Stripe VS Square
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Spend a little bit of time reading up on Stripe (read our review) and Square (read our review) and you’ll start to see the similarities. They’re both giants in the payment industry, media darlings that have transformed the way people pay for things and the way merchants accept payments. They’re both on the leading edge of technology and rely heavily on machine learning to drive their payment processing systems.
Most importantly, both Square and Stripe offer huge assortments of commerce tools that make it easy for merchants to run their businesses. With the various APIs and integrations available, plus support for in-person, online, and even in-app payments, there are almost limitless possibilities for creating a custom system with everything from invoicing to email marketing and more.
However, once you get past that point, it becomes harder to draw apples-to-apples comparisons because Square’s offerings are much more varied. Square really is an all-in-one processor that can handle in-person and eCommerce payments, as well as inventory management, CRM, and more. Stripe has generally focused more on mobile and eCommerce, with powerful tools for marketplaces subscription-based businesses. However, now it’s introduced a POS integration option for in-person payments.
To keep things fair and within a manageable scope, we’re going to limit this comparison to each company’s online/mobile commerce tools and point of sale (POS) options, and touch briefly on the additional services each one provides. If you want to know more about the additional services each company provides, however, check out their respective in-depth reviews.
If you want to sell online and Square and Stripe have made your shortlist, you should start by answering some questions:
- What features do you absolutely need? Which features aren’t essential, but would be very nice to have?
- What percentage of your transactions are from outside the US?
- Do you have a developer or advanced coding knowledge yourself?
- Do you have limited tech knowledge and need an easy solution?
- Are you looking for specific integrations?
- What industry is your business part of?
- How advanced are your subscription tool needs?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can sit down and look at each company in more detail. Read on for our comparison of Stripe vs. Square!
Our Top Picks For Credit Card Processing
Table of Contents
Products & Services
It’s so important to have a list of must-have features before you set about choosing any sort of payments or eCommerce software. You don’t want to make a decision and then find out that you’re missing a very important function. But it’s also important to think about where you want your business to go and what tools you want to invest in as your business scales up. If you pick the right platform to start with, it could mean you never need to switch — and if you don’t think about growth, you may wind up having to make a complicated transition in the future once you’ve outgrown a solution.
An Overview Of Square’s Solutions:
|Free App & Reader||Square eCommerce||Square for Retail||Square for Restaurants|
|Get Started||Get Started||Get Started||Get Started|
|Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android||Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization||Specialized software for more complex retail stores||Specialized software for full-service restaurants|
|Always Free||Always Free||Free Trial||Free Trial|
Square Tools & Services
Square has always pushed its free mobile POS app, Square Point of Sale (formerly known as Square Register) as its core service, but these days Square offers extensive ecommerce options and a host of other tools for payment processing and managing your business. For a more in-depth review of all of Square’s offerings, check out our full review. (Spoiler alert, Square has a LOT of services and products.)
Here, we’re focusing on the core services that Square has in common with Stripe. Let’s start with the obvious ones:
- Payment Processing: Square, for the most part, focuses on letting merchants accept card payments. You won’t get ACH support, but if you sell online, you can add support for online/mobile wallets.
- eCommerce Integrations: Square has acquired Weebly for an easy, affordable ecommerce option. Plus, Square’s list of integrations already includes some of the best shopping cart options — and the list keeps growing. That makes me happy. At the same time, if your preferred integration isn’t on the list yet and you do have the technical knowledge (or an eager developer on your payroll), there are more tools at your disposal.
- Developer Tools: Square’s dev tools make it possible for you to create almost any custom integration you could need. For eCommerce, there are two APIs: Checkout and Transactions. Square Checkout is a premade form that can be dropped into a site with minimal fuss. Using Checkout means merchants are eligible for some perks, like next-day deposits and chargeback protection. The Transaction API, combined with Square’s payment form, is more customizable. And new to the lineup of APIs is Square’s support for in-app payments, which includes iOS, Android, and Flutter SDKs.
