• Square Reader during transaction
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Square card reader review UK: should the lack of a PIN pad be a deal-breaker?

By Emily Sorensen|2018-09-18T14:44:08+00:00February 20th, 2018|Tags: , |
Our rating(4/5)
The Square card reader emerged last year as one of the most interesting app-based payment solutions in the UK for small businesses. It’s got a comprehensive free POS app and competitive transaction fees, but are concerns about its device setup substantiated?
The company to introduce the original mobile card reader, Square, has brought us the first keypad-less card reader in the UK. Despite the simplicity of the card reader itself, the accompanying free app offers more payment features than any other competitors, making this one of the most viable card acceptance solutions for small businesses yet.

Highs:

  • Competitive 1.75% rate for 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.

Lows:

  • Entering PIN on a 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.

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About Square Reader

Square was one of the first to launch a card reader enabling smartphones to accept payments on the go. Last year, it launched its 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 your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth and processes payments via 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 to the white square-shaped card reader.

Square Reader on a counter

The payment flow for contactless payments is very smooth at till points. Photo: Square.

The mobile app works as a complete POS system with advanced functions that help you run any type of business from just your tablet or phone.

From sign-up to first transaction

Before you buy 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 by them, but you can still take payments before verification if you need to do that. At the end of the sign-up process, you can order the Square 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 you 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 your Square account is set up and connected with the 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 then you’re ready to take your first contactless and chip payments.

Square Reader unpacking

The card reader arrived 2 days after we ordered 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 smaller Square reader for magnetic stripe transactions only requires you plug its audio jack into your phone. However, iPhone 7 and newer iPhone models require you use the 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 an iPhone 7 (or newer iPhone model) with a dangled magstripe reader requires you hold 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 who use swipe.

Fees are simple and competitive

Square’s transaction fee is a competitive, flat 1.75% per chip and PIN and contactless payment you accept through the card reader, regardless of card brand. 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.

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.

Payments where the customer is not present are charged a higher rate, i.e. every keyed-in, online or invoice payment costs you 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 1.75% rate.

Square does not charge a fee for refunds, and up to £250 worth of chargebacks are covered per month.

Accepted cards

One of Square’s big selling points is that you receive transaction payments in your bank account as fast as the next business day. Although this is great, it’s not much different from iZettle’s 1-2 working days and SumUp’s 2-3 working days.

However, Square has also just launched Instant Deposits – an account 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.

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 are 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, the 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 we have reviewed on this site.

Square Stand with customer

Square Stand swivels the iPad to face the customer when a PIN is required or swipe is required (there’s a magstripe slot at the front).

App features

The free app is one of Square’s biggest draws – it has all the most important things you need to manage your 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 to customers 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 your customer 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.

Square Point of Sale app

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 you add all the things you sell to this 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 different staff using the app can add each employee as a user with limited control over the account. Assigning users to the account also enables time sheets so you can track hours and overtime worked.

Transactions over the phone, mailorder or online are also possible through the Virtual Terminal option. From any desktop browser, you can log in to your Square account and go to the Virtual Terminal section where you key-in your customer’s card and transaction details. These payments have a 2.5% transaction fee.

The Square Cash App, which allows users to send money for business and private use, as well as buy and sell Bitcoin, is not yet available to UK merchants.

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 their cash holdings and food orders effectively.

Square also sells accessories created to make checkout look and feel more professional. Their Dock for Square Reader can be attached to a countertop and keeps the reader charged all day. Their iPhone cases enable you to attach a Square Reader on the back of your iPhone to give the impression of a complete card machine. Their Square Stand for iPad has also arrived in the UK, enabling you to swivel around the iPad screen to face the customer who can then enter their PIN. On top of this, the Square Stand has a swipe slot for magnetic stripe cards, which you can use for American cards that still use the swipe function.

Square Reader accepting contactless card

It is possible to attach the Square Reader to an iPhone via this special case. Photo: Square.

Compatible stationary printers for a countertop include Star Micronics models TSP143LAN, TSP654IIE3, TSP654SK and TSP143IIILAN. If you want a portable receipt printer, you can go for the Star Micronics models SM-S220i, SM-230i, SM-T300i and TSP650II Bluetooth receipt printers. The compatible Star Micronics SP742ML printer can withstand heat and therefore ideal for print order tickets needed in hot restaurant kitchens.

Reports and accounting

An important function of any POS software is the accounting features and integrations. With Square, you can check details of sales any time from your app or Square account in your internet browser. At the end of each day, you can view and 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 see the data from anywhere else than that computer.

Square UK accounting dashboard

Reports are easy to understand and can be customised for your needs. Photo: Square.

When all your sales data are in the cloud, however, you can log in to your 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 your 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 be suitable for every business type. Having tested their POS app, we can verify it’s especially useful in the retail and hospitality sectors, food and drink in particular, due to its comprehensive product library, checkout functions, analytics and staff management features.

In the US, it dominated the small food and drink sector for this very reason as well as the additional features specifically used in this industry (such as tipping, dining options).

It should be said that Square has a long list of prohibited businesses too, which you should take time to read through before signing up. 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 Reader on a counter in a cafe

Square has been particularly popular with small cafés and eateries. Photo: Square.

Growing businesses can switch to a more advanced POS system (Vend or TouchBistro) and integrate with a long list of partner apps, giving you a lot of room for growth.

Customer reviews and support

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.

Based on these complaints, we suggest you read their terms and prohibited industries list carefully before signing up to avoid issues. Square has to comply with security requirements (esp. with PCI’s new 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, many North American customers have reported they can’t get through to Square on the phone or haven’t had proper help. In the UK, reviews are still limited, but there are many more positive reviews compared with bad ones. Since Square is new here, you can expect a transition period where they are adjusting to a growing user base – we are keeping a close eye on this, so watch this space.

Our verdict

Our experiences with Square in the UK is limited so far, but having tried and tested Square Reader, we think that:

  • Square Reader 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 all the features you need to run any type of business from your phone or tablet and can be integrated with lots of partner apps – ideal for growing businesses.
  • The app features are especially suited for hospitality and retail sectors.
  • It remains to be seen if account freezes is an issue here compared with the US.

Out of all card readers currently used in the UK, Square Reader is definitely one of our top three choices alongside iZettle Reader and SumUp Air.

To Square
Name of Reviewed Item: Square Reader United Kingdom Rating Value: 4 Image: https://www.mobiletransaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/square-reader-chip-phone.jpg Review Author:Review Date: