15 Best Touchscreen POS Systems

touchscreen cash register

Touchscreens are everywhere, and the point-of-sale industry is no exception. Touchscreen POS systems are more intuitive and easy to learn than traditional legacy POS software, and many cloud-based systems employ the same kind of iPad and Android tablets that your employees already use every day at home. Whether you’re running a restaurant, a retail outlet, or another type of business, a modern touchscreen POS system helps keep your sales moving and your business data secure. Besides simple point-of-sale features, most of these cloud-based systems also have advanced reporting capabilities, business management features, and integrations with other popular business software.

Arguably, the only problem with touchscreen point of sale systems is that there are so many different products to choose from. Do you go with a proprietary-hardware solution like Clover, an Android POS system like Toast, an iPad POS like Revel, or an open-source POS like Vend? In my opinion, the most important consideration when choosing a touchscreen POS is not just iPad vs. Android. More important are your industry type, your specific business needs, and user reviews. To help you get started in your search, I’ve put together this list of my favorite highly rated touchscreen POS systems, sorted by industry. Most of these are iPad-based, though I included some Android and open-source options as well.

To make it easier to find the best touchscreen system for your business type, I’ve sorted the following 15 POS systems into restaurant, retail, and hybrid (systems that can be used for either restaurant or retail) categories. Be advised that the order in which I’m listing these excellent systems does not indicate their ranking.

Restaurant POS Systems

The following restaurant point of sale systems can be used by just about any type of food industry business, from drive-thrus to fine dining:

1. Breadcrumb

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts $99/month/location
  • Must use with Upserve payments (interchange plus $0.15 fee)
  • Multi-location support
  • Online ordering

breadcrumb by upserve pos logo

Cloud-based Breadcrumb POS by Upserve (see our review) is a highly versatile restaurant POS, suitable for full-service restaurants, take-out, delivery, bars, and multi-location eateries. With Breadcrumb’s acquisition by Upserve in 2016 (Breadcrumb was previously owned by GroupOn), the company has expanded its restaurant management infrastructure, making this POS a complete business management system for just about any type of restaurant.

Breadcrumb is not the cheapest restaurant POS in town, but nor is it short on features. Some of the system’s strongest features include table management, employee management, customer management, and tableside ordering. Breadcrumb also recently teamed up with GrubHub to offer online ordering and delivery (at the $249/month/location “Pro” subscription level).

One thing Breadcrumb users really like about this system is that it is specifically designed with restaurant employees in mind. While we find Breadcrumb to be a very solid all-around POS/restaurant management system, a couple potential downsides are 1) you can’t use your own merchant account (you need to use Upserve Payments) and 2) there are occasional issues with outages. Learn more in our Breadcrumb by Upserve review.

2. Toast

  • Android POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $79/month
  • Must use with Toast credit card processing
  • Multi-location support
  • Exceptional customer service

toast pos logo

Android-based Toast POS (see our review) is another robust, cloud-based POS system for restaurants. It can accommodate any size or type of restaurant, and features like tableside ordering, labor management, and inventory management make Toast a force to be reckoned with on both the front and back end. Toast is intuitive and easy to use for servers, while also providing detailed reporting, customer data, and menu options.

Although we love Toast’s strong feature set and the fact that it uses Android tablets instead of iPads (cheaper hardware costs, less of a theft risk), keep in mind that if you want every single feature Toast offers, it’s gonna cost ya. For example, online ordering, table management, delivery management, and gift card support all carry an extra monthly charge. You also can’t choose your own credit card processor to use with this POS and must use Toast’s in-house processor (which Toast users seem to like, at least). What really sets Toast apart from a lot of other cloud-based POS systems, however, is their excellent customer support – an indispensable quality in any POS, given the inherent complexity of a system that lets you take payments, process orders, and manage almost all aspects of your business.

