LevelUp Review

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Date Established
2011
Location
Boston, MA

Overview:

LevelUp is very different from any merchant service provider or mobile processor we’ve reviewed on Merchant Maverick before. Most of our provider reviews focus on companies offering traditional credit and debit card payments – either swiped, keyed in, or via an eCommerce site. LevelUp doesn’t offer any of those services. LevelUp… is a barcode scanner.

Okay, okay. It’s not exactly a barcode scanner — it’s an app that allows customers to pay with their smartphones and earn rewards, that just happens to use a barcode scanner.

With LevelUp, customers register a free account, link their credit and debit cards to this virtual wallet, and then are free to pay directly from their mobile app (which displays a QR code) at your LevelUp scanner.

What’s a QR code you ask? You know those little checkered black and white boxes you see on packaging and signs that you can scan with your phone? Those are QR codes (aka, Quick Response codes). They’re not entirely unlike super-powered barcodes: similar concept, a LOT more information.

It’s always been hard to put LevelUp in a single box. It has…not an odd mix, but a certainly a complicated mix of services.

LevelUp merchants can be featured in the general LevelUp app (free for customers), or the company can provide a custom white-label app. There’s also an option where your developer team can integrate the LevelUp SDK and APIs into your existing mobile app. Instead of relying on NFC (near field communication), which isn’t yet standard on entry-level and mid-tier phones, LevelUp made a more democratic choice by utilizing the camera function available on all smartphones to read QR codes. (However, it’s also worth noting that you can implement NFC as well as Beacons in a white-label app).

The LevelUp app combines two key features that many merchants struggle with: mobile payments and loyalty. It was, in some ways, a pioneer that was ahead of its time when it launched. However, these days, I’m not fully sure LevelUp has kept up with the times. There’s a decreasing level of transparency that I find frustrating.

For example, LevelUp has stopped publishing its processing rates. When we did this review last, LevelUp advertised a flat rate of 2%. It later announced on its blog that it was lowering rates to 1.95%. However, the LevelUp rep that I spoke to said that the pricing has changed, since then. Furthermore, the rep said they couldn’t disclose the rates for legal reasons.  So calling all LevelUp merchants: Feel free to leave us a comment and let us know what your rates are!

There are some high points, though: LevelUp’s loyalty/campaign program costs less than other programs such as Groupon. And you get very detailed analytics to monitor your campaigns, so you can see what’s working.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that LevelUp isn’t as strong a competitor as once was. There is a glut of options for loyalty as well as mobile payments. There are a few options besides LevelUp that combine both.

I’m lowering LevelUp’s score to a 4-star rating from its previous 4.5 stars. The lack of information about rates is frustrating, but more importantly, I worry that the company just isn’t keeping pace with the industry. The white label solution is more forward-thinking than the basic app. but it’s not necessarily the most cost-effective choice. If you plan on using just the basic LevelUp app, you’ll get the most benefit if you’re in a large city.

That said, LevelUp remains a fairly low-risk investment if you are curious about it.So read on for our full LevelUp review and see if it ticks the right boxes for you!

Products and Services:

Launched by Seth Priebatsch’s mobile gaming company SCVNGRin 2011, LevelUp combines smartphone-based payments with a loyalty program. Breaking down LevelUp’s services is a bit complicated because they can be combined in so many ways. Remember that as a merchant you can choose just to use the standard LevelUp app, integrate its features into your own app, or get a white-label branded app.

  • Mobile app: The LevelUp app is free to download for consumers. When I logged into it, I was a bit disappointed to see the only business in the area that works with it is Planet Sub. But that’s Kansas City — your mileage may vary. Expect to see more options in larger cities.
  • Developer SDK: Already have a mobile app, but want to integrate LevelUp’s features? The SDK will let you do just that without. It also has partnerships with a few app developers to make the process even easier. The basic SDK is free to use, but you can’t assess a higher processing fee than LevelUp’s rates unless you provide a value added service. In addition, there are “Enterprise” components available for an undisclosed fee. Except these features to be more robust.
  • White-label customer app: This is expensive but very, very cool. You get your own branded app with huge possibilities for innovative payment and marketing options powered by LevelUp. Check it out for more info.

