- Competitive 1.75% rate on all card reader sales
- Amazing app features for free, especially useful for retail and food-and-drink businesses
- Offers more than face-to-face payments – virtual terminal, digital invoices and integration with eCommerce software also supported
- PIN entry on mobile screen instead of PIN pad could put off some customers
- Swipe requires separate card reader or Square Stand
- Only accepts the most popular card brands
About Square Reader
Square was one of the first to launch a card reader enabling smartphones to accept payments on the go. In 2017, it launched Square Reader in the UK, giving the most popular card reader here – iZettle Reader – some real competition.
Like other mobile card readers, Square Reader connects with a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth and processes payments through the accompanying app. Because the card reader hasn’t got a PIN pad or display, chip and PIN transactions are keyed on the mobile device screen. Contactless payments are processed seamlessly by just holding up your card or phone near the white square-shaped terminal.
The payment flow for contactless cards is very smooth – just tap and you’re done. Photo: Square
The mobile app works as a complete POS system with advanced functions helping you run any type of business from just your tablet or phone.
The card reader accepts the most popular debit and credit cards including Visa, Visa Electron, V Pay, Mastercard, Maestro and American Express. Furthermore, it accepts payments through Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
Fees are simple and competitive
Square’s transaction fee is a competitive, flat 1.75% per chip and PIN and contactless payment accepted through the card reader, regardless of card brand or whether it is premium or from abroad. They don’t charge you any additional or monthly fees on top of that. The flat fee system is similar to iZettle’s 1.75% and SumUp’s 1.69% rates.
Payments where the customer is not present are charged a higher rate, i.e. every keyed-in, online and invoice payment cost 2.5% of the transaction amount. Note that the keyed rate applies both to when the customer is and is not present.
With Square, you don’t commit to a contract period, neither do you need to sell every month or produce certain sales volumes to qualify for the card rates.
Square does not charge a fee for refunds, and up to £250 worth of chargebacks are covered per month.
One of Square’s selling points is that payments are deposited in your bank account as fast as the next business day. Although great, it’s not much different from iZettle’s 1-2 working days and SumUp’s 2-3 working days.
However, Square also offers Instant Deposits – a setting that switches on instant deposits to your bank account, so you receive the money you make immediately or within 2 hours, if your bank is a Direct Participant of Faster Payments. This costs an extra 1% of the transaction, i.e. a total of 2.75% for card reader payments and 3.5% for keyed-in payments. Note that new merchants may not have access to this feature before they have a sufficient account history. When you’re eligible, it will show in your Square Dashboard.
As for the Point of Sale app, features are free except for additional employee permissions costing £3 per month for each advanced employee account. Any integrated tools from other providers, e.g. for ecommerce and bookkeeping, are paid for separately through those other platforms.
From sign-up to first transaction
Before purchasing the Square Reader, you first need to sign up with Square and register your bank account. It typically takes four days to have your bank account verified, but you can still take payments before verification if you need to do that. At the end of the sign-up steps, you can order the Square card reader.
We used a personal bank account with a history of receiving sole trader income, and this was verified after four days. To be accepted, Square requires that the bank account allows for both deposits and withdrawals to support their refund and chargeback system. Online-only accounts such as PayPal are not supported, nor are prepaid card accounts. Furthermore, your bank account must operate in British Pounds.
Ordering the Square Reader went smoothly, and postage was free. We received it two days after purchase via DPD. Prior to delivery, we received text notifications stating when it’ll arrive, to pick a specific time (from a selection of hours) and giving the option to request leaving it at the neighbour’s if we were not going to be in. The parcel was wrapped up well – all in all a positive experience.
When the Square account is set up and connected with your bank account, download the Square Point of Sale app on your smartphone or tablet and log in to the app. Connect the card reader with your mobile device via Bluetooth, and you’re ready to take your first contactless and chip payments.
The card reader arrived two days after ordering it online. Photo: Mobile Transaction
To start a sale, you can either enter the total sales amount or pick products or services from your product library (if you’ve added items there). Tap “charge” and the customer can use their card to pay, or even add a tip before payment. The customer can also choose to receive an email or text receipt during this process, or you can print the receipt via a Bluetooth printer.
Using the (included) smaller Square reader for magnetic stripe transactions only requires plugging its audio jack into your phone. However, iPhone 7 and newer iPhone models require a small adaptor cord to connect the audio jack with the micro USB socket at the bottom of the phone. We found this a bit impractical.
If the magstripe reader is plugged directly into a phone, you can more seamlessly swipe a card through the slot. Swiping from newer iPhones with an adaptor-connected magstripe reader requires holding both the phone and card reader while attempting to swipe the card through as quickly and straight as Square requires for a successful payment.
However, it should be noted that the swipe reader does not work with chip cards, only overseas cards without a chip, so this should not be a major issue unless you have lots of overseas customers using swipe.
How does PIN on glass work?
Where Square differs from other card readers in the UK is that customers need to enter their PIN on the touchscreen of the phone or tablet rather than a separate keypad for PINs – this is referred to as “PIN on glass”. Also the Square card reader has no display, so the charge amount is displayed only in the app.
Some people have been concerned that inputting your PIN using software on a multi-use consumer device is not safe. Protecting the PIN from visual skimming is another issue: if the tablet is on a stand of a certain height, PIN entry can be more difficult to hide compared to when entered on a countertop card machine.
PIN on glass has been officially accepted by the PCI Security Standards Council, and we do not see cause for concern for honest merchants. Still, some customers might not feel comfortable giving their PIN this way. If that worries you, you may want to consider other card reader options also reviewed on this site.
