An Automated Response Unit (or ARU) allows merchants to accept credit card payments without actually having the card. The person taking the order enters the credit card details manually, and the Automated Response Unit uses a phone line to contact the bank’s system for authorization. The bank’s system then either authorizes or denies the charge, and sends this information back to the ARU. This may sound like a long, complicated process, but it actually takes only a second or two.
Websites do not use an ARU. Instead, they use the Internet to send the customer’s credit card information to the bank. While the information is sent in a different manner, the process is much the same. The merchant receives the payment info, sends it to the bank, and waits for an answer as to whether the transaction is approved or denied. The bank sends this information, and the merchant either processes the transaction or returns a denial message to the customer.
While ARUs may sound antiquated, they are used more widely than one might think. Most orders made over the phone will be taken by a person ready to enter information into an ARU. An order of pizza for delivery or a bouquet of flowers sent to a loved one was most likely processed using an ARU. The technology may have been around for decades, but it is still a vital part of credit card processing for many merchant accounts.
The predecessor of ARU technology was carbon copying. The card used for payment had to actually be in the cashier’s hands at the time of the transaction, and it was swiped through a plastic slot lined with carbon copy paper. This was unreliable, as the paper sometimes would not make a good enough imprint of the card information for the bank to process the transaction. Also, every carbon copy had to be manually dropped off at the bank at the end of every business day, which cost businesses time and money. Compared to this ordeal, the use of ARUs seems futuristic.
There, is however, a decline in the use of ARU technology. While it remains the method of choice for orders taken over the phone, many customers are placing orders online instead. Such ARU stalwarts as pizza and flower delivery now have websites that customers can use to place their orders.