3. TouchBistro

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $69/month
  • Compatible with multiple payment gateways
  • Best for single-location businesses
  • Locally installed system (not cloud-based)

touchbistro POS

Elegant and easy to use, Ontario-based TouchBistro (see our review) has the distinction of being the top-grossing POS Application on Apple’s App Store in over 35 countries. TouchBistro is one of the few systems on our list that, while tablet-based, is not cloud-based; rather, your store data is stored locally on your restaurant’s iPad or Mac.

TouchBistro is not a full “restaurant management system” like Toast or Breadcrumb, but it’s good at what it does, and can readily handle the POS needs of just about any size/type of eatery, from a food truck to a full-service restaurant. Since TouchBistro stores data on local servers, it’s probably best for single-location restaurants (if coordinating data between locations is important to you). Keep in mind, though, that you will need an internet connection to process credit cards.

Some great features of TouchBistro include table management, menu management, kiosk option, tableside ordering, split-payment option, bar tabs, and sales reports. Customer service doesn’t seem to be as responsive as some users would like, though 24/7 support via phone and email is included in the standard cost. TouchBistro is compatible with Mercury, Cayan, Moneris, PayPal and several other gateways.

4. Lavu

  • iPad POS for restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $69/month with annual contract or $79/month without
  • Can use in-house payment processing or BridgePay, Heartland, PayPal, Nets, or Vantiv Integrated Payments
  • Multi-location support
  • Option to install in-house server backup in case you lose your wireless connection

lavu pos logo

Lavu (see our review) is yet another highly popular iPad POS system for restaurants, used in more than 20,000 restaurant terminals across 88 countries.

Lavu is not the most advanced restaurant POS there is, but it is equipped to handle the needs of most small-to-medium restaurants (or cafes, bars, coffee stands, etc.). Some features that make this POS system a hit include its customizable table layout and menus, easy employee management, advanced menu management, and useful integrations. Lavu also has renowned customer service, which is included in the standard monthly fee. You can add both a loyalty program and gift cards onto your subscription for just $40 a month.

Customers have complained about occasional glitches with the Lavu software, but the company releases frequent updates to solve any bugs or complaints. Affordable and highly customizable, Lavu is a strong and growing contender in tablet POS systems for restaurants.

Retail POS Systems

The following POS systems are suitable for retail store establishments, such as clothing boutiques, toy stores, electronics shops, and many others.

5. Lightspeed Retail

  • iPad and web browser POS for retail
  • Pricing starts at $99/month (billed annually)
  • Integrates with Vantiv Integrated Payments (Mercury), Cayan, and izettle
  • Multi-location support
  • Bike rental store add-on

lightspeed retail pos logo

Lightspeed Retail (see our review) is one of the most fully featured tablet POS systems out there for retail. While Lightspeed can support up to enterprise-level size businesses, this cloud-based system is ideal for small and medium-sized businesses that want powerful functionality — think unlimited inventory, integrated eCommerce, work order management, and customer relationship management. Lightspeed Retail also makes it easy to transfer inventory between different store locations.

Lightspeed is among the pricier systems on this list, and various integrations to extend its functionality, such as eCommerce, can make it even more expensive. So, it’s not going to be the right POS every business. But if you want a super robust POS that you can operate from any desktop browser (meaning, you don’t have to buy expensive iPad registers), Lightspeed Retail might just be right for you. The POS is especially suited for apparel businesses but can accommodate virtually any type of retail setup, including rentals.

Note that there are several Lightspeed products in addition to Lightspeed Retail. These include Lightspeed Onsite, Lightspeed Restaurant, and Lightspeed eCommerce.

6. Vend

  • iPad and web browser POS for retail
  • Pricing starts at $69/month
  • Compatible with Vantiv, PayPal, and Square
  • Multi-store support
  • Apple Pay-capable

vend pos logo

Vend (see our review) was actually the very first web browser-based POS system when it was introduced back in 2010. Today, it is still a big force to be reckoned with in the retail POS world, used by more than 20,000 businesses in 100 countries.

