Windows XP, Not supported

WindowXP is Dead

On April 8, 2014 Microsoft ceased to support Windows XP operating system. Many business owners relied on Windows XP as a cheap operating system on which to run their Point of Sale Systems– since Microsoft has ended its support of XP what kind of issues will shopkeepers who haven’t upgraded face?

Looks like some steep risks.

After pulling Windows XP Microsoft, Microsoft released an unexpected up date to the operating system which had been off the market for a month. Users of the operating system became vulnerable to a bug in which computer hackers could gain access to the user’s computer. Microsoft informed that this was its last fix and that it no longer would be patching up for Windows XP. Now, people who have lagged behind, find themselves vulnerable and at risk of having consumer data stolen.

This of course, puts immense strain on the Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance status. The PCI Data Security Standard is essential for businesses that deal with cardholder information such as credit, debit, mobile wallet, ATM, etc.

The PCI Security Council states that a computer operating on a system that’s no longer supported violates the agreement through the risk of security breaches. This is bad news for retailers who continue to use their POS systems operation on Windows XP and who are no longer meeting PCI compliance. They could be fined as much as $100,000 per month! Also, business owners could end up paying non-compliance fees to their processor if they are unable to meet requirements.

Small business owners might hesitate because first and foremost upgrading a POS System costs money, takes time, and it’s a great task for a small business owner who may think they could not be effected by it. However the risk of becoming targeted for malware and viruses is greater.

So should you buy new hardware?

The answer is, YES!

We here at Alpha Card Services have made it easy for you. Last year we introduced the Alpha Card Services Select Pay POS system. Our POS provides you with affordable, feature-rich POS solutions, without sacrificing quality or service. You’ll have the freedom to select:

  • Payment- No Upfront Costs*, low monthly payments, and no hidden fees!
  • Your industry- Available with all Alpha Restaurant, Retail and Salon POS systems. Our leading POS features, include delivery driver dispatch and GPS delivery mapping.
  • Stations- Select from the Standard, Premier and iPad tablet POS packages.

*To qualified buyers

If you are interested in learning more about Select Pay visit us here.

With constant big name data breeches surfacing business owners are more alert than ever. The down side being that old equipment can seem expensive to replace and new computer hardware can seem dauntless if a store location is running more than one system at a single location. Then there is downtime for transition, installation, and software. But remember, if your business is running Windows XP, your likelihood of suffering a data breach is high. Now is the time to plan accordingly. Luckily we are here to help. To learn more about Alpha Card Services and PCI Compliance click here.

To learn about how Alpha Card can help your business through the transition connect with us at http://www.alphacardservices.com/POS-Systems.html.

The Future Is Wearable

wearable tech

It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago we carried with us items such as the notebook, boom boxes, clunky cameras, maps, books, and heavy laptops. Technology has changed immensely and has transformed the way we function today.  While we continue to evolve, it’s no secret what’s next on the radar of our ever-changing world. Smart watches, health monitors, pedometers, trackers, virtual reality headsets, Google Glass, and smart rings, such as the NFC ring.  2015 is the year of wearable technology.  All these new gadgets are emerging and changing once again the way we communicate and go about our daily lives.

Wearable technology has made its debut in communications, entertainment, education, health care, and navigation. It’s predicted that the wearable technology business will boom from $20 billion in 2015 to $70 billion by 2025. While in the past fitness bands and smart watches have been present, they’ve been revived with fashion in mind—and the masses have noticed. Apple, with the release of its Apple Watch this year, has been the one to really light a fire under other competitors. We can expect competition to skyrocket—which benefits the consumer by giving us more choice and pricing options.

Companies such as Disney have even upped the ante by joining the wristband bandwagon. Disney has introduced their MagicBands, which are tech savvy wristbands which are available to every guest visiting the Magic Kingdom. Now families are able  to make a purchase with a flick of their wrist because the band is linked to the user’s credit card. These MagicBands have the ability to make restaurant and meal reservations, gain access to rides, while also tracking your exact location in the park.

