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Apps turn smartphones into payment devices at some area stores

Paying with plastic could be a thing of the past with more businesses now gravitating toward using systems which allow customers to pay with their smart phones.

The apps vary, but most work by uploading information and holding the device in front of a store’s credit card scanner after entering a personal identification number.

Russell Shimek, the owner of the recently opened Dunn Brothers Coffee store in Grand Forks, said that while it’s not the most common method of payment, many customers download Level Up, the app that works at their store, because they are able to earn rewards. For every $50 customers spend at Dunn Brothers, they earn $5 back and qualify for special rewards on their birthday.

“It’s been working great, and customers really like it because the transactions are all kept track of and they get emailed their receipt immediately upon authorization,” Shimek said.

Wendy’s on South Washington Street in Grand Forks just introduced the option for customers to pay with their phones and manager Ashley Dodge said it has worked very smoothly.

“It is actually quite convenient,” she said. “We don’t have to take cards, give change back, that sort of thing.”

Other tech

Smaller businesses like Kittson, Dakota Harvest Bakers and Urban Stampede don’t accept smart phone apps for payment, but have simplified their transactions by using Square, an app that simplifies debit and credit card transactions.

Square sells card readers that plug into smart phones or tablets. Customers can swipe their cards, sign with their finger and get a receipt sent instantly to their email.

Workers at Urban Stampede coffee shop in downtown Grand Forks have been using Square on an iPad for about six months and said the system works a lot more smoothly than their old cash register.

In fact, most point of sales systems cost thousands of dollars while Square costs as much as the device it’s used on.

But this fairly new technology is still hard to find in Grand Forks. Big box stores, like Walmart, Target and Best Buy, aren’t using the technology, and customers who have coupons on their phones have them typed in by a cashier.

Merchant Customer Exchange, a company slated to deploy a “pay with your phone app” sometime this year, boasts compatibility with Best Buy on their website, but the local manager Torrie Enget said the store still uses traditional methods of payment.

While there are other apps in existence that allow for a streamlined shopping experience, they haven’t been used in Grand Forks yet. For example, PayPal created an app that can be used at Home Depot where users link their PayPal accounts to their phone and type in a PIN to pay at the register.

Downloadable “pay with your phone” apps that can be used at various shops in Grand Forks include Google Wallet and Level Up.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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