Square For Retail Review
- Advanced reporting
- Multi-location inventory management
- Ease of use
- Advanced employee management
- Competitive pricing
- Purchase ordering feature lacking
- Pared-down features
Square has never been one to stop introducing new features and services, though the addition of Square for Retail to its product mix had a few of us scratching our heads. The free Square Point of Sale app has been a key draw for Square users over the years, and it’s not hard to see why: It’s the most advanced free mobile app out there, and it works just as great as an entry-level POS, too. Did we mention it’s free? All you pay for are transactions and any optional monthly services.
Given that, I was a tiny bit perplexed by a new, entirely separate POS system that goes for $60/month and has fewer features than the original app.
Square says that is has designed its new offering for brick-and-mortar retailers. It’s a step up in purchase order management and inventory with more advanced features and advanced reporting (specifically, merchants have been clamoring for cost-of-goods reporting for ages). The new interface is designed specifically with retailers in mind; it’s able to handle large inventories because of advanced search and barcode scanning features.
Unfortunately, to make room for these new features, Square removed a few of the features found in its free app. And the new purchase order and inventory tools aren’t what you’d expect for the price, according to merchants.
I like Square and its products quite a bit. I admire the company’s continuous innovation. I want to like the Retail app because niche solutions are important for merchants. The lack of robust inventory management is probably the free app’s biggest weakness, and Square for Retail succeeds in remedying that, but we would expect a little more to justify the cost.
All things considered, Square for Retail earns a solid 4.5-star rating from us. The lack of features is the most significant factor holding the new app back. But if you can manage without them (even just temporarily), you will find a perfectly serviceable POS for large-inventory businesses. All you need to run it is an iPad and standard register equipment. You also get Square’s great pricing plan, with no contracts, no monthly fees, and no hidden fees or early termination fees, plus access to its terrific app marketplace.
Read on for a closer look at Square for Retail, including its triumphs and failings.
Table of Contents
Square’s pricing structure for the Retail app is simple: $60/month/register/location. Additional registers per location cost $20/month. Transactions process at 2.5% + $0.10 per transaction, a pricing structure that will produce savings for merchants with an average ticket size above $40. Also, Square offers custom pricing for merchants with an average ticket size above $15 and who process more than $250,000 per year.
Additionally, you’ll pay different rates if you choose to use any of Square’s other services:
- Card On File: 3.5% + $0.15
- eCommerce: 2.9% + $0.30
- Invoices: 2.9% + $0.30 (3.5% + $0.15 for card-on-file invoices)
There are no commitments or long-term contracts required. Square for Retail offers users the company’s standard 30-day free trial, but you should note that payment processing fees still apply.
Cloud-Based Or Locally Installed
Square for Retail is a cloud-based system, meaning all your information is stored on Square’s servers and transferred to your device, via the cloud, every time you sign in. Square for Retail’s front-end register can be accessed via the iPad app. The back-office dashboard and virtual terminal can be accessed through any device with an internet connection.
It may come as a complete shock to you, but Square for Retail has been designed with — wait for it — retailers in mind. The developers of Square for Retail have focused on creating an extensive inventory management system that can be accessed with a search bar and features a few beefed-up reports.
While Square for Retail does integrate with several restaurant management systems, it doesn’t offer the major features that a restaurant or even a small cafe would need. Especially for the price, I highly recommend that restaurateurs look into other more restaurant-specific systems.
However, if you sell online as well as in person, you’ll get all of Square’s eCommerce integrations and features included with the Square for Retail app.
One thing to remember is that Square is not for every business, even though almost anyone can apply for an account. Whether you’re using the free Point of Sale app or the Retail app, the same limitations on accounts apply. Make sure you’re not one of Square’s prohibited businesses (per the user agreement) before you sign up.
Specific Size Of Business
Square states on its website that Square for Retail is for businesses of any size. That’s a bit of a stretch for me. There aren’t many one-size-fits-all options, and the Retail app definitely isn’t one of them.