Cloud-based and scaleable for retail stores both small and large, Vend uses an HTML5 browser (such as Google Chrome), or an HTML5 iPad app, for all operations. If the internet goes down, Vend can keep operating locally using the cache and will sync back up with the cloud once the connection resumes. Being browser-based means you can run Vend on a PC, Mac, or iPad. Some features on Vend we really like include customer management, eCommerce, built-in loyalty program, inventory management, and a good selection of third-party software integrations. Vend doesn’t have as much functionality as a POS like Lightspeed or Revel – for example, Vend doesn’t have item modifiers – but it is cost-effective and a good choice for a store (or even chain of stores) that doesn’t need every single “business management” feature out there.

Note that Vend’s email support is free, but 24/7 phone support costs an extra $19 per month, unless you have the multi outlet subscription ($199/month billed annually).

7. Shopify POS

  • iPad POS system for retail (Also supports mobile sales on iPhone and Android phones)
  • Pricing starts at $9/month for mobile and Facebook sales, or $54/month to also include Retail Package for in-store sales
  • Integrates with Shopify Payments and many outside processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Instant syncing with your Shopify online store

shopify pos logo

Shopify (see our review) started as an online shopping cart for businesses who wanted an easy way to sell their products online. Eventually, Shopify extended their offering to include a POS system for in-person sales. As you might expect, Shopify POS does a great job integrating online and offline sales for retail businesses that also do eCommerce with Shopify.

Shopify’s pricing structure is a little convoluted, but the most important thing to know is that if you have a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll need to purchase the Retail Package, which costs $45/month on top of whatever other package you select — the $9/month Shopify Lite plan, the $29/month Shopify Basic plan, or another higher-tier plan. The Basic plan plus the Retail Package will cost $74/month and provide pretty much everything most retailers need for both online and in-store sales. You also have the option to get better credit card processing rates at higher price tiers.

Most Shopify POS features are comparable with other top iPad retail solutions, and they have strong customer service too. The thing that really sets Shopify apart is their seamless online/offline sales integration. So, if you already use Shopify for online sales or would like to, this might be the right POS for you.

8. Quetzal

  • iPad POS for independent fashion retailers
  • Pricing starts at $75/month per location
  • Integrates with Evo Payments International, Velocity, CardSmith, National Discount Merchant Services, Vantiv, and Moneris
  • Multi-store support (max. 10 locations)
  • Clothing/shoe matrix

With its exclusive focus on fashion retailers, Quetzal (see our review) is an iPad POS that’s tailor-made (ha-ha) for stores that sell clothing, shoes, and/or accessories. This aesthetically appealing system has a streamlined iOS aesthetic; the interface seriously looks like it could have been designed by Apple itself, and Quetzal even has an iTunes app that lets managers check in on their store from their Apple Watch. Quetzal also uses a compact, sleek register, Star Micronics’ mPOP system.

Of course, functionality is more important than aesthetics when it comes to a POS, but Quetzal doesn’t come up short in terms of function either. We like the clothing/shoe matrix, in-depth sales reports, “tag cloud,” loyalty program, employee leaderboard, and “sales thermometer,” in particular. At only $75/location price is right as well, especially as there is no charge for additional users or terminals. A couple downsides are that after setup and installation, customer support costs extra, and also there is no QuickBooks integration.

While it doesn’t have a huge marketshare of the overall retail POS segment, Quetzal’s niche focus makes it a functional, affordable, and visually appealing choice for emerging independent clothing brands.

Hybrid POS Systems

These POS systems are flexible in that they are equally suited to retail and restaurant environments. Service-based industries such as beauty salons, rental businesses, and hospitality businesses also often use hybrid POS systems.

9. Shopkeep

  • iPad POS for retail and quick serve restaurants
  • $69/month/register ($29/month/register for fourth register and beyond)
  • Integrates with Shopkeep Payments and outside processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Matrix inventory feature

shopkeep pos logo

Shopkeep (see our review) is an affordable and enjoyable-to-use POS system that runs locally from an iPad and syncs data back to the cloud. Shopkeep is used in both retail and restaurant environments, and while it’s more feature-rich on the retail side of things, it will more than meet the needs of most quick-service/coffee carts/food truck businesses.

