Square Online ecommerce platform review

This low cost, no frills, easy to use ecommerce builder could be the perfect choice for very early-stage businesses looking to build an online store

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4.3 out of 5
  • Website features
    3.5
  • Sales features
    3.5
  • Design flexibility
    2.7
  • Help and support
    4.0
  • Value for money
    4.6
  • Ease of use
    3.9

As our top-rated ecommerce website builder for value for money, we think Square Online is the number one choice for very early-stage small businesses.

It's a particularly good product for those in the hospitality industry, owing to its excellent online ordering functionality and tools that are dedicated to improving kitchen workflow efficiency. It's also a smart choice for SMEs that have a physical, brick-and-mortar store presence.

Here at Startups.co.uk, we pride ourselves on our expert research. Our latest round of extensive user testing saw us examine six key criteria for all of the online store builders available on the market, gaining insights into their website and sales features, design functions, value, customer score, and usability

Square is one of the only ecommerce platforms that actually lets you sell without signing up for a paid plan, and offers a decent range of features even on the free version. After rigourous user testing of some of the top builders on the market, we ranked Square Online as our fourth best ecommerce platform for small businesses in our latest round of testing – bumping it up from its previous fifth place position thanks to improve help and support tools and more generous website feature allowances at the lower pricing tiers.

It does, of course, have some limitations that make it unsuitable for larger businesses. One of the most notable is high transaction fees, which means businesses with large inventories might not be as happy with this platform. But is it right for your online store? How does it compare to its rivals?

We'll answer these questions and more as we take you through the pros and cons of using Square Online.

Pros
  • Ability to sell for free
  • Easy-to-use site dashboard keeps track of product sales and customer journeys
  • Our highest-rated builder for help and support tools
Cons
  • Restrictive design features
  • Not the most intuitive interface for new website builder users, with unfamiliar terminology
  • High transaction fees

There's plenty that's good about Square Online. It's well-suited to early-stage SMEs that want an easy-to-use database that can give them excellent insights into their sales and customer numbers – and offers great help and support tools for those who might get stuck. You can also sell for free, although this does come with limitations as it is essentially a free trial.

Drawbacks to the platform include it's high transaction fees – so we wouldn't recommend it for those with larger inventories. Restaurants and other hospitality small businesses are better suited to this platform than those that are based online. It's design features aren't amazing, and so it shouldn't be the front face of your brand.

Square Online
4.3
The best platform to use if you want to start selling for free
  • Free plan Yes
  • Price from £0 per month
  • Start selling for free
  • Excellent analytics
  • Supports dozens of payment types
Summary Square Online is the only website builder that allows you to start selling products without upgrading to a paid plan. You’ll still have to pay a 1.9% transaction fee for every payment processed, but you won’t find a more cost-effective way of getting an online store up and running anywhere else. It’s a great way to get to grips with things before you upgrade to one of Square's premium plans, which start from £9/month.
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Square Online overview

Founded by Jack Dorsey (the man that brought us Twitter), Square has some fine payments pedigree, with 11 years of experience in making affordable products and services that help businesses sell.

The latest in this lineage is Square Online, a low-cost, fuss-free ecommerce platform that offers small businesses a cheap and easy way to start selling online.

While the design capabilities might be minimal – there are no set templates or themes, for instance – Square is still a great option for those that just want to set up an online store without being overwhelmed by innumerable aesthetic choices, and instead has user experience (UX) at its heart.

Overall then, Square Online is relatively low-cost, easy to use, and has some neat features, making it a great option for businesses on a budget. But if you have bigger ecommerce aspirations, you might want something a little more sophisticated.

Our methodology: How did we evaluate Square Online for small businesses?

From our research, Square was found to be the best platform for help and support tools and value for money, based on the in-depth analysis and testing that was carried out across seven competing builders. We gave the platform a total of 4.3 out of 5 in our latest round of research, carried out in November 2021. That means it's our fourth highest ranked ecommerce website builder for SMEs.

Our research focused on six key criteria that were deemed most relevant to small online store owners. We'll go into more detail about what's available in each below, but first:

Website features – 3.5

Fairly average website features mean we scored Square a competitive 3.5 out of 5 for this category. There's nothing particularly crucial missing from its feature list, but not much stands out either. One thing to note is that this is a 0.1 improvement from its previous score, an improvement which bodes well for future updates.

