Businesses embrace new technology

In downtown Alpena’s The Local Basket Case, there’s no cash register at the back counter where customers pay for their purchases.

Instead, there’s an iPad with a small plastic rectangle sticking out of the side. This rectangle is a Square Reader, which allows the iPad to read credit cards. The accomanying software keeps track of every sale and makes bookkeeping much easier for store owner Mollie Allen.

“It works great for us from a business aspect,” she said “I can access from my phone and home computer to see what we’ve sold. All the records are kept electronically and can be accessed from anywhere.”

It’s just one example of how businesses are using new technologies to streamline their operations and connect with customers in new ways. From smartphones and tablets to online banking, from social networks to better connectivity, businesses have tons of options for making new technologies to work for them. There are also challenges to face as well.

For Allen, Square’s software lets her look at sales data in many different ways, she said. Along with day-to-day sales records, she can see averages for a given time frame.

Allen also owns Cabin Creek Coffee across the street, where employees use a standard cash register and credit card terminal. Square allows her to accept any credit card for the same fee on each transaction, unlike a regular terminal, which charges a per-swipe fee and varying percentage of the purchase price. She’s looking to change the coffee shop over to Square as well.

Alpena Alcona Area Credit Union is taking advantage of technology as well. Kathy Allen, credit union IS/network specialist, said computers allow the credit union to cut back on paperwork by storing documents electronically. Data can be shared with all seven branches, and customers can access their services from anywhere via online banking.

“It used to come to just an ATM card, that was a big thing, but any more people can come in, open an account and never see us again because all their banking is done online,” she said.

Online banking is the future, Allen said, and the number of customers who use these services increases every month. The credit union is working to give more options to its customers, including a mobile banking application that’s in development. In the meantime customers can use a web page designed for smart phone access. It’s also looking into ways to allow customers to deposit checks by taking photos of them using their cell phones.

Allen has been with the credit union for 27 years, long enough to see lots of changes in how technology is used in banking. AAACU once had a single computer in a back room, but it has since become ubiquitous, she said.

And as the credit union brings in more and more tech and connectivity, security becomes a larger concern, Allen said. It uses outside audits and testing to make sure its data and networks are secure. It can be costly, and requires lots of effort and research.

“Being secure is one of the major things that we’re on top of,” she said.

Jessica Hatch also uses the Internet and mobile tech to connect with people, she said. She’s the owner of Take Five Deli, and posts the daily specials and other messages to Twitter and Facebook – she has the two linked together so one social media platform posts to the other. She also responds to questions from the restaurant’s followers.

“One thing a lot of people don’t consider is that it’s free advertising, a promotional tool that’s there,” she said. “It costs nothing but a few minutes of your time to use, and I have over 1,600 people on my Facebook page.”

It’s a good way to communicate with deli customers when she might not have a chance during the work day, but it’s nothing compared to her other business, Gone to the Snow Dogs. She makes videos of her and her husband’s four huskies, covering lots of dog-related topics. There are three channels overall, and the main one had 44,163 subscribers as of Friday. Overall, the videos have racked up more than 12 million views.

Hatch started the first channel in 2009, she said. She began by posting at least two videos per week, and now is up to three days of the week on two of the channels and as often as possible on the third. She gets ad revenue and sponsorships, and has Gone to the Snow Dogs registered as a limited liability company.

“It went from a hobby to, once we realized we could make some extra money from it, we started to figure out how we could do that,” she said. “Now it’s just exploding.”

Hatch said its success comes from connecting with the viewers. She spends a few hours every day working on videos and updating social media. Fans can post questions every Thursday, and on Friday Hatch picks one to answer in her Fan Friday videos.

And none of it would be possible without social media, made even easier by having access from Hatch’s smartphone.

“It’s very humbling to know that people enjoy what we’re doing that much,” she said.

Saturday: Staying connected with the latest technology

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.