When people can easily book appointments with small merchants, they don't always show up — and this practice has sparked demand for a system that also accepts deposits, so that merchants can be compensated for no-shows. That same technology can make it easier for companies to accept payments through Facebook pages.
Bozeman, Mont.-based Schedulicity and Seattle-based Full Slate Inc., which each market software enabling consumers to book their own appointments through companies' websites, are among several competing firms that recently added a payment feature to their services.
"What we're starting to see is the convergence of various forces of online and social media marketing, efficiency and convenience, meeting up with the need for payment card security," Peter Krasilovsky, an analyst and vice president at Chantilly, Va.-based media research and advisory firm BIA/Kelsey, said in an interview. "It's the early stages but eventually we will see these types of services evolve into some interesting new platforms."
In addition to the efficiency online scheduling services provide, they also appeal to small businesses that are increasingly becoming aware of the need to be compliant with the Payment Card Industry data-security standard when gathering customers' payment details experts say.
Schedulicity last month announced the addition of a payment feature to the online appointment-scheduling service it introduced in 2009. Dubbed Reliability+, the service enables small businesses to invite their customers to add payment card details when booking appointments. Customers agree to let participating businesses charge their card a fee or a deposit in case of a cancellation or no-show.
A third-party online payments company, San Francisco-based Stripe, processes payments and stores credit and debit card data in accordance with PCI data-security rules, Jerry Nettuno, the firm's CEO, said in an interview.
That feature is a plus to many businesses that historically have kept customers' credit card details to hold a spot or to guarantee payment, he says. "A lot of businesses historically have held credit card numbers" in a "very haphazard fashion that risks data-exposure," Nettuno says.
Schedulicity's payment feature is available at no extra charge to single-location small businesses for $19.95 a month to use its appointment-booking software; the cost is $39.95 a month for businesses with multiple outlets.
Stripe charges businesses "a small transaction fee" when they process payments, and businesses typically use Stripe only for missed appointments, not for routine payments, Nettuno says.
"Consumers are not jolted by the idea of guaranteeing an appointment with a card," he notes.
While businesses using Schedulicity tell Nettuno they have seen reductions of 60% to 70% in cancellations and no-shows after adding the scheduling services, he says it is too early to tell how much adding a payment-guarantee feature to appointments may further slash no-show rates.
Services that cost $50 or more are the ripest for guaranteeing with a payment, the companies say. The service includes the option to send e-mail reminders of appointments to consumers, and consumers can also see an hourly countdown to their appointment through a participating business' website.
Schedulicity serves "thousands" of businesses and books an average of 1 million appointments per month for customers, Nettuno says.
Seattle-based Full Slate, launched in 2008, has followed a slightly different route to offering payment options for its online appointment-scheduling service. Since its launch, Full Slate has allowed businesses to accept payment through PayPal Inc., Chris Korol, the firm's vice president of product, said in an interview.
Beginning in July, Full Slate expanded its payment offerings by integrating third-party payment services from Stripe and Authorize.net so that businesses may tap a broader range of card payments and store payment data securely, she says.
Businesses using Full Slate's services pay transaction fees to the payment companies when they must charge a customer for a missed appointment; most use the payment feature only as a backup, not a primary payment channel, Korol says.
Full Slate does not charge businesses extra for using its payment feature, which includes the option to set up specific rules to require payment card data only for certain types of customers, such as new clients, or only for certain higher-ticket transactions.
For what it calls its more robust offering, Full Slate's rate for its scheduling service is higher than some other services, at $29.95 a month for a sole proprietor to $79.95 a month for up to 10 employees, she says.
The addition of payment options for small-business online scheduling services may be just the beginning of increasingly rich platforms that may include more services to automate marketing and deals, including through mobile channels, Krasilovsky says.
"The force of combining online marketing with promotions, scheduling and payments is compelling and it is only a matter of time before even more robust platforms emerge," he says.