While Apple and Samsung have been perfecting their wearable goodies, fitness trackers and monitors are now becoming more high-tech and more readily available as prices drop. It’s a huge leap for the healthcare industry, not only in the means of preventative care for the population but also having correct and accessible data in real-time and assisting physicians. The real breakthrough is the fact that wearable technology in fashion is helping people monitor their own health to prevent greater risks. Everything from heart rate, to blood pressure can be managed by gadgets out on the market provided by Sony, LG, and Garmin devices. Applications specific to help monitor better eating habits and exercise practices are also helping out.

Wearable technology engages individuals to care about their own health, while providing data collection. Health data and analytics can be collected and used to determine and improve health altogether. By studying patterns and real-time reporting we can better predict and be made more aware of health risks and disease.

As wearable gadgets continue to gain popularity, it’s only a matter of time before they infiltrate the world of how we market directly to the consumer, as well as applications in the retail and payments industries. With the use of wearable technology, marketers will have a more complete customer profile.  Retailers will be able to do a better job of directly impacting the customer experience, since more precise data patterns can be collected through constant use of their wearable device.

Payments will also become something that is performed instantaneously with wearable technology. In the near future, wearables such as smart watches and smart rings are likely to be an another avenue where we can make contactless payments like mobile wallets. Of course, wearable payments security will be a significant issue that needs to be addressed moving forward.

Alpha Card Services is always on the forefront of the latest and most innovative payments technology. We’re looking forward to becoming part of the evolution of wearable technology.  Contact us if you have more questions about how our payments technology can assist business owners become more efficient.

Marketing to Millennials

Millennials

In marketing, you need to instantly attract and engage the attention of your target audience. You have to truly understand them — how they think, react, act, and what drives them to influence or buy a particular product or service. Generation Y, otherwise known as ‘the selfie generation’ or millennials, are major targets in advertising and marketing efforts because they will be tomorrow’s future, representing over 50% of the country’s workforce by 2020.  However, businesses have to be careful how to advertise to millennials — since this generation is very different from any other in the past. Traditional marketing tactics might have them yawning, because let’s face it they’re doing 10 things at once.

There are 74 million so called millennials living in America today, and it’s projected that they will spend over $200 billion annually after 2017. They’re the only generation that has grown up in the media age and hasn’t had to adjust to groundbreaking technology.  They’ve learned to quickly process and adapt to new media advancements, particularly social media and apps.

So, how should companies approach marketing to millennials? How do you engage them to care about your brand?

Businesses should carefully listen to the conversations millennials are having. Social media has made it easy for millennials to document what they do, where they go, what they like and dislike.  Businesses should take note of other companies that are doing it ‘right’ with millenials and pick out aspects to mimic.

Mimicking can be tricky though, since millennials want the real deal and they can scope out a phony a mile away. They are in an everlasting search of authenticity. They want to connect with the brands they relate to on a personal level. At the same time, they are also attracted to brands whose images don’t ‘try too hard’. They prefer unscripted, integrated digital and social media campaigns which make them feel involved and allow them to connect with a feeling.

If you’ve got a good cause, you’ve got an in. Sometimes called the ‘optimistic generation’ — millennials are all about a conscience. Whether it is saving the planet, social rights, or animal rights, they’ve got an opinion and they identify with companies that share their viewpoint.  They’ll invest time and money in a company who shares like-minded values and who are committed to making a difference. Millennials are so concerned with being involved with issues they support, they will want to participate.

Millennials are often more responsive to businesses and brands that include them on a platform. They want to be heard, not talked down to. They are all about connecting and feeling like they are part of the process. They are passionate about companies that share their missions, and who ask for honest feedback. They are geared to want and try contests, take polls and be recognized on social media.

Your marketing should be creative, authentic, evoke a feeling in them; and then they want you to leave them alone.  Businesses should be able to capture the attention and interest of millennials in a snap, but not overdo it. They don’t want to be hounded with repeated ads either—they want to be impacted from the get-go.

Millennials accept difference and diversity. They want to hear people’s stories.  They want to connect with them and the more diverse they are, the better. Personal confidence and acceptance is extremely important to the millennial generation.

Millennials are an extremely important segment of the U.S. economy to engage and understand, as many of them will enter their peak earning years flush with disposable income.

How will you market to millenials?  Feel free to comment!

