A significant number of Reading Terminal Market merchants accept the Level Up payment system, in which a QR code on your smartphone is linked to your credit card. Besides ease of use, most merchants offer customers credits for using the service.
You'll need to rack up $30 to $100 in cumulative purchases before the credits kick in, which usually work out to 5 to 10 percent, depending on the merchant. There are also occasional special days -- like the market's 120th anniversary February 22, when any purchase earned you an immediate $10 credit. (I was thrilled that day with a $10.50 cheese purchase that cost me 50 cents.) I've been using the system since it was introduced last November and have racked up $60 in discounts since.
It's a lot easier than fumbling for the discount cards offered by some merchants, like Old City Coffee and Metropolitan Bakery. Most of the merchants I've spoken with like the system, which doesn't cost them much more than other credit card transactions and takes less time. Just hold the smart phone with the code on the screen in front of the reader and it's done. You'll get an immediate email message confirming your purchase. On your credit card bill it shows up as a charge to Level Up, but you can always go to the Level up website to review the particulars.
About 300 area merchants use the system, most in Center City.
Mike Holahan, co-owner of the Pennsylvania General Store and president of the RTM Merchants Association, finds it both amusing and forward-looking that Philadelphia's 19th century public market is a 21st century technological leader.
Philadelphia is Level Up's largest market, but it also has a significant presence in Boston, New York and San Francisco. It's also been introduced in Atlanta, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and St. Louis.
You can learn more and sign up for Level Up at its website: https://www.thelevelup.com.
In a related development, RTM General Manager Paul Steinke says the market is well along with its plan to replace its Market Money gift program with a gift card. The cards would be similar to credit cards and be processed by First Data Merchants Services, which currently provides credit card processing for about a quarter of the market's merchants. Steinke said about half of the merchants are on board with the gift card program, but he won't go ahead until at least three-quarters agree. He hopes the system can go on line sometime this summer. Merchants who don't use First Data for their credit cards would have to add another device to read the gift cards. Not everyone is happy about that, given the limited space they've got for their payment terminals, cash registers and Level Up devices.