Square Online Store and eCommerce Review
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- Date Established
- San Francisco, CA
- Predictable flat-rate pricing
- Ideal for low-volume merchants
- No monthly fees
- Impressive feature set
- All-in-one payments system
- Available to Canadian merchants
- Integrates with many eCommerce solutions
- Account stability issues
- Not suitable for high-risk industries
I think it’s fair to say at this point that Square has been instrumental in democratizing the payments space. Virtually anyone can open an account and start accepting payments anywhere, any time. These days it’s taking that same attitude and applying it to a whole range of business services, creating an ecosystem that allows an entrepreneur to manage almost every aspect of the operation — from marketing and sales to employee timekeeping — with a single login.
That includes online stores. The fact that Square lets you set up an online store for nothing more than the cost of payment processing continues to baffle me. Even marketplaces that don’t require you to buy a domain or hosting still charge you transaction fees on top of your payment processing costs.
Part of that is because Square’s Online Store is quite basic. That’s not to say it’s not functional, or attractive — it is absolutely both of those things. But the entire Online Store feature has been designed with simplicity in mind. You don’t need the slightest bit of web design, coding, or software experience to create your shop. On the other hand, you won’t find the more complex features that some shopping cart software providers offer, such as related items and keyword tags.
I think many people have an idea that Square is only for specific groups of merchants: coffee shops and take-out restaurants, or artists and crafters, for starters. But that’s not really true. Square’s feature set is so expansive, and there are so many integrations available, that you can easily manage a restaurant, a café or coffee shop, a little artist booth, a retail popup store, and even a full-fledged brick and mortar retail operation — plus your online store. And that doesn’t include service companies (hair and nail salons, for example) or nonprofits and events.
Which begs the question…just what can you sell through Square’s online store? Is it the best choice for you? Just how flexible is the site builder? Let’s take a look. You can also check out our full review of Square’s product line if you’re interested in other services.
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Table of Contents
- What Can You Sell Through Square’s Online Store?
- What Features Does Square Offer?
- Setting Up Your Square Store
- Adding and Managing Products with Square’s Online Store
- Importing and Managing Inventory in Square
- Setting Item Shipping Rates in Square
- Completing Orders in Square
- How to Maximize Your Online Store
- Verdict: Is Square Right For You?
What Can You Sell Through Square’s Online Store?
Square is always expanding, and it’s focused much of that effort on building up its eCommerce feature set. Merchants can sell all of the following:
- Physical goods
- Digital goods (music, eBooks, pattern files, etc.)
- Restaurant carryout orders (you can even add delivery through another Square service called Caviar)
- Event tickets
You can also collect donations in amounts from $1 up to $1,000.
Not only that, but Square supports variations of products at different price points. You can even create modifiers and add-on products for your listings.
Square does have a list of prohibited items and businesses, and I suggest you check that out. But except for that list, you can sell pretty much anything you want.
What Features Does Square Offer?
Running your online shop through Square means you’ll have a few limitations, but overall it is a great way to sell online while keeping your costs down. The setup is friendly to many kinds of businesses, as well. You get all of the following, at no charge beyond the payment processing fee for each purchase:
- Free, unlimited hosting.
- Free URL (can also use an existing domain or purchase one through Google Domains).
- Responsive website design.
- Inventory tracking and management.
- Supplier management.
- Integrated, advanced reporting.
- Seamless integration with Square Register.
- Support for in-store pickup.
Setting Up Your Square Store
It genuinely will only take you a few minutes to create your site. The most time you’ll spend will be on sorting out your inventory (which is usually true of any eCommerce shop).
When you log into your Square dashboard, you’ll see a menu on the left-hand side of options. Go to Online Store, and you’ll see a welcome page like this:
Click “Get started,” and Square will start the process of building your site. First up, Square will ask you to choose a Store theme. There are only four, and as you’ll find out later, you don’t have any customization options for design beyond the images and text themselves. However, you can change your theme at any time by going into the Store Editor and clicking “Change Theme” at the top.
Something worth noting is that each design is built to be responsive — it will automatically adjust its display based on which device your customers are using. In other words, you get a mobile-friendly website without having to do anything.
Next, Square will want you to update your information. This is your chance to set your store’s name, add contact information for your customers to reach out, and update your brick-and-mortar hours (if you have them).
The third step is setting up your store, which is the most technical step. And by that I mean Square asks you to choose your URL or add your own domain. This might be the most complicated aspect of building your site because you need to configure your domain’s DNS settings. You can also set your shipping rates (we’ll come back to that), and state your refund policy.
