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- Date Established
- San Francisco, CA
- Predictable flat-rate pricing
- Ideal for low-volume merchants
- No monthly fees
- Impressive feature set
- Affordable chip card readers
- All-in-one payments system
- Free tools for selling online
- Available to Canadian merchants
- Account stability issues
- Not suitable for high-risk industries
We’ve been following Square (Square.com, formerly Squareup) since it launched in 2009, back when the idea of a swipe-based smartphone processing system with no monthly fee and no equipment cost sounded more or less like a fairy tale: too good to be true. Since then, Square’s suite of products and services, including Square Register and Square Point of Sale, have established the company as more than a passing fad.
Square is, without a doubt, the most feature-rich and advanced mobile processing (mPOS) solution you can find without a monthly fee, and it doubles as a countertop POS system, too.
The cost is easily Square’s biggest draw. With Square Payments, merchants typically pay a flat rate of 2.75% for swiped transactions, 3.5% + $0.15 for keyed transactions, and 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions. No monthly fee. No statement fees. No monthly minimum. This is an extraordinary deal for many merchants, especially new ones without an established processing history.
So when you toss in a highly capable iPad POS (and smartphone-friendly mobile app) for free, the draw is almost irresistible.
As Billy Mays would have said, BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! If you want a seamless transition between online and in-person (or in-store), Square also provides you with a sleek (but basic) online store that syncs with your in-app inventory, including inventory counts, as well as eCommerce integrations. There’s a virtual terminal, stored card capability, invoicing and recurring billing, an online ordering option, customer management, advanced analytics, tons of third-party app integrations, plus an API for developers. Suffice it say, Square isn’t just an mPOS more. It’s basically an entire business ecosystem.
Obviously with the way Square has been growing, there have been some changes. The most notable is that Square is moving into the realm of advanced iPad-based POS systems (costing $60/month to start). And if you choose to use one of Square’s advanced POS systems, you’ll end up paying 2.5% + $0.10 or 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction instead of 2.75%. For merchants with small ticket values, these new pricing schemes could mean paying more in fees, so tread carefully.
Square has just one shortcoming: Because it’s a third-party processor, Square is prone to terminating accounts when the risk department decides a merchant has proven to be too much of a liability. While you can get set up with a Square account almost immediately, you’ll be under close scrutiny and there’s a higher chance of encountering a hold or termination than if you were to open a merchant account with a traditional processor.
If you’re willing to accept an inherent amount of account instability, Square offers merchants the kind of value that precious few other processors can provide. Businesses of all sizes — from the smallest micro-merchants to large chains — can benefit from Square’s system. Oh, and did we mention it’s available to Canadian merchants, too?
Square.com earns a perfect 5-star rating for its ease of use, its astounding feature set, transparent and affordable pricing, and its overall status as a powerhouse for merchants. While Square is ideal for many small businesses, we’d encourage you to take a look at our top picks for small business credit card payment processing before you make any final decisions.
Featured Square Payments Solutions
Read on for a full breakdown of Square’s services, its advantages, and disadvantages. If you’ve worked with Square, for better or worse, please comment with your thoughts!
Table of Contents
- Fees & Rates
- Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
- Sales & Advertising Transparency
- Ease of Use
- Hardware & Software Requirements
- Customer Service & Technical Support
- Negative Reviews & Complaints
- Positive Reviews & Testimonials
- Final Verdict
Square’s free POS and back-office features are unmatched by any other free mobile processing system. They’re not quite up to snuff when compared to more advanced (and expensive) POS systems, but with no monthly fee, it’s quite tough to beat the value. And now Square offers upgraded POS systems tailored toward retail and restaurants, along with eCommerce features. But that’s not even close to everything you can get. Here are the major features worth noting.
This is really the core of what Square does. Since you can’t get any of Square’s other features without also agreeing to use Square Payments as your processor, it’s not right to just gloss over it. One of the biggest advantages of Square is the predictable pricing. You’ll pay a consistent flat rate, regardless of card type, transaction size, or your industry. Check out the specifics of processing costs in the “Fees and Rates” section below, but here’s a quick run-down of features:
- POS Processing: Use Square’s POS apps, or integrate with another POS system if you need.
- eCommerce Processing: Square gives you a free online store, as well as integrating with various shopping cart software providers. You can also use Square’s APIs to create a custom setup.
- Invoicing: You can use Square’s built-in tools to send invoices, or link up a third-party integration. Square’s invoicing tools supports recurring invoices as well as attaching files such as contracts, purchase orders, images, and more.
- Virtual terminal: Use this browser-based tool to enter in credit card payments from any internet-connected device with a web browser. No cell phone or tablet required. The fact that the virtual terminal is free beyond the processing costs is actually astounding. You can even store card data in the virtual terminal to re-charge customers without making them re-submit payment information.