Square Stand swivels the iPad to face the customer when a PIN or swipe is required (there’s a magstripe slot at the front).
The free Point of Sale app is one of Square’s biggest draws – it has all the most important things needed to manage sales from any compatible device.
Apart from accepting cards through the contactless/chip Square Reader and the magnetic stripe reader, you can manually enter card details, send invoices and accept cash. You can apply discounts (named and preset by you, e.g. Student Discount at 10%), add tips and split the tender so customers can pay some of the total with e.g. Amex and the rest with cash.
The product inventory is great for tablets especially, where you can view a rich table of products, the layout of which you customise. Each product can have a picture, description, types (e.g. red, black, pack of 2, pack of 5), different prices for each type, and stock levels.
Add products, apply discounts, view stock levels, and distinguish between product types. Photo: Square
To get the most out of Square’s tools, we suggest adding all the things you sell to the library before using the app. This enables you to track their popularity and differentiate between items when processing a refund. And of course, it makes it easier at checkout to just tap the product rather than manually entering each item or calculating a sales total, which are both possible as well.
Businesses with teams of staff can add each employee as a user with limited permissions in the app. Granting an account to each user also enables time sheets so you can track hours and overtime worked.
Transactions over the phone, mail order or online are also possible through the complimentary Square Virtual Terminal. From any desktop browser, you can log in to the Square account and go to the Virtual Terminal section where you key in a customer’s card and transaction details.
Hardware and accessories
You can wirelessly connect Square Reader with compatible receipt printers, kitchen printers (for restaurants and similar), cash drawers and barcode scanners. Especially retail and food-and-drink businesses may find this useful to manage cash holdings and food orders effectively.
Square sells accessories created to make the till look and feel more professional. Their Dock for Square Reader (£19 + VAT) can be attached to a countertop and keeps the terminal charged all day. Their iPhone cases enable you to attach a Square Reader to the back of your iPhone to give the impression of an all-in-one card machine. Their Square Stand (£129 + VAT) for iPad enables you to swivel the tablet screen to face the customer who can then enter their PIN. In addition, the Square Stand has a swipe slot for magnetic stripe cards, used for American cards that still swipe.
It is possible to attach Square Reader to an iPhone via this special case. Photo: Square
Quite a few receipt printers work with the Square system, but some only work if the Square Stand is used too. Countertop printers that do not need Square Stand include Star Micronics TSP143 and TSP654 models and Epson TM-T88V, amongst others. If you want a portable receipt printer, the Star Micronics SM-S210i and SM-T300i Bluetooth receipt printers will work, among others. The compatible Star Micronics SP742ML kitchen printer can withstand heat, ideal for print order tickets in hot restaurant kitchens.
Reports and accounting
An important function of any POS software is the reporting. With Square, you can check details of sales any time from the app or Square account in your internet browser. At the end of each day, view or export a daily report to Excel and see how sales compare with the same date last year.
Cloud-based point of sale solutions such as this are convenient because you can access and view the data on any device with an internet browser. In old-fashioned till systems, sales data were stored on local computers, deeming it impossible to access the data from anywhere else than that computer.
Reports are easy to understand and can be customised. Photo: Square
With all sales data in the cloud, you can log in to the Square account in any supported internet browser and even export the data to Excel for local storage, reporting and accounting purposes. At the same time, your account adds all sales activities in real time, so you can always check in on how you’re doing.
For more complex accounting features, you can export data to Xero or other supported accounting software.
Who is it suited for?
Square aims to suit every business type. Having tested the POS app, we can verify it’s especially useful in the retail and hospitality sectors, food-an-drink in particular, due to its comprehensive product library, checkout functions, tipping, analytics and staff management features.
Growing businesses can switch to a more advanced POS system (Vend, TouchBistro or Lavu) and integrate with many partner apps, giving you room for growth. Those selling at multiple locations can also benefit from this simple system that yet is advanced enough to distinguish sales in different locations.
It should be said that Square has a list of prohibited businesses too. Some of these industries include various pharmaceuticals, adult products and services, certain marketing services, certain financial services, and illegal or otherwise questionable products and services.
Square has been particularly popular with cafés and eateries. Photo: Square
Customer reviews and support
Square is available to phone or email between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. There is no weekend or evening support, which is fine if the system works for you, but not so good if you prefer support at night in a bar, for example.
Despite the promising features and sleek looks, Square has received a significant amount of complaints in its other markets and also some in the UK. The common complaints are around sudden 90-day account freezes, subsequent holding of money accepted through the card reader, account verification issues, and poor telephone support. Square has to comply with security requirements (esp. with PCI’s payment software standard) and want to keep customers safe, but it’s not nice when you’re told they’re “required” to hold your hard-earned money for 90 days for no clear reason.
As regards to their customer support, customers have reported they can’t get through to Square on the phone or haven’t had proper help. Generally, customer reviews are positive, though.
Having tried and tested Square Reader, we can conclude that:
- It works seamlessly with contactless and chip cards and looks great on a counter.
- A separate magstripe reader for swipe cards is not practical, but unlikely to be used much.
- The free app is superb. It has features for any type of business and can integrate with lots of partner apps – ideal for growing businesses.
- The app features are especially suited for hospitality and retail sectors.
- Customer support could be more accessible.
Out of all card readers in the UK, Square Reader is definitely one of our top three choices alongside iZettle Reader and SumUp Air.