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 a QR code scanner that provides mobile payments and reward programs. 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). 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 the QR code) at your LevelUp scanner.

LevelUp offers a number of systems, including full-scale POS systems, with varying hardware costs ($50-200). We’ll be reviewing the full line in the future, but for this review I’m going to focus on their smartphone-based processing app, which is completely free of any start up costs. LevelUp uses Braintree (5 stars) and Bank of America (3.5 stars) for the actual processing end of things, for the record.

Launched by Seth Priebatsh’s mobile gaming company SCVNGRin 2011, LevelUp is growing into a serious contender in the mobile wallet industry. Instead of relying on NFC (near field communication), which iPhones do not work with, LevelUp made a more democratic choice by utilizing the camera function availbile on all smartphones to read QR codes.

Overall, I’m impressed by this service. They offer a low 2% fixed rate for processing, no set up costs, no early termination fees, great sales transparency, and quality software. Their coupon service is also fairly priced at $0.25 per dollar of redeemed offers (half of the ever-popular Groupon’s fees). I’m not convinced that they offer great customer service – but then again I haven’t seen any complaints about it either.

Of course LevelUp can’t yet replace your traditional merchant account. It’s simply a supplementary service. Still, their flat rate pricing could potentially save you money on processing, and their loyalty/reward/discount campaign service could prove valuable in terms of luring customers in and increasing sales. On top of this, the detailed analytics available through the sleek interface of your LevelUp dashboard can help you learn more about how customers are spending their money at your store.

I’m giving LevelUp a 4.5-star rating. While I can’t compare this service to more traditional mobile processing (like Square, for instance), they deliver what they promise, at little or no risk to you, and I’m excited to see where LevelUp goes from here.

Check out the full review for more details, or head over to our comparison chart to check out our best-rated processors!

Products and Services:

LevelUp offers a number of useful products and services. Not all of these are relevant for their mobile processing, but I’m including the entire line here in case you’re interested.

  • Card processing via mobile wallet
  • Mobile discount, rewards, and loyalty programs
  • In-depth reporting and analytics
  • Mobile scanner app: Absolutely free, this app uses your smartphone’s camera to scan the LevelUp QR codes from your customers. (This is the service I’m reviewing. The product info below is just for your information.)
  • Countertop QR scanners: This cost $50 and includes the LevelUp scanner for integration into your POS system. For a list of compatible POS software, see this page.
  • Standalone tablet-based QR scanners: This costs $200 and includes the LevelUp scanner and dedicated tablet.
  • LevelUp White Label customer app integration: This is expensive but very, very cool. Basically, you get your own branded app with huge possibilities for innovative payment and marketing options powered by LevelUp. Check it out for more info. It will cost you about $20K for the SDK license and access to the APIs alone, but might be worth it for you.

Fees and Rates:

LevelUp is a completely flat-rate service. For processing, they charge 2%. No other fees whatsoever. As they succinctly put it:

Payment processing for just 2% flat. Next-day payments everyday to any bank account. No hidden fees. No monthly fees. It’s that simple. Really.

For discount, reward, and loyalty campaigns, LevelUp charges a flat 25% of the redeemed rewards. If no one cashes in, you pay nothing. Again, from their site:

Campaigns are entirely pay-for-performance. We charge a fee of 25% of the incentive you offer, only if it’s redeemed. Run multiple campaigns or none. Always your choice.

I like this super transparent approach to service fees. Just don’t get too carried away with the rewards you give out, since you’ll be paying a fairly steep 25% of the reward value. Even so, I think it’s a great way to get customers to shop with you. It’s also a better deal than sites like Groupon, which charges twice as much ($0.50 on the dollar).

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. Period.

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

To use LevelUp’s mobile processing service, all you need is the free app and your smartphone. No other hardware necessary.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

LevelUp requires absolutely no contract commitment, and thus charges no early termination fee. There’s one weird stipulation on in their agreement:

You may not cancel your Program without our prior written approval, which we will not unreasonably withhold.

This is probably in place to protect you from an unauthorized account closure, but I thought I should mention it.

While LevelUp doesn’t charge a standard termination fee, you could still be left with some debt when closing your account. That’s because you will be responsible for covering 17% of all unlocked (but unredeemed) reward dollars your customers currently possess. Depending on how many campaigns you have set up, this could be substantial.

If you choose to cancel the Program, within one calendar week following the termination of your Program, you will pay to LevelUp a brand protection fee equal to 17% of of the outstanding loyalty credits that have been unlocked but not yet redeemed by Users.

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

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

I’d say that LevelUp offers nearly perfect sales and advertising transparency. All rates and fees appear in plain sight, and I couldn’t find any misleading advertising anywhere.

While resellers do market these services, the extremely thorough and standardized content offered on the LevelUp site should be enough to keep them honest. If you have a bad experience with a reseller, please let me know.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

LevelUp support is fairly minimalist. They do offer 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 all the information you could want 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:

LevelUp doesn’t have a BBB page as of this update. I was unable to find any complaints from merchants using this service, which I consider fairly good news – but also kind of inconclusive and unsatisfying.

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

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

As I mentioned above, LevelUp has not cultivated a strong online reputation yet, so I couldn’t dig up any unauthorized merchant reviews of the service. Sites like the Verge and CNET have nice things to say, though.

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 quite ready to replace your traditional merchant account, I think it makes a great add-on. You won’t have to make any investment to use their mobile app, and it without a doubt will add value to your business. With no cancellation fees, this is a very low risk endeavor. If my business had a use for this sort of thing, I’d absolutely sign up. What have you got to lose?

Right now, LevelUp is still evolving. Product, services, features and contract stipulations are all subject to change, and have changed in recent months. I’m giving them a solid 4.5 stars at the moment, but see no reason why they couldn’t become a 5-star provider in the future. You can’t really compare LevelUp to our other mobile processing solution, since you can’t actually swipe or key-in cards. But they still deliver a valuable service, and do so in an incredibly transparent, fair, and smart way. I’m impressed!

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 leave a comment below!

Tom DeSimone
Tom loves asking tough questions and getting straight answers, so he has a lot of fun calling payment processors for Merchant Maverick to cut through their smoke and mirrors and find the real deals. He has run a full-time editorial business from his home in New York’s Hudson Valley since 2010 and could not imagine a better job. When not busy writing and keeping credit card processors honest, Tom enjoys backpacking in the mountains.
Tom DeSimone
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4 Comments

    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.

    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. “

    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
    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

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