Square for Retail is more for businesses that have large numbers of SKUs and don’t mind using a very basic front-end register as a trade-off for more powerful inventory management. There are some useful back-end reporting features that Square merchants have been clamoring for thrown in, too. The Retail app also includes timekeeping and user permissions at no additional charge. If you have a half-dozen employees, you break even on the cost of employee management, which could justify the upgrade to the Retail app.
I’m convinced that Square for Retail is best suited to small-but-growing and medium-sized businesses. If you need a lot of registers, you can probably save money with another POS, especially one that caters to large businesses. And at that size, you might need other features that Square doesn’t yet provide. And if you’re so small that Square’s current inventory tools are more than enough, there’s no reason to pay more for tools you won’t use.
Ease Of Use
Setting up Square for Retail (or a Square account in general) is a pretty painless process. For those who need them, there are lots of step-by-step instructions. When first setting up your account, you will be asked for your personal contact information. This request will include the last four digits of your social security number to verify your identity. Type carefully, because if Square has trouble verifying your identity, you won’t be able to make an account.
Once you’ve set up your account, you can log in and access the web dashboard, which is going to look the same no matter which Square product you choose. Square’s dashboard is the heart of the platform, where you will be asked to create a separate device code for each of your registers and to set up your store, both physical and online. Square will give you prompts to help you figure out what to do. The system will walk you through the various steps, such as linking your bank account, building your item catalog, setting up employees, customizing your receipts, and more. That’s all well and good, but in my experience, most of Square’s features are pretty intuitive. And if you get stuck, there’s a rather fantastic knowledgebase to help you out.
If you’re already familiar with Square’s interface, you won’t be surprised by Square for Retail. It isn’t flashy and lacks some of the “wow factor” that a few other systems feature. While the Square for Retail app is also easy to use, I must say it doesn’t give that impression right off the bat. There’s an emptiness to it — a bland, humdrum interface that hides lots of Square’s tools and all of the menus you might need. The system is meant to be navigated by searching for items or by scanning them with a barcode scanner.
It’s also not the most intuitive/efficient screen when it comes to wrapping up transactions. The interface includes a large black space that could easily incorporate some of the most frequently used buttons to expedite the checkout process. As it stands, you have to access many buttons through different menus. If you’ve come to appreciate Square’s simplicity, this shouldn’t be much of an issue for you. However, if you were looking for an upgrade to a more modern interface from the free app, that’s not in the cards.
Hardware & Operating System Requirements
There are two components to Square for Retail: the dashboard and the register setup. The dashboard is accessible on just about any internet-enabled computer that isn’t a complete dinosaur.
The second component, the register, only officially requires one piece of equipment: an iPad running iOS 9 or later. However, since the point of the whole app is to have a stable register for a retail environment, you’re going to want a few extra pieces of equipment:
- Square Stand With Contactless + Chip Reader: While you could certainly get another tablet stand and choose a card reader (all of Square’s card readers are compatible with iPads), it’s extremely simple to just order a Square Stand with its EMV/NFC reader included. Bonus: You’ll also get the dock, all of which you can get at a discount. The stand plus reader goes for $199 at its regular price.
- Receipt Printer: For retail (not mobile) setups, Square recommends an Ethernet or USB printer, and there are quite a few compatible options. However, the default option in the Square Shop, the Star Micronics TSP143IIU, is available for $299.
- Cash Drawer: Again, Square offers quite an assortment of options, depending on the size of your space. A printer driven model, the Star Micronics 37965600, runs for $109; a USB-driven model, the APG VB554A-BL1616, goes for $219.
- Barcode Scanner: The Square for Retail app is specifically designed for searching or barcode scanning, so a barcode scanner should almost certainly be on your list. Square sells a USB barcode scanner (the Motorola Symbol LS2208) for $119.
