Top 7 Square Alternatives
Designed by none other than Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, Square is an innovative mobile payment system that allows your business to accept credit card payments via an iPad, iPhone, or Android device. Coupled with the free Square Reader, a small plastic credit card reader that plugs into the audio jack of a supported smartphone or tablet, the Square Register app turns a mobile device into a point of sale. It’s very cool, yes, but it’s also kind of a big deal. Because of the way Square has changed how millions of people pay for things – and get paid for things – I’d argue that it’s revolutionary.
Without a doubt, Square is the biggest player in mobile payment processing. Since its 2009 founding, the company’s groundbreaking concept and elegant design have attracted more than 3 million users and $10 billion in annual payments. In other words, they’re kind of a big deal.
Some of the things you probably love about Square include its fast and free setup and its easy-to-use interface. In addition to acting as a point of sale, Square facilitates payment processing. Square has no monthly usage fees, charging only a flat 2.75% fee for magstripe card transactions, chip card transactions, and NFC payments.
Despite its immense popularity, Square is not without its downsides – in fact, Square’s flaws are no small matter. Troublingly, Square offers very little in the way of customer service, and many business owners have complained about Square withholding funds and shutting down accounts without sufficient cause. Not cool, Square. Not cool.
While Square was one of the only mobile payment games in town five years ago, this is, fortunately, no longer the case. If you want to offer customers mobile payment options using a service with a more merchant-friendly reputation, you can test out several robust Square alternatives that fit this profile. Heck, even if you’re happy with Square, you might consider offering an additional mobile payment choice to give customers more options. As follows is my breakdown of the top Square alternatives.
Table of Contents
1. Clover Go
Clover Go (see our review) is the mobile version of the super-popular Clover suite of POS products. Clover Go is easy to use, chip card-compatible, and uses an actual merchant account. And even though it’s a mobile POS, you still get access to Clover’s back office reporting and features like customizable tax, email/SMS receipts, and features from inventory management softwares. You can also use Clover Go as a supplemental “on-the-go” payment option in addition to your primary Clover Station.
While the other Clover POS systems (Clover Station and Clover Mini) require you to purchase proprietary hardware, Clover Go lets you use an iPhone or Android phone, just like Square. The cost of Clover Go’s EMV-compliant headphone jack card reader varies somewhat depending on the reseller, but you should be able to get it for less than $100. The cost to use and process payments with Clover Go also depends on the reseller – for instance, if you decide to go with Dharma Merchant Services for your merchant account, you can get interchange-plus pricing at 0.25% + $0.10 along with a $25 monthly fee, plus a $10 fee to use the Clover Go app.
What makes Clover Go better than Square?
The main benefit of Clover Go compared to Square is that you get a real merchant account with Clover Go, rather than the aggregate account you get with Square. This equates to better account stability and reduced risk of account freezes, withheld funds, and other such headaches. The only caveat is that your merchant account provider must use First Data as its backend processor. Businesses with higher sales volumes will also be able to save money with Clover Go.
iZettle (see our review) is a chip card-based mobile payment service that currently serves merchants in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the UK, Germany, Spain, Mexico, and Brazil. Notably absent from this list is the US. However, with chip card usage on the rise, iZettle’s expansion into the US could be imminent. (If right now you’re thinking, “What the heck is a chip card?” check out our article Do You Really Need an EMV Chip Card Terminal?)
To process mobile payments, iZettle offers two separate mobile credit card readers, including one that works with chip and PIN cards, and another for chip and signature cards. In the UK market, card readers range from £20 to £59 – about $32 to $93 for us Yanks.
The main draw of iZettle is its low ultra-low processing fees, which start at just 1.00% for high-volume merchants. While the lowest volume merchants will pay 2.75% per transaction, once you hit £2,000 in card payments in a month, your fee starts to drop, going as low as 1.00% if you accept more than £40,000/month in payments.
