By Peter Ramsey
29 Oct 20
Opening an account
You will have used one of these four payment systems, even if you don’t recognise their names. Their purpose is simple: to allow merchants to accept card payments.
But getting a device like this hasn’t always been simple. It often required multi-year contracts, and purchasing—or leasing—all the required hardware could cost thousands of dollars each year.
Then, with the growth of cloud computing, Square (2009), iZettle (2010) and SumUp (2012) challenged the payment duopoly that Verifone and Ingenico had built.
I’ve signed up to all of these devices, and have forensically benchmarked, analysed and compared the experience of each one.
If you’re wondering why Ingenico isn’t included—they never bothered to return my sales calls or emails. But luckily, their offering is so similar to Verifone, that Verifone can be a proxy for both of the ‘incumbent payment systems’.
Right then, let’s get stuck in.
Summary: The challenger providers were cheaper, simpler, faster and more efficient. And not just a little bit—considerably so.
The negative effects of ‘dead air’.
How SumUp uses payment as an anchor.
How iZettle helps create ‘flow’.
Building for the subconscious.
Why a delivery company may be letting you down.
A symptom of inefficiency.
This chapter only has 3 case studies, because Verifone’s process was entirely manual. Each case study shows:
Benchmarking the experience
It says a lot about the state of an industry when the incumbents have made it intentionally difficult to compare prices with their competition.
Unlike with Square, SumUp and iZettle, there’s no ‘Verifone store’ where you can purchase a reader. Instead, you need to go through a sales rep to get a quote.
After shipping and taxes, how much did the entry-level readers actually cost me?
Cost of entry level card reader
Square’s entry-level device was 34% cheaper than iZettle and SumUp, and a massive 71% cheaper than Verifone.
Or, to make it less abstract; imagine if Verifone had a 70% off sale—it’d still be more expensive than Square.
But, you should be aware that these devices aren’t perfectly comparable. For example, Square’s device doesn’t have a screen, and none of the entry-level challenger devices will print paper receipts.
This comparison is of the minimum spend required to get something set-up.
After I’d bought all these devices, I then had to wait for them to arrive.
Number of days for the reader to arrive
Number of working days
Okay, so the challengers were faster and cheaper. But what about the actual experience of signing up?
The experience of signing up
The above benchmark set the tone: Verifone is more expensive and took longer to arrive, but ultimately they’re just two metrics.
The rest of this chapter explores what the user experience of actually joining each service is like.
1. Dead air
I have a confession; claiming that Verifone took 5 working days to arrive is misleading. It actually took 10 working days.
This is because the Verifone sign-up process is entirely manual. You can’t sign up online, but instead you go back and forth with a sales rep over email.
And no, it wasn’t even a Docusign, it was literally a PDF that I had to annotate my signature into, using Mac Preview.
The full process went like this:
Enquiring on their website
Hey, I need this.
Discussing requirements with sales rep
Answered 34 questions in an email, and sent photo ID.
Complete contract and Direct Debit
Then return via email.
Device arrives in the post
5 working days later.
If the above process doesn’t sound frustrating to you, consider that they’d only reply during business hours, and this elapsed two weekends.
That’s 4 days of dead air. 4 days where I could have just signed up to iZettle, Square or SumUp.
To clarify, all 3 of the challengers had entirely digital processes. Within 5 minutes you could have any of these accounts, and an email confirming that your device will be with you in a few days.
Sure, if Wetherspoons approaches you and asks for 10,000 terminals, then a sales rep would be helpful to iron out logistical issues. But for most small businesses, that kind of high-touch process is crippling.
2. Payment as an anchor
There’s a technique often used in sign-up processes; creating anchors of investment.
In short, an anchor refers to a point in the process that, once passed, the user would be incredibly unlikely to give up on what they were doing.
Anchors help keep bored users engaged.
These anchors are very subtle, and often unintentional. But here are 3 common types that you’ve probably experienced before:
Payment as an anchor
i.e., once you’ve paid for Netflix, it wouldn’t matter how long their sign-up process was, you’d still use it.
Time as an anchor
i.e., you’ve already spent 45 minutes answering questions on a form, so you’d have a lot to lose by quitting.
Effort as an anchor
i.e., you’ve already done the hard/boring part of a process, so you view future tasks as being easy.
This creates a dilemma: what’s the most effective anchor, and how do you get your users to reach that as soon as possible?
In this instance, one of these anchors is obvious. Let’s look at how long into the process (as a percentage) you are, when you’re asked to pay for your card reader.