That said, the core features that LevelUp provides will stay the same regardless of which option you pursue. To take advantage of other features you will need to opt for the integration or white-label app.:

  • Card processing via mobile wallet: Consumers will need to link a payment card (debit or credit) to be able to pay via the mobile app.
  • Mobile discount, rewards, and loyalty programs: You can create custom campaigns to entice new and repeat customers. It’s also worth noting that LevelUp will sometimes provide customers with credit to be used at any of their merchant locations.
  • In-depth reporting and analytics: LevelUp’s analytics will give you actionable data, so you can see whether you’re achieving your campaign goals.
  • Order-ahead capability: LevelUp doesn’t offer delivery, but you can make it easier for customers to order ahead and pick up their orders in person, which is becoming a fairly popular trend.
  • Gift cards: LevelUp gift cards are currently an iOS-only feature (at least in the primary app), though I am told that LevelUp is working on upgrading this feature. Still, to not have support for Android at this point is a sign that you are behind the times.

It’s worth mentioning that LevelUp partnered with Chase Bank on its mobile app (named, unsurprisingly, Chase Pay) to implement the order-ahead and loyalty features.

LevelUp Hardware:

As we previously mentioned, LevelUp will integrate with many major POS systems (you can check out the list here). However, even if the system doesn’t integrate, you can still use LevelUp with its tablet system. This is similar to how terminals work — some will integrate with your system, some require a separate connection. Whether you choose to use the LevelUp app, integrate the SDK into your own app, or get a white-label app, you need the hardware to accept mobile payments.

  • Countertop QR scanners: The individual scanners cost $50 and integrate straight into your POS system or the LevelUp tablet. For a list of compatible POS software, see this page.
  • LevelUp Tablet: Each tablet costs $100. However, you only need a tablet if your POS doesn’t support the LevelUp integration.

That’s it. Seriously.

“But wait!” you’re thinking. “What about receipt printers?” LevelUp actually discourages merchants from printing paper receipts because the app offers a digital receipt. Part of this is because if a customer has any LevelUp credit to apply to the bill, your POS system may not note it correctly, which leads to discrepancies, which leads to confused or unhappy customers. So, best skip the receipts for LevelUp transactions altogether.

Fees and Rates:

LevelUp is a flat-rate service with no monthly fees, which is nice. There’s no risk for you beyond the investment in hardware. LevelUp uses Braintree and Bank of America for the actual processing, for the record.

LevelUp used to disclose its processing rates pretty clearly. However, that’s changed. Now, if you look, you’ll just find references to a low, flat rate. In 2014, we know that rate was 1.95%. That’s a pretty respectable flat rate — but LevelUp can’t tell me if it’s lower or higher than that now.

I do know that LevelUp has been using a technique here it’ll charge users just once a month for all of their transactions (if the user allows it). This is a way to save on swipe fees. For merchants, it’s worth noting this /doesn’t/ affect the payout schedule. You can still expect next-day funding on all your transactions and LevelUp assumes the risks.

For discount, reward, and loyalty campaigns, LevelUp charges a flat 25% of the redeemed rewards (not the cost of the total transaction). If no one cashes in, you pay nothing.

Let’s say you offer a campaign where customers get $5 off if they spend $50. LevelUp’s fee would be 25% of the $5, or in this case, $1.25.

The campaigns feature is a powerful tool and one you shouldn’t overlook. Running any kind of promotional campaign is hard, and you need good tools to measure its effectiveness. I think LevelUp has a great solution in that regard. It’s also a better deal than sites like Groupon, which charges twice as much ($0.50 on the dollar for redeemed rewards).

Another nice feature? Absolute no chargebacks! LevelUp provides a “no chargeback guarantee.” Check it out:

LevelUp’s unique security model means that when we approve a transaction, we mean it. Credit card processors reserve the right to “change their mind” on payments up to 60-90 days later with huge chargeback fees and little room to dispute. This can often be as much as 0.5% of total volume (chargebacks and fees included). With LevelUp, we vouched for the customer when we approved the transaction and we stand by it. You’re 100% shielded from any chargebacks when customers pay with LevelUp.

If you’ve ever had to deal with the hassle and expense of chargebacks, you know what a blessing this is.

We’ve already covered the cost of the hardware — $50 per reader and $100 per tablet. That’s really not a bad deal at all, considering most tablets will run you $200 minimum to start and most barcode readers will run in the $100 range.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

LevelUp is low risk because everything is pay-as-you-go except for the hardware (which is incredibly reasonably priced for what you get). If you do decide to stop using LevelUp for whatever reason, here’s what you need to know about terminating your agreement:

16.4. Unless you have executed a separate agreement with LevelUp specifying a fixed-term agreement (which shall supersede this section), you may cancel your use of LevelUp with 30 days’ prior written notice to LevelUp. To the extent that your agreement with LevelUp specifies a termination date and/or termination terms, such terms shall supersede the entirety of this sub-section.