Sales features – 3.5

Square scored low for sales features. It doesn't integrate with many marketplaces and it's other sales tools are slightly thin in terms of functionality.

Design functionalities – 2.7

Easily Square's poorest area is design functionality, where it comes in last place. Its editor suite just isn't as powerful as rivals like Squarespace, and nowhere near as customisable as Wix.

Value for money – 4.6

Right at the other end of the spectrum we have 4.6 – a hugely impressive score for Square and owed largely to its free plan (rare for ecommerce website builders).

Help and support – 4

The Square knowledge centre has an excellent range of helpful guides – and tonnes of customer support tools.

Customer score – 3.6

Square is a fairly recognisable name in the ecommerce market thanks to its founders famous credentials, and is gaining popularity among small business owners. Just over three-quarters (76%) of our testers said they would recommend it to other users.

Ease of use – 3.9

There are aspects of Square that are really easy to use – thanks to its stripped back, simplified approach. However, its impressive score is only let down slightly by confusing jargon that's sprinkled throughout the builder.

Below, we’ll go into more detail of how Square performed specifically in each of these categories. For more information, check out our guide to the best ecommerce platforms for small businesses

Square Online pricing

0 out of 0
Price
Features

Free

Professional

Performance

Premium

£0 per month

£9 per month

£19 per month

£54 per month

Start selling online
Sell on Instagram and Facebook
SEO tools
Sync with Square POS

Custom domain
No Square ads
Customised font uploads
Password-protected pages

Professional features
Accept PayPal
Abandoned basket
Advanced reporting
Product reviews

Lowest transaction fees (1.75%)
Performance features

Square's paid-for plans range from £9 to £54 (the latter of which is aimed at large-scale enterprises and isn't suitable for SMEs.)

Paying for the platform gives you no Square ads, a custom domain, and password protected pages. These are strong perks to invest in, but they're definitely not essential, so you can actually sell online for zero charge with Square Free.

Now, about that free plan. Square Free is a decent package for beginners. It allows you to sell unlimited products, and offers inventory features, sync with Square POS, and online shopping cart functionality.

But you should know that, while the plan itself really is free, you’ll pay a *1.9% transaction fee for every sale you make, which is higher than average for an ecommerce platform.

It still represents a great value way to sell online. The transaction fee increases to 2.5% for the Professional (£9/month) and Performance (£19/month) plans. Then it drops to 2.25% for the Premium plan (£54/month).

*1.9% for cards issued in Europe, 2.9% for cards issued outside of Europe

Website Features – 3.5

Square’s website features are middling. It provides some of the basic tools and services you’d expect, but often lets itself down in key areas.

Because its design isn’t as strong as Squarespace, or as customisable as Wix, Square is really only suitable for businesses that already have a dedicated physical presence, and your website won't be the main part of your operation.

App marketplace

The Square App Store has some useful integrations, but these are mostly for use with its other products. Crucially, you'll be able to access accounting and sales third-party apps, which means you'll be able to keep on top of your sales pipeline, invoicing, and other key financial inputs. Other important areas however, like integrations with your brand's social media social media pages, are lacking.

SEO and marketing

SEO is probably the most glaring example of Square's thinner feature offering. Although it has some basic tools, you can only amend anything SEO-related within the backend, which is restrictive and can be easily missed. In comparison, other builders offer keyword prompts and automatic SEO suggestions. It also doesn’t support the ability to post blogs, and there’s no customer login area.

Square’s marketing support is much better, with the ability to sell and promote your products via social media, email marketing integrations with Mailchimp, and useful marketing templates to get you started. In fact, our researchers described it as “the easiest in-house marketing function of all ecommerce brands”.

The platform’s other distinction is that, if you opt for a premium plan, your domain name is free for the first year. Square is the only ecommerce builder to do this.

Sales features – 3.5

3.5 out of 5 might not look like the most impressive score, and there's not much to overwhelm you in terms of features when it comes to Square Online. But our previous round of research saw Square achieve 3.4 out of 5 for its sales features, and we're impressed with the improvements it's (slowly but surely) been unveiling.