- Free Mobile POS App: Square POS is one the most powerful free mobile apps out there, and it does very well as a countertop iPad POS, too. Check out our complete review for an in-depth look at the app, as well as compatible hardware. Square offers merchants a free magstripe reader, but prices go up from there to accept EMV chip cards and contactless payments. Plus, Square’s POS and Reader APIs allow you to use Square’s hardware and checkout flow in custom-built apps if you need something more specialized.
Additionally, Square offers the following tools:
- Dashboard reporting
- Advanced inventory
- Customer database
- Free virtual terminal
- APIs for item catalogs, inventory, customer management, and more
Square really is an omnichannel solution for merchants who want to sell anywhere without needing to build a complicated system of integrations or do a lot of coding work. The advantage to choosing Square is that you can get set up quickly with access to all of Square’s free tools and software, and it’s ready to go after you import your products and adjust your settings a bit.
But Square also has some shortcomings, especially for digital merchants. Subscription tools are nearly nonexistent, even though Square allows for recurring invoices and installment payments. While Square does offer advanced reporting, it’s still nothing compared to the power of Stripe Sigma, an SQL-based custom reporting tool.
However, Square’s tools and overall design are incredibly easy to use, especially for business owners who don’t have a lot of technical expertise or a large budget to hire someone. And it has very strong tools for merchants who sell physical products in particular. Plus, if you do have a need for customization, Square does offer APIs to handle not just payment processing, but many of its secondary services as well.
Stripe Tools & Services
Stripe has earned its name as a developer-friendly option, but you can also integrate with a host of third-party apps to accept payments with ease. The company focuses on internet and mobile commerce, but developers have extended Square’s power to include mobile payments and more. Just take note: there’s no free storefront option here. For a more detailed look at different features, check out our complete Stripe review. But again, let’s start with the major features that Stripe offers:
- Payment Processing: Stripe’s payment processing goes beyond cards. In addition to ACH, Stripe allows merchants to accept a host of localized payments favored in different parts of the world. Plus, for online payments, you can add Apple Pay on the Web and other mobile wallets.
- eCommerce Integrations & Plug-Ins: Stripe outclasses Square in terms of shopping cart integrations by virtue of sheer numbers. In addition to integrations with major eCommerce software providers, developers have created an assortment of plug-ins for businesses operating on WordPress, Magento, and other websites. If you’re not really sure where to start, you might end up needing to do a lot of research to decide the best course of action — but you can at least take heart in knowing that there’ll be something that will meet your needs.
- Stripe Terminal: If you’d like to add support for in-person payments along with Stripe’s online tools, Terminal is a step in the right direction. While it’s not a standalone mobile POS app, the Terminal SDKs do let you build Stripe Payments into your own POS app, with pre-certified EMV hardware (starting at $59 for an all-in-one device) and predictable, flat-rate pricing.
- Stripe Billing: Stripe’s subscription tools are industry-leading, with the ability to charge clients based on a recurring quantity or metered usage, to set free trial periods, and much more. You can also create invoices or set up recurring billing tools. However, new businesses will pay a small additional charge per transaction to use these tools.
Stripe’s additional tools include:
- Custom SQL reporting (Stripe Sigma)
- Marketplace & platform building tools
- Digital & physical expense cards (Stripe Issuing)
- Multiple currency displays
- Dynamic currency conversion
There’s no doubt that Stripe is very powerful. It can handle all sorts of payments, from digital subscriptions to retail goods. It’s one of the best solutions for global businesses, thanks to its currency tools (whereas Square is much more limited in its supported countries for merchants and lacks multi-currency support).
But Stripe does have its limitations.
For the most part, if you need a ready-made solution that can handle multiple sales channels, Stripe isn’t a good option. You’ll need a third-party integration for a ready-made POS, inventory management, CRM, and more. Stripe does have an extensive array of ready-made integrations (more than 300 of them, in fact). But then you need to wade through figuring out how to make them all cooperate and share data.