Some features of iZettle’s mobile point-of-sale (POS) app include:
- Inventory library
- Cash drawer/receipt printer connectivity (receipts can also be sent by email)
- Cash/card acceptance
- Online reporting tools
- Multiple staff accounts
On the customer service side, iZettle offers email support and phone support during weekday business hours. As with all of the Square competitors on this list, iZettle has fewer complaints about its customer support than does Square.
What makes iZettle better than Square?
Compared to Square, iZettle offers both superior pricing and reliability. It does not provide you with as many features, but you cannot beat iZettle’s pricing if you are a higher-volume merchant. While this Square alternative isn’t yet offered in the US, it’s a solid choice for merchants in the markets it serves and may soon be a strong domestic competitor for Square as well.
3. PayPal Here
Everybody knows PayPal, but have you heard of PayPal Here? PayPal Here (PPH- see our review) is PayPal’s popular mobile processing service with a model similar to Square’s. It requires a PayPal Business or Premier account, but the upgrade from a personal PayPal account is free, as is the app and card reader.
In addition to accepting swiped or keyed-in credit card payments, PPH’s reader can use image capture (i.e., your smartphone’s camera) to deposit checks, and the service also accepts PayPal payments, as you might expect. It works with most Apple devices and some Android and Windows devices.
PPH comes with all the standard features (mobile card processing, mobile POS, free mobile app, free audio jack swiper), and the service also offers the advantage of immediate access to funds via your PayPal account.
Why is PayPal Here better than Square?
PPH offers more features and an overall superior user experience when compared to Square, or compared to most any standalone mobile processing service. PPH also has lower fees (2.7% per card swipe, with no monthly fee) compared to Square.
Like most other mobile payment solutions, PPH also comes with much better customer support than Square. PPH uses PayPal’s main support system, which includes many options, ranging from phone support to a Twitter account that fields service and support questions Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Central Time. (You can tweet your questions to @AskPayPal.)
4. Inner Fence
Launched in 2007, Inner Fence (see our review) has the distinction of being better established than Square. Inner Fence was the first developer of the mobile processing app and virtual mobile terminal, though the company does not actually process mobile payments. Allow me to explain.
With Inner Fence, users are able set up with their own merchant account and gateway. This feature offers merchants greater stability but comes with a higher price tag. Even the basic service, which uses Stripe for the payments and gateway, costs $39 per month, plus 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. You get one free card reader and additional ones are $79.
“Honesty” and “transparency” are other words you commonly hear in association with this small but sturdy merchant services provider. “Value” might not be a word you’ll hear, but being able to link your existing merchant account can provide exceptional account stability and reliability.
What makes Inner Fence Better than Square?
Square users have an aggregate merchant account, meaning they share it with other users of the service, while Inner Fence users have the advantage of having their own dedicated merchant account. As mentioned, this translates to improved service stability for Inner Face users. Finally, though I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record, better customer service (provided over the phone and via email) is another advantage over Square. The squeaky-clean reputation Inner Fence has developed over the past seven years is another reassuring way that Square differs from its predecessor.
5. Spark Pay
Spark Pay, (see our review) the mobile processing arm of Capital One, has received very little press since its 2013 re-launch and rebranding (Spark Pay was formerly SAIL, owned by VeriFone). Nevertheless, it is a solid, straightforward mobile payment service that could potentially save you a lot of money.
Like Square, Spark Pay offers mobile debit and credit card processing via a free magstripe card reader that plugs into your phone’s headphone jack (subsequent readers will cost you $13/reader). By adding a $250 wired payment terminal, you can also accept NFC payments and EMV chip cards.
When it comes to features, Spark Pay’s are not as robust as Square’s. However, some useful functions you’ll get with Spark Pay’s mobile app include online reporting/analytics, inventory reporting, cash drawer connectivity, and customizable electronic receipts, among others.
