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Used by more than two million businesses globally, Square is a mobile Point of Sale and payment processing app that can be customized to suit a retailer’s needs.
Touted as POS software built for simplicity, Square not only facilitates mobile payment processing with hardware but offers an advanced point of sale app and store management system that extends from a credit card reader to a merchant's mobile device and beyond to their laptop.
Launched in 2009 by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Square has developed into one of the leading payment processing systems in the world that goes well beyond handling transactions to managing an entire store, or customer service business via an app and online dashboard.
Square is suited to retailers, market stall holders, pop up shops, restaurants, cafes and sole operators, offering a solution that scales up to suit the business.
The company offers a basic free app for everyone, but also has dedicated apps that are specifically tailored to retail, hospitality and appointment-based service industries. These come with additional monthly subscription costs.
Even with the basic app, which is covered in this article, a lot of thought has gone into creating a POS to service a variety of merchant's needs.
That forethought also extends to sole operators who can accept payments at their customer's premises or retailers who allow staff to accept payments from customers in the queue.
A business owner can then monitor exactly what's going on with up to the minute analytics via the online dashboard that shows staff sales, cash drawer figures, and low stock alerts.
In many ways Square is first and foremost a payment processing solution that just happens to be accompanied by a very effective, highly versatile, and fully customizable Point of Sale app.
At start-up, users sign up for the account and download the free point of sale app to their mobile device. The app runs on most Apple iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads, and Android devices running Google Android 5 or higher.
Once they have an account, users are also provided access to the online dashboard, which is accessible from laptops and PCs. This is where the nuts and bolts of advanced organization and analytics takes place.
In order to take in-person payments, users will need a Square card reader or terminal, and there are a couple of different options available depending on where your store is based.
In the US, there are three options to choose from, while Australia has only two. These include:
Square Reader - The cheapest and most simple is the Square Reader for magstripe. In the US, the first magstripe reader is free while additional units are available for just US$10 (AU$19). This reader inserts into the lightning jack or headphone jack of a mobile device and takes swipe card payments.
Contactless Chip and Card Reader - The second, slightly more expensive option is the contactless and chip card reader. This retails for US$49 (AU$59) and is capable of taking near-field communication payments (tap-n-go payments) from bank cards and mobile phones, along with inserted chip and pin payments.
Square terminal - The higher-end option is the Square terminal which accommodates magnetic stripe payments, chip and pin, tap-n-go contactless payments and also issues payment receipts. This sells for US$399. (The Square terminal is not yet available in Australia.)
The great benefit of Square is that it can be used across devices, however the hardware is designed specifically for payments on the run due to its compatibility with smartphones and tablets.
The magstripe reader connects directly into the audio jack or lightning port of a smartphone or tablet, while the contactless reader connects to those devices using low energy Bluetooth technology.
A more comprehensive list of compatible mobile devices is available here.
Limitless card readers are available at an additional cost, enabling large numbers of staff to take payments on your behalf. Compatible hardware like receipt printers, barcode scanners and cash drawers can also be connected.
Most functions are available via the smartphone or tablet app, but advanced functions are housed within the online dashboard available on PCs or laptops.
The dashboard is akin to the hub of the Square app and is available as a web service which can be accessed via desktop, laptop, and tablet, or a downloadable mobile app for iOS.
The dashboard offers both quick insights and detailed transaction information about sales transactions and deposits.
Multiple locations can also be managed from the same app.
The Dashboard allows you to:
Square prides itself on offering an easy payment solution for business.
The available card readers allow users to be paid in person via credit cards, debit cards and contactless payments like digital wallets or smart phone payments.
Meanwhile, Square also facilitates online payments using Square invoices, card not-present capability through “virtual terminal”, and e-commerce.
To take a payment in person, retailers simply click the relevant item icons on the app and hit the charge button to tally the total. Customers can pay via debit card, credit card or digital wallet using the accompanying chip card reader.
Refunds can be issued in part or full directly from the app or via the online Square dashboard.
First Square will check to see if you have enough funds in your Square account to cover the refund amount, and if not, will deduct the amount from your linked bank account. Refunds can be processed up to 60 days after the date of purchase. If more than 60 days has passed, customers will need to be refunded in a manner outside of the Square system.
To issue a refund enter the app and click "activity", locate the transaction you would like to refund and click "issue refund". Then provide the amount you wish to reimburse and the reason for the refund. To finalize, tap "refund" again.
Not only does Square cater to gift cards in their software they actively encourage them by selling standard or customized gift cards for businesses to use.
To use gift cards, enter the app, tap "items", tap "gift cards > create gift cards", enter the details, then click "save". Gift cards can be created with fixed amounts or left blank so the figure can be entered at the time of sale.
