Shift4 Payments Review
- “Free” terminal available with account
- One-year contract with no early termination fee available
- Interchange-plus pricing available
- A three-year contract with an early termination fee required with a “free” terminal
- Tiered pricing offered
- Uses independent sales agents
- High complaint volume relative to company size
- A poor reputation for customer support
Shift4 Payments Overview
Shift4 Payments is a merchant services provider that has been around under various business names since 1997. While previously best known for its Shift4 payment gateway, today it offers a complete line of products and services for almost any retail or eCommerce business.
Shift4’s growth has been fueled by a series of high-profile mergers and acquisitions in recent years, including POS system maker Harbortouch and eCommerce platform 3dCart (now Shift4Shop). Today, the company serves over 200,000 merchants and processes more than $200 billion annually. It’s also listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: FOUR).
Unfortunately, buying stock in Shift4 Payments might be a better financial move than actually using the company as your payment processor. Shift4’s pricing plans and contracts are very much in line with traditional industry practices that drive up costs and result in a poor bargain for small business owners. Although the company offers the more transparent interchange-plus pricing model, its sales and marketing practices are more heavily geared toward pushing more expensive tiered pricing plans. Long-term contracts with expensive early termination fees are also nearly inevitable. However, you can get a contract with as little as a one-year commitment if you pass on Shift4’s “free” terminal offer and buy your hardware outright.
The company’s use of independent sales agents, high complaint volume, and reputation for poor customer service after the sale also drag down its overall score. As a result, we’re awarding Shift4 Payments a mediocre score of just 3 out of 5 stars at this time. While it could potentially be a good choice for a large business that can negotiate competitive interchange-plus processing rates and a waiver of the early termination fee, most small business owners should look elsewhere. Your best place to start your search is our Merchant Account Comparison Chart, which outlines the basic features of some of the very best processors we’ve found.
This is our first time reviewing Shift4 Processing, so if you’ve had any personal experience with the company, please tell us about your experience in the Comments section below. Thanks!
Table of Contents
Products & Services
Thanks to its many recent acquisitions, Shift4 Processing offers a complete line of products and services for almost any retail or online business. These products integrate seamlessly with each other and most major third-party services, allowing you to build a complete payments processing system with ease. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find:
Shift4 Payment Processing
- Merchant Accounts: Despite its size, Shift4 Payments is not a direct processor. Instead, it will set you up with an account from one of the industry’s largest processors, including Fiserv (formerly First Data), FIS Worldpay, Global Payments, or Elavon. Canadian merchants can also use Moneris as their back-end processor.
- eCheck & ACH Payment Processing: Shift4.com doesn’t advertise an ACH processing service on its website but may be able to offer one through a third-party integration. Ask your sales agent for more details if you want to be able to accept these payment methods.
Shift4 eCommerce & Gateway
- Payment Gateway: As noted above, the Shift4 payment gateway was once the company’s flagship product. Today, Shift4 still offers a fully-featured proprietary payment gateway, and it functions as the heart of the company’s integrated payments platform. Whether accepted in-person or online, all transactions flow through the gateway and allow real-time reporting and analytics from any browser-equipped device.
- Payment Methods Supported: Shift4 offers full support for credit and debit cards, contactless payment methods (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay), and local payment methods (such as WeChat Pay and Alipay).
- Security Features: Whether you’re using a payment gateway, POS system, or countertop terminal, Shift4’s gateway protects the security of your customer’s card data with both tokenization and point-to-point encryption (P2PE). These features limit the scope of your PCI compliance requirements and help protect you from expensive data breaches.
- Virtual Terminal: The Shift4 gateway also includes a virtual terminal feature that allows mail and telephone order businesses to key in transactions manually on any device with a browser. The virtual terminal is also compatible with various card readers, allowing you to use your desktop or laptop as a credit card terminal.
- eCommerce Platform: Shift4 recently acquired the popular eCommerce all-in-one platform 3dCart, re-branding it as Shift4Shop. This feature-packed service is available with no monthly fee for businesses that sign up for a Shift4 merchant account (which definitely isn’t free). It’s also available on a monthly subscription basis to other users.
- Online Ordering: For restaurants, Shift4 offers the SkyTab Online Ordering system, which integrates with your existing website and POS system to accept and process online orders from your customers. This service is free for Shift4 merchant account holders. Check out our article, Does Your Restaurant Need An Online Ordering System? for more information on online ordering.