Products and inventory

Despite its focus on simplicity and affordability, Square is generous when it comes to its product functionality. It supports a huge variety of sales types, including physical, digital, donation, event, service, and even restaurant. And there’s no limitations on the number of products you can sell, even on the free plan.

Square Online for Restaurants also allows you to automatically create a website for your restaurant that incorporates essential functions like online ordering and payments, pickup and delivery options, and even tipping.

You can choose to use third party or in-house delivery drivers, limit the number of orders you can accept at any given time, and offer your customers multiple payment options including Square Pay, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.

Payments

Square payments hardware

As should be expected from a payments specialist, Square supports all the core payment options, including Apple and Google Pay – but only when you use Square as the payment gateway. In fact, you’ll get the most out of your Square Online if you use other Square products and services, such as Square POS and Square Payments.

As mentioned above, Square does not allow you to waive the transaction fee – the only one of our top ecommerce platforms not to do so. However, there is no card transaction fee if you use the Square payment gateway.

Multichannel integration 

Square has recently given merchants the option of selling via Instagram, provided you have an Instagram business account, and that account is approved.

All you need to do is connect your Instagram account to Square Online, tag any items in your posts that you want to sell, and click ‘publish’ to launch an instantly ‘shoppable’ page. All payments are then processed through your Square account.

You can also use the integrated Facebook Ads Manager tool to target your customers with effective and highly relevant online ads.

Checkout

The Square Online Checkout is a specific product offered by Square, allowing you to easily create a shareable link for whatever you want to sell, which takes customers directly to a checkout page when they click it. This differs from the online store in that it allows you to sell without creating a full website. It’s a good option if you want to charge for one-off goods and services, or for items from your Square library.

All the key features you'd expect for this feature are accounted for – although a very significant drawback is a lack of customisation. Users can't design a tailored checkout page, so you'll have to forego branding and logos. You can edit the checkout by enabling digital wallets and creating optional fields. However, unlike other providers, name fields are not amendable.

Shipping

Square supports the ability to amend shipping costs by region, product value, and weight. And you can print out shipping labels through the platform, which saves you money and time.

Integrations such as Cuboh are also great additions if you are using multiple third-party vendors to sell your goods. This is the best way to keep everything aligned and track orders and shipments.

Internationalisation

Square supports 25 different currencies, although only one currency is displayed to customers.

In terms of international shipping, Square supports the ability to deliver to any country with no restrictions. You can also set tax rates for each country, and add tax charges on delivery fees and shipping rates.

Security features

Nothing to complain about or sing about here. Square’s websites are all PCI compliant, and come with SSL certificates. Your customers are able to store card details for future purchases, though the platform doesn’t support a customer login functionality.

Accounting

Square Online actually has pretty decent accounting support. Using its invoice tool, you can create an estimated invoice or a general invoice, and set up recurring payments. You can also view the status of invoices, i.e if they have been paid, are outstanding, or pending approval.


Did you know?

Square Online also hosts a restaurant POS (point of sale) system, Square for Restaurants.

Boasting lots of possible integrations, with this software tool you can create the perfect package for your restaurant business including sophisticated table management features, and the option to integrate booking tools and delivery apps. Its Square Terminal and Card Reader also facilitate table service.

Square for Restaurants doesn’t require you to have a merchant account to use the platform, which means you can start serving customers as soon as you’ve received the Square Card Reader and downloaded the application onto your iPad. Instead, Square changes 1.75% per transaction, and usually pays into your business bank account in 1-2 business days.

Check out our full Square card reader review for more information.

Design flexibility – 2.7

Square online design

Square Online is an interesting case when it comes to design. As we stated above, it has a very thin range of templates to choose from, representing few industries outside of clothing or food and drink. This means nicher sectors will find it a challenge to source suitable images and design choices.

Square’s image editing capabilities are also minimal – you can resize, but that’s about it. But the layouts it does have is so UX-optimised and aesthetically pleasing that if you're a clothing or hospitality business, you won't be lacking. Visually stunning and consistent in terms of font, colour, and accessibility, we had to give Square full marks for the branding and design tools it does have.