How to Market Your Small Business

retail marketing

To the outside world, your small business may seem miniscule to the vast sea of corporations and direct competitors. But to you, your small business is a very big deal, and part of a very big dream.  In today’s ever-expanding marketplace it’s imperative to know how to set your business apart. You need to attract customers and keep them coming back because of the goods and services you provide.  Businesses develop this by using key strategies in marketing and advertising and finding a balance that works for them. Maybe you’re completely new to the world of owning a business, or perhaps you need a refresher to help pick your business up out of a rut. We’re going to share some marketing tips on how to kick-start your marketing in order to flourish your small business.

A business starts with an identity. Are you a restaurant? An automotive shop? The best way to serve your customers and yourself is to know exactly what your product is, and how you can deliver. Developing a name, a logo, business card, and stationary is important.  Pamphlets, brochures, magnets, and anything that is relevant to your business should be uniform – consistent in design and compel prospective customers to seek you out.  Be sure to include current information on these items, such as the logo, addresses, phone number, email and website.

Build a website.  Everyone who is anyone has a web presence, and chances are that your customer is too. If you don’t have the tech skills to build your own website, or the means to hire someone, many companies provide template based tools to make it very easy to create a basic website. Be sure that the website represents the look and scheme of your business. Also, be sure that it is kept updated.

Before you go any further, you should know your audience.  You should determine who your customer is and what they want.  Get to know their habits, it will lead you to make smart and educated decisions based on their characteristics. Take notice of things such as where they live, work and spend their free time. Once you’ve found answers to these questions, you can infiltrate where your customers spend their time and snag their attention.  If you own a children’s book shop, and you find that there’s an elementary school nearby, consider purchasing bookmarks with your shop’s name on them and donating them.  Or, if you run a gym or athletic gear shop and live by a park find out when they have activities and consider branding water bottles with your businesses information printed on them.

Get listed. One of the most efficient ways to be found is on the internet. Millions of people find different businesses through search engines and directories. Set up a listing for your business on Google, Bing, Yelp, White Pages, and MapQuest. Customers will be able to view your information, services, and will be able to comment on your services with a rating.

After you’ve mastered the directories, conquer social media. Social media is an amazing tool to market your business. Create business profiles and pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Be sure that it is kept professional and up to date. Promote your business by announcing contests, deals, and create buzz about your business. Using social media gives your business a voice and a way for your customer to connect with you.

So you’ve gained virtual friends, now it’s time to gain some real ones.

Network.  Network.  Then network some more. Meet other local business owners, and other competitors. There are many things you can learn from them, pay attention to their marketing strategies, what works, and what doesn’t work. Once you’ve built a relationship you may even be able to endorse and build partnerships with other small businesses nearby.  Word of mouth is how many small businesses get the ball rolling.  You never know where you will get a referral from, so be sure to keep alert and don’t be afraid to share your business card and tell them about your services.

Once you’ve got regulars, keep them interested. Sign up for an email marketing service, and send promotional email blasts, newsletters and special offers. Emails will entice customers to come back in to your small business. They are also a powerful tool to use when you want to conduct surveys or ask for feedback. Listening to your audience and their suggestions/recommendations can be the ticket to better sales. If it’s relevant, learn that your business is worth gifting. Provide your customers with the chance to buy gift cards. Not only gift cards, but also reward cards. These build loyalty, increase sales, and also advertise your business!

Next, get involved in the community. Then tell everyone about it. Look for organizations and associates that go hand in hand with your business’s morals and priorities. Volunteering is a great way to advertise to new potential customers and to let your existing ones know there is substance behind the business.

Last but not least, offer discounts and great deals. Who doesn’t like a discount? Offering discounts, coupons, and deals are the one way to set you apart from the competition. Advertise your discounts and daily deals through your website, email blasts, social media, blog posts, and word of mouth.

Alpha Card Services offers comprehensive business solutions for growing businesses nationwide. We offer merchant services, POS, Payroll Services, and Gift and Rewards cards. Be sure to check out our website, and find out how we can help get your business to take off!

How to Effectively Market Your Salon.

Promote your salon

Have you ever wondered what makes some salons more successful than others?

Is it that they have a large staff?  A better location?  Do they work harder?  Or, could it simply be their marketing strategy?  One of the biggest challenges for any small business owner, but specifically a salon owner, is getting the right mix of marketing. Developing consistent ways to win clients over and to keep them coming back is the main goal.  There is never a right answer on how to do this, but the following are a few basic principles that will help improve your salon operations.

