the mail within 2-5 days of signing up, just as advertised.  Once you have it, it's easy to set up the (also free) app on the i-phone, and once you start a transaction the app walks you through each step clearly and easily.  Some people seemed to have trouble with the swipe - you have to pull the card very quickly and firmly and it might take a little while to get the hang of it.  I didn't find it too hard, though.  Also, a couple of times the phone required multiple attempts to authorize the card because it was having trouble connecting to the internet.  You'll definitely want to be sure of a good solid connection in your location or there could be much frustration.  The artist next to me had printed out some information about the Square in case customers were wary of it - but no one balked at all.  In fact, they all seemed rather tickled by the novelty of it.  (There was one woman who asked for a receipt, and when I touched the button for it her e-mail address auto-filled in.  She'd just purchased something from an artist on the other side of the room and the magical ether had remembered the e-mail that went with the credit card.  We both agreed that this was very cool but a little creepy!)
        As for the cost, Square keeps for itself 2.75% of each transaction for which it's used.  I had a couple of people kindly ask me whether I preferred that they pay with check or credit and I chose check because obviously I'd just as soon not pay that 2.75% when I can avoid it.  However it really is not a bad percentage - especially when you compare it with the 45% per transaction offered by the gallery owner who came through the show recruiting!
        I haven't yet seen my bank statement with all the money safely deposited, so I suppose there could still prove to be some problem, but as far as I can tell, the Square worked beautifully and I give it a definite thumbs-up.

[Pictures: Square plugged into an i-phone,
The blocks I was carving this weekend,
photos by AEGN, 2011.]

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