The choice between Square and Stripe will ultimately come down to your business’ needs. Do you want something that’s ready to go and addresses a whole range of payment and sales channels? Or do you want something that is targeted primarily at the online space and wholly customizable, but may take a bit more work and resources to get running? If online commerce is your focus (especially if you plan to sell internationally), Stripe definitely could be worth the investment, because its tools are much more capable than Square’s in this regard.
Fees & Rates
I am happy to say that pricing for both Square and Stripe is mostly straightforward. There are no monthly fees, no monthly minimums, and no statement fees. That’s very nice to see.
You might run into a few situations that aren’t simply explained, but here’s what you can generally expect for pricing:
Square Transaction Fees
- 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction or invoice
- 2.75% per swiped, dipped or tapped transaction
- 3.5% + $0.15 per keyed entry
Square also has no chargeback fees, which is very unusual. Not only that, but the company has rolled out Chargeback Protection, which will cover the actual chargeback costs on qualifying disputes up to $250 per month. This doesn’t apply to merchants who use the Transactions API, but it is available for those who use Square Checkout.
You can get volume discounts if you process above $250k per year and have an average ticket size exceeding $15. That’s a mark in Square’s favor for large businesses. However, nonprofits don’t get any sort of special discount, which you can often find with other processors.
While Square’s premium POS apps and its marketing tools will rack up additional fees, the vast majority of the tools Square provides cost nothing at all beyond payment processing costs. That includes invoicing (and recurring invoices) as well as the virtual terminal, customer database, and inventory management. Check out our article, How Much Does Square Charge? for an in-depth look at pricing.
Stripe Transaction Fees:
- 2.9% + $0.30 per online transaction or invoice
- 2.7% + $0.05 for swiped, dipped or tap transactions using Square Terminal
- 0.8% per ACH transaction (capped at $5 maximum)
For each chargeback, Stripe will assess a $15 fee (unless the chargeback is decided in your favor). In that case, you’ll pay absolutely nothing. Also, I’d like to point out that Stripe supports ACH transactions, something that Square does not. If you’d like to be able to offer the option to pay with bank accounts, you’ll need to use Stripe or another processor that supports ACH.
Stripe has moved away from its “all tools included for the price of payment processing” model and begun charging modest fees for some of its additional services. For example, Stripe’s subscription tools (lumped under the name “Stripe Billing” along with invoicing) will cost you a small percentage fee (between 0.04% and 0.07%) on top of your transaction.
Existing Stripe merchants are grandfathered out of this new pricing. Large businesses will actually pay the higher 0.7% markup, but it seems Stripe has compromised by offering lower transaction fees for ACH as a trade-off. (Also note, Stripe billing fees only apply to recurring invoices, not one-offs.)
Stripe does offer enterprise pricing for very large businesses, and some nonprofits may be eligible for a special rate. Stripe doesn’t make any promises about nonprofit pricing apart from “let us know and we’ll see what we can do.” So you shouldn’t assume it’s guaranteed.
With Stripe, you may also be able to negotiate for micro-transaction rates as well. Whereas per-transaction fees like the $0.30 Stripe and Square charge can eat up fees from small transactions (less than $10 in particular), micro-transaction rates typically include a higher percentage and a lower per-transaction fee that can save merchants money. This is ideal for anyone who sells digital goods and other low-cost items.
Because it’s something offered as part of a custom package, Stripe may not offer this deal to everyone. If you’re unable to get a micro-transaction plan from Stripe, it might be worth looking at a third option — PayPal (read our review) — instead. The 5% + $0.05 fee structure PayPal uses could save you quite a bit of money in the long run.
All in all, Stripe and Square are fairly evenly matched in pricing. Some merchants might enjoy the lack of chargeback fees and included chargeback protection that Square offers. But Stripe might be a bigger draw for other companies, despite the costs for using some of its additional services, such as Stripe Billing.
