By now you’ve probably heard of Square. The service allows you to insert a small square card reader into your iPhone, iPad or Android device and receive credit card payments on the spot. The card readers are free, or you can buy one at your local Apple Store and receive a credit for the purchase price (essentially making it free).

Square was built for individuals, but has started being used widely by businesses. In my town alone, you’ll see a Square card reader on almost every food truck, and at every small craft seller’s table. Since launch, the company has passed out 500,000 readers, accounting for close to a billion dollars (billion with a b) in yearly sales.

Realizing that a number of their customers are businesses, today Square announced Square Register, a POS system designed specifically for businesses that allows you as a customer to make payments using your mobile phone.

Payments with your phone?

The key feature of Square register from a consumer standpoint is the ability to make payments using your smartphone. Merchants that are using Square register will all have a digital business card of sorts you can pull up on your phone when you visit the location and want to make a purchase. You’ll keep all your virtual business cards in your “Square card case.”

When you visit a merchant you pull your virtual card out, check out the menu if you’d like, and place an order. Each virtual card will have a “Open tab” button (once you’ve linked your account with a credit card), that when pressed will open up a tab on the merchants register for you with your name a a small picture of you. For instance, if I was ordering a latte at my local coffee shop I press the open tab button on my phone and say “Put it on Emily’s tab” to the person running the register.  The friendly barista will then pull up the list of tabs, see my smiling face, and charge my beverage accordingly. My receipt is saved on the virtual card, and I can check out every receipt I’ve ever had from the business in a snap within the app, as well as specifics about what I ordered. So if I try a new drink today and forget what it is, I can check out my old receipt the next time I’m in and say “Make me one of these again.”

So, what’s the register do?

Square register is an application that runs on a mobile device (in today’s demo an iPad) that belongs to a merchant. The register allows customers to make purchases with the “open tab” functionality, but also keeps track of what people are buying and when. The application runs Google-style analytics on sales, letting you know when you’re busiest time is as a merchant, as well as things like what percentage of people picked up a cookie with their latte and what you’re most popular item is for the day.

While that functionality certainly exists for bis businesses like Starbucks, Bob’s coffee stand down the street might not have access to that kind of information on a daily affordable basis. By making it easier to predict what customers will want, small businesses have a better opportunity to grow.

50 merchants in 5 cities (NYC, LA, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington D.C) launched the service today (check out a full list here) In order to use the service you will have to visit one of the participating merchants, pay for your transaction using a card, and then have the receipt for that transaction sent you as a text message. Square will text you your receipt, as well as instructions on how to set up your Square card case. Once set up, you can use the “open tab” functionality at that merchant (and others) without having to use a physical card again.

What do you think about the idea of the Square register and the Square card case. Can you see yourself opening up tabs to pay for items, or do you still prefer to use traditional cards?

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