Shift4 POS Systems
- Point Of Sale (POS) Systems: Although it originally began as a payment gateway provider, Shift4 now offers a wide variety of POS systems for retail businesses and restaurants. Software options include Harbortouch, POSitouch, Future POS, and Restaurant Manager. These products can be integrated with a multitude of third-party hardware options. Check the Shift4 website for a complete list of compatible devices. Note that some POS hardware options are available under the company’s “free” terminal placement program. For some alternative choices for a restaurant POS system, check out our article, 8 Restaurant POS Systems With The Key Features You’ll Need.
- Credit Card Terminals: Shift4 offers a number of devices from Ingenico, Verifone, ID TECH, PAX, and Innowi. All of these machines are EMV-compatible, and most support NFC-based payment methods as well. While you can obtain a “free” terminal with your merchant account, we recommend buying your devices outright. Doing so will help you avoid a three-year commitment and an expensive early termination fee if you close your account early. Also, the machines offered by Shift4 are considered universal devices, meaning they can usually be reprogrammed to work with your new provider if you leave Shift4.
- Mobile Processing: Unlike almost every other merchant services provider we’ve reviewed, Shift4 doesn’t appear to offer a smartphone/tablet-based mobile processing app or card reader. Instead, the company primarily provides its SkyTab Mobile Terminal, a portable wireless device that’s remarkably similar to the Clover Flex in appearance. While the SkyTab Mobile Terminal is available through the company’s “free” terminal placement program, we’d caution you to be on the lookout for additional fees, such as monthly wireless data plan charges.
Other Shift4 Products & Services
- Online Reporting: All major merchant services providers on the market today offer an online reporting function, and Shift4 is no exception. The company’s proprietary Lighthouse Transaction Manager is a web-based service that allows you to access and analyze your transaction data from any device with a browser and access to the internet. Check out Shift4’s website for an extensive list of additional features available with this service.
- QR Code Processing: Interest in QR code payment processing has surged during the recent COVID-19 pandemic as merchants and customers alike looked for contactless payment options to protect themselves from getting infected. Shift4 offers an easy QR code payment system that relies on printed cards, which customers scan with their smartphones to place orders and make payments. No special app is required, and the service is available for free with your merchant account.
- Gift Card & Loyalty Programs: Gift cards are always a popular way to engage with your customers and boost sales. Shift4’s gift card program works with several third-party gift card services and integrates directly with the company’s POS systems. Both physical and digital gift cards are supported.
Shift4 Fees & Rates
Like most traditional processors, Shift4 Payments does not disclose any specific pricing information on its website. Because the company uses such a wide variety of back-end processors, pricing is highly variable and will differ from one business to the next.
While you can glean some pricing information from Shift4’s sample contract documents (click on the ‘Legal’ tab in the footer at the bottom of the company’s home page), you’ll have to obtain a customized quote for your business from Shift4’s sales department. As always, we encourage you to negotiate a better deal rather than blindly accepting the company’s first offer.
Feedback from merchants indicates that Shift4 offers a choice between either interchange-plus or tiered pricing. While interchange-plus rates are subject to negotiation, the company’s tiered rates are as follows:
- 1.39% + $0.10 per transaction for card-present sales (i.e., swiped, dipped, or tapped)
- 1.79% + $0.10 per transaction for card-not-present sales (i.e., manually keyed-in or online)
It’s very important to note that these rates are for qualified transactions only. Rates for mid-qualified and non-qualified transactions will be as much as two to three times higher. Unfortunately, very few of your transactions will be processed using the lower qualified rates. For example, rewards cards that offer cash back or frequent flier miles now represent the majority of credit card transactions, and these will almost always fall into the non-qualified tier.
Like processing rates, recurring account fees are highly variable and do not follow a published schedule. One fee that you won’t be paying is a monthly payment gateway fee, as Shift4 includes its gateway as a standard feature on all accounts. Shift4 merchant accounts also include the Shift4Shop eCommerce platform as a standard feature and at no additional cost. Note that you will have to pay to access this feature from a third-party merchant account, with pricing varying depending on the size of your business and the features you want to include with your subscription.
We’ve also seen reports from merchants about being charged $17 per month for access to the Lighthouse Transaction Manager online reporting system. However, it’s not clear if this is a standard charge or was added for that particular merchant as part of a customized service plan. As always, we strongly encourage you to read your contract very carefully before signing up with Shift4 or any other merchant services provider.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Two reviled practices in the payments industry have been long-term contracts (with expensive cancellation penalties) and outrageously overpriced equipment leases to sell the processing hardware merchants need to accept credit and debit cards. Faced with increased competition from low-cost providers (such as Square), traditional merchant services providers have come up with a new trick: the “free” terminal placement offer.