The Square site has an even longer list of compatible options for hardware, but the equipment options listed above are best for running the Square Stand. Did we mention Square sells bundled equipment? You can get the Square Stand, Contactless + Chip card reader and dock, printer, printer-driven cash drawer, and 25 rolls of receipt paper in a retail kit for $634. Throw in a compatible iPad for another $329, and that’s $963, which is a pretty reasonable cost for everything you get. You can even finance purchases starting at $49.
The biggest differences between the original Point of Sale app and the Retail app are the new, search-focused interface and the beefed-up inventory tools. It seems that instead of just redesigning Square’s interface for more advanced inventory support, the developers decided to pare back the many features Square Point of Sale offers to include only the tools retailers might need. The end effect is that many retailers feel like they’re paying more for less. (That’s not even counting all the features that both versions of the app lack, or the retail-specific features that merchants are still asking for. The good news? Square has plans to add more features and it’s been steadily improving the app.)
You could honestly spend a few weeks getting to know every little feature Square offers. I’ve seen several merchants declare that a 30-day trial isn’t long enough to properly test drive Square for Retail. I’ll do my best to give you a rundown of what Square for Retail offers and how it differs from Square Point of Sale.
We talked about the interface already, so let’s talk about some of the other features, starting with inventory management.
- Inventory Management: For starters, I do recommend checking out Square’s guides to its Basic Inventory and Inventory Plus tools. (Inventory Plus includes everything in the Basic plan.) So here’s what you’ll get:
- Item catalog with categories and descriptions
- Customize items with variants and add-ons
- Real-time inventory tracking (including across multiple locations)
- Inventory history
- In-depth inventory reporting, including the cost of goods and projected profits
- Unlimited SKU count
- Barcode and custom label printing
- Low stock alerts
- CSV import and bulk editing
- Unit cost in item listings
- Vendor & Purchase Order Management: This is an extension of inventory management, but it seems these are the features merchants are most interested in, so I want to call them out:
- Link Vendors To Products In Item Catalog: This is a new feature but a helpful one, and it’s a good complement to the unit cost function.
- Purchase Order Creation: You can create purchase orders from the Square dashboard. However, at this time, Retail isn’t able to auto-populate purchase orders based on low or empty stock, which is a sore point. Instead, merchants have to select each item on the purchase order manually.
- Purchase Order Management: You can receive purchase orders from the dashboard or within the app as well as check the status (whether something is partially received, still waiting, etc.). When you receive items, you can also mark any taxes and fees for the accurate cost-of-goods (COG) reporting.
Most of the inventory management tools are concentrated in the dashboard rather than the app, which has been a source of frustration for merchants who want to use their iPad for more than just accepting payments. Square is trying to remedy this, though.
There are some other Retail-specific features to note as well:
- Favorites: This feature allows you to create a list of popular items, or items you want to keep close on hand, that you can access from the app interface — no need to search for individual products.
- Customer Directory: The directory itself isn’t new, but with the upgrade to the Retail app comes the ability to add notes in the directory, which is not available in the free Square Point of Sale app.
- Custom Tips & Discounts: These aren’t Retail-exclusive features, but I do want to point out that the app does support tipping. I’ve encountered some merchants who sell a combination of services and retail goods that have expressed interest in the app. Unfortunately, many of them are frustrated by the inventory management tools, which don’t seem adequately adapted for a hybrid business. But this does exist if you need it.
There aren’t too many other app features to note. The payment/checkout interface should look pretty familiar. (No need to redesign the wheel, right?) And you still get access to the rest of Square’s back-end features. It’s a long list, but here are the highlights:
- Team Management: Square’s version of employee management. Use it to track employee hours with Square’s built-in time clock, set user permissions, and create custom employee roles. Also, you can run time and management with the software. Square used to charge $5 per employee per month but has since made many of the features free in Team Management. You can also upgrade to Team Management Plus for additional features — all of which Square for Retail includes for free.