- Card On File: Square’s Card on File feature lets you safely and securely store your customers’ card information in the Square system (with their permission!). You are still PCI compliant, and consumers can pay for orders without having to pull out their cards. This also works with Square Invoices and the Virtual Terminal, as well as eCommerce (using the APIs).
- Developer Tools: Want to create a custom, PCI-compliant solution? Square makes it easy for you to integrate its payment services (and other services) into other software with its APIs.
Square generally deposits funds into merchants’ bank accounts within 1-2 business days (depending on when the transaction was processed), excluding weekends and holidays. However, merchants who need their funds faster can opt for instant or scheduled deposits for 1% of the transfer amount.
Square has only recently started to expand outside the US, so it’s nowhere near as widespread as Stripe or Braintree. Currently, Square supports merchants in Canada, Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and you’ll find that supported payment methods and pricing vary based on which country you’re in.
Point of Sale Apps
Square now has four separate point of sale apps, catering to merchants based on the type of business they run. First, there’s the free, blandly named Point of Sale app (previously called Square Register). Square Appointments is now officially a full-fledged POS app with appointment scheduling built in. The two most recent additions to the lineup are the equally blandly named Square for Retail and Square for Restaurants.
Square Point of Sale
The Square Point of Sale app is just about the most powerful app you can get for free, and it rivals many subscription options, too. While the app is remarkably easy to use, it’s also incredibly feature-rich and lets you, the merchant, decide how to run things. You can set tips and discounts, record cash and check transactions, handle split tenders, and much, much more. App features include:
- Receipt printing (iPad only)
- Kitchen ticket printing (iPad only)
- Kitchen display compatibility (iPad only)
- Signature and tip on paper receipt (iPad only)
- Split tender
- Show change for cash
- Cash/check reporting
- Custom transaction amounts
- Suspend tickets
- Tips by %
- Tips by $
- Discounts by %
- Discounts by $
- Full and partial refunds (including itemized refunds)
- Signature off option on small tickets (under $25)
- Emailed receipts
- SMS receipts
- Customizable receipts
- Offline mode card processing
Square Point of Sale can be used in all sorts of environments, from quick-service restaurants and cafes to retail shops, mobile businesses and more. It’s not exactly specialized, but it’s very well rounded, and it has some specialized, less-common features in free POS systems (such as offline mode and suspended tickets).
Square Appointments used to be just a scheduling add-on, but Square’s gone the extra mile by expanding it into a full-fledged POS in its own right, seamlessly linking your schedule, appointment booking and payments. Currently, the Appointments POS is an iOS exclusive, but Square does have plans to expand it to Android. Features include:
- Syncing with Google Calendar
- Free online booking site
- Booking by employee
- Auto-populate services for website
- Widget to integrate in existing sites
- Accept pre-payment and charge no-show fees
- Accept tips
- Allow clients to reschedule their own appointments
- Sell retail items and manage inventory
- Send invoices
- Send reminders
- Customer database with notes
There’s no monthly subscription cost to use Square as an individual, and transactions cost just 2.75%. If you upgrade to a plan for teams, you’ll pay a monthly fee that depends on the number of people you’re scheduling for. Square groups its pricing into plans for 2-5 employees ($50/month) and 6-10 employees ($90/month); above that you should contact sales for a quote. If you use Appointments for Teams, you’ll also pay a different processing rate, 2.5% + $0.10.
It doesn’t sound like a major difference, but this does mean that merchant should ideally have an average ticket size above $40. Below that mark and this new pricing scheme could actually cost more than what you’d pay at 2.75%.
Square for Retail
Square for Retail is Square’s way of providing a more advanced POS for retail businesses with a large inventory. This iPad-exclusive system features an entirely redesigned user-interface, optimized for search and scanning. It also introduces three advanced reports that enhance Square’s inventory management, and a few new features. Notably, it also lose a couple of features that are present in Square Point of Sale: Offline Mode and the suspended tickets feature. Here’s a quick rundown of features, but you can also check out our full review of Square for Retail for more information:
- Itemized exchanges
- Barcode printing and scanning
- Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) reports
- Profitability reports
- Category reports (including profitability)
- Purchase order management
- Vendor management
- Transfer inventory between locations
- Employee management (included at no additional charge)
- Accept/receive inventory from within the app
Square for Retail will cost you $60 per month per location, with additional registers available for $20/month each. Transactions process at 2.5% + $0.10.
Square for Restaurants
About two days after Square for Retail appeared on the scene, I started speculating when we’d see Square for Restaurants. In May 2018, Square finally announced this specialized POS system. Square for Restaurants focuses primarily on full-service enterprises. Quick-serve businesses should be looking at Square POS and its features instead, especially with a small average ticket size.