First and foremost, develop a brand identity.

  • Who are you as a business?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • Who is your main client target?
  • What do you bring to the table?

Ask yourself these questions and begin to build an identity.  If your salon is located in a trendy spot in the city, take a look around at other successful businesses and salons—what attracts your clients?  Is it the color schemes, the décor, are other salon names long—are they a simple one word name like ‘posh’. Is their logo sleek or does it evoke a more earthy feel? Is the atmosphere laid back or more upscale? These are questions that really set an attitude and atmosphere. The last thing you want to do is confuse your customer.  Be sure to know how you want to be perceived and what mood you want to evoke. Everything from your logo, to the look of your salon, business cards, and pamphlets should match and be consistent!

After you’ve developed an identity, you’ve got to get found!

  1. Be sure to do this by building a website. Your website should be kept up to date, be visually appealing, easy-to-navigate and contain relevant information. Include prices, images, location, directions, contact information and anything else you think a client would need to know before coming in for a pleasant salon experience.  Be sure to link your website to your social media sites (like Facebook and Twitter) and blog.
  2. Maintain an effective online presence.  Clients are looking for a reason to come to you.  Maintain a well written blog and keep your social media fresh and relevant. Post pictures, updates, contests, and specials. Include your website address or QR codes on signs and flyers in your salon, so clients know where to find you on the web.
  3. Be sure to list your salon in online directories, such as Yelp, Yahoo, Bing, Yellow Pages, Google.  After your website is finalized, link these directories back to your site.  It will increase views and people can comment on their great experiences at your salon.
  4. Make friends with your neighbors.  Once you’ve got the website it’s time to step out of the virtual world and look to other businesses around you for referrals. Making friends or allies with nearby businesses to promote each other is a great marketing strategy.  Carry their business cards and or flyers at your salon and suggest they return the favor!
  5. Reel those customers in!  All of the campaigns you’ve created to acquire potential customers should involve a strong call-to-action.  Whether the call-to-action is on flyers, magnets, online banner ads or coupons, everything should engage your potential customer into wanting to know more – “Call us to see how you can get 20% off your next cut!” or “Visit our website for more information”.  Even offer a discount for a ‘like’ or a follow on social media. Small offers will set you apart from the competition and make your conversion rates soar!
  6. Incentives will keep your business booming. In order to keep customers interested, be sure to offer daily deals or run a contest/raffle.   Social media can be a huge help with communicating incentives.  Run a contest for your followers or friends to win some free goodies.  You’ll broaden your fan base and interact with your clients.  For an added bonus, get people sharing information about the contest by adding an extra incentive such as 20% off their next hair product purchase.

Keep your customers by staying fresh and on their minds.

  1. It’s important to focus on new as well as existing clients. Email marketing allows you to stay in constant contact with your clients.  Learn how to promote your salon with eye-catching email blasts that will get your customers in the door. Venture out into SMS marketing or text marketing. Offer coupons and offers by sending out text messages to existing and newer clients.
  2. Offer gift and loyalty cards.  There is no better way to keep promoting your salon than offering them the gift of your services. Remember to reward your existing clients by offering loyalty cards in order to rack up points or earn discounts.
  3. Last but not least, ask for feedback!  This can be a daunting task for anyone, but it’s an important one.  Your clients should be your focus.  In order to create a repeat customer and to have them refer others to you, they will need to have above and beyond experiences.  Ask them for their opinions.  You can do this through written surveys or polling them verbally.  Thank them for their insight and then put to good use their valuable suggestions.

Remember, salon marketing requires a detailed plan and only works with continuous efforts. Most businesses learn what works best for them through trial and error. It’s important to remember that the competition is always out there, and that your goal is to give potential clients and loyal customers a reason to keep coming back.

To learn more about our POS systems designed specifically for Salons, click here for more information.