- Square Virtual Terminal: With Square’s Virtual Terminal, you can accept payments through any web browser by manually keying in credit card information. Just like all other keyed-in transactions taken through Square, using the virtual terminal will cost 3.5% + $0.15 per transaction and take one to two business days to process.
- Add Inventory: A relatively recent update now allows you to add inventory directly through the app, which was a pretty big hole in the product previously. Hit “Add Stock” in the dashboard and search or scan the product you’re adding.
- Item View: You can now manage inventory across multiple locations simply from your Square dashboard. You can also control employee permissions in the same way.
- Client Messages: Customers can now make an appointment and leave information in the form of a comment or note, saving employees a few steps.
- Invoicing: You can send invoices through the Square dashboard and pay 2.9% + $0.30. Invoices are customizable, and you can even keep customers’ cards on file.
- Free Online Store: Square’s free online store is really basic, but it works. It’s as simple as ABC to set up, plus you can integrate with other third-party shopping carts (though not all reporting features work seamlessly). Square even allows you to accept orders online to pick up in-store, which is worth taking a look at.
- Refund To Gift Card: It’s not quite the same as a store credit, but Square will finally let you refund a transaction to a gift card, giving you a more effective way to handle exchanges and store credit. It’s not perfect by any means, but at least it’s something.
- Cash Management: Track the starting and ending balances of drawers, pay-ins and pay-outs, and more.
- Decimal Quantities: Another initial hole with Square for Retail has been fixed with an update, as you can now have decimal quantity support.
- Updated Reports: As expected, Square for Retail has beefed up its reports from its original launch and now has a perfectly acceptable array. You can view the costs of goods sold and track projected profits. You can also see your inventory history and monitor employee sales.
So what’s missing? Here’s the list of features the company either removed from Retail or have yet to include:
- Open Tickets: Square claims this was more for quick-service restaurants, but merchants aren’t pleased about its removal.
- Auto-Populating Purchase Orders: Merchants have been asking for this almost since the Square for Retail app launched. Currently, Square doesn’t offer this feature, requiring users to take extra steps to populate purchase orders.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of services and add-ons that work with Square. So let’s start with a few of Square’s optional monthly services that integrate with Retail:
- Payroll: With Square Payroll, it’s easy for merchants to transfer the timekeeping provided for free with the Retail app. Payroll is currently available in 32 states, and it will likely be available in even more by the time you’re reading this.
- Marketing Campaigns: Use an email or Facebook campaign to promote your merchandise to customers. Costs start at an additional $15 per month. Schedule campaigns and also track effectiveness with information, such as how many of your emails were opened and how many sales can be attributed to the email through a coupon code. You’ll need to commit to maintaining your customer database to get the most out of this feature.
- Offer coupons and discounts
- Welcome new customers
- Wish happy birthday
- Send event invites
- Introduce product updates or new services
- Send newsletters
- Build up Facebook and Yelp presences
- Gift Cards: You can order physical gift cards, including template and custom designs, for a fee. You can also sell e-gift cards and just pay the transaction fees. This is a great option for a lot of businesses.
- Square Loyalty: Square offers users the option of adding a customizable loyalty program that costs an additional $25 per month per register. With Square Loyalty, business owners can customize their rewards program and offer their customers the ability to earn stars (reward points) using one of three different methods: by visit, by amount spent, or by item/category. Customers can join the rewards program by keying in their phone number. Once they’ve amassed enough stars to receive a reward, they will automatically get a text message letting them know. Business owners can choose their rewards, such as a 10% discount on the tenth visit, and customers can redeem them by entering their phone number. You can also track the redemption, participation, and sales rates with this program. Using your customer’s phone number, you can pull up all customer information.
The one monthly add-on service that isn’t compatible with Retail is Appointments. And that’s because Square has expanded the service to make it a full-fledged POS that can handle transactions for appointments as well as track, manage, and sell inventory. If you’re a hybrid merchant dealing in both services and merchandise, it might be worth looking into this.