Ease Of Use
Square has built its empire on the idea of simplicity. All of its software works perfectly together, with centralized reporting. While the premium iPad POS systems (Square for Retail and Square for Restaurants) offer interfaces designed especially for their respective niches, Square POS — the free mobile point of sale app — is very intuitive and easy to use. Square’s eCommerce options are likewise easy to use; you just need to connect Square to your online store to enable payments. However, keep in mind that the complexity of your ecommerce store depends on which shopping cart software you use. Control of your payment information — from the POS app, your online store, invoices, and any other channel — is all centralized under the Square dashboard.
Stripe is complex. It’s the nature of the beast — with so many features, and a developer-first focus, Stripe is not going to be as simple as Square, especially for users who aren’t exactly tech-savvy. While I have heard good things from users who say once Stripe is set up it’s easy enough to use, you’ll ultimately need a developer to really take advantage of what Stripe’s platform and products offer. That means time and resources put toward customization. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a consideration.
Contract Length & Cancellation
Both Stripe and Square offer pay-as-you-go processing with no locked-in contracts or early termination fees. It really is that simple. Stripe will even help you transfer your customer data to or from another processor in a PCI compliant way.
If you’re using any of Square’s monthly services in addition to eCommerce processing, you can get a free 30-day trial, and then if you choose to continue with the service, you can cancel at any time. Square doesn’t bill annually for those services the way many SaaS providers do. (Conversely, you also don’t get any discounts for paying annually, either.)
For Stripe’s additional services, they are generally priced per transaction — so again, no need to worry about a monthly commitment there.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
One of the reasons I like pay-as-you-go processors is that they are, on the whole, very upfront and transparent. They tend to not have extensive sales teams, and if they do have a sales team, they’re all in-house. They’re very clear about their pricing and terms, and they’re applied fairly to all merchants.
Square and Stripe both fit this pattern to a T. You won’t see reports of misleading sales pitches or rates not as promised here, which is always nice to see. You can find Stripe’s terms of service on the site, both the general user agreement and the Stripe Payments agreement. Like Stripe, Square has separate agreements applying to general use, payments, and other services. I do recommend you be cautious and check that your business doesn’t fall on either list of “prohibited businesses,” because that’s an easy path to account termination.
Overall, I’m really happy with both companies in this category, and you shouldn’t have any worries about whether you’re being told the truth or whether you’ll pay what you were quoted.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Square offers merchants phone and email support, as well as an extensive knowledgebase. That’s pretty typical of any processor, but on top of that, Square operates the Seller Community, a community forum about all-things Square.
You can get answers from other Square merchants as well as from Square support reps. It’s a pretty powerful tool. But on top of that, Square’s team monitors Stack Overflow for questions about Square products and responds to them.
And that’s not even talking about Square’s dedicated Twitter support handle (@SqSupport), or the developer portal and documentation.
I can’t say that Square customer support is all sunshine and rainbows, because I do see customer complaints about the quality. However, without a doubt, the biggest complaint about the quality of customer support comes from merchants whose accounts have been terminated. In that case, Square cuts off access to phone support and will only communicate via email. This is unfortunate, and I don’t know if it’s actually a good solution. But I am sure part of the reason is to reduce the odds of a customer support rep saying something they shouldn’t, and to prevent support resources from being tied up dealing with complaints from terminated merchants whose accounts won’t be reinstated.
For a long time, Stripe lagged behind other providers in terms of customer service. That has now changed and it definitely makes Stripe a more competitive solution in my eyes.
Stripe also maintains a self-service knowledgebase, though I don’t think it’s as extensive or detailed as Square’s. But I will say that Stripe’s documentation is pretty legendary, and so it’s going to be one of the best resources you can get. You can also find questions about Stripe on Stack Overflow, but I am not able to ascertain whether Stripe’s team is active on the forum at all the way that Square is. And of course, Stripe has long had a freenode IRC channel (#stripe).