Some things about Shopkeep we especially like include its comprehensive register functionality, in-depth reporting suite, mobile app to view your business stats on the go, and unlimited inventory matrix (which includes raw goods management). Shopkeep also offers unlimited 24/7 customer support (though premium phone costs an additional $30 per month). This POS integrates with MailChimp for email marketing, QuickBooks for accounting, and BigCommerce for eCommerce.

Shopkeep is a wise choice for a small-to-medium retail business or restaurant that doesn’t need extensive restaurant-centric features like table management. Note that ShopKeep is currently only available on iPad but is in the works to make its service available on the Clover Station via a recent partnership with First Data.

10. Revel Systems

  • iPad POS for retail, restaurants, hospitality, and more
  • Supports numerous payment processors
  • Custom pricing based on industry and individual business needs
  • Multi-store support
  • Ethernet internet connection

revel systems logo

Revel Systems (see our review) is arguably the holy grail of iPad POS systems. Revel is powerful enough that franchises like Cinnabon use it, and flexible enough that it can support businesses in virtually any industry, from brewpubs to gas stations. It’s also the only iPad POS system that offers a “wired” ethernet connection for a faster an more reliable internet.

Revel POS pricing is determined by which industry-specific package you choose, but depending on your needs, you can expect to pay about $80 to $200/month per location. Myriad add-on applications and integrations extend Revel’s functionality to make it do just about anything you can imagine, though this naturally increases the system’s cost as well. Some of Revel’s more impressive features include its kiosk mode, digital menu board, and ability to accept mobile payments (including ApplePay, PayPal, Bitcoin, and others). Because Revel is so powerful and customizable, initial system setup can take a while.

Revel can manage multiple locations and up to 500,000 SKUs. It is optimized for mid-sized businesses, particularly busy quick-serve restaurants that can afford one of the best iPad POS’s money can buy.

11. ERPLY

  • Web browser/iPad/Android/Windows POS for retail and restaurants
  • Pricing starts at $200/month/location
  • Compatible with all big-name payment processors, (though currently promoting PayPal as a preferred processor)
  • Multi-store support
  • Strong inventory features

erply-logo

ERPLY (see our review) originated in 2009 as a retail POS system, though it has eventually expanded support to food service too, now offering food-centric features such as kitchen printing and sell by weight. Whether you run a retail business or restaurant, ERPLY is especially powerful in the inventory management department, with functions like automated ordering, supplier management, and multichannel (online, in-store, phone, email) inventory tracking and transfers.

ERPLY gives you a lot of flexibility as a business owner. Using just about any payment processor under the sun, you can accept traditional swipe, chip card, and mobile payments, including Apple Pay, PayPal, and Android Pay. You also have the option to use pretty much whatever device you want, even without a reliable internet connection, or run ERPLY right from your browser.

It’s actually kind of hard to come up with a feature ERPLY doesn’t have. An open API architecture allows customizability and the ability to develop your own software integrations and customize it to meet your needs (or, have ERPLY make these integrations/customizations for you). Being such a versatile piece of software, it’s one of the pricier cloud-based POS systems. If you have a larger or franchise business, or you just want the flexibility and horsepower this system offers, you might try ERPLY out for size.

12. talech

  • iPad POS for retail and restaurants
  • Standard subscription is $62/month/location (billed annually upfront)
  • Compatible with multiple payment processors
  • Multi-store support
  • Kiosk mode

talech POS logo

talech (see our review) is a smaller player in the iPad POS world, but with their affordable price point and impressive set of more than 100 features, they can certainly give their larger competitors a run for their money. talech is used by both retail and restaurant businesses, but restaurants, in particular, will find a lot of useful features, including table management, coursing, and the ability to split the check by table positioning (seat).