Here’s how it works: When the merchant signs up for a new account, they’re told that they won’t have a long-term contract and can close their account at any time without penalty. However, they’ll also be offered a “free” credit card terminal or POS system that comes with no monthly leasing fee, no insurance premiums, and no fees for software updates. Equipment upgrades might also be thrown in for free. Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, there are several problems with this offer that you should be aware of, including the following:
- The equipment isn’t really “free.” Even though you won’t be paying a monthly leasing fee for your terminal, you can expect to pay somewhat higher processing rates and monthly account fees to cover the cost of the equipment.
- “Free” terminal offers usually require an additional commitment. Despite that promise of month-to-month billing that lured you in in the first place, accepting a “free” terminal will usually require you to sign a traditional three-year contract, complete with an automatic renewal clause and an expensive early termination fee (ETF). In other words, you can have the freedom to close your account whenever you want, or you can have a free credit card machine, but you can’t have both.
- “Free” equipment doesn’t actually belong to you. Your free terminal is really just being loaned to you for as long as you keep your merchant account open. If you close your account for any reason, you’ll have to promptly return the equipment to avoid a costly restocking fee (often 100% or more of the actual value of the device).
- You can only receive one free device per merchant account. If you have multiple locations or need more than one terminal to keep up with sales, you’ll either have to purchase additional terminals at full cost or open multiple merchant accounts (a much costlier option).
Shift4’s “free” terminal offer, which is heavily promoted on its website and by its sales agents, is actually a little worse than most. While you’ll still have to accept the usual three-year contract in exchange for a free terminal, buying your equipment outright does not fully waive the long-term contract. Instead, you’ll still have to accept a one-year contract that automatically renews for one-year periods. However, this contract does not include an early termination fee, making it much easier to close your account if you need to.
Overall, we believe your best option is to buy your equipment outright, allowing you the flexibility to change providers if things don’t work out later. However, the “free” terminal offer is still a better option than a traditional equipment lease for small businesses that can’t afford the upfront costs of buying a terminal or POS system.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Shift4’s website is one of the slickest and most polished that we’ve seen to date, with video backgrounds, extensive product descriptions, and a comprehensive knowledgebase for fixing technical issues on your own. The one thing it’s missing is pricing information of any kind. For that, you’ll have to submit a contact form, which is generously duplicated on nearly every page of the site.
Unfortunately, it’s once you submit that contact form that your problems are likely to begin. Information from these forms is submitted to a network of independent sales agents, one of whom will reach out to sell you a Shift4 merchant account.
We’ve long criticized the common practice in the payments industry of relying on independent agents to market their accounts. Most of these agents are independent contractors that get paid on a commission-only basis. They also frequently receive little training or supervision from the companies they work for, leading to intense pressure to make a sale — and a high turnover rate. Although there are many honest and professional independent agents working in the industry, you’re more likely to encounter an agent that just wants to sign you up as quickly as possible.
Like many other providers that rely on independent agents, Shift4 has racked up a high number of complaints related to this practice. Merchants accuse the company’s agents of either failing to disclose important contract terms (such as its length or the existence of an early termination fee) or outright lying about them. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to prove that your sales agent lied to you, and Shift4 doesn’t seem inclined to take your word for it when you’re trying to get out of your contract. Your best defense against this practice is to review your contract very thoroughly before you sign up.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Because Shift4 offers an in-house payment gateway and POS systems, it includes an extensive online knowledgebase on its website. Here you’ll find all the documentation and resources you’ll need to analyze and (hopefully) solve any technical glitches that arise. Overall, it’s one of the best and most thorough knowledgebases we’ve seen from any provider. However, like any knowledgebase, it’s inherently limited to diagnosing hardware and software issues. It won’t be of any help if you experience an account hold, freeze, or termination or need help closing your account.
For these types of issues, you’ll have to work with a human customer service representative. As befitting a large company, Shift4 offers true 24/7 telephone and email support 365 days a year. There’s also a live chat feature that can be accessed from the company’s website.
Unfortunately, Shift4 has received a relatively high number of complaints involving customer support. This isn’t all that unusual, especially for such a large company. Merchants report long wait times on hold and being shuffled from one department to another without any resolution of their problem. However, we didn’t find complaints alleging rude or condescending behavior from Shift4’s customer service representatives. It’s simply that, like many other large merchant services providers, the company hasn’t hired enough people to answer the phone or given them sufficient training or authority to solve a customer’s problems on their own.