Should a customer dispute a transaction, Square will assist, noting they will deal with the customer’s bank on a user’s behalf and they won’t pass on any fees incurred.
From discounts to receipts and item searches, the Square POS app provides a host of facilities to speed up the checkout process and ensure selling and service is made as simple as possible.
Discounts can be created and applied via the app or through the online dashboard. To create a discount, tap "items", then "discounts > create discount" or select an already existing discount to modify. Enter the discount details as either a dollar figure or percentage then tap "save". If the discount is likely to have variations leave the amount blank.
Percentage discounts can be applied to an entire sale or individual items, while dollar discounts can only be applied to an individual item.
The manner in which discounts are applied varies slightly from smartphone to tablet and the dashboard, however discounts can be applied to an entire sale, to individual items or to multiple items.
Receipting is simple and customizable, with users able to issue physical or digital receipts.
To issue a digital receipt, a customer needs to provide their email address or mobile number and a digital receipt will automatically be generated and sent. If a customer has provided this information to another Square retailer in the past, their details may automatically become available.
Receipts, kitchen dockets and order ticket stubs can be printed via any compatible receipt printer device, and they are customizable so a logo can be included.
Retailers can also reprint a receipt by going into Settings>Transactions, and locating the transaction they would like to print. They then just tap New Receipt > Print Receipt (at this stage order tickets cannot be reprinted).
Square allow you to create custom or set taxes, these taxes can also be edited at the time of sale, if necessary.
To create a tax in the POS app:
Product entry is intuitive and simple, with the ability to add products directly to the app or import products in bulk via CSV. Retailers and restaurants can also take images of the item on their device to speed up product recognition for staff.
Square offers a basic level team management as part of its free app, but also has a more comprehensive Team Plus add-on for larger teams and organizations.
The free version includes the ability to assign permissions to staff members, track their time and breaks, export payroll, and see overtime. Each employee using the app is given a unique code, which grants them relevant access to the software. This allows managers to restrict some areas of the app from staff view.
The more advanced Team Plus version comes at an additional cost each month but includes extra features like multiple wage rates, unlimited permissions, and sales reporting by team member.
Square features a customer information section that allows you to easily input contacts into your client database and manage their information.
Customers can be added at the Point of Sale or existing databases can be imported as a CSV file.
Users can view this information from the app or via the dashboard, with the data stored in the Cloud. It can then be utilised to send invoices, and keep track of a customer’s order history, including when they have visited and the items they purchased. Personal messaging is also included so users can communicate easily with clientele.
Users can then sort or search customer information while gaining an insight into their purchasing history and also make notes about their preferences.
Customers can offer their feedback about products and services via the digital receipts they are automatically issued. This can then be viewed on the app dashboard.
Square features a range of analytics that can be accessed via the dashboard or iOS app. They include real-time statistics along with historical data about stock and sales.
You can view hourly, daily, monthly, annual or set range sales figures and also break the data down into sales type.
Analytics provide managers with an overarching insight into the operation of their business. They include a range of metrics like:
The app also allows users to tap into information like returning versus new customers, stock levels and average expenditure per customer.
Meanwhile, simple daily summaries can be delivered to your inbox and up-to-the minute CSVs of transactions and sales by item can be downloaded.
Square plays nicely with other software, integrating with other apps for bookkeeping, tax preparation, e-commerce and more.
In fact, the array of apps that Square integrates with is extensive and ranges from restaurant management software to ticketing and event management, e-commerce, and marketing.
These apps are located in the Square Marketplace, and can easily be added to your dashboard and synced with existing data. Meanwhile customization is facilitated through Square’s APIs.
In the US, the first basic card reader comes free, others come with an initial fee. While the basic Square app is also free, detailed purpose-built apps for retail, hospitality and booking-based service industries command a monthly cost.
The bulk of Square’s pricing, however, is based on its payment processing fees.
If an outlet processes over $250,000 in credit card sales per year, it may qualify for a custom rate.
The customer support Square offers is touted as comprehensive, allowing business to speak with a real person when something’s not right.
In-house phone support is available during business hours, or the customer service team can be emailed. Users can also search the Support Centre from the point of sale 24/7, including tutorial videos, or connect with and learn from other sellers in the Seller Community.
Square is one of the most affordable payment processing solutions and POS apps available for business. But as a free basic app it does have its limitations and some merchants may be better off opting for the specific paid apps they have available for retail, hospitality and appointment-based service industries.
Negative reviews tend to focus on the customer support available, with merchants reporting they had trouble accessing and speaking with support staff.
Positive reviews widely discuss the simplicity, accessibility and affordability of a system that readily accommodates start-up and small business with a simple payment processing solution and easy to use app.