If Square for Retail was a departure from Square’s usual business model, Square for Restaurants is even more so, with completely different pricing, a completely different user interface, and more hands-on support. There’s still a lot to learn and if time has taught me anything, it won’t be long before we see some game-changing alterations or improvements to the POS, too. But I do want to point out that the actual user interface with the POS is extremely customizable, down to the size and color of buttons and how menus are displayed, which is not something we have seen with Square before. There’s even a light and dark mode depending on the ambiance of the restaurant. For sure, there are some limitations — menus and floor plans can’t be replicated across locations (yet), for example. But for a POS system that previously had only a few restaurant-focused features, this is a game-changer.
Not only that, but Square offers you the option to work with an onboarding consultant who will walk you through setting your POS up, creating menus, floorplans, and more. All of that will cost you at least $600, but considering the complexity of the system you might prefer a little bit (or a lot) of hand-holding. And, Square is offering Restaurant subscribers 24/7 email and phone support for technical matters.
- Customizable interface
- Customizable floor plan
- Multiple menu support
- Coursing tools (including 1-tap firing)
- Comps and voids
- Move or split tickets
- Split tender
- Tip management, including automatic gratuity
- Free contract templates for catering
- Employee management
- 24/7 tech support (phone and email)
- Restaurant focused-reports, including cover, menu, labor, and revenue center reports
Merchants pay a $60 monthly fee per location for the POS, with the ability to add on additional registers for $40/each. However, the bigger change is that Square charges 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction, meaning you need to have an average ticket size well above $40 or you could be paying more compared to Square Point of Sale. Why not 2.5% + $0.10 to match rates for other services, though? I can’t help but wonder if the popularity of American Express cards in the hospitality industry has anything to do with it.
- Webstore Hosting: You can bring your own domain or purchase one through Square, and get free hosting plus your choice of Square Store templates. It’s mostly a plug-and-play site with no customization outside of the items and item groupings, but it has all of the core features you need and it integrates with Square Point of Sale seamlessly.
- Payment Gateway: If you have a website built already, and it’s powered by BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Weebly, Ecwid, Magento, or a handful of others, you can integrate Square directly to process payments.
- Order Pickup: Square supports online ordering where customers can pick up in person. This is a great option for restaurants in particular, but it can even be used in a retail setup.
Other Square Features
- Customizable Dashboard: Square lets users customize the information they see in their dashboard by dragging and dropping different widgets. This is always a nice thing to see because not everyone will use every single feature Square offers — and if you aren’t using it, you might not want to see it front and center on your dashboard. Plus, Square’s dashboard is very intuitive and easy to use.
- Inventory Management: Square’s basic inventory management system is the most advanced I’ve seen from any mobile processor with no monthly fee. However, it’s still fairly basic when you look at what actual industry-leading solutions provide. It’s also a step behind what you can get if you upgrade to Square for Retail, which is more on par with other leaders in inventory management. The upgrade includes purchase order management and barcode generation, as well as profitability reporting. Features of the basic inventory suite include:
- Item categories/varieties
- Item add-ons/modifications
- Item pictures/descriptions
- Inventory count
- Bulk inventory import/export and management
- Multiple tax rates
- Online and in-store inventory sync
- Adjust stock levels and mark reasons
- Customer Database: Use Square’s customer database to save names, contact information, card data, and much more. The database tracks customer behaviors, including sales and visits by new versus returning customers and customer visit frequency. These charts display activity over the time period indicated. You can segment guests based on the frequency of visits, and then use those segmented groups in your email marketing. The customer database also integrates with Square’s invoices, feedback, and appointments. It is really an amazing feature given the price point (free).
- Advanced Reporting: Square offers some of the best online reporting you’ll see in a pay-as-you-go provider (and even many monthly fee-based providers). You can generate real-time reports by the hour, day, week, month, or year from your online Square Dashboard. Reports can focus on specific item categories, mobile staff sales, sales by item, sales by payment method and more. Many of the reports are exportable by CSV, and they’re all included for free. Both Square for Retail and Restaurants include specialized advanced reports targeting their respective industries, too.
- Multi-Location Management: Square allows you to manage all of your locations from a single account, including adjusting item menus and inventories, pricing, and which employees work at which locations.
- Gift Cards: With Square’s gift card option, merchants can choose from a pre-designed card, a template or a completely custom design. There’s no redemption fee and the cards are reloadable. Plus, you can issue online gift cards at no charge beyond the processing fee for the credit card. Analytics let you track how much of the gift cards’ balances is still unspent and more. This is a cool feature, and pretty reasonably priced at just the cost of the cards themselves and any transaction fees.
- Customer Feedback: As one part of Square’s Customer Engagement tools, Square Feedback prompts customers to leave feedback about their experience not on social media, but directly with you. You can implement requests for feedback directly into your digital receipts, even. This allows you to manage your reputation, quickly identify problems, and prevent public complaints from surfacing on the web. You also get access to details like purchase history, previous feedback, and average spending, all at no extra charge. You can also issue refunds or coupons from Square Feedback, all at no charge.
