Groupon is the latest of many companies to provide merchants with a card reader that clips to smartphones. But the daily-deals company is not simply selling a me-too device — it is planting the seeds of a bigger payments strategy.

"We consider ourselves a payments company," says Gene Alston, Groupon's vice president and general manager of payments. "Our first solution integrates with merchants' Groupon mobile app, but like any other payment service we intend to open it up to more options for acceptance, especially for these high-volume merchants that may have different requirements."

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