Happily, after years of complaints about merchants not being able to talk to a real person in real time, Stripe decided in April 2018 to adopt 24/7 customer support for all its merchants. That kind of change in operations is a massive investment, and I don’t see it done often. Usually, improvements to customer service are incremental — start by adding limited phone support, then slowly scale up hours and availability and add other options. Not only did Stripe add round-the-clock live phone support, the company also added live chat in addition to its longstanding email support.
Also, for larger businesses, Stripe now offers premium support packages starting at $1,000/month. That’s a hefty price tag to pay, which is why I say it’s meant mostly for enterprise-scale businesses. Also, I generally don’t like tiered support models, because you shouldn’t have to pay extra for good-quality, reliable customer service. Stripe has gone beyond just offering priority access and better emergency support, though. You’ll get a dedicated account manager and quarterly reviews to suggest improvements to your business. But I digress — I don’t love this, but considering that Stripe is still offering 24/7 support to all of its merchants, I’m not as upset by this tiered model as I have been about other companies that have done it.
Until I have a bit more data about the quality of Stripe’s support, I’m going to call this a draw — but round-the-clock support is no small consideration.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
As far as complaints go, the single biggest issue for both Square and Stripe is a common one:
- Account Holds & Terminations: This is unsurprising (understatement of the year, right there) because it’s a common issue with any third-party processor. Because these payment systems are usually open to almost anyone right away and they are all lumped into one large merchant account, there’s a greater risk that some of those accounts will be terminated for risky behavior. There’s very little scrutiny done before a sub-account with one of these processors is approved, which stands in contrast to merchant accounts, where the processing company will do a lot of underwriting and investigation before approving your application. Both Square and Stripe use a lot of machine learning to analyze transactions and flag suspicious behaviors. The potential for account holds or terminations is universal — you will encounter it with any third-party processor. If you want to avoid it, your only alternative is to seek out a traditional merchant account.
The other big complaint that I see with both is also a pretty common one:
- Poor Customer Support: If I’m honest, reports about the quality of customer service conflict. But because of how common the complaints are, I’m listing it here. With Stripe, the most common issues are the lack of live support (which, in theory, should no longer be a problem?) and slow response times for email. With Square, a lot of the complaints about poor customer service come from terminated merchants, but I’ve seen a few complaints about slow or unhelpful email responses.
Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:
- Lack Of Fraud Protection: I want to be clear: Stripe does have fraud management tools and a system to help merchants fight chargebacks. But I have seen complaints from merchants who don’t think these are adequate. Chargebacks are not settled by Stripe, so there’s not much the company can do beyond pass the requested documents on. But for fraud prevention, merchants need to make sure they have the appropriate tools enabled.
- Not User-Friendly: There’s a lot of testimonials from users (especially developers) who really like Stripe and find it simple to set up. There are plenty of others who disagree with that idea. I’m inclined to think most people with a decent technical backing will get along fine with Stripe, but for some people, especially those with less technical knowledge, it’s not going to be a good choice.
For Square, there is one other common complaint:
- Lack Of Advanced Features: It’s not that Square doesn’t have enough features, or that it’s missing anything important. The complaints about Square often focus on the lack of very particular advanced features that you typically find in full-scale POS systems. In this case, I think Square’s lack of extensive subscription tools would fit the bill. As another example, some merchants have been upset for quite a while over the lack of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) reporting. Square added this feature with its Square for Retail app, but not for online sales or its free POS. Square has some robust reporting tools, but in the end, they won’t hold a candle to Stripe’s Sigma offering.
I think, yet again, that the two companies are pretty evenly matched in this category. The largest complaints are identical, and that’s because they’re the same complaints we see with third-party processors. To be entirely honest, poor customer service is a common complaint across the entire payments industry. It’s frustrating, for sure. But you can take steps to better inform yourself — read our article on how to prevent holds, freezes, and account terminations. And please take reports of poor customer service with a grain of salt, because I see conflicting accounts there.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
As media darlings, Stripe and Square have each received a lot of good press. They’re both lauded for the way they’ve transformed payments.