Other Setup Options
Square has invested a lot in providing more flexible solutions and giving you the features that are most essential for a business without breaking the bank. It’s even expanded its eCommerce solutions, allowing you to use Square as your payments processor with other shopping cart software.
All you need to do is integrate Square with BigCommerce, Weebly, or Ecwid to create your online shop. If you happen to be a bit more tech-savvy (or you have a web programmer on staff, or one you can hire to do work), you can use Square’s eCommerce API to create a custom payment form on your site.
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Adding and Managing Products with Square’s Online Store
Right off the bat, one of the biggest advantages to running both your retail and eCommerce setups through Square is the automatic inventory synchronization. When you ring something up in Register or sell online, Square adjusts your inventory counts for you. This way you never end up selling what you don’t have on hand. Of course, this is an optional feature — if you want to use it, you’ll have to enable inventory management.
When you set up your Online Store for the first time, Square pushes you to start adding items right away. However, now is a good time to sit down and figure out what you need to charge for sales tax, how you want to categorize items, and what modifiers you want to offer.
- Sales Tax: You can create multiple tax settings in Square. This is useful if you travel to events, or run multiple stores, or occasionally have pop-up stores around the area. Be sure to label each tax setting clearly so you know when it should be applied.
- Modifiers: Modifiers are basically add-ons. This is a good way to include an option for expedited shipping or upsale items (if you sell tech items, you could add on spare cables; for cosmetics, makeup brushes).
- Categories: Categories can be very useful for reporting purposes. If you sell many different types of items (clothing vs. accessories, tea vs. tea-making supplies), this could come in handy for seeing what sells better.
If you don’t take care of these first, you’re going to manually adjust each item’s settings afterward. Sales tax, modifiers, and categories are all controlled through the Square Dashboard, not the Store Editor feature. Log into your account and then select “Items” and look for the tabs at the top right of the screen.
Once that’s done, it is insanely simple to add items to your Online Store. The Store Editor will let you create sections with products — you can place them all in one section or break them down into multiples. Under each section, click “Add Item” and you’ll see a new box pop up. (Note: these sections have nothing to do with any item categories you might have set up).
Fill out your details. Add a name, a photo (or multiple photos), and a description. This is also where you can add variants (such as multiple colors or sizes) and select a category for your product. (Note: categories are not the same as sections on your website).
Scroll down on the box a bit and you’ll see some more of Square’s advanced options, such as modifiers. You can also disable or enable an individual item’s visibility in the store if you’re not quite ready to launch a particular item.
Importing and Managing Inventory in Square
If you’ve already been selling with Square, just not online, you can add your entire item library from the Register app to the Online Store with just a few clicks. Go to “Add Item” and choose to import from library.
Got a large inventory? You probably want to take advantage of Square’s import from CSV feature. Go to your Square Dashboard and then select “Items,” not “Online Store. At the top right of the page you’ll see a button for “Import/Export.” Choose “Import items,” select whether you want to build on your existing item library or replace it, and then download the form.
Just load your information into the template, then upload the file into the Square Dashboard.
If you plan on tracking inventory levels, you have two options: 1. update inventory counts and set tracking manually for each item (go to the Square dashboard and then to “Items” and select each one individually), or 2 use a CSV file (choose “Import Inventory” from the “Import/Export” menu).
You’ll want to upload all of your items first before you do the inventory level CSV.
Once you’ve enabled this feature, you can also set the low-stock alerts, meaning Square will automatically generate emails to let you know when stock levels drop below a certain point. You can also check inventory levels through your dashboard.
Quick note: Items sold via invoice or in-store pickup don’t work with inventory management, so you’ll have to adjust the counts manually. If you process returns, you’ll also have to adjust your inventory.
Setting Item Shipping Rates in Square
Square’s shipping features might be frustrating for some merchants. During the initial setup process, the site asks you to choose free shipping or set a flat shipping rate for every item in your store. There are no shipping options based on weight or size.
That’s not to say it’s entirely unworkable. You can offer free shipping for all items (just make sure to adjust the price of your products to cover the increased cost), which might appeal to your buyers, especially in the age of Amazon Prime.
Square also lets you add an additional shipping charge for items. Unfortunately, it displays like this:
I get that this is a transparency issue, but I feel like it just hammers home the idea that you’re paying MORE for shipping. I wonder how many customers that has driven away, because I would bet it’s a fair few. It’d be nice if Square just totaled the two shipping costs together and presented a single number.