The Rise of Big Data

big data

The internet has transformed how we live, function, operate businesses and even how governments function. The web has been and is changing dramatically the way we communicate, share information, collect it and comprehend it.  It’s safe to say in this day and age, there is much more information floating around than ever before. This information called, big data, is revolutionizing the way we transmit ideas through the trends of social media and mobile technology. Big data is being generated from virtually everywhere in which you engage through a digital transaction, including social media posts, videos, purchase transactions, online applications, digital images and much more. Big data is accumulating at an increasingly rapid rate according to the velocity, volume and variety of the data.  Data analysts are using this information to predict and determine everything from the exact way you shop to the methodology you use to make purchasing decisions.

Big data is so vast, that there are many ways of defining what is qualified as big data. There are two major differences in the type of data which is collected.  Unstructured data comes from information which can’t be organized or studied in a traditional matter. This includes social media posts/comments and Twitter tweets.  Multi-structured data on the other hand refers to data formats collected through websites, applications, and transactional data, such as point-of-sale or customer purchase history.  These data gateways take information and transform the way we communicate in order to answer key questions, such as:

  • How we are marketed to on a regular basis?
  • What are our purchasing preferences?
  • How to improve customer satisfaction?

The three V’s – velocity, volume and variety, are commonly used to characterize the different aspects of big data and how it is analyzed.  Volume represents how growing data streams are stored, and how much of it is filtered and considered ‘big data’. Due to massive amounts of data being collected, it’s becoming quite difficult to search through data which can be deemed as ‘useful’, especially at the speed at which it comes in.

The next aspect of collecting data is velocity. Velocity measures the increasing rate at which the data is dispersed and then analyzed. The internet and mobile technology have made it easy for consumers to acquire goods. Data velocity is helping businesses thrive, in that online retailers are able to gather quite a bit of information about their customers, study their every click, purchase, and interaction. This enables businesses to act faster and make intelligent recommendations to consumers, or even cater better to their customer’s growing preferences or demands. However, the uncontrollable velocity at which data is shared has also become an increasingly difficult factor of analyzing it properly.

Variety is the last way by which data is classified. Data streams come in all types of formats. Structured, as we mentioned above and unstructured. It comes in many forms, such as text, web, email, video, etc. It can be messy to sort and with big data growing at its current rate, it’s becoming difficult to control and manage all of the data which is received at once. The variety of the data flow is also largely based on mass opinion, which makes for pretty inconsistent data. Items like trending topics and world events can trigger and influence the variety of information.

So what exactly are data analysts and companies doing with this data? The goal is for organizations to be able to harness information from any source in order to improve cost, time, and new product development and to improve decision making. Companies can now better predict a specific customer’s likes and dislikes a build an accurate profile, and retailers can project what products will sell.  Big data isn’t only making a stir in retail, but also healthcare, law enforcement, government, sports, and much more. The applications of big data are endless and we are surely only at the beginning of a fast moving transformation.

Some people however are hesitant about allowing companies, governments, and social media networks access to analyze personal data for the sake of studying human behavior patterns and trends. The words big data have often become synonymous with ‘big brother’.  The reality is that after global adoption of smart phones and mobile gadgets have come into play, personal data footprints are becoming tracked, recorded, and studied. Everything from who you email, text, websites you browse, where you shop and eat, has been monitored and analyzed. There is a delicate line between privacy risks and big data. It is a choice which will have to be faced and weighed out. Will people’s rights to privacy, fairness, and freedom of speech be comprised by the opportunity to cure disease, advance scientific research, and improve in decision making for the masses?

Tablet-based POS solutions

POStabletblogimageIf you are a business owner, you have probably realized the days of needing a cash register shackled to one spot as a POS system are over. Thanks to recent technological advances, there are a number of new POS solutions available to your business.

Smaller devices such as phones and tablets have taken over at the point-of-sale. Some mobile devices include credit card scanners in which a customer can physically swipe their means of payment, while newer technology consists of devices using Near-Field-Communication (NFC), which allows a customer to simply tap the device being used in order to make a purchase.  If you want to learn more about NFC technology check out our blog post on the mobile wallet here.

Tablet-based solutions have become a strong trend in the world of POS.  Why do more businesses prefer these new tablet point-of-sale solutions?  Well—they are improving the way businesses function, while increasing sales; and they cost much less.

The biggest appeal to the tablet POS is the mobility it presents. Using a tablet POS allows retail sales associates to roam the store, look up prices, handle returns, and even check out customers wherever they are standing.  This minimizes long lines, wait times, speeds up the transaction process, and ultimately the customer is happier.  Tablet-based POS solutions are even able to recognize and store your businesses reward or loyalty cards, which can greatly enhance your business as well!

