Breez’s Point-of-Sale Mode: A New Tool for the Day after Tomorrow
Nobody asked for Corona or COVID-19 or whatever you want to call it, but it’s here. We’re all doing our best to deal with it. Our political and financial leaders are doing their best too. In order to staunch the spread, they’ve immobilized the meatspace economy. And in order to cushion equity and jobs from that blow, they’ve turned to a familiar tactic, a tool they think they understand: printing money. Lots of money.
Europe is printing 750€ billion, the UK is printing £200 billion, the Fed is printing ̶$̶7̶0̶0̶ ̶b̶i̶l̶l̶i̶o̶n̶ (Strike that. It’s from last week. Greenbacks are now to be printed in unlimited quantity. ~gasp~), and that’s just three currencies. And it’s just over the last week. More is yet to come.
I’m not trying to kick banking officials when they’re down. They’re just doing what they know, and they’re worried too.
But there’s hope. More than hope, there are certainties. We can be certain that this too shall pass. We may be naked apes without awesome claws or fins or wings, but we have science and tech. This virus is no match for our armies of geeks in labs. Thank heavens for them.
Another certainty is — you guessed it — bitcoin. Soon the world will be looking back on the necessary evils of social distancing and quantitative easing. Streets and shops will go back to their usual bustle, and bitcoin is going to be looking pretty good. Bitcoin is what a free economy and a free world needs. And the more people hold bitcoin, the more they will spend bitcoin, and the more people are spending bitcoin, the more they will need to use Lightning.
Lightning needs to be ready. Laying the foundation for the day after tomorrow, when this surreal situation will have faded into a memory, is how we at Breez are trying to contribute, along with many others in the Bitcoin community. So that’s what we’re doing. (You can only watch Silicon Valley reruns a finite — but very high — number of times anyway.)
Giving merchants the tools to bounce back
All of Lightning has basically been in extended beta for the last three years or so. While we might not yet feel ready for general availability, our tech might be in general use sooner than we ever expected. When stores re-open and customers have shifted to bitcoin, merchants need to be able to accept it.
Like an understudy who expected to have much more rehearsal time, Lightning will have to perform, and we’ll have to wow the crowd. A star will be born.
Our basic, P2P wallet shines. Thousands of Breez users have completed countless transactions safely and conveniently. But aside from, say, splitting the occasional restaurant bill (the good old days!) or receiving Lightning cashbacks from Fold, most users spend often while receiving relatively few payments. Ordering pizza (or toilet paper?), buying gift cards, or playing Lightning games online are the typical use cases, not selling a pizza or a new user subscription — yet.
Merchants are still out there. When their shops re-open, they’ll be receiving many payments and sending few. Merchants who’ve used our existing beta have helped us learn how to serve them better. What they want is an app that makes it as easy to receive bitcoin for a sale as it is to send bitcoin for a purchase. Fiat is busy undermining itself, so merchants need a tool to flourish in the coming Lightning economy.
That’s Breez’s Point-of-Sale mode: an app that transforms from a Lightning wallet into a Lightning cash register with the slide of a finger.
Yes, some members of the Lightning community have already released merchant-focused solutions. But we’re creating a solution that satisfies our two sacred criteria: a dead-simple, Breez-y UX and, of course, non-custodial, bitcoin-worthy technology.
We can build an app that meets this standard, as our users will tell you. The challenge is simply to adapt the functional, market-defining Breez wallet to a broader palette of vertical use cases (that’s CEO-speak for “turn our wallet into a cash register”). So in order to better serve merchants and to prepare for Lightning’s next major push, we’ve been experimenting with a point-of-sale app: a frictionless, trust-minimized, mobile cash register for Lightning.
Introducing Point-of-Sale mode
Square is great. About $20 billion worth of great. Jack realized the opportunity in making everyone a potential merchant, and Square provided the hardware and software needed. That achievement is even more impressive given the range of different fiat payment media — debit cards, credit cards, gift cards, dozens of cash apps, etc. — they have had to integrate across dozens of different currencies and interfacing with countless banks.
