Spark Pay Review
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- Date Established
- Tysons Corner, VA
This review is for Capital One’s Spark Pay mobile processing app. If you’re looking for a review of its online sales platform, also called Spark Pay (formerly AmeriCommerce), we’ve got you covered here.
We all know Capital One, but chances are you haven’t heard much about its mobile processing company, Spark Pay. The Capital One mobile processing app has had surprisingly little press since its mid-2013 re-launch and re-branding. (It was formerly owned by the credit card processing hardware company Verifone and was called SAIL.) Spark Pay has had a few tweaks since then, but overall the feel remains the same as the original Verifone service. A few independent reviewers have chimed in, mostly with neutral/positive feedback, but overall adoption is… disappointingly slow. Only 122 users have left reviews in iTunes app store, for instance, and that’s counting all versions combined (admittedly, up from just 78 when we last checked in). Numbers are higher on Google Play — 494, up from 405, in fact — but that’s still an astonishingly small number for a service offered by a company as large as Capital One.
In some ways, I understand how this service could be overlooked. I mean, the market doesn’t exactly need another mobile processor, and Spark Pay isn’t providing anything that we haven’t seen before. Nonetheless, Spark Pay has a solid app with a few features that, while not altogether unique, are not yet ubiquitous, either (social media discount offers, inventory management add-on with barcode scanning, etc).
Plus let’s not forget that it’s backed by one of the ten largest banks in the U.S., Capital One. This is no fly-by-night operation or a clever little fledgling startup with a good concept but limited resources.
Spark Pay has competitive rates and quality customer service alongside a well-designed app. Yes, some account holds and sudden terminations have definitely occurred here, as happens with almost all mobile payment providers. Spark Pay’s customer support is also one of the best available for mobile processing, a fact we don’t take lightly.
That said, Spark Pay has thus far also left us somewhat disappointed, particularly in regards to its lack of EMV support for mobile. The company also has an eCommerce offering by the same name, but the two services do not integrate — at all. The sites have gotten a branding refresh, but the former promise that an integration was coming soon has been conveniently eliminated.
My impression is that Spark Pay is on the cusp of something — I’m just not sure what. It might finally push itself out into the wider world of mPOS, or it might quickly fade into obscurity as more competitive offerings of both mPOS and eCommerce dominate the field. Either is just as likely at this point, and success or failure will hinge on a couple of key decisions.
For the moment, I’m awarding Spark Pay a 4-star rating and a general recommendation. However, I’m being very generous in doing so. If we don’t see an EMV reader by the end of this quarter (as promised), we will be lowering Spark Pay’s rating here on Merchant Maverick, because we’re at a point where all merchants — including micromerchants — need to be able to accept chip cards. Integrating the mPOS and eCommerce solutions would also go a long way toward strengthening Capital One’s position in the merchant services realm, as well.
Products and Services:
Like most mobile processors, Spark Pay doesn’t have a huge list of products and services. But it does offer the following:
Mobile credit processing: Spark Pay appears to aggregate merchants instead of issuing individual accounts. This is how most mobile processing works. It’s not completely clear who does the processing, but I’m sure it’s closely connected to Capital One.
Mobile card reader: This hardware is, as far as I can tell, identical to the original Verifone SAIL hardware. Capital One hasn’t rolled out its EMV compliant reader yet — it promises merchants that it will be available during Q1 of 2017 (after previously promising it in Q1 of 2016). We’ll check back in then to see what it looks like compared to other offerings.
Digital Register Setup: In addition to the mobile reader, Capital One offers a register setup complete with full-on terminals, a cash drawer, and thermal receipt printer.
POS app: The Spark Pay mobile app features include:
- Online reporting/analytics
- Item management/inventory reporting with StitchLabs integration (sold separately)
- Barcode scanning with StitchLabs integration
- QR-code-based offers, distributed through Facebook, Twitter, or email.
- Customizable electronic receipts
- Cash drawer connectivity
- Receipt printer connectivity
- what about refunds….? full/partial?
Pre-Auth Capability: Something I haven’t seen very often in a mobile processor is the ability to pre-authorize a card. Basically, it means that a merchant can put a hold on funds before the purchase is completed. Pre-auths aren’t very common in retail, but you’ll see them a lot in the hospitality industry — everything from hotels and bed and breakfasts to restaurants. It’s also common in the service industry. Think of a time you were charged for a no-show appointment. PayPal offers this feature (which it calls auth-capture); Square doesn’t.
It’s worth noting a handful of features in the mobile app are only available when you’re using an iPad. This isn’t all that uncommon — Square is the same way. With Spark Pay on an iPad you can create and redeem offers — something you can still do by logging into your Spark Pay account on a laptop or desktop computer, just not on a phone. You can also view reports directly on the iPad, and organize pre-set items for easy display on the iPad’s screen. None of those features are really deal-breakers if you’re running off a smartphone, so I wouldn’t worry too much about this. These features are designed for a more traditional register setup.