- Email Marketing: The second part of Square Customer Engagement is an email marketing platform. For a monthly fee, you can send newsletters and special offers to your email subscriber using Square’s service, and take advantage of the data from your customer database to do so. You can also run Facebook campaigns. Unsurprisingly, Square also gives you performance metrics to track how well you fare.
- Loyalty Program: Square allows you to give your customers digital punch cards. You set how much must be spent in order to earn a punch, and how many punches to earn a reward. You set the reward in the form of either a dollars off coupon or a percentage off coupon. A nice thing about this is that it allows both cash and card transactions to count toward rewards, as long as customers use the same email or phone number for each transaction.
- Employee Management & Payroll: These are two separate services, but related. Employee Management gives you timecards, user permission roles within the POS app, passcodes, and more. If you want just Payroll, Square gives you the timecard feature for free, plus handling taxes, sick leave, and more. Payroll is available in 38 states as of June 2018 (which means it is available to 87% of US merchants), and it’s sure to keep expanding.
- Square Capital: Need a little extra cash flow for your business? Square Capital (read our review) will provide business loans as soon as the next business day. You make your payments by deducting a percentage of what you process. (While you’re at it, check out our other resources, The 10 Best Merchant Cash Advance Alternatives, and How to Get a Good Deal on a Cash Advance Loan.)
- Event Rentals: Square has become a very popular choice for event ticket sales (and for on-site vending at those events) — but at the same time there’s still a lot of competition in this field, particularly from EventBrite. Square’s event support isn’t strictly new, but now it’s better advertising all of its services, including equipment rentals, training, and deployment assistance. Plus, Square makes it easy to sell tickets and admission to events through its online store and integrates with other solutions.
Square’s always had great hardware(and pricing for said hardware). But the list of options is getting pretty complex, from an assortment of card readers to tablet stands, receipt printers, cash drawers, and bundled kits — not to mention an entire standalone POS device.
Square has implemented a financing option for hardware costing more than $49. The specifics of interest rates and cost per month isn’t always stated, but from where I have been able to find information, the markups are reasonable. I don’t want to say they’re great (that would mean offering financing at just barely above MSRP), but considering that a bad lease could force you to pay three times the value of a piece of hardware, Square’s looking pretty cozy in its corner of reasonableness.
Square is pretty friendly about the whole bring-your-own-device thing, so long as the device you bring is compatible with its hardware. If you prefer, you can buy iPads and other POS hardware from Square directly, which will ensure compatibility. While Square does sell a few of its readers in stores, you’re better off if you buy your card reader from Square directly. Here are your options:
- Basic Magstripe Card Reader: $0 (Note, you can buy one in stores and Square will reimburse you.)
- Chip Card Reader: $29 (No contactless payments enabled. We unboxed and reviewed the Square EMV reader here, so be sure to check it out.)
- Contactless + Chip Reader: $49 (Note: a free basic magstripe reader is also included; financing available.)
- Square Stand With Contactless + Chip reader: $169 (Note: You can no longer get just the Square Stand on its own, but you do save a bit of money overall because you get the stand, the reader, and the dock for this price.)
- Dock For Contactless + Chip reader: $29
- Lightning Adapter For Square Readers: $15 (Do you have one of the latest iPhones? No worry — while the Apple-supplied adapter will work with the Square Reader, Square has its own, much slicker, adapter available, too.)
Square Register is the company’s newest hardware solution, and definitely the slickest. Square Register is a customized piece of Android hardware designed to run Square Point of Sale. As a result, Square Register is not fully compatible with all of Square’s features and add-ons, such as Appointments or kitchen display systems like FreshKDS. Register does work with Square Loyalty, however.
The Register setup features a 13-inch screen with a 7-inch customer-facing display. It integrates the payment hardware in the user display and supports magstripe, EMV, and NFC payments. However, all of the hardware — a receipt printer, cash drawer, etc., must be purchased separately. You can get the Register on its own for $999. Alternately, you can pay $49/month for 24 months; that totals $1,176 over the course of the payment plan. Like I said before, reasonable markups, though certainly not anything spectacular. You can also buy the bundled kit with USB cash drawer, USB receipt printer and a stash of receipt paper for $1,499.
The biggest change, though, is its pricing plan: Square is offering 2.5% + $0.10 per card-present transaction. This basically means merchants with an average ticket size less than $40 will pay more with Register than they would with an iPad and card reader. (Sorry, cafes and micro-merchants.) Whether the costs justify what you get depends on perspective, though. For a more detailed look, check out our complete Square Register review.
Fees & Rates
Square’s pricing is simple. While you can’t get interchange-plus pricing and volume discounts are only available for very large companies with an average ticket size above $15, you also won’t have to deal with pricing tiers. Nor will you have to navigate hidden fees. In fact, you won’t have to deal with anything beyond Square’s basic processing fees, unless you opt for add-on services like the advanced POS systems or loyalty.