Retailers aren’t the only business types utilizing mobile POS systems. The restaurant business is clearly following this trend as well.  Dining establishments are getting on board with tablet-based POS solutions for the same reasons as retailers. The use of tablet POS systems is enhancing guest’s dining experiences and how the back-end of business operates. These tablet POS systems can be placed tableside at each individual table, allowing customers to order, pay their bill, and even play games or trivia directly from the device.

Another advantage of tablet POS solutions is that they allow flexibility in today’s demanding business world.  Thanks to cloud-based technology, business owners can manage their operations on-the-go because they’ll have access to critical analytics and sales data at their fingertips. Cloud-based technology also improves the speed in which businesses can access help desks with troubleshooting issues from remote locations.

At Alpha Card Services, we can offer your business a number of intuitive and comprehensive POS solutions.  We have developed POS solutions for restaurant, retail, and salon applications. Our POS systems are easy-to-use, and most importantly reliable. We understand that owning and operating a successful business is a 24/7 process, and you need to depend on a system that can help you efficiently manage it all.

Keep a lookout for more information regarding our next generation tablet POS solution that will be launching soon. In the meantime, please keep yourself connected by visiting the Alpha Card website and following us on Facebook and Twitter!

Surcharging Credit Card Transactions

creditcard swipe

In 2012, Visa and MasterCard settled a multi-billion dollar legal dispute between banks and retailers over credit card processing fees. As part of the settlement deal, the credit card companies had to reduce surcharging credit card transactions for 8 months at a fixed rate. They also concluded that surcharging credit card transactions, which are charges used to cover processing credit and debit payments (which are set by credit card companies and deducted from the transactions by banks who issue the cards), gave merchants the freedom to pass along surcharges to customers if they choose to do so.

The key phrase being ‘choose to do so’. The ‘check out fee’ for the customer could be anywhere in between 1.5% to 3% of the customer’s total purchase. However, ten states have laws restricting any type of surcharging of credit card transactions. These states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas. For example, it is prohibited to charge a customer the surcharge inside a Target store in New York, but it’s allowed inside a Target store in New Jersey. This makes for holes in the system.

While merchants pay $50 billion annually in surcharges for credit card transactions, and clearly would be benefiting from these surcharges to help lessen the load; many retailers chose not to. In fact, several large retailers opted out of the surcharges immediately. These companies include McDonald’s, Target, and Walmart. In the end, small businesses were left with the choice to decide whether they wanted to surcharge their customers  or not. Most small businesses followed suit with the larger retailers, fearing being the first in their area to start charging customers. Not only that, but business owners are aware they need repeat business to survive. If retailers started surcharging the credit card transactions to their customers—it makes the decision much easier for the customer to choose a competitor who has not elected to do so.

The bottom line is that no consumer wants to pay any hidden extra surcharges or taxes. This is evident when we look at competitive gas pricing. It’s no secret that fuel prices are cut throat competitive—and in most major cities, paying at the pump with a credit card over cash has resulted in higher prices. People are willing to travel and switch it up in the search for only a few cents off their gallon of gas. This too could be applied to surcharging credit card transactions; and the disadvantages to stores opting to surcharge could end poorly for the business.

So how is a consumer made aware that the retail location they are currently shopping in  surcharges the credit card transactions?  According to the settlement agreement, retailers must post signs making customers aware—and also inform Visa and MasterCard 30 days prior to charging the fee. American Express carriers would also be surcharged, including debit. Consumers using PayPal on the other hand, cannot be surcharged.

Consumers may not see extra fees on their receipts any time soon. Merchants continue to struggle in a battle against the courts and inflated surcharges put in place by two major card companies (Visa and MasterCard), which control over 80 percent of the market.  Due to this dominance, merchants don’t have other card issuing companies to choose from, and may be stuck accepting the surcharged credit card transactions.

In the meantime, these three questions remain.

  • Is it practical or is it good business to pass along surcharges to consumers or employees?
  • Should passing these surcharges become industry practice or is it taking a risk?
  • Will passing the surcharges result in angering employees as well as consumers?