Advanced inventory management, self-service (kiosk) mode, and the ability to generate purchase orders are some more features that set talech apart from some of its competitors in both the retail and restaurant spheres. talech also made it possible for restaurant owners to integrate an online ordering system so that you can manage in-person and online orders all from your iPad POS terminal.

One caveat: being 100% cloud-based, talech is unable to take credit card payments in the event of a WiFi outage, and you also won’t be able to access your back office. However, it’s possible to circumvent such issues by getting a specialized backup router.

13. Bindo

  • iPad POS for retail and restaurants
  • Custom pricing depends on industry and number of SKUs
  • Works with nearly any payment processor
  • Multi-location support
  • “Favorites” grid displays most popular items as register buttons

Bindo POS logo

Bindo (see our review) is a hybrid POS whose varied and easy-to-use features make it suitable for retail or restaurant environments. A reasonable pricetag, clean interface, robust eCommerce storefront, and thoughtful inventory reporting suite make this an especially versatile touchscreen POS option. While fewer than 5,000 businesses use new-ish POS, customer support (included at all price levels) is responsive to these customers’ needs and tech support (also included) issues frequent updates to fix any software glitches.

As with most other fully cloud-based systems, you’ll need fast internet to experience the best functionality. More than one customer has also complained about being stuck in a leasing contract with Bindo for equipment they were not satisfied with (though in general, we do not recommend leasing POS equipment). Since Bindo works with most standard iPad POS equipment and offers a 14-day free trial, it is likely that you’ll be able to test out Bindo using your current equipment before you commit to purchasing.

14. SalesVu

  • iPad POS for restaurant and retail
  • Basic restaurant and retail packages start at $75/month
  • Works with Vantiv, Evo, and WorldPay
  • Multi-location support
  • Allows items to be charged by decimal and fractional quantities

SalesVu (see our review) is another affordable and feature-rich iPad POS system that can be used in many industries, including service industries and traditional retail and restaurant environments. Since this system allows you to ring up transactions in fractional amounts, it’s especially useful for hourly professionals such as therapists or dog walkers, and businesses that sell items based on weight, like fro-yo shops. SalesVu also has an appointment booking system that health, beauty, and hospitality businesses will appreciate. Like the majority of touchscreen POS’s on this list, SalesVu is best suited for smaller to medium-sized businesses, though it has the capacity to scale up if you open a second or third location.

SalesVu runs locally on iPad registers and syncs all your data to your account in the cloud. Though you can use the SalesVu POS app without an internet connection, you’ll need internet to process credit card transactions; however, you can use a specialized router with a 4G wireless modem with a data plan so that you can switch to 4G without any interruption if your main internet connection goes down.

Another cool thing about SalesVu is that it will run on an iPhone, allowing you to take mobile sales on the go. The basic mobile POS app without any frills is free, similar to Square. Which brings us to the final favorite touchscreen POS on our list …

15. Square Register

  • Proprietary POS hardware with free cloud software for retail, restaurants, service industry
  • Hardware costs $49/month for 24 months or $999 one-time payment
  • In-house credit card processing is 2.5% + $0.10/transaction or lower for high-volume businesses
  • Multi-location support
  • Best for businesses with average transaction of $40 or higher
  • Ethernet support for more reliable internet connection

While Square‘s popular free POS mobile app has been around for some time, the Square Register is a relatively new product, released in October 2017. There are still no monthly service fees, but rather than selling on your smartphone or iPad, you’re ringing up sales on fully featured POS hardware that you purchase as a complete package from Square. With a concept similar to that of Clover Station (which I didn’t include on this list because it is locked into First Data’s less than stellar payment processing), the Square Register is sleek, proprietary POS hardware that works right out of the box, complete with a customer facing screen and built-in credit card terminal. The Square Register hardware itself costs $49/month for 24 months, or you can simply purchase the system outright for $999.