Square offers a standard payout of 2 business days for merchants, though you can initiate an instant deposit for 1% of the transfer volume and have your money in minutes. Instant and scheduled deposits seem to be pretty popular with merchants, and only PayPal is able to get you your money just as quick.
First, let’s take a look at transaction processing costs, and then look at the costs of the different monthly subscription services.
Basic Processing Rates & Fees
I’ll be honest: I miss the days of being able to say Square charges just 2.75%. Because that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. You may pay a different rate depending on which POS app you use, or if you have Square Register. But I’ll try to simplify things as much as I can:
- Standard Point Of Sale & Appointments (for Individuals) Transactions: 2.75% for swiped, dipped, or tapped
- Square Register, Retail & Square Appointments (For Teams) transactions: 2.5% + $0.10 for swiped, dipped, or tapped
- Square Restaurants transactions: 2.6% + %0.10 for swiped, dipped, or tapped
- Keyed-in, Card on File and Virtual Terminal transactions: 3.5% + $0.15
- eCommerce transactions and Invoices: 2.9% + $0.30
- Other Fees: None. This includes chargeback fees. Square even offers a chargeback protection program, which will cover the costs of eligible chargebacks, up to $250 per month, even if you don’t win the claim.
The $0.10 per-transaction fee for Square Register, Retail and Restaurants is a big change from the flat percentage it charges if you’re using the Square Point of Sale app. The major takeaway is that merchants with an average ticket less than $40 will wind up paying more on that plan, so make sure the cost justifies the upgrade.
Are you a Canadian merchant? Square supports Interac Flash debit for $0.10 per transaction and credit transactions for 2.65%. Aside from some slight pricing differences, not all of Square’s offerings may be available yet — for example, Register, or the upgraded POS apps.
According to the Square site, merchants start off with a per transaction limit of $50,000. While that’s the stated limit, the reality is that many merchants encounter trouble at a much lower threshold. In some of the BBB complaints we’ve read, Square has recommended keeping transactions below $3,000, although we have read of transactions in the hundreds-of-dollars range that have triggered suspensions or terminations.
This is one of the challenges of using Square. Most merchants have no idea when they will cross the invisible line and trigger an account suspension or investigation by Square. A busier-than-average month or a significantly larger-than-average ticket are good ways to attract unwanted attention from Square’s risk department, which might request additional information from you to verify.
- Square for Retail: $60/month per location (additional registers $20/month)
- Square for Restaurants: $60/month per location (additional registers $40/month)
- Square Appointments: Free for individuals, $50/month for 2-5 staff, $90/month for 6-10 staff
- Employee Management: $5/month per employee
- Payroll: $29/month + $5/month per employee paid
- Loyalty: $25/month for 1-50 visits; $35/month for 51-100 visits; $50/month for 101-200 visits
- Email marketing: starting at $15/month
- Gift cards: Per-card cost (starting at $2 per card and dropping as you order more)
Honestly, evaluating a company such as Square is a challenge because more than many others, it’s blurred the lines between payments and software. Sure, plenty of software providers have built-in payment processing. That includes Shopify and Toast. But generally speaking, those are just white-label payments from a company such as Stripe or WePay, and they don’t open their payments platform up to other businesses who want to piggyback on it. Plenty of processors offer default software integrations for POS systems — but very few have built those software options by themselves, and fewer still have built such complex, powerful, and seamless systems. Square is unique as far as its products and its approach to payments. And honestly, that in and of itself makes Square noteworthy.
The only way you’re going to get lower processing rates and get a comparable suite of features is to open a merchant account and choose a compatible POS or eCommerce system. There are a few mobile processors that offer lower rates, but their apps aren’t even close to being as robust as Square’s and you don’t get any of the extra features that Square has built into its ecosystem. There’s definitely appeal in a system that will work seamlessly, guaranteed, with minimal effort to set up or maintain.
As you start processing higher volumes or larger transactions, a merchant account is certainly the more stable option, and depending on your processor you might get a dedicated account rep to answer questions and resolve problems. But for a new merchant or a low-volume business, it is hard to argue with the sheer value that Square presents. And even large businesses are finding value in staying with Square.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
There is no early termination fee or locked-in contracts with Square, which is true of almost all mobile-based processors. (Though Square can hardly be considered just a mobile processor anymore.) Every add-on service is month-to-month and there’s a 30-day free trial for each, which means there is essentially no risk. Be warned that you must wait the full 30 days in your trial period before canceling or renewing your subscription.
This is really what we like to see at Merchant Maverick. We just wish more companies in the payment industry would follow suit.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
For me, Square.com does very, very well with transparency. Everything the company says in its advertising and marketing checks out, and there’s no wacky sales gimmicks or promises of unbeatable rates, free rate reviews, etc. The “free” basic magstripe reader is actually free and you can easily find the price for every aspect of Square’s service on a corresponding web page.