When do you pay for the card reader (% of process)
Clicks as a % of total clicks required
There are clearly two approaches:
1. Pay early. SumUp get the user to pay for the device almost immediately (you actually select your reader after 4 clicks).
2. Pay late. iZettle and Square use ‘effort as an anchor’, and paying for your reader is basically the final step.
And then you have Verifone, who are essentially anchor-less—drifting around on the ocean during weekends.
3. Inducing a state of 'flow'
The mantra “time flies when you’re having fun” may be true, but why does time also fly when I’m sat answering emails?
Well, partly, that can be attributed to being in a state of flow, which is basically just a period of total focus.
Inducing your users into a state of flow is the holy grail for software companies.
And although it’s not easy, or even predictable, you can incubate a suitable environment for flow with a few considerations:
The task has the correct difficulty
i.e., not too easy, and not too hard.
A sense of progression
i.e., progress makes the user feel like they’re good at the task.
A lack of distractions
i.e., let the user get on with it.
Ignoring Verifone, which of these services created the best environment for flow?
To me, it’s clear that iZettle is by far the best here. The case studies go into detail, but in short; it’s more consistent, fewer distractions and has a real sense of progress.
The subconscious mind is a wonderful thing. It processes subtleties in our environment, and silently helps us navigate the world.
For example, if you were to approach the door shown below, you’d subconsciously decide that this is a push door, and not a pull one.
Push and pull doors look different to each other—a design choice intended to encourage your brain to engage in autopilot. And it works.
This technique is used in the digital world too. There are elements and components which you may not pay much attention to, but act as signposts for your subconscious.
Think about this; why—during a form, or sign up process—do you sometimes see pages like the one below, between sections?
It’s brilliant and subtle—these pages act as a bookend. They tell you that a section has finished, and that the context around the questions will now change.
This gives the user a chance to reorient themselves, and refocus their attention on the new context.
Or to clarify the iZettle example above: “you’ve answered everything about yourself, so from now, all the questions will be about your company“.
Nobody else utilised this technique, and their experiences jump around between asking about your personal details, to your billing address, to your registered business address.
5. Choice of delivery company
Before Amazon ran their own delivery service, they’d use third parties companies.
One of these was so complained about—particularly referring to damaged or missing items—that it made mainstream media in the U.K.
I, like many others, blamed Amazon. I knew it wasn’t their fault directly, but I blamed them for their choice of partners.
It’s important to remember that the user experience of a product or service transcends pixels on a screen. And, like Amazon learned, it certainly includes any services provided by third parties.
As a company shipping physical products, your choice of parter is not trivial. You’re trusting them to do a great job. If they fail, you fail.
So I was interested to see which delivery company each service opted for.
No tracking ❌
Fortunately for this comparison, MoneySavingExpert.com ran a survey of nearly 10,000 consumers in the U.K., earlier this year, and then ranked the major delivery companies from best to worst.
Did SumUp and Verifone use the two worst-voted delivery companies because they didn’t do enough research on them? Or because they were cheaper?
If using one of the least-favourable delivery companies wasn’t bad enough, Verifone didn’t even pass along a tracking number, so my parcel just randomly arrived one day, while I was out.
Had I not installed a doorbell camera, I’d have missed the delivery, and had to wait another day at least.
Sending a parcel that requires a signature, without any warning or tracking number, is a form of passive torture.
6. A symptom of inefficiency
Finally, I’ve got an even more abstract UX consideration: how efficient is their packaging.
Aside from the obvious environmental issues—which consumers are generally becoming more aware of, and frustrated by—inefficient packaging is a symptom of a broader inefficiency.
iZettle, Square and SumUp all came in small boxes, and the experience felt similar to opening the box of an iPhone.
But then my Verifone device arrived.
I know it looks big, but sometimes images can be deceiving, so I measured their volume. Square came in at (580cm³), compared to Verifone’s (15,300cm³).
Let that sink in; the Verifone box is more than 26x larger.
Sure, the Verifone device is bigger and it comes with more stuff—which I’ll be discussing in the next chapter—but the size of the box is entirely unjustified.
But why does this matter? Well, it’s all about first impressions.
Looking at the image above, do you see a company that has relentlessly obsessed over optimising their processes?
Do you see a company that is constantly trying to reduce their shipping costs, and therefore make their devices more affordable for the end user?
Let’s get the obvious point out of the way: the sign up experience of Verifone is clearly worse than all three of the challenger providers.
But, which of the 3 was best?
In my opinion iZettle strikes the best balance of focus and simplicity. It was organised and felt great.
But, compared to the experience of using these devices every day, the sign up processes is a small blip in your overall experience.
The next 3 chapters will really put these devices to the test.