16.5. If you choose to cancel your use of LevelUp, or any individual Campaign, within one calendar week following the termination, you will pay to LevelUp a brand protection fee equal to 17% of the outstanding Campaign Credit that has been unlocked (earned) or claimed but not yet redeemed by Users. Additionally, if you cancel your use of LevelUp and were not charged the full Hardware Fee, you areresponsible for returning the LevelUp Hardware. We will provide a pre-paid mailing label. Upon termination of Merchant’s use of the LevelUp service, Merchant authorizes LevelUp to debit Merchant’s designated payment account via ACH transfer for the cost of any hardware provided free of charge, which amount will be credited to Merchant’s account upon receipt of hardware by LevelUp.

16.6. Upon termination, you authorize LevelUp to collect all outstanding unpaid fees by a direct ACH debit to an account specified by you for the payment of LevelUp fees and/or Net Sales Proceeds, and/or to withhold outstanding unpaid fees from Net Sales Proceeds

This isn’t too surprising or scary. You might take some issue with the 17% of campaign credit you’ll owe — but the company could charge you the full 25%, or worse, a larger liquidated damages provision.

The rest of the contract is pretty standard fare. Nothing worrisome there, which is nice.

You can find a full disclosure of their Terms & Conditions here.

If you opt for a white-label app, you’ll find that under its standard Professional Services Agreement. You’ll want to note that the fees are different from white-label apps, and it’s going to cost significantly more than just the standard LevelUp service.

If you’re a developer, or your developer is using the LevelUp infrastructure to build your app, check out the Developer Terms here.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

It appears that LevelUp has eliminated its reseller program — not that we had any suspicion that it was problematic to begin with. But for the most part, LevelUp is honest and straightforward. I’m a little displeased by the lack of pricing information on the website, but unfortunately it’s a common practice.

LevelUp is active on Facebook and Twitter (there’s also an Instagram). I’m happy to see that LevelUp’s Twitter feed is fielding support-related questions. Most of them just refer merchants to the support site or a phone number, but we can see that LevelUp is responsive and friendly, which is no small consideration in an age where quality customer service can be hard to come by. You can message the Facebook page, but the response will be slow. It took them well over a day to respond when I messaged the page.

In addition, it seems LevelUp has abandoned its blog. This is a little disheartening, but not a deal breaker. Nevertheless, I do believe that educated merchants make the best merchants, and one of the ways to do that is by creating informative blog posts.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

LevelUp support is fairly minimalist. There’s a customer service line at 855-538-3542, but not widely advertised and it’s not 24/7. You can leave a message after hours, though, and they’ll get back to you ASAP (in theory). For most problems, they want you to utilize their on-site form for email support.

You will, however, find a respectable FAQ portal on the LevelUp site that contains most of the information you could wan,t as long as your problems aren’t account-specific.

Do you have experience with LevelUp’s customer support? Leave your review below and help me evaluate them!

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

I don’t want to say LevelUp is a ghost online. That’s not true. However, there are precious few bits of information that come from merchants, and plenty of searches confuse the app with various other web pages, brands, and people using the name. LevelUp hasn’t quite managed to cultivate a strong online presence or a strong community outside its own website. That translates to a sad lack of information.

LevelUp finally has a BBB page. Yay! However, you’ll see that LevelUp is not accredited, despite its A+ rating. There are two reviews available, both negative, and eight complaints. That’s fairly small, and almost all of them are exclusively from consumers. They typically have concerns about the “grouped” billing policy; in a couple of complaints, there have been billing errors.

One merchant-related complaint I did find:

Hardware “rentals” and returns: It appears that LevelUp has offered free readers and tablets to merchants to lower their startup costs. When merchants terminate those agreements, LevelUp will deduct a fee to the tune of $250 — which is meant to be an insurance policy in case merchants don’t return the equipment. Once you send the equipment back, you get the money back. This feels a bit backward and I can see why merchants would be upset. This is a good example of why “free” equipment is rarely ever free and why rentals and leases are bad ideas. If you can, buy your hardware outright. Always.

I was unable to find any complaints from merchants using this service, which I consider fairly good news — but also inconclusive and unsatisfying. As far as consumer complaints go, people seem to be unhappy about the grouping of transactions into a monthly bill, and occasional compatibility issues.