The company could definitely provide more information about account holds, why they happen and how to avoid them. This is the biggest complaint from merchants using Square, and surely the company is aware of this. There really isn’t anything about transaction limits or the ideal ticket size at all on the site.
Aside from that issue, however, I couldn’t ask for more from Square. All fees, rates, and important information appears in their sales copy, and just about everything else you could ever want to know about processing with Square appears in detail within the extensive Help Center.
I generally find that merchant account providers struggle with marketing in the 21st century. Many of them operate like it’s still 1995. Some are marginally better — they work like it’s 2005. But that’s still more than a full decade behind the times. I fully expect companies that serve small businesses to know how to market to small businesses. And that means putting information online, providing helpful content, and knowing how to use social media.
Square has a really solid handle on all of these issues. Its knowledge base is incredible, and you don’t even need an account to look through it. That’s great if you want to compare how specific features work before you open an account. The blog (called Townsquare) is full of content targeting merchants and businesses of all types, reflecting Square’s diverse customer base.
There are plenty of articles explaining how to use Square’s tools to better your business, as well as articles about how changes in regulations and state laws affect merchants, how to boost sales and use marketing tactics more effectively, and understanding consumer psychology. And that’s just some of the topics to get you started.
In terms of social media, you’ll find an active Facebook page, an even more active Twitter feed (@Square), a dedicated Twitter support feed (@SqSupport), and a LinkedIn page.
The company at least seems to be addressing complaints about customer service on its social media channels, and not just the @SqSupport Twitter channel. You can message the Facebook page directly if you need help. All of its social media channels are active, with a good mix of important news, helpful blog posts, and funny content. This is absolutely essential, and I like that Square is addressing a really broad range of merchants and their needs. I personally know lots of artists who rely on the service, and quite a few local restaurants. But there are many, many others who do, and all of them have unique needs and preferences.
It might sound like I’m nitpicking, but a company that doesn’t know how to reach small businesses to market its services has no business providing its services to those same businesses. I am thrilled about how open, transparent, and helpful Square is on the marketing side of things.
Ease of Use
Square is very, very easy to use, no matter which features you’re relying on. I really like that, and I am sure it’s major draw for merchants too. Even getting a handle on the more advanced features won’t take you much time. After all, there’s a LOT of resources to walk you through how to handle all sorts of tasks.
If you’ve ever used any sort of mPOS or POS app, you will grasp the basics of Square Point of Sale pretty quickly. Even Square Appointments seems to be pretty intuitive and hands-off. So long as you’ve got your settings correct when you start out, you shouldn’t have any problems. However, your mileage may vary with both Square for Restaurants and Retail, because they have entirely different interfaces and they are specialized.
The dashboard is the unifying element to the Square system. And as I said earlier in this review, it’s very intuitive and easy to use. Creating products, categories, discounts, product modifiers, and tax brackets is simple even if you don’t really know what you’re doing. You can also manage your monthly subscription services, your POS systems and your reports from within the dashboard. It’s absolutely the central hub and the most powerful management tool. (But that said, the POS apps can handle some back-end office management features.)
Hardware & Software Requirements
If you’re running Square from an Apple device, the Square Point of Sale app requires iOS 9.0 or later (9.1 or later for some of the card readers). It is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Remember that some features, such as receipt printing, are iPad exclusives, and you can only run a full countertop POS setup from an iPad or Square register.
iOS devices overall seem to function well with Square, but because the Android ecosystem is so diverse, you may have different experiences using the app. As far as Android support goes, things are a bit spotty. Amazon Kindle devices aren’t compatible at all. Any other Android devices need to be running Android 4.0 or higher for the basic reader, with GPS and Google Play enabled. To use the Contactless + Chip reader, you’ll need Android 4.4 or higher.
Want to know what works with your device? Square has an interactive menu where you can select a device and see which hardware is actually compatible with it. This is actually very nice to see and far from universal, so kudos to Square to putting this together.
It’s also worth noting that Square Register is actually running a custom Android setup. Despite this, you can’t install any other apps or software on the system. And somewhat disappointingly, not everything in the Square ecosystem syncs perfectly with Square Register yet — Appointments, or FreshKDS, for example. Both Square for Retail and Restaurants are iPad exclusives that don’t function seamlessly with Register or Point of Sale, so expect to buy as many iPads as you plan to have registers.
Please note: You are not legally obligated to accept EMV in any way, shape, or form. But you are liable for any transactions processed using a fraudulent credit card, which could easily be more than the cost of one of Square’s EMV card readers. If you aren’t accepting EMV yet, it’s time to upgrade as soon as you can. Square makes it very, very easy, which is a major mark in its favor.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Square has a long list of add-ons and integrations in its app marketplace. They include accounting tools, ecommerce, invoicing, POS systems, inventory, recurring billing and a lot more. This is great because it means if you don’t want to use Square’s tools, you don’t have to. You can also get even more value out of Square with these add-on services.
