Merchants seeking a simple means to support multiple payment options such as EMV chip cards and Near Field Communication and the ability to choose ancillary services such as loyalty programs from any vendor might consider adopting a Genius for support.

Merchant Warehouse on June 12 is expected to introduce its Genius customer-engagement platform, which the independent sales organization says is the first acceptance service designed to handle all existing and future payment types along with any vendors’ value-added gift, loyalty and promotional programs securely through cloud-based processing.

Consumers used to the customized checkout procedures at have begun demanding the same convenience at the point of sale, Dan Dufault, Merchant Warehouse vice president of marketing, tells PaymentsSource.

“The value at the point of sale has expanded beyond just traditional swipes, cash and debit transactions,” he says. “It’s now expanded to, how are you integrating gift and loyalty programs and mobile so the consumer is getting more value at the point of sale?”

As part of the initiative, merchants would have access to the Merchant Warehouse virtual terminal, where they may click on an app icon that represents the payment or other service they want to support. Once opened, the app provides an overview of the service. If the merchant hits “install,” Merchant Warehouse remotely updates or upgrades the Genius device without any disruption to the business, Dufault says.

“All of it happens seamlessly via the cloud,” he says, noting the system initially will roll out with the software built in to VeriFone MX 915 payment terminals, which supports use libraries. He declined to say whether other vendors eventually will embed the Genius software in their terminals.

For merchants that use an integrated service, the Genius platform communicates with the point-of-sale system, but any sensitive cardholder data never leave the countertop device, Dufault notes. “The POS system is ‘abstracted’ and completely taken out of the [Payment Application Data Security Standard] scope,” he says. “The merchant still needs the (PCI) audit, but the scope is smaller.”

At least one observer says merchants likely would find the platform useful, especially with the ever-changing–and increasing–volume of options they face for services they can support at the point of sale.

“It’s a good thing for the market because it’s getting very hard to be a retailer and keep the point-of-sale system up to date,” says Avivah Litan, a vice president and distinguished analyst at the Stamford, Conn.-based market research company Gartner. “It’s important for the point-of-sale vendors beyond Merchant Warehouse to package all this functionality together so the retailer doesn’t have to buy a new system every time a new option comes out.”

The Genius platform initially will be available on a limited basis in September, Dufault says. Starting next week, Merchant Warehouse will be working with about six POS-developer partners to do the integrations with Genius. Each week and over the next couple of months, the ISO will bring in more POS-development partners into that process, he says.

Merchant Warehouse works with more than 80,000 merchants and has about 800 partners that include software developers and value-added resellers. It also works with about 400 independent agents.

Dufault declined to comment on Genius pricing but said the costs will be separate for payments and loyalty programs. “As [merchants] turn on different options the pricing will be based on the options–either individually or in bundles,” he says.

Asked whether Merchant Warehouse is rolling out Genius in reaction to the growing competition from Square Inc. and the emergence of PayPal Inc. as a payments player, Dufault downplayed Square’s impact because it works with merchants that require a limited amount of functionality. EBay Inc’s PayPal, however, “would be a good payment partner for the Genius platform.”

Merchant Warehouse has various integration opportunities with Genius, though Dufault declined to elaborate. The company is working with various processors, including First Data Corp. and Total System Services Inc., but such companies do not need to participate in take advantage of Genius, he says.

Merchants also might be drawn to the speed at which they can add functions to support at the countertop. For example, if a retailer gets multiple customers asking whether it supports Dwolla payments, it could decide at the end of the day to switch on the function.

“Offering that kind of agility to the merchant is a huge selling point,” Dufault says.

Asked whether he foresees the ability to turn on support for a service as quickly as a clerk might provide a customer credit at the point of sale, Dufault was a bit skeptical.

“It’s not a while-you-wait type of situation,” he says. “But the merchant could do it at the end of the day just by clicking the (icon).”

The nearly all-encompassing platform should help Merchant Warehouse remain in contention as new waves of technology wash over the industry, observers say.

Indeed, changes at the point of sale will be accelerating over next few years, whether it’s involving the telcos or Isis or Visa with EMV or PayPal with Home Depot (see story), Litan notes.

“It’s just too much to keep up with, and it’s just better to have the vendor keep up with all the changes,” she says.

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