In addition to the add-ons mentioned above, Square also offers an extensive list of integrations in the App Marketplace. It doesn’t appear that all of them work seamlessly with the Retail app, so you’ll have to check with Square before you commit.
There is one final thing to note: Square also offers developer APIs to create custom integrations and solutions. You just need to make a Square account to access the APIs, but that’s all that’s required.
Customer Service & Support
Square offers a few options when it comes to customer support. Users can check out the customer support page to start their troubleshooting process. Then you just need to decide which avenue to pursue to get support.
- Phone Support: Phone support is available to Square’s existing customers Monday through Friday, 6 AM to 6 PM PST. To call, however, you must request a customer code and go through a troubleshooting process. It isn’t a great system, but it works, and you can talk to a live person. (The exception being the case of account terminations.)
- Email Support: Square’s email support is a ticket-based system where you fill out some information about your problem and then wait for someone from Square to email you. Square’s website says representatives will try to contact you within 24 hours.
- Knowledgebase: Square’s knowledgebase is quite extensive and should help you with any common questions or problems. It is an industry-leading solution in terms of the breadth of articles and topics. However, Square is still working on developing support articles for the Retail app, so there are a lot more resources regarding Square Point of Sale, comparatively speaking.
- Community Forum: Square offers a community page where users can troubleshoot and discuss Square. Unlike lots of other online communities, this one is quite active, both for merchants and for Square support reps (and even product managers). If the knowledgebase doesn’t cover the issue and the problem isn’t pressing, this is your best chance at an answer.
- Social Media: You can follow Square on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. In addition to posting blogs and product updates, Square also uses its Facebook and Twitter pages as a way to help customers in lieu of instant messaging on Square’s main website.
- Blog: Square maintains an active blog called Town Square. Points for the pun. It’s also a terrific way to learn how to use Square’s features better or learn more about running a business. I happen to be fond of the monthly recaps of new features, as it’s an easy way to see what’s been added.
- System Status: Users can go to www.issquareup.com to check the status of Square. The page is updated every few minutes and also lists any incident reports.
Because support channels for Square for Retail aren’t separated from the rest of Square’s general support, you should expect the same sort of overall experience. In general, it seems Square provides pretty good customer service — except in cases of account terminations. But I don’t think there’s any way to guide merchants through the “Hey we are terminating your account” process to the satisfaction of said merchants, either.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Since Square for Retail is a (relatively) recent addition to the POS world, the internet isn’t overflowing with customer comments, positive or negative. But if you know where to look, you can find feedback from merchants who actively use the service or have at least completed the 30-day trial period and decided it wasn’t for them. From those merchants, here’s what we’ve heard as far as complaints:
- Missing Features: A lot of users have stated that they wished Square offered more features and functions. Purchase order creation is an especially sore point, as Square for Retail doesn’t support the auto-populating of POs. It’s also not friendly to service providers/hybrid merchants. I think complaints about lack of features exceed anything else — though it certainly ties into complaints about the cost or the lack of intuitiveness very closely. While Square continues to add updates almost monthly, this is still a common refrain.
- Not Intuitive: While the numbers aren’t overwhelming, merchants have said Square for Retail is not very easy to use and requires a lot of trips to the customer support page. This is especially true for inventory management and purchase orders. I see a lot of complaints specifically about how difficult it is to edit item costs.
- Cost: Some merchants feel that Square for Retail is a bit on the spendy side at $60/month/register plus transaction fees. While it’s a competitive offer in the POS world, it’s certainly not in keeping with Square’s tradition of offering a lot of features at an outstanding price (usually free).