Note that Square Register users have a different credit card processing rate than the standard Square mobile processing rate. With Square Register, businesses are charged 2.5% + $0.10 on every transaction, vs. 2.75% (+ $0.00) with regular Square. This pricing setup may at first blush look like Square Register has cheaper rates, but if you have a lot of small transactions you’ll actually pay more with Square Register than with the Square mobile POS. For this reason, Square Register is a more appropriate solution for larger businesses with average ticket sizes of $40 or higher. Larger businesses processing more than $250,000 per year and with an average ticket size of $15 or higher may also qualify for lower rates.

As for the specific business type, 100% cloud-based Square can work with just about any industry. Square has a built-in 24/7 online booking system for service-based industries, as well as restaurant-centric features such as suggested tipping amounts and online food orders.

Finally, Square Register is not to be confused with Square’s iPad-only, $60/month solution, Square for Retail (see our review).

Final Thoughts

When sorting through your options for touchscreen POS systems, the plethora of choices may at first seem overwhelming. But that’s why we’re here to help you sort out the stinkers and lead you to the very best tablet point of sale systems. And really, you can’t go wrong with any of the POS software systems on this list. Just check that the touchscreen POS system you’re considering meets your business’s needs in terms of functionality and budget, and test it out with a free trial before purchasing. And of course, don’t forget to check user reviews and complaints on the BBB and other consumer review sites. If you need further help choosing a touchscreen POS system, please contact me in the comments section and I’ll give you some further guidance.

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Complete Guide To Credit Card Machines And Terminals

We don’t typically think about what happens in the moments after we swipe our debit and/or credit cards. More often than not, we simply run or insert our card into the credit card machine and hope that the cashier doesn’t use the next few moments to initiate small talk. The number in our checking account decreases or the number on our credit card bill increases, and that’s all we care about.

But, to the business owner, credit card processing is exceptionally important and it can play a huge role in your bottom line. There’s a lot of information to take in if you’re a novice when it comes to credit card processing, and you’ll need to decide what elements are most important to your business. Do you need mobility when accepting payments? Will you be accepting transactions online or over the phone? What security measures should you be taking to protect both your business and your customers? What companies are highly rated or come heavily recommended?

We’ll try and answer the bulk of your questions about credit card machines and terminals below.

Credit Card Machines

Credit card technology has evolved rapidly over the years. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when the process involved a terminal with just the option for credit. Then came debit cards. As the internet became the world’s go to for conducting business, the processing game had to change as well. Now, merchants can take payments with readers connected to their phones or tablets — they can even accept payments remotely without the physical card present. This has created a need for increased security which has led to encryption technology and the relatively recent advent of the EMV chip card.

Before we get into that, however, let’s start with some basics about credit card transactions. You have, no doubt, used hundreds of different types of card readers throughout your illustrious tenure as a consumer. But what happens once your card’s magnetic strip has been read? In simple terms, there are three phases involved in actual processing:

  • Authorization: Once your card is scanned, its information is sent over with a request to be processed. The processing request is then sent to the company of the cardholder (VISA, Mastercard etc…). The company sends the request on to the issuing bank. If there are enough funds in the account, and if the card is registered as valid, the purchase is approved. All of this takes place in a matter of seconds, generally speaking.
  • Settling: After a transaction has been approved, it is forwarded on to be cleared via an interchange. When the request is received, a credit is given to the merchant for the amount of the sale. The bank will then issue a statement to the customer in that amount which the customer must then pay off.
  • Funding: So far in the transaction, no actual money has changed hands. After the card has been authorized and the credit is issued, the payment company then makes a deposit into the merchant’s checking account. These funds can generally be accessed in just a few days.

In order to accept these forms of payment, you will need some type of card reader. Your options here have also evolved rapidly in the past couple of decades. The most common type of credit card machine is still the stationary card terminal. This is a machine that needs a physical connection either to a phone line or to the internet in order to process physical cards.

The next type of machine, and one that is rapidly gaining in popularity, is the wireless processor. These often look very similar to a stationary device, using a magnetic strip or chip reader to take a customer’s card information. However, these devices only require a wireless connection, making them far more versatile and mobile for merchants (albeit with slightly higher security concerns).