The other thing you’ll see is there’s no option for offering multiple shipping speeds/courier options. The best option is to create a set of modifiers for any other shipping options you want — such as USPS priority or overnight, or UPS ground.
Square works with ShippingEasy and other solutions
|Service||Pricing||Business Size||Ease of Use||Next Steps|
|Free - $99/month||Small to Medium||Very Easy||Sign Up|
|$25 - $145/monthly||Small to Medium||Very Easy||Sign Up|
|$39 - $499/monthly||Small to Large||Very Easy||Sign Up|
Completing Orders in Square
Visit your store’s dashboard and the first thing you’ll see is your list of pending orders.
You need to mark each order as fulfilled manually to receive payment for it. Until then, Square holds the funds and they’ll appear on your statements as “Deferrals Held.” Once you complete the order, they show up as “Deferrals Released.”
By default, Square sets the processing time for orders to 7 days. You can change this yourself by going into your shipping settings. If you don’t complete the order by the deadline, Square automatically refunds your customers.
When you complete the order, you have the option to add tracking information. However, you can’t do this once the order is complete — you’ll have to sort through your orders manually to find it and then contact the customer to provide shipping information. This is a bit of a shortcoming — but not a deal breaker. You can also integrate Square with ShipStation to handle your shipping and order tracking.
With electronic orders, Square automatically generates a confirmation email. If you sell tickets, that email doubles as a ticket. However, if you are selling digital downloads, you’ll have to handle orders fulfillment yourself. That could mean that you provide a link to Dropbox or another hosting space where people can download the files when you mark orders as complete.
It’s not a perfect solution, by far — it would be great to see Square add a hosting option for those files. However, I will point out that BigCommerce, Ecwid, and Weebly all have greater support for digital downloads.
For in-store pickup items, you have the option to auto-accept all orders, or manually accept them. That’s entirely up to you, but if you have to manually accept orders, you need to do so within an hour of it being placed. Square also recommends you get proof of ID for picking up high-value orders ($250 or more) and a signed invoice for orders over $500. That’s a pretty solid practice that can protect you from chargebacks.
How to Maximize Your Online Store
When you start to sell online, don’t forget to take advantage of all the great secondary features Square offers. For example, Square’s reporting is a great way to monitor your sales (comparing online to in-person sales, monitoring which items are most popular, etc). You can even create custom reports tailored to your needs.
Not only that, but you might want to check out all the integrations Square offers. If your inventory needs are more complex than Square can accommodate, check out Stitch Labs. You can see the full list of apps here, but remember that with the APIs you can create custom solutions, too.
You can’t sell gift cards online, but you can sell them in person and use them in your online store, which is a great way to encourage repeat customers. The only costs are the cards themselves and any processing fees if someone purchases the gift card with a credit card.
Square also lets you set up discounts. You can apply these discounts for in-person sales only, or you can create codes for your customers to use online, too. That’s useful if you want to run holiday sales or have special promotions from time to time.
The customer database Square offers (at no additional charge) ties into Square’s email marketing seamlessly. Square’s email marketing service starts at $15/month but it’s a good way to keep in touch with your most loyal customers and reach out to lapsed customers, and you can drive traffic from your emails to your site. I wish Square’s loyalty program (also tied to the database and available for an additional monthly charge) worked with website purchases as well, but give it a bit of time. That’s something I am sure Square will address eventually.
Lastly, don’t neglect a good social media strategy. A solid presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even Pinterest can go a long way toward funneling customers to your site, especially combined with promo codes.
Verdict: Is Square Right For You?
If you are just starting out with an online store, Square is a great starter because requires very little technical knowledge. There’s a simple drag-and-drop interface, no need to ever mess with code. Plus it’s easy to do a bulk upload to populate inventory.
If you need advanced features, you can use Square to process payments and use another shopping cart software and get all of those features. eCommerce rates on par with most other processors. Really the only way to get substantially lower rates is to get a merchant account — but you don’t get free hosting, a free URL or free shopping cart software, let alone any of the other value-added goodies Square has packed into its offerings (like the free customer database that integrates seamlessly, or feedback programs, etc.)
To really get the most out of your Square Online Store, you should really plan some things out ahead — your shipping options, especially, but also your general organization scheme and issues such as sales tax. Map all of these out before you start building your store and you’ll save yourself so much time and hassle. Don’t forget the convenience of the bulk upload feature, either. Then it’s just a matter of getting the word out and driving people to your website!
Got questions? Have personal experience with Square’s Online Store? Leave your comments below and let us know what you think!
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