Do you have experience with LevelUp? Leave your review below!

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

As I mentioned above, LevelUp hasn’t really cultivated a strong online reputation yet, and actual merchant experiences are very, very hard to come by. Sites like the Verge and CNET have nice things to say, though.

You’ll also find that there’s a small assortment of positive reviews floating around. Merchants, unsurprisingly, like that they can integrate mobile payments and loyalty programs in the same app.

In addition, you’ll find a couple of case studies focused on their custom app design service White-Label here, but other than that no merchant testimonials seem to exist.

Again, please leave your review below! Your input helps to make our reviews great.

Final Verdict:

While LevelUp isn’t going to replace your traditional merchant account, it could make a great add-on… for the right company. You won’t have to make any substantial investment to use the mobile app, and it without a doubt will add value to your business. With no cancellation fees, this is a very low-risk endeavor.

That said, there’s no pricing information, which does make it hard to tell if you’re getting a good deal. I haven’t seen any complaints about pricing, specifically, but I haven’t seen very many merchant complaints at all. Or any merchant testimonials, for that matter.

Android users have limited access to some features in the primary, which is a disappointment. And outside of major cities, you won’t see a lot of other merchants. Both of these factors could make it difficult to entice people to use the app, though there are some solid loyalty features.

I’m giving LevelUp a respectable 4 stars at the moment. You can’t really compare LevelUp to our other mobile processing solution, since you can’t actually swipe or key-in cards. It’s still an intriguing service with a lot of possibilities. But I’d like to see some sort of new feature, or some sign that LevelUp isn’t just coasting on its 2014 popularity.

If you’re interested in LevelUp as part of a full-on POS countertop solution, check out Merchant Warehouse (4.5 stars). They offer quality processing and have QR scanners with LevelUp integration offered as part of their Genius platform.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to leave a comment below!

Melissa Johnson

Melissa Johnson

Melissa Johnson is an independent writer and editor who loves e-commerce, digital marketing, technology, and social media. Once upon a time, she earned a journalism degree, but she went on to discover that she could work from home, researching, editing, and writing about the things she found most interesting. When she's not tied to her laptop, Melissa can usually be found in the kitchen, reading a book, or doing something of the nerdy persuasion.
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6 Comments

    Deena

    I was checking my account and all of sudden I seen this charge $8.76 today for Level Up and I still don’t know what Level UP is what the amount is for? I did not purchase nothing for this price today and trying to figure out how did this happen? How do you get in touch with their customer service other than leaving a name and number and hope for them to call you back.

    Jessica Dinsmore

    Hi Deena,

    Here is a link to their Help Center.

    Adam L

    I think I may have a serious problem with Level Up. The other day I was in a Steak and Shake restaurant and I signed up for their free app. If you have the app, when you pay at the ens of your meal, you run the app and the qr scanner next to the cash register reads the code on your phone and automatically charges your credit card. It worked great – I didn’t have to take my creit card out of my pocket. Problem is, a few days later Im looking at my credit card statement, and in addition to the food charge from Steak and Shake, there’s this mysterious $1 charge from a company called Level Up. An onlne search led me to your article. To be clear, no where on the promo in the restauraunt did it say that every time I use the app I’ll be charged a dollar. Why on earth would anyone knowingly do that, when the alternative is to use your creit card and let the restaurant cover the processing fees. The answer is, no one would knowingly do that, which is why Level Up and the restaurant don’t clearly state this when you sign up for the app. So, congratulations Level Up, you scammed me out of a buck.

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    KJD

    In response to the comment above, from the LevelUp terms of agreement:

    “Test Authorizations. By associating a payment instrument with your LevelUp User Account, you consent to LevelUp’s temporarily authorizing a charge on that payment instrument, typically for $1.00 or less, as part of our verification process. You will not be required to pay this charge, and it will disappear from your payment instrument statement within a few days. “

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Gerald Fong

    I've been doing some research into this area and your articles are very well written and cut straight to the chase! I wish I found this site way earlier on.The other day I spent an hour talking to flagship merchants and found tons of hidden fees. I've also been talking to a bunch of stores in Berkeley, CA and found out stores are overpaying huge amounts!

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Cody Kenyon

    love this review, really spot on with how LevelUp works. I currently have the Pebble Smartwatch and I use LevelUp on my watch but I also have the phone application to use that too.

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

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