If you’re a programmer or you have one on staff, you can also take advantage of Square’s APIs to create custom integrations as well:
- Payments API
- Point of Sale API
- eCommerce API
- Inventory API
- Reporting API
- Employee API
You can check out all of Square’s documentation on the Square site. You’ll have to create a Square account to access all the credentials.
I’m not convinced that Square’s quite on the level of Stripe or Braintree, but this is a major step forward from even just a couple of years ago.
Customer Service & Technical Support
You have a few ways to reach out to Square if you have a problem. You can message the Facebook page or tweet @SqSupport on social media, or send Square an email. But if you’re in a pinch and need an answer right away, you probably want phone support, which is available Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific Time. Those aren’t the best hours, but they should work for the majority of merchants.
Square is quick to brag that most other departments keep in close contact with the support team, including the executives. There’s also a useful site, www.issquareup.com, which will tell you whether any of Square’s services are having technical issues.
That’s not to say that Square’s system is perfect. The phone support system is still limited only to merchants who can obtain a customer code and then dial in. People whose accounts have been terminated cannot reach Square on the phone, as the company says they will only communicate via email once that happens. (From everything I’ve read, all indications are that you won’t hear much from Square at all if your account is terminated.)
Square’s shortcomings in phone-based customer support are mitigated by its industry-leading (and I do mean it; I’m not just throwing that phrase around) knowledge base for self-service customer support. The vast majority of your questions regarding the Square system will be answered in this online user manual. It is truly extensive and contains helpful screen captures and walk-through for every single feature offered. This is, in my opinion, the gold standard for merchant services support pages.
And if that’s not enough to help you through, try Square’s Seller Community. Square reps and experienced merchants alike weigh in on questions, so it’s a good way to get an answer you can’t find elsewhere on the web.
Even larger processors with more resources have trouble executing customer support well. But we know it can be done. And, we have to give credit where credit is due: Square is actually putting in the effort to make consistent improvement. I have heard first-hand from merchants who use Square that they have had positive experiences, so I know it’s not all doom and gloom, and there are plenty of other testimonials around the web to the same effect. Plus, the Seller Community means you can get answers from other users as well as Square staff, and it seems to be a very active community.
The problem is really just merchants whose accounts are terminated — they’re (understandably) upset and wanting answers. But Square won’t give them. I’m not sure the company can; surely the customer support reps can’t. But it’s worth noting that this is definitely one of the biggest complaints about Square’s customer support.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
There’s no lack of complaints against Square across the web, which is pretty easy to confirm with a Google search. While there’s no shortage of complaints, remember that there’s a lot of good press out there too — we’ll get to that next.
With that said, Square has an A+ rating with the BBB despite the overwhelmingly negative reviews (265 of them, 249 of which are negative). You’ll also see the company has 1684 complaints, 494 of them from the last 12 months. That’s not too different from the total at our previous check-in 6 months ago: 1,513 complaints total and 460 from the previous 12 months. It sounds like a lot, but the complaint volume is still low when you consider that Square’s customer base is (at least) 2 million merchants.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll find 2,332 complaints on RipOff Report. However, a good share of these will be duplicates of other comments on the web. Others won’t relate to Square at all — such as apartment complexes with “Square” in the name, or the third-party warranty company SquareTrade. (This was a benefit of the old “SquareUp” and “Squareup.com” titles for the company; for the record, if you do a search on RipOffReport for “SquareUp” you get just 28 complaints.) And plenty others are from consumers complaining about merchants they believe have scammed them. So the number of complaints is heavily inflated on the site and not an accurate reflection of the problems.
However, there is a common theme to the complaints that actually relate to Square’s merchant services, and they boil down to one issue:
- Account stability issues/funding holds: Terminations or freezes definitely make up the bulk of the complaints against Square. The company’s aggressive fraud prevention tactics have put many small businesses in a position where they can’t access their income because their transactions have raised a general red flag (which can happen for any number of reasons). Part of the problem here is that Square doesn’t properly disclose/explain the risks involved in third-party processing. Square’s agreements with its processors (and likely policies from its own legal team) limit the company’s ability to explain why accounts are terminated. The most you’ll get it, based on BBB complaints, is a notification that a payment violated the terms of service or that your business model is unsupported or high-risk.
Based on what I’ve seen from BBB complaints, if your account is suspended, you may be able to get reinstated if you provide the necessary documentation. This doesn’t always happen, however. Some merchants encounter holds, then provide the information Square requests for verification purposes only to receive a termination notice. An account termination notice, however, is absolutely final, and generally Square will hold any funds for up to 180 days (6 months) to cover any chargebacks before releasing the funds to you. I have heard some cases where Square will allow you to refund the customers and accept an alternative (not Square) payment form instead, but not all merchants want to or can do this, for obvious reasons.