What is disappointing is the lack of integration between Capital One’s mobile processor and its online storefront. They’re both named Spark Pay (and both acquired from other companies), but despite the shared name, you can’t sell in person and also run an online store from the same dashboard. The website used to promise that integration between the two was “coming soon,” but with the updated website, that message is gone. It makes me wonder if that plan has fallen through, for sure.
Considering that Square offers an online marketplace (and very limited integrations for web stores), and PayPal integrates so easily with so many shopping carts, it’s a bit disappointing that Capital One hasn’t delivered the same kind of experience, despite having considerable resources and plenty of examples to follow.
Something else I’d like to see supported is invoicing. It’s not a feature every merchant needs, but for those that do, it’s incredibly useful to have it all centralized.
Now, if you just want mobile processing or even a register setup, Capital One does give you an option for everything you need with pre-assembled kits that start at $499. Note: That doesn’t include the tablet, just a receipt printer and cash drawer. A kit with an iPad Air 2 will run you $1,099.
Fees and Rates:
Spark Pay offers two pricing options, one with a monthly fee and one with a completely pay-as-you-go structure:
Go Plan (pay-as-you-go)
- 2.65% Card Present
- 3.7% Card Not Present
- 3.7% Card Present American Express
- $0.05 Per-Transaction Fee
Pro Plan (monthly fee)
- $19 Monthly Fee
- 1.99% Card Present
- 2.8% Card Not Present
- 2.8% Card Present American Express
- $0.05 Per-Transaction Fee
First, those rates have changed since previous reviews. The monthly plan cost has increased from $9.95/month to $19 — effectively, doubling in price. Spark Pay’s rates have shifted ever so slightly, too.
For some context, the Go plan’s card present/swiped rate, 2.65%, is actually marginally lower than both PayPal Here and Square (2.7% and 2.75%, respectively). However, neither service charges a per-transaction fee for mobile processing, whereas Spark Pay will charge you $0.05 for every swipe or keyed-in transaction.
For card not present/keyed-in transactions, the Go Plan’s rates are higher — 3.7% + $0.05, compared to 3.5% + $0.15 for PayPal Here and Square. Flint processes all of its cards as card not present, so the only difference you see is between debit and credit cards.
So basically you pay an additional 0.66% per transaction (down from 0.75%) if you use the Go Plan. So what’s the break-even point? When the Go plan was $9.95/month, that was about $1,300 per month. With the price doubled, the break even point jumps considerably — to almost $3,000:
$2,878 * 0.0066 = $19 = the “Break Even” amount (we’re rounding to even dollar amounts here)
This is all ignoring the AmEx pricing, but that shouldn’t throw off your numbers too much unless you know you process a high volume of AmEx cards.
I feel the jump in price for the Pro plan makes Spark Pay less competitive, and the potential savings from opting for the monthly paid plan, compared to other services, are very small. There’s still an opportunity to save some money, so that’s something.
It’s also worth noting the time to get your money: Spark Pay will hold funds for 4-5 days initially, and after that you should have the funds in your account within 2 business days.
- Spark Pay also discloses a $15 chargeback fee, which is pretty standard and overall fair in my opinion.
- You’ll get one free card reader, and can order more for $13 apiece, which isn’t a terrible price. Capital One used to offer an additional 3 readers for free, though. Note that these aren’t EMV compliant, and at this time we have no idea how much those will run. I sincerely hope the price is more comparable to Square’s EMV readers ($30-$49), than PayPal’s ($150, or $50 with a $100 rebate IF you process $3,000 in three months).
Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:
No contract. No early termination fee. Simple. As. That.
Sales and Advertising Transparency:
As far as advertising goes, Spark Pay has taken a low-key route, existing as part of Capital One’s suite of “Spark” small business products without really working to compete in the greater market. This seems to translate to overall straightforward and honest advertising and sales tactics.
That said, I would like to see this company address processing limits and what merchants should know about them in greater detail. The site does have some information available, but not front and center. Your limits are calculated based on your history and how much of a risk Spark Pay sees in your business.
I also wish that Capital One would make it more clear that “instant access” to its services really means that the company gives you preliminary access for about a month while it reviews your information and processing habits. At that time, Spark Pay may decide to cancel your account and hold your funds. Not being clear about this has led to aggravated customers and will probably continue to do so in the future, as we’ve seen with so many other mobile payments providers.
Spark Pay does use two sales gimmicks: a $50 bonus for processing $5,000 in the first 3 months, and now a free terminal offer.
It’s actually a pretty sound deal, and doesn’t seem to be deceptive in any overt way. But make sure that you consider that the transactions must be processed in the first three months of enrollment, even if it takes a week or two to get your card reader. There’s also the offer
There’s also the free terminal. It’s only the wired model (value $99), but it’ll serve you well.
However, there’s one more niggling detail. I was a little bit disappointed by a little tidbit of information I found in the website footer:
Payment Terminal is equipped with hardware for EMV. Synchronize Multiple Devices and Users, Inventory Management, Customized Receipts, and Create Custom Promotions or Deals are not available if you use Payment Terminal to accept your payments.
