By Cynthia Drake
Garage sales have always been relatively low-tech affairs -- hand-labeled price stickers and an old cash box full of dollar bills are the usual tools of the trade. But if you want to sell a higher-priced item, such as a flat-screen TV or that barely used elliptical machine, the old-fashioned way might not be good enough anymore.
That's where credit cards come in. Because people tend to carry around more plastic than cash these days, it's worthwhile for garage sale proprietors to consider their options for taking credit cards. If you don't, you're limiting your audience to those who carry around a wad of cash, or perhaps risking getting ripped off by a bouncing personal check.
Here are a few ways you can accept credit cards at your next sale this summer, and take your garage, yard or moving sale into the 21st century.
Online payment services: quick and easy
If you've got a laptop and an Internet connection, you're set up to offer credit card payments through websites such as PayPal. ProPay and Google.
Consider creating a free website using Weebly or Google to make your checkout process look professional and reliable. You can incorporate a shopping cart into your website using code from the online pay service.
The advantages of using online payment services are the ease of setup and use. Many of your garage sale patrons will already be familiar with sites like PayPal and may have accounts already set up. If not, they will still be able to use any major credit card on these sites. Most of these sites also allow you to e-mail a receipt to your buyers.
Of course, there's a cost that comes with using these services. Each site comes with its own fee system.
VIDEO: MORE ON ACCEPTING CREDIT CARDS AT YOUR NEXT GARAGE SALE
In this video, Cynthia Drake shows you more on how to accept credit cards at your next garage sale. including a step-by-step walkthrough of how to use the Square with your iPhone or Android phone.
PayPal and Google base their rates on your sales volume. As an average garage sale proprietor takes in less than $3,000, your charge on either site would be 2.9 percent plus 30 cents for every transaction ($3.20 on a $100 sale).
ProPay charges an annual fee to use their service plus 3.5 percent plus 35 cents for every transaction ($3.85 on a $100 sale). The company also offers a card reader for sale for swiping cards -- perhaps more useful for a flea marketer or someone with a regular side business.
Because the fees can add up, you might consider only offering a credit card payment option to your high-ticket item buyers.
The latest payment tech: Square
The latest technology available for credit card processing comes from Twitter creator Jack Dorsey. Square is a payment device that will allow you to turn your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch into a credit card reader.
Download the free Square application for your device, set up an account and order your free card reader, which plugs into your audio input jack. The app allows your iPhone to process buyer signatures and verify your customers' identities through photos. Plus you'll have ability to e-mail receipts to your customers.
Square's fees are competitive with other online pay sites, at 2.75 percent plus 15 cents per transaction using the card swipe or $2.90 per $100. (The service costs slightly more to key in rather than swipe credit card information.) There are no additional fees for the service or equipment.
One potential downside is that you might encounter some skepticism among your buyers when swiping their card information into your iPhone or other device. Especially since the concept of mobile payments is so new, people might shy away from handing over their cards.
How to head off security concerns
Your buyers may be understandably wary of sharing their credit card information, especially at an informal setting such as a garage sale. Though any credit card transaction carries a certain level of risk, dishonest merchants can use key tracking to cache credit card information -- and there's no foolproof way for buyers to establish that their information is safe.
In the event that they don't feel comfortable using your computer or iPhone to send you money, you can offer them the option of using their own. Many people carry their own smart phones and can send you money via PayPal or similar sites on the spot. Or they may wish to go home and send you the money from their own computer before picking up their purchase.
No matter which method you choose, the important part is to offer your garage sale patrons several payment options -- the easier you make it for them to pay you, the more luck you'll have in selling your unwanted stuff.
Updated: July 1, 2010
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