- Unattractive User Interface: While I won’t go so far as to call the new interface ugly, I would say it could probably use a makeover, and other merchants seem to agree. A screenshot of Square for Retail is on the left, and Square Point of Sale on the right. Be honest, which one looks more appealing and easier to use? While the Retail interface is definitely minimalist, it also has a certain air of “you better know what you’re doing with me” about it. The Point of Sale app is bright and colorful and full of buttons that make it easy to navigate. I’ve also seen complaints that the Retail app interface isn’t friendly for very bright light (in the off chance you want to take the iPad mobile). Merchants would also love the ability to toggle different displays for different lighting conditions.
I also want to take a moment and point out that the same primary complaints about Square generally also apply here. Namely, account terminations. Upgrading to Square for Retail won’t in any way protect you from a processing hold or account termination if your processing history is full of red flags. However, it might show that you’re doing a steady volume, which may mean you’re less susceptible to holds or a termination. But please don’t upgrade to Square for Retail with the expectation that it will protect you. (It won’t.)
If you want to avoid account troubles with Square, you need to use good business practices — a solid return policy, good customer service, and invoices for large transactions — to avoid red flags. Check out our article on how to prevent holds and freezes.
While signing on with a third-party processing company always comes with an inherent risk, Square’s the best in the business. Overall, its feature set can give almost any processor a run for their money. If you’re concerned about stability over absolutely anything else, or if you run a high-risk business or any sort of business on Square’s no-fly list, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
But if you’re new to processing, want to get set up quickly and with minimal fuss, or just want to work with an innovative processor that has never rested on its laurels, Square is absolutely worth your consideration. Whether Square for Retail is right for you will depend mostly on whether you like what you’ve read so far.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
There’s a fair amount of press coverage around Square for Retail and the company in general. Looking around the Square site, you’ll also find a bunch of customer testimonials. There’s still a decent volume of merchant chatter, and from what we’ve seen, this is what merchants like about Square for Retail:
- Ease Of Use: Many users comment that Square for Retail is easy to use and train new employees on. Considering others complain about the interface, I’m inclined to think this is more a case of people either loving it or hating it.
- Customer Support: Quite a few comments noted that Square’s customer service is friendly and helpful. I’ve personally seen this in action on the Seller Community, and I see it brought up in other public spaces. Remember, there’s no separate customer support for the Retail app versus the rest of Square’s services.
- Features: Square for Retail incorporates some features that merchants have been asking about for ages, it seems. Specifically, cost-of-goods reporting and more advanced inventory tracking are tools that Square users have desperately wanted in the past. And despite the lack of some obvious features and the pared-down UI, Retail seems to be a step in the right direction. It’s also nice to know that Square’s developers are always adding improvements, and many of the complaints I’ve seen are already included in the company’s roadmap.
Again, the usual chatter about Square applies here, too. It’s easy and fast to make an account, there are always new features, and it’s relatively inexpensive.
All in all, Square for Retail leaves me conflicted. I think the company’s heart was in the right place — it wanted to create a more advanced feature set for retailers that have lots of inventory. And it did that. But it also seemed to skimp in other areas, which is unusual for the company.
Square has left itself room to grow and improve, and the majority of its many updates have been positive thus far. The company has made a pretty clear commitment to listen to its customers’ complaints. Square has fixed a number of the holes that came with the product in its first few months on the market.
The larger a merchant’s business is, the less competitive Square for Retail’s pricing is. Too many registers can start to get expensive fast, even if you consider the money saved on employee management. And very small merchants with little inventory stand to benefit little from upgrading. Which means Square for Retail is ideally suited for merchants who fall in just the right range — a small but growing business, or a mid-size business that doesn’t need too many registers.
In short, if you like what Square has to offer across the board but simply couldn’t get by with the free app’s inventory offerings, this is probably your solution. Square continues to make things easy by offering all-in-one solutions, even if those sometimes come with higher rates than could be found elsewhere. Also, be sure to check out our complete Square review before you forge ahead!
If nothing else, take it out for a free 30-day trial and see what you think. Let me know down in the comments what you think of Square for Retail! Good or bad, your feedback helps immensely.
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