This is frustrating for me because it’s kind of a big deal. It could, in fact, be a dealbreaker for new merchants who want to use these features and accept chip cards. And you’ll only find out about it if you ready the tiny print at the bottom of the site. I’m left wondering if this is only a temporary measure until they can fix some coding, or if this limitation is here to stay. Either way, I’m sincerely hoping we see a mobile EMV reader by the end of Q1, as promised.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
Spark Pay offers phone-based customer support to all merchants from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern, seven days a week. That’s an improvement over their (already respectable) former hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Overall, this is also a pretty solid setup when compared to other mobile providers (Square has only lately introduced phone support, and you need to obtain a code through your account online before you can call).
Capital One offers very public and usually very responsive Twitter-based support as well, with the handle @AskCapitalOne. It’s a great feature for first-line complaint defense and problem solving, akin to @AskPayPal or @SqSupport.
You can also receive email support with a one-day turnaround or less. In addition, there’s a fairly thorough FAQ-style knowledge base for self-service customer support. It’s not quite as good or as navigable as Square’s knowledge base, but it’s still good quality and the search feature works well.
Overall, I’m impressed by the level of customer service provided here. Capital One has dedicated some substantial resources, and it shows. For me, the proof is in the pudding – and the pudding is the lack of complaints and attacks to be found on the web. Of the small number of complaints you’ll find for Spark Pay, only a few cite poor customer service – the complete opposite of Square. Even PayPal Here gets a solid number of complaints about quality of service.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
SparkPay doesn’t have its own BBB page, sadly. Sorting through the thousands of Capital One complaints is not practical, so we’ll have to ignore the BBB for this review.
I can tell you, however, that Spark Pay has zero complaints on Ripoff Reports and other similar complaint sites. App stores like Google Play (where the app has a 3.7-star rating on 494 ratings) and Apple’s iTunes Store (where it has a 3.5-star rating for all versions, based on 122 reviews) have provided forums for software and overall service complaints, though, and you can find a handful of reviews elsewhere. The following issues have cropped up most frequently:
- Software problems/device incompatibility are among the most common complaints. My personal experience with Spark Pay was positive in this regard, but you should probably try it out before cancelling any existing accounts. One nice thing is that Spark Pay does maintain a comprehensive list of supported devices. And it even includes which carriers are compatible, too.
- Merchants had complained about fees being rounded up even when it wouldn’t make sense (like 3.2 cents being rounded to 4 cents). It seems this problem has been corrected.
- In order to use this app, you must allow it to access your location via GPS. Some users view this as an invasion of privacy, but both PayPal Here and Square also require this feature to be enabled. It’s a pretty standard security measure.
- Some merchants have commented that they’d like to see better multi-user functionality. It appears that Spark Pay has addressed the issue by limiting multi-users’ permission. The knowledge base spells out the new permissions.
- Some merchants complain about sudden account terminations/funds withheld. This is inherent when it comes to an aggregation-style mobile provider with instant access.
- Among the holding complaints, some cite a 120-day rolling reserve on 50% of transaction volume. For higher-risk businesses, this is a common practice — if you fall into that category, you should probably look at obtaining a high-risk merchant account instead.
Finally, a few people have also complained that Spark Pay runs credit checks on applicants. However, the credit check is spelled out in the terms of service. Which you should be reading before you sign up for ANY sort of mPOS account.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
While it might seem like the above section has a long list of complaints, there’s plenty of good to balance it out. Of the customer input I read, these positive attributes came up most often:
- StitchLabs integration (especially the barcode scanner)
- Fair, predictable rates, especially for higher volumes
- Advanced QR code offers with a high level of customization
- Quality customer service
While I think Spark Pay has a little way to go before the app and service are perfected, it’s doing a good job so far. It just needs to get that EMV reader out already, and maybe open up some of its features to the terminal users.
In the end, I like Spark Pay. Since mobile payments tend to have more SNAFUs and snags than traditional processing, customer service becomes incredibly important.
Spark Pay and Capital One provide a much more intensive support experience than your typical mPOS provider, which goes a long way with me. You get a phone support line with solid hours (and weekend availability), as well as a knowledge base, email support, and even Twitter-based support. I’m not sure where you can get that level of comprehensive support from another mPOS processor, actually.
The app is solid with a simple setup that’s perfect when you’re on the go, or POS capabilities to run a storefront. It doesn’t come close to beating Square for extra features, but if all you need is credit card processing, Spark Pay is a solid contender. The pre-auth feature is sure to be an advantage for some merchants as well. It’d still really like to see an integration between the online store and mPOS as well.
Spark Pay’s pay-as-you-go rates are absolutely competitive. I even like that merchants who process more than $3,000/month can opt for the pro plan and get lower rates, especially because there’s no monthly minimum fee if you fall below that mark in one bad month.
Spark Pay gets a solid 4 stars for now, but we will be watching to see whether it still merits that rating as we move into 2017. If Spark Pay isn’t for you, or you want to know what some other options are, be sure to check out our other mobile processors via this handy comparison chart.
Thanks for reading, and please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.