Shift4 Merchant Reviews & Complaints
Negative Shift4 Payments Reviews & Complaints
Shift4 Payments has been accredited by the BBB since 2013 and has an A+ rating. The company has received 121 complaints within the last three years, with 54 of those complaints filed within the last twelve months. Shift4 has also received 34 reviews from customers, all of whom awarded it a 1-star rating. This is a fairly high complaint volume for a company of this size, although it’s not nearly as high as what we’ve found with any of the large direct processors. We are, however, concerned about the disproportionately high number of recent complaints filed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the positive side, Shift4 responds to every BBB complaint and, in most cases, issues a full refund if the customer has requested one. While this practice results in a high rate of satisfactorily resolving merchant complaints, it also suggests to us that the company is willing to strictly enforce the terms of its contracts in the hopes that you either won’t notice or won’t complain about it. Once a merchant goes public with a complaint, however, the company quickly retreats and refunds the money that it should never have charged in the first place.
Major issues that merchants encountered with Shift4 include the following:
- Problems With Independent Sales Agents: Independent agents are notorious within the processing industry for failing to disclose the terms of a merchant’s contract or the true cost of a merchant account. Shift4 has a significant problem in this area, as it gives merchants a choice between a one-year contract (with no equipment provided) or a three-year commitment that includes “free” processing equipment. We recommend purchasing your own equipment to avoid both the lengthy contractual commitment and the potential early termination fee.
- Transaction Holds: For a company that works with so many back-end processors, there were surprisingly few complaints about this issue. However, we’d like to remind you that your back-end processor, not Shift4, usually initiates a transaction hold.
- Poor Customer Service: As we’ve mentioned above, Shift4 has received a relatively high number of complaints alleging poor or ineffectual customer service. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common issue across the entire payments industry. You can increase the odds of getting your problem resolved by contacting the company during business hours or using the email option to maintain a written record of everything that you’ve discussed with customer service.
- Difficulty Canceling Account: No merchant services provider ever wants to lose you as a customer, and Shift4 follows the industry-wide trend of making it as difficult as possible to close your account. The most common complaint in this area involved merchants not being properly credited when “free” equipment was returned. Shift4 only gives you 15 days to return equipment once you close your account. Claims by the company that returned equipment was never received are simply too numerous to be attributed to ‘accidents.’ We recommend shipping equipment returns via registered mail and getting a tracking number to verify that your equipment was delivered. If you live within a reasonable driving distance of Shift4’s Allentown or Las Vegas offices, you can also deliver your equipment in person. Be sure to get a receipt!
Positive Shift4 Payments Reviews & Testimonials
Shift4 name-drops a lot of its more well-known clients on its website, including Outback Steakhouse, Cold Stone Creamery, KFC, and many others. Unfortunately, case studies are not provided from any of them, and there are no testimonials from merchants on the site or the company’s YouTube channel.
The only positive Shift4 reviews we found were on G2, where 14 reviewers gave the company a 4-star average rating. Many of these reviews are quite detailed and appear to be authentic. There’s no indication that Shift4 is soliciting positive reviews from merchants as a way to boost its online reputation. As always, if you’ve had a good experience with Shift4 Payments, please consider leaving a review of the company in the Comments section below. Thanks!
Final Verdict On Shift4 Payments
While Shift4 Payments has received a lot of well-deserved criticism from small business owners, it’s not all bad. The company offers a solid payment gateway that integrates seamlessly with its multiple POS offerings. These products are developed and supported in-house, unlike most providers who only offer third-party products. It’s also evident from the impressive list of big-name clients that Shift4 works well for some very large businesses.
For small business owners, however, we cannot recommend Shift4 at this time. The company’s heavily promoted “free” equipment offer comes with a lot of stipulations and seems mainly to be a ruse to lock you into a long, three-year contract with an expensive early cancellation penalty.
Shift4’s use of tiered pricing also weighs against it, particularly since it doesn’t disclose its rates or warn you that the majority of your transactions will probably be processed at the much more expensive non-qualified rates. The availability of interchange-plus pricing is commendable, but since we’ve seen no indication on what kind of rates merchants are actually paying, we can’t say whether they’re fair or not.
Perhaps the biggest strike against Shift4 is its reliance on independent sales agents to market its accounts. While this practice is a real money-saver for providers, it often results in a very poor experience for merchants. There’s simply no reason why a company as large as Shift4 can’t hire its own in-house sales team and provide them with the proper training and supervision necessary to provide ethical and professional service to prospective merchants.
On the whole, Shift4 Payments only earns a score of 3 out of 5 stars. While it’s not the worst provider we’ve reviewed, there’s really nothing to distinguish it from any of the other companies in the industry that offer merchants little more than restrictive contracts, overpriced products and services, and insufficient support after the sale.
If you’re an eCommerce merchant who’s intrigued by Shift4’s popular payment gateway, check out our roundup of the best eCommerce merchant services providers for some better recommendations. Retail merchants can find some recommendations in our article, 5 Fantastic Retail Merchant Services With Everything You Need To Run Your Shop.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.