To learn more about how we can help merchants and partners alike, please visit http://www.alphacardservices.com.

Data Breaches and Online Fraud

databreaches

In the past, consumers rarely thought about weighing the consequences of using their credit or debit cards and their security. But all of that has changed. With data breaches at an all-time high, it’s no secret that using personal information—such as your name, street address, credit cards, and personal identification—on the web or at any store front can put you at risk.

It was just a year ago that Target was hit with one of the biggest data breaches of 2014. After reporting that over 40 million debit and credit card numbers had been lifted from them the number of U.S. data breaches hit a record high. The damage—a whopping percentage of 27.5 over the number of breaches reported in 2013. But Target wasn’t the only victim of a data breach.

In January 2014, Neiman Marcus announced that as many as 350,000 customers who shopped in their stores from July 2013 to October 2013 were affected by a massive breach. The fraudulent activity was triggered by software which was installed onto their system, in order to collect card information from customers.

Other retail companies affected by foul play were Sally Beauty, Michael’s Craft stores and Home Depot. In March 2014, it was reported that 282,000 debit and credit cards were stolen from the Sally Beauty chain and sold to underground marketplaces. Michael’s, one of the country’s largest craft store chains reported a data breach in January 2014. An approximate 2.6 million cards were exposed. In September, Home Depot announced that 56 million credit and debit cards were affected by a data breach as well as 53 million email addresses.

Retail isn’t the only place where data breaches and online fraud are occurring though. The hospitality industry has been adversely affected as well. In February 2013 hotel franchise White Lodging, who boasts 168 hotels nationwide, exposed hundreds of customers’ personal information. The data breach occurred within the hotel’s gift shops and restaurants rather than the front desk.

Restaurants and supermarkets have also been affected. PF Chang’s Chinese restaurants were victims of a breach in which data was said to have been stolen between October 2013 and June 2014. Supermarket chain, Albertson’s also experienced a data breach. Hackers allegedly broke into the company’s payment network and acquired private customer information. 700 locations were infiltrated in 9 states.

There’s no question hacking and data breaches are on the rise. Companies should be taking extra precautions to protect their stored data from getting into the wrong hands at the mercy of hackers. Most of the breaches that took place in 2014 were accomplished by using basic techniques; forcing many companies to rethink the security measures they implement to protect their client’s information. When Sony underwent a massive cyber security breach in December 2014, the company claimed it had what they believed was an efficient and reliable security system. However, it was later released that Sony had stored customer’s information without it being encrypted. A fact that prompted people to ask, ‘if it happened to a company as large as Sony, who else could it possibly happen to?’

It’s true that most cyber thieves are prowling for money, but some are after Social Security numbers in order to steal personal identities. While cyber criminals seem to be getting better at what they do, and the continuous use of credit or debit cards to purchase goods seem unescapable; the possibility of 100% security almost seems unattainable.

So how can you protect yourself from data breaches and online fraud? There are ways to ease the blow of being the victim of an information leak. Review your bank and credit card statements regularly to look for suspicious transactions. If you have online access to your bank and credit card accounts, it is a good idea to check them regularly. Contact your bank account right away if you notice anything suspicious. Debit card holders should report missing cards right away.

Another way you can monitor for fraudulent activity is to review your credit report. You can also increase your awareness by keeping an eye out for notices from your bank or your frequently visited retailers on data breaches.

Protect yourself just by changing a few online habits. Change your passwords often and use different, more complex ones. Many people use the same password for different accounts because it is convenient. However, this just makes it easier to hack. Keep your passwords organized and set a schedule for when your password changes should take place. It’s simple, yet effective.

Beware of scams and spam through email. Don’t answer unsolicited emails (called Phishing) that are generic and targeting a mass audience, as many of these are scams. Be sure to update your antivirus software for your electronic devices. Spam messages may carry viruses, which can capture key strokes that you use on your computer in order to retrieve personal information.

Lastly, be sure to keep your personal information out of social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

At Alpha Card Services we strongly believe in the importance of our merchant’s data security. We are PCI Data Security Standard compliant and our merchants need to be as well. Our goal is to make sure card holder data is protected wherever it is processed, stored or transmitted. To learn more about our PCI compliance program, please click here. http://alphacardservices.com/Why-Alpha-Card/PCI-Compliance.html

You should also seriously consider our Merchant Data Breach insurance policy in the unfortunate event your business experiences a data breach.