Spark Pay offers merchants two different fee schemes, including the Go Plan (pay-as-you-go) and the Pro Plan (monthly fee). I would recommend the Pro Plan if you are a higher-volume merchant (processing about $2,000+ per month). The benefits of the higher-volume plan are that you pay less per each transaction – 1.99% + $0.05 per swipe for the paid plan vs. 2.65% + $0.05 for the free plan. You can use this handy calculator to determine which plan would be best for your business.
What makes Spark Pay better than Square?
Spark Pay’s Pro Plan can potentially save higher-volume merchants a lot of money over Square, given that your average sale is at least $7 or so. Even if you choose Spark Pay’s free “Go” plan (no monthly fee), the 2.65% + $0.05 per-transaction fee is still lower than Square’s for transactions $50 and larger.
Users of Spark Pay also receive solid customer support, provided over the phone during business hours. Combined with prompt email support (one-day turnaround or less) and responsive Twitter support, Spark Pay has a far better overall support experience than Square, which is crucial given the higher amount of SNAFUs that occur with mobile payments compared to traditional processing.
6. Intuit GoPayment
Intuit is best known for its benchmark accounting software QuickBooks, but the Intuit GoPayment (see our review) mobile payment processor is nothing to shake a stick at either. In addition to providing you with the benefits of a bona fide merchant account, GoPayment is an excellent mobile POS system for businesses that use and love QuickBooks, as it offers seamless QuickBooks integration.
On top of QB features, Intuit gives you advanced functions like invoicing, camera scanning to capture card information (albeit, at a higher processing charge), recurring billing options, and the ability to process cards from a web browser via a virtual terminal.
How is Intuit GoPayment better than Square?
Unlike Square, Intuit GoPayment gives you your own dedicated merchant account, which brings with it the benefits we’ve always discussed. GoPayment’s pay-as-you-go processing rate of 2.4% + $0.25 per swipe is also cheaper for merchants, except in the case of very small transactions (and for a $19.95 monthly charge, you can get a much lower rate of 1.6% + $0.25). Finally, Intuit GoPayment has more advanced features than Square, including full-fledged QuickBooks integration. Live chat support is also a plus.
7. Vend POS
Though it is web-based, Vend (see our review) is a powerful, full-fledged POS system, such that you can use it to replace a traditional Windows-based POS system at your brick-and-mortar store. Vend is also a viable alternative to Square if you currently use the Square Stand iPad setup. In addition to running on an iPad, you can also use Vend from a web browser, which means you can process payments from any web-connected device, wherever you are.
Processing fees with Vend depend on the payment processor you use; for example, if you use Vend with PayPal, you’ll get a rate of 2.7%. Vantiv is another payment processing option. Vend comes with a monthly service charge unless you choose its limited free plan, but the numerous advanced POS options that come with Vend make its $59/month fee well worth it – these features include advanced inventory management, 24/7 email support, offline mode, eCommerce functionality, loyalty program features, customer management, and many more.
Why use Vend over Square?
For very low-volume businesses that process all sales from a smartphone, Square might be the better option. However, iPad-based Vend is a viable Square alternative for growing businesses that want to upgrade from a casual “mobile POS” like Square. At the same time, Vend is a more affordable middle-of-the-road option compared to an even more advanced iPad POS like Revel Systems or Lightspeed Retail.
As a small business, it’s always good to have options when it comes to mobile payment acceptance. The variety of different mobile payment and mobile POS providers means that you don’t have to stay with Square if it’s not meeting your needs sufficiently. The best part is that you don’t have to stick with just one mobile payments processor: none of the companies discussed in this article have contracts or early termination fees, so you can test them out without any risk, or even use several of them simultaneously to see which one you like best – just note that with Intuit GoPayment, you do have to jump through a couple small hoops to cancel your account (read more about that in our Intuit GoPayment review).
If you want to do a little further comparison shopping before signing up for a mobile payment processor, you can read or comparisons of Spark Pay vs. Intuit GoPayment or Square vs. PayPal Here. Or, compare the merits of using Square vs. a merchant account.
So what’s your favorite Square alternative? Let us know in the comments!