After this, comes a few more bum notes. Advanced functions are all but missing – customers can't filter products, and you can't design ads for third-party websites, which means you're limited in terms of brand outreach. Square Online is a hot design ticket for SMEs in the food and beverage industry, but it doesn't cater for any other sector.

Help and support – 4

Square had the highest score for customer support and help tools in our research. It offers everything you would expect, including phone and email support, and more, with an impressively advanced restore function that means you'll never lose anything you've worked on if your website crashes. This is particularly generous alongside Square's low price point.

Articles published in Square's knowledge centre are broken down into a very clear step-by-step format, and the knowledge centre itself is second to none. Nicely laid out and easy to navigate, it offered a direct ‘how to’ solution for every key term we searched for.

We have to give it to Square, it's improved in this category by almost half a mark when compared to our original round of research and moved from third to first place. Now that's a success story!

Value for money – 4.6

As you can actually create a website and start selling products for free (minus the transaction fee), we ranked Square the best value for money ecommerce platforms, beating fellow budget-friendly website builders Wix and Weebly to the top spot.

Ease of use – 3.9

Considering the simplistic design functionality, not to mention the limited features offered, Square is pretty easy to get to grips with. In fact, our researchers ranked Square as their fourth easiest to use of all the top ecommerce website builders.

Square received particularly good feedback on its backend from our testers. Adding products, variants and organising discounts, stock management is also simple and intuitive. Plus, the aforementioned high-scoring help and support tools on this platform mean that even if you do get stuck, you'll be pulled out of the mud by Square's strong knowledge centre.

Given the chaos and confusion of the past two years following the coronavirus pandemic disruption, we think Square Online is a great choice for small businesses in industries hard hit by the pandemic (such as hospitality) and needing to get online quickly and easily.

Customer reviews and testimonials – 3.6

Our analysis of Square's score on major website builder review sites, including TrustPilot and Capterra, found that Square received an average score of 4.4 out of 5 amongst customers, putting it in joint second place with big-name rivals including Squarespace and Wix.

Commonly shared feedback was that Square is excellent value for money and easier to use than Shopify, scoring an average of 3.85/5 for ease of use amongst its users. Because of this positive response, we weren't surprised to find that, of the users we surveyed, more than three-quarters (76%) said they would recommend the platform to a friend.

Square Online verdict

We think Square Online is an excellent, low-cost platform that's best-suited to very small or early-stage businesses – particularly those in the hospitality industry. This basic ecommerce platform is the only one of our top ecommerce platforms to allow you to start selling without signing up for a premium plan.

The platform's limitations are also some of its best strengths. As a stripped back, basic builder it's easy to get started and quick for new users to grasp. Existing small businesses that have a physical store, but want an online face to help with branding and recognition should choose Square Online.

However, if you have bigger design ambitions for your online store, you’ll quickly outgrow the limited range of sales features on offer, and we’d recommend starting with a platform that offers more scope for scaling businesses.

Our scoring and overall verdict are based on thorough research into the Square Online brand, as well as the wider market and its competitors. But if you're still not convinced or just want to know more about the ins and outs of the platform, you can visit the Square Online website to find out more about the deals and discounts available.


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FAQs

Is Square Online free?

Square offers a free plan, which allows you to build an online store and start selling for free. You will be charged a 2.5% transaction fee on every sale you make, but it still represents a great value way to start selling online.

Is Square Online good?

Square is a good ecommerce platform to use if you’re a small or early stage business, as it’s easy to use and offers good value for money. However, larger businesses will find its basic sales functionality quite limiting.

How do I start selling using Square Online?

It’s quick and simple to set up Square Online. You simply need to create a Square account, visit the online Square Dashboard and click ‘Get Started’.

Choose to set up either a single ordering page or a full ecommerce website, your business and fulfillment type, and then start adding products to your item library. Once this is done, you're ready to start selling!

Is Square Online good for my hospitality business?

Yes. Square Online is a great tool for showcasing your hospitality business online. Customers can interact with your menu, place an order and set it up for pickup or local delivery thanks to its many integrations. You can also use Square Online if you have a Square for Restaurants POS subscription.


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Henry Williams headshot
Henry Williams Content Manager

Henry has been writing for Startups.co.uk since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also acted as project lead on many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Business Ideas, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides.

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