Our task is a little simpler. We can learn from Square’s journey, but we only deal in one currency — bitcoin — and we only deal in P2P transactions over a single medium — Lightning. So we can keep our non-custodial, Neutrino-based, light-client platform, which requires zero configuration. Simplicity is sweet.
Here’s a breakdown of the new Breez POS mode:
A charge-focused UX
Merchants are the reverse of consumers: they receive more than they pay. The UX of our POS mode reflects this difference. Charging is its core function, as you can see by the big “CHARGE” button at the top of the interface:
Breez’s Point-of-Sale also lets merchants compile a catalog of items for sale. Once the items are in the catalog, they can also be modified or deleted easily. The search function will also help merchants with Amazon-worthy inventories.
Charge in fiat value
Hodlers might not care if the bitcoin price swings 20% over the course of a day. Merchants accepting bitcoin have no choice. They cannot afford to accidentally sell below cost or to overcharge and drive their customers elsewhere. With currency values set to fluctuate faster than Rihanna’s hairdo, transparent, up-to-date exchange rates are going to be more valuable than ever.
As the world transitions from fiat to bitcoin, merchants have to keep an eye on both. That’s why it’s easy to charge in fiat value using POS mode. Merchants can charge in USD, EUR, GPB, or JPY (with more to come). This helps merchants as well as customers to see that the delicious falafel-wrap-and-mint-tea lunch won’t cost anybody that month’s rent.
Of course, purchases can also be settled in our favorite currency, the best currency: BTC.
A manager password for sending payments
Every cash register has a key lock or a software lock or both. Merchants need to watch who’s using their system and for what purposes. Of the many employees who might need to receive payments, only few will need to send payments. That’s why we’ve included a manager password as an option to authorize sending funds from the POS app. Managers can let sales and cashier staff use mobile devices with the app, the staff can do their jobs and accept payments, but the managers can prevent them from sending funds without authorization.
Another function is the ability to export a record of transactions in .csv format. This allows managers to easily calculate their gross, their net, and to see just how fast they’ve restored their businesses (get it? re-store-d?).
Increased inbound capacity
Since merchants receive payments constantly but only seldom pay outwards in a typical week, they could run into a shortage of inbound capacity. In order to deal with the need for increased capacity, we’ve integrated LNURL-channel. This protocol allows merchants to use external services like Bitrefill, LNBIG, and other LSPs to open additional channels simply by scanning a QR code. However, since Breez doesn’t yet support multi-path payments, testing this feature to make sure it fits your needs before using it for live transactions is highly recommended.
POS mode is our trampoline to help merchants bounce back
When the virus is finally behind us, consumers are going to make up for lost spending, and they’re going to be as disillusioned with fiat as we always have been. Fiat users are going to onboard themselves at a rate few had ever expected.
We need to be ready. Lightning has to be easy, functional fintech for the average consumer. And the average consumer usually transacts with the average merchant. The rise of Lightning will be a combination of citizen-consumers losing patience with fiat, and coffee shops, Ubers, gas/charging stations, and even major online retailers standing ready with an alternative. By giving merchants what they need, we’re giving users what they want.
Lightning has already come a long way. Non-custodial wallets like Breez and Phoenix let users transact easily and safely on Lightning, and solutions like Escher and Strike have emerged to let users settle Lightning payments directly via their bank accounts and debit cards.
Merchants are the missing piece, and they’re going to need a solution like ours. Soon. Our new point-of-sale mode is a huge step in this direction and another important milestone in preparing for the Lightning economy.
Our POS mode is, however, (a lot of) work in progress. No one has ever made a non-custodial POS service for Lightning, so it remains an experiment. For example, it’s currently optimized for phone displays, but adapting it to tablets is only a UI-tweak away.
The Lightning economy will be a common, global project with a common, global currency. People are starting to realize that we’ve always been in this together. Our economy can reflect that. Helping people adapt to new economic realities and payment methods is one way we can use our strengths to soften this common, global blow. You can help us with your feedback about how it works and how you’d like it to work. Thanks in advance.