Stay tuned for our next topic on tablet-based POS solutions.

The True Value of Merchant Stickiness

stickiness blog

Customer retention is on the minds of all businesses across the world. Businesses need to be innovative and proactive when retaining customers. After all, it is more expensive to look for a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Did you know that…

  •    68% customers leave because they are unhappy with the service they receive.
  •    9% decide to use a direct competitor.

How do you prevent merchant attrition?

This is where “stickiness” comes in. Stickiness might not sound like your usual marketing term. However, it’s a successful marketing and sales strategy that is greatly beneficial to businesses but can be difficult to obtain. So what is merchant stickiness, and how do you create it?

No matter what industry you’re in creating customer stickiness is the ability to retain your customers by providing products or services that encourage continued long-term use as opposed to that of a competitor. There are many factors that contribute to increasing customer loyalty. We like to keep it simple at Alpha Card Services— so we’ve laid out some of our own suggestions on increasing merchant stickiness.

  1. Deliver Big. The only way you can deliver big, is to know what you are capable of and what you are not capable of. At Alpha Card Services, our philosophy of deep industry knowledge, cutting edge technology, awesome customer service and support, and being a trusted source, has set us apart from our competition. A business must be able to deliver on its promises on a consistent basis. Clients are more prone to remember negative experiences, so consistency is a huge key. Providing your customers with great products and good customer service support will gain your trust, and your customer is less likely to seek out your competition. But there are other factors to consider; which include product/service pricing, how much interaction the company has with its customers, and the overall perception of the company. Perhaps one of the most important factors in merchant stickiness is the simplicity factor. How easy do you make it for your customers to gain information about your products? How easy are the products to obtain?
  1. Know your stuff. Businesses should know their industries, inside and out. A customer should feel secure and confident with your business’s solutions and knowledge. However, it’s a two-way street. To ensure that customers keep investing in your products or services, you need to know what matters to them, how to provide them with a solution to their problem, and how to do it efficiently. Ask the right questions in order to meet their needs as best as possible—and remember to exceed their expectations. Listening may provide you with the chance to help your customers in ways they didn’t know they needed, and could benefit your business greatly.

For example, if a small retail business approached Alpha Card Services in need of a POS system – a representative here could easily convey the reliability and affordability of our product. Asking simple questions and really engaging with the customer could take the transaction the extra mile and will let the customer know that their specific needs are being addressed. Maybe, with the help of a knowledgeable representative, the customer will come to the realization that what they also need is a reward card program to keep their customer’s repeated business. This ends up being great for the customer, because they initially receive a solution to their problem, but also great for Alpha Card Services because:

  • We’ve gone the extra mile to provide great service and products
  • Developed a business relationship
  • Provided the customer with an additional Alpha Card solution.

By committing your customer to 3 or more products or services, your customer has an 87% likelihood of never leaving you. To put it simply, a customer is more liable to seek a competitor if they are only ‘engaged’ in one aspect of your business. But as long as your company continues to deliver efficiently and your customer is committed to various services or products they are literally locked in with you.

  1. Gain their trust. So, you’ve made sales, gained repeated customers, now what? Go the extra mile once again. Trust is a huge factor in keeping your customers on board. Studies show that as trust increases, commitment tends to grow. Trust is built through shared values. Be proactive. Take interest in your customer’s business by researching their industry. Check up on them—make courtesy calls and provide them with updates, changes, and thoughtful recommendations. The goal is to make your customer feel focused on and to make your business their one stop place for everything they need. They can’t do this if they don’t know what new things you are offering. By increasing the awareness of product offerings and promotions you further strengthen relationships, resulting in long-term customer retention.
  1. Your customers are online. Whether it’s at home, on a computer or a hand-held device; why not reach out to them where they spend most of their time. Focus on social platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. The majority of your clients will be active on at least one of these. Emails and blogs are also a great way to make your customer feel connected.

To learn more about our comprehensive business solutions,  please visit here: http://alphacardservices.com/index.html

Stay tuned for our next blog entry, where we discuss Data Breaches and Online Fraud.