) -- Mobile payments technology is a hot area these days, with everyone from


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to small firms such as


jockeying for position on the mobile-offering bandwagon.

While the jury is still out on dominant players or best practices, small-business owners need to start educating themselves on mobile strategy -- if they haven't done so already.

"There are tons of tangible benefits already and we're just at the beginning of the benefits," says Chris Battles, head of product management for


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Payments Solutions.

Intuit offers small businesses its GoPayment system, basically a credit card reader that attaches to a smartphone. The transaction can be downloaded into Intuit's QuickBooks financial software for businesses.

"The value of the small business is going to continue to increase as the power of these devices are deployed ... to help them with customer management, loyalty


and making the rest of their business processes more efficient," Battles notes.

According to a November report by Aite Group, mobile payments (which includes bill payments) will account for $214 billion in gross dollar volume by 2015, up from $16 billion last year.

The Aite report says that this year will "mark a tipping point for mobile payments at the point of sale," as carriers and handset manufacturers start shipping near field communications-enabled smartphones. (Google announced last week that its

Google Wallet

system would arrive this summer, allowing consumers to pay for purchases with the tap of their Android phone at select merchants.)

"Firms that are missing the signs that the market is now rapidly shifting toward mobile payments will be at a serious disadvantage in the next few years, which will be reminiscent of the mid-1990s, where e-commerce champions -- including





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-- planted their seeds and grew," the report says. "We see the coming few years as critical to shaping a new generation of companies and lines of business at existing players around mobile commerce and payments."

Advancing mobile technology can provide consumers with a more engaging user experience, experts say, as well as reduce the time spent on paperwork.

Businesses that use invoices or transact "on the go," such as plumbers, would be able to budget more predictable cash flow because they would get immediate payment, Battles says.

"Many Square users are businesses that have traditionally been cash-only, and they have found the ease of use from Square to lead to increased sales," writes Katie Baynes, a spokeswoman for Square, in an email. "Additionally, many businesses find Square to be more cost-efficient, as we have a flat 2.75% per transaction cost without any hidden fees or rates or hardware charges."

Accounts are easy to set up, no paperwork, no hidden fees and easy to use on devices that they already own, Baynes writes. The Square reader is free for users, enabling business owners to accept credit cards on their Android devices of


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iPhone or iPad, she adds.

Mobile payments aren't just about getting paid faster, though.

"There is enough momentum that small businesses need to take that first step" to learn how to best enable their businesses for mobile, whether that's reformatting the business' website or implementing a mobile application, says Paul Phillipson, managing director of Mazooma, a service that connects consumers directly to their online bank accounts from a merchant's checkout page.

As mobile payments technology becomes more refined, smartphones are likely to become more "location aware," says Mazooma's president, Wilson Lee, which means as consumers pass by establishments, merchants will eventually have capabilities to identify and offer instant coupons and deals.

"The old traditional kind of e-commerce sites that people are used to are not optimized for the Gen-Y crowd," who are a lot more tech-savvy and social media-inclined, Lee says.

Large retailers are getting on board with the help of companies such as


. The company names

Home Depot

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, Lilly Pulitzer and others as clients.

Stephen Burke, vice president of Resource Interactive's mobile practice, says mobile strategies could be most effective for establishments that have frequent repeat business or as a way to stand out against the competition.

"Bigger players are going to be able to help create the


behavior, which is important, and reinforce it," he says. "Once we start seeing it in restaurant chains,



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, that will be a real turning point for small businesses as well."

He cautions that small businesses may want to hold off for at least a year as the industry shakes out before deciding on a permanent mobile strategy.

"For something that is going to be a mom and pop restaurant or dry cleaner, people like that who have a reliable payments system, there is still time to evaluate," Burke says. "A consumer is still going to buy with a card if the mobile payment is not there."

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To follow Laurie Kulikowski on Twitter, go to:!/LKulikowski

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