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PayPal takes on Square with launch of card readers in the U.S.

PayPal Holdings Inc. plans a challenge to Square Inc. as it launches a physical card reader in the U.S.

The move represents the latest attempt by PayPal
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-0.63%

to take a bite of in-store commerce, following its introduction of QR-code payments for its mobile-wallet users last year. With the card reader, called Zettle, the company sees opportunities to create a more unified experience for merchants that already use its services online as well as to establish loyalty tie-ins with the PayPal mobile wallet.

The U.S. launch of PayPal’s card reader comes about three years after PayPal acquired iZettle, a European maker of point-of-sale products, for $2.2 billion. Companies like Square
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-1.30%

and Shopify Inc.
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-0.11%

already offer card readers in addition to online payment capabilities, but PayPal is betting that some of its online customers will want to conduct their in-person and digital sales all with the same provider, especially as physical retail bounces back.

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Many merchants are “trying to straddle the three different dimensions of commerce,” PayPal’s senior vice president for omnichannel commerce Jim Magats told MarketWatch, referring to mobile, online and in-store sales. The timing of the Zettle launch “probably couldn’t have been better with the reemergence of face-to-face [commerce],” he continued.

PayPal is also hoping to expand its reach to physical-first merchants, with Magats noting that perhaps a third of U.S. small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have a sales presence on the web. By creating interoperability on back-office functions like inventory and order management, Magats expects that PayPal can appeal to some of these brick-and-mortar sellers that may wish to eventually expand online but don’t want the complications of dealing with two or three providers across the different selling channels.

The merchants that participated in PayPal’s beta rollout of the Zettle reader previously used point-of-sale offerings from companies including Square and Toast, according to Magats. He said one feature that resonated with those in the beta group was that PayPal’s offering played well with the merchants’ existing accounting, order management and other back-office systems.

“You don’t have to rip and replace existing infrastructure,” he said.

PayPal will sell merchants their first Zettle card reader for $29 and offer an option to buy additional readers for $79 apiece. The readers will work with consumer hardware like iPads and iPhones as well as some existing point-of-sale hardware that a merchant may have. The Zettle rate in the U.S. for card transactions will be 2.29% plus 9 cents at launch.

“We believe we’re more competitive on the basics with Zettle on pricing, availability, and speed of funds, as well as interoperability,” Magats said.

Square lists a standard processing fee of 2.6% plus 10 cents for card payments made through traditional methods like swiping or tapping.

Eventually PayPal’s goal is to drive connections between its merchant offerings and its vast network of about 150 million U.S. consumers who use either the PayPal or Venmo mobile wallets. Magats suggested that the company could ultimately tap into the “community aspect of Venmo” as a “demand generator” for Zettle merchants or introduce loyalty offerings focused on local businesses.

Square recently began linking its Cash App mobile wallet with its merchant business, making it so shoppers who earn rewards from Square sellers can manage those rewards from within the Cash App. The move won praise from analysts.

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