As the first payment processor to the mobile party, Square was invented by Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, as a way to simplify and cheapify processing credit and debit cards for small business owners. The idea was revolutionary at the time (2009). This was the first step away from the traditional Point-of-Sale (POS) model that required a third party sales rep, onerous contract, machine rental, and more costs and fees than you could shake a frozen squirrel at.
Square changed all that with a simple plugin card reader that could be inserted into an iPhone (or iPad) or Android cell phone. But some have complained that Square’s fees have increased and customer service is spotty. Alternatives to the first mobile payment processor have arrived, and here are the best of them.
This nifty little POS system is the brainchild of popular traditional merchant payment processor Clover. The interesting thing is that, though it promotes a plug-in-play model, like Square, users are given access to the full processor’s back office capabilities. Use it as a complementary solution to Clover Station and Clover Mini (both of which require the purchase of proprietary software), or use Clover Go all on its own.
The fee structure is more complex than Square’s. Though exact numbers vary between resellers, expect to pay 0.25% plus 10 cents per transaction. There is also a $25 monthly fee, $10 fee to use the app, and the card swiper can be as much as $100 depending upon where you buy it.
The main advantage is you are processing sales through a real merchant account less likely to freeze up, withhold funds, or arbitrarily close your account. High volume sellers can probably get Clover to come down a bit off those posted rates.
This company has been a well-known player in the Internet “banking” business for a long time now, but not everyone realizes they offer a POS mobile payment system known as PayPal Here. Everything works similar to Square, though you do need to upgrade your personal account to a business or premier version. The process is simple and free, as is the app and card reader, so no big deal there.
What are some of the reasons you might choose to use PayPal Here rather than Square? The first is that it offers lower processing fees, 2.70% per card swipe and no monthly charge. Though only slightly less than Square’s swipe fee, depending upon how many cards you process, that tiny percentage could add up to a substantial amount in your pocket at the end of the year.
Also consider that PayPal Here offers immediate access to funds through your PayPal account. Square usually drops the money into your checking account within 24 hours. Not an interminable wait, but it is longer than immediately.
Remember back when we said Square pioneered the mobile payment processing industry? That’s not exactly true. What we should have said is that Square’s blitzkrieg marketing campaign made it the first mobile POS system that anyone had heard of. There actually was another player already in the game two years earlier (2007) called Inner Fence. Though less well-known, it actually was and is a credible alternative for many reasons.
The main distinction is that Inner Fence does not actually process payments, but rather provides all the hardware and software to get you to that point. You are responsible for finding a traditional merchant and opening an account for that.
On the negative side, Inner Fence costs are more than small business owners have come to expect from a mobile POS vendor. Expect to pay a $39 monthly fee, 2.9% plus .30 cents per transaction. Your first card reader is free. Additional ones run $79.
While Square has generated a constant low-level of buzz about poor customer service and alleged shady behavior, Inner Fence has maintained a squeaky clean rep since day one. Is that worth paying more for? For some people it is. You’ll have to make your own decision on that.
The mobile processing payment offshoot of financial behemoth Capital One, Spark Pay was rebranded (from SAIL) and relaunched back in 2013. If you prefer a simple, straightforward payment processing process, this might be the one for you. Card readers cost $13 each. In a departure from Square, Spark Pay allows you to add a wired payment terminal for a one-time $250 cost. This lets you to accept the new chip cards as well as offer NFC payments (where you hold a cell phone near the terminal).
As mentioned, Spark Pay offers a more limited selection of reports than Square, but you can still track inventory, connect a cash drawer, customize receipts, and track/analyze sales through an online interface. You have two options when it comes to paying fees:
- Pay-As-You-Go Plan: 2.65% plus .05 cents per transaction
- Pro Plan: 1.99% plus .05 cents per transaction
The Pro Plan comes with a monthly fee that makes it worth your while if you have average transaction of more than $7 and swipe more than $2,000 monthly. Potential savings on swipe costs plus — our broken record refrain — far superior customer service makes Spark Pay a legitimate Square alternative.
Vend differs from other entries on this list because it is a full-fledged POS system that just happens to be web-based. It can easily replace your old Windows-flavored POS even if you’re a brick and mortar store swiping a million dollars (or more) in cards a month. Vend runs on a iPad stand, so you could easily swap it out for Square, plus the online portal allows you to take payments no matter where you are.
Specific fees for using Vend depend upon which payment processor you pair with it. PayPal is one option, at the rate of 2.7%. Where Vend really shines is in offering gold level service to high volume small (or large) business owners. For the $59 monthly fee you get inventory management, round-the-clock email tech support, an ecommerce suite, customer management, and much more. You can choose a non-monthly fee plan but it is quite limited.
For casual small business owners with simple, low-volume processing demands, Square might be a better alternative, but once you take the training wheels off and your business starts hitting on all cylinders, you might reconsider Vend.
The bottom line is that, in today’s mobile payment processing universe, you have choices when it comes to choosing an in-person payment system, and that’s always a good thing. Square is the 800 pound gorilla with the biggest marketing campaign, but it might not be the best choice for your business. Maybe it is. You best bet is to not get in a hurry when choosing a mobile POS. Take what you’ve learned from this article and do more in-depth comparison shopping. Now get out there and swipe some cards!