I’m not going to say Square is the most accommodating company as far as BBB complaints go, but there’s a definite improvement, and I have seen companies that are far more stubborn and much less apologetic (some bordering on gaslighting). If your account hasn’t already been terminated, there’s definitely hope.
The rest of the complaints about Square are a jumble. Some have issues with transferring funds via Square cash. Others are getting emails when they don’t want them or don’t have a Square account. Neither of these issues actually relates to how well Square serves its merchants, but they come up more frequently than actual merchant-related complaints. However, the other noteworthy complaints about Square I’ve pulled from comments by merchants include:
- Lack of advanced features: This mostly comes from merchants who want to see Square features on par with other major POS systems, such as more advanced reporting, or store credit.
- Fees: I’ve seen multiple merchants expressing a wish that Square’s fees were lower — the processing fees and monthly fees. I suppose that’s only to be expected. Square does offer volume discounts, but only to businesses processing more than $250,000 per year (with an average ticket size exceeding $15). And it’s definitely worth taking stock of all the free features you get when you’re analyzing costs.
I encourage you to check out our article on negativity bias to understand our review process and why we’ve rated Square the way we did.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
The negative chatter about Square is scary, but there is some good out there! Square has been a really good POS solution for lots of businesses. And there’s a lot of great press out there, testifying to that fact.
Here’s what happy merchants are saying:
- Features/design: Square has, far and away, the most diverse and advanced feature set of any major mobile processing service without a monthly fee. And its Payments service integrates with major full-fledged POS systems and ecommerce platforms as well. This is why people choose Square: It’s really, really hard to beat the price for everything you get. Plus, the list of features and integrations is growing all the time. See the Features section above for a complete list of all the cool things you can do with Square, but two things that come up frequently are Square’s offline mode and inventory management.
- Inexpensive: I know I just said some merchants wish the fees were lower. That’s true, but plenty of other merchants like the costs. Because Square does not charge a per-transaction fee on swiped transactions, low-ticket businesses stand to save a significant percentage. This is because a $0.10 transaction fee on a $5 ticket is actually 2% added on. When you look at it that way, the 2.75% flat rate starts to look really good. Also, many American Express transactions are actually processed below cost by Square, which might not be sustainable long-term but is great for businesses that process a lot of Amex cards. Even add-on services that cost a monthly fee are comparable to third-party options. Not only that, but Square’s EMV readers are some of the most inexpensive options available, and you pay nothing extra for a full-fledged virtual terminal, recurring billing, or a customer database and PCI compliant card vault to store card numbers.
- Easy to open accounts: The ease of obtaining an account is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means Square has to be careful once those accounts are open, and it leads to the problem of merchant terminations. On the other, being able to open an account and process transactions within a few minutes is a huge draw for many businesses. If you don’t have an established processing history it can be difficult to get set up with a merchant account, whereas Square takes away a lot of the difficulty if you’re just starting with credit card processing.
You’ll also find more positive reviews and testimonials on Square’s site. I like that there is a mix of short testimonials (with merchant and business names attached) as well as long-form press coverage.
Square is synonymous with mobile payments at this point. It did what no one else had managed before — to make credit card payments accessible to everyone — and has incredible name recognition even with a mess of competitors. The company has experienced growing pains and gotten a bad reputation for holding merchant funds. But now it’s clear that Square is improving and really carving out a large niche in the merchant services industry as an affordable solution that offers a wide range of tools to help merchants grow their business.
That’s not to say there aren’t issues. Square cannot offer flawless account stability as a result of its aggregating. Please remember that Square is not for everyone, despite the company accepting virtually anyone who applies for an account. There’s a long list of prohibited businesses, including “high-risk” products and services. If you fall into this category, you are better off with a merchant account.
But if you are just starting out, your process payments infrequently, or you are still processing a low volume each month, Square could be an amazing tool. Even mid-sized to larger businesses can benefit from everything Square offers.
As far as value goes, it is very hard to beat Square. Its pricing for card processing is absolutely competitive for a pay-as-you-go processor, and it can sometimes beat out or at least break even with interchange-plus plans.
With features like inventory management, a free and fully functional virtual terminal, advanced reporting, offline processing, recurring billing, online sales and more — all executed very well — Square has more features than I’ve seen from any other no-monthly-fee provider. All of the free software puts merchants in a position to save money.
If you’re willing to pay a bit extra, there are even more great things in store for you. For instance, you’ll find a very reasonably priced gift card solution, a solid booking system, customizable loyalty programs, advanced POS systems for food service and retail businesses, and an absolutely gorgeous new register with a customer-facing display.
Square has earned its 5-star rating for these reasons. I am also excited to see where Square might go next. Because one thing is for certain: It’s not standing still!
Thanks for reading!
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