I usually feel a little bit silly comparing two businesses in this category because it almost feels like a bit of a popularity contest. But in this case, we’re dealing with two companies who have both gotten a ton of positive press over the years, not to mention high-profile clients. And the bits of each service that merchants love most are pretty similar, too.
Square merchants love how easy the service is to use. And I tend to agree — Square is one of the most intuitive options out there as far as payments and using the dashboard. Merchants also really like the predictable pricing and lack of fees. Other than that, the integrated invoicing feature and the seamless omnichannel commerce experience are big draws.
Stripe also wins merchants over with its pricing, and its tools are very much loved by developers. If you don’t have a lot of technical knowledge, Stripe may feel foreign to you, but developers say it’s incredibly easy to use. Also on the dev side of things, it seems like the quality of customer service is great, even if business owners don’t always like the lack of phone support. And unsurprisingly, merchants really seem to love Stripe’s robust subscription tools. The predictable pricing and lack of monthly fees are also appealing.
Stripe and Square have some very important core similarities: they’re both third-party processors with an assortment of tools that allow merchants to sell online. Neither one is suited to high-risk industries, and there’s a lengthy list of businesses neither company can work with. But despite that, both Stripe and Square offer tools that cater to a huge assortment of industries. They’ll both grow with your business, making it easy to scale up.
But despite their similarities in terms of business model, it’s also pretty clear that what each company does best is completely different.
Square is a spectacular all-in-one processor, with a ready-made solution. You can sell in a store, on the go, and online — and get all of your information and payments and orders collected in one simply, intuitive dashboard. There’s a huge array of add-on products that allow you to consolidate a host of business functions under one name, and they’re guaranteed to work together perfect. eCommerce and developer support are really the newest branches of Square’s offerings, and they’re works in progress, as Square is constantly rolling out new features and tools. However, they do present the possibility of automation and customization to work alongside ready-made solutions.
If you have limited technical knowledge, Square is going to be much easier to get started with and to navigate through the different features.
Stripe focuses on Internet payments (both on the web and in-app), but its tools make it possible for businesses to cater to customers all over the globe. The international appeal — from the local currency displays to the sheer breadth of payment methods accepted — make it clear that Stripe is already a global player. Not only that, but with Stripe’s APIs and documentation, a savvy developer could create all kinds of payments platforms for a business. Business owners who don’t have a developer on staff and who don’t have a lot of technical knowledge themselves will certainly struggle with understanding how to use Stripe, especially if you want to do anything more than integrate it with some sort of shopping cart software.
Stripe really shines for businesses that need and want to develop a custom solution, tailor-made to their business. Between the ecommerce tools and now the Terminal SDKs, it’s clear that Stripe prioritizes powerful, but flexible tools that businesses can adapt for themselves. While you can simply link Stripe up to an ecommerce integration and let it go, you’re hardly tapping into the potential, and you could do the same with Square and get a host of value-added tools for free. At the same time — to really get the most out of Stripe, you’re going to need a developer on your staff, as well as resources to devote to building your dream payment system.
I’m not comfortable saying that one of these solutions is better than the other because it really comes down to what your priorities are. Do you need something easy to use? Do you want to embrace multiple sales channels? Or are you limited to online sales and want the best-in-class tools to reach a global audience, manage subscriptions, and even drive mobile commerce? Square can get the job done, and it’ll be the easier solution, but Stripe offers far more tools tailored to these niches.
Sit down, think about what features are absolutely mandatory for you to have — and then look at which ones you’d like to have, but aren’t necessarily required. From there, it should be fairly clear which solution is right for you! Don’t forget to check out our complete reviews of Stripe and Square for more insights into how they function.
Have questions? Leave us a comment and we’ll help! Have experience using either of these tools? We’d love to hear from you.
As always, thanks for reading!
Our Top Picks For Credit Card Processing