Finally, you can also accept payments via a virtual terminal, something we’ll get into more thoroughly a little bit later. In short, virtual terminals allow you to take a customer’s card information without that card being physically present.

Of course, within these different machines, you’ll have some other hardware choices to make. One item you may want to look into is a PIN pad. With this device, customers can manually type in their debit card password to process a payment. Debit cards with either a VISA or Mastercard logo can be processed almost identically to credit cards. However, with a PIN pad, a transaction that is specifically run as debit usually costs the merchant a smaller fee. This ends up saving you a lot of money in the long run, particularly on large transactions.

Some point of sale systems have this technology built-in, allowing customers to enter their PIN numbers on a touchscreen. PIN pads encrypt a customer’s information, giving an inherent level of security on those transactions. As previously mentioned, you don’t need a PIN pad to run these types of transactions. A signature debit card is processed just like a credit card, but the money comes directly from a customer’s checking account. However, in most instances, the merchant is still charged the same rate as if the transaction was run as credit.

One of the more recent changes in the world of credit card processing has been the introduction of the chip card. EMV (which stands for Europay, Mastercard, VISA) is a method of payment based on a standard for cards and machines that is meant to dramatically reduce the possibility for fraud when it comes to credit card payments. EMV cards store data in a chip within the card that is scanned when it is “dipped” or inserted into a card reader or payment machine. Companies have been steadily trying to meet EMV standards and the majority of processors and point of sale companies are now EMV compliant or claim to be in the process of becoming compliant in the near future. VISA and Mastercard have also issued standards for card-not-present transactions as a way to increase security measures in the world of eCommerce.

It’s difficult to predict what the future will look like when it comes to payment processing, but one trend that seems like a near sure bet is that consumers will continue to seek out convenience. This means that services like Apple and Android Pay will probably continue to spike in popularity. Given society’s increased dependence on iPhones for everything from communication to driving directions, the ability to pay with one’s phone is something all companies will want to make sure they can handle — sooner rather than later.

Looking for a credit card machine for your business? Buy, don’t lease! 

Virtual Terminals

What is a virtual terminal? Let’s delve in deeper to get a sense of whether or not it’s a solution your business needs. Virtual terminals are online applications that allow customers to input credit card information directly online to then be processed electronically. These terminals allow for transactions to be processed even when a credit card is not physically present. This can be an ideal solution for any business that is highly mobile or conducting transactions remotely with clients.

Many companies, including PayPal and Helcim, offer the ability to use a virtual terminal for payments. The implementation process is exceedingly simple. Generally, for a small, monthly fee, your processor can give you the ability to enter payment information from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. Most companies will offer a percentage rate and a flat fee for virtual terminal transactions. This fee is often slightly higher than it would be for a typical transaction as card-not-present transactions have a slightly higher risk of fraud.

With PayPal, for example, all you need is a phone, tablet or computer and you can quickly log in to your account and go to the virtual terminal setting. This leads you to a screen similar to one you would see if you were entering your own information online for a purchase. Once the information is entered, you’ll receive confirmation. 

This simplicity and flexibility has made the virtual terminal an increasingly popular way for businesses of all types — not just mail order or eCommerce businesses — to accept payments. An increasing number of companies are now also offering USB card readers that connect directly to your terminal. These automatically take the card information and run it through your virtual terminal, keeping your transactions in the same location but charging you a lower rate since the card is present at the time. Some of these same companies offer pads which can collect customer signatures in the same way. Even with an external card reader, virtual terminals are usually not designed to accept advanced payment types, like contactless payments, from mobile wallets such as ApplePay. If you want to accept contactless payments, you’re better off getting a standard NFC-enabled credit card machine or credit card reader.

Virtual terminals can also take automated clearinghouse (ACH) payments for one-time or recurring transactions. These payments are processed in bunches, meaning the payment is usually received a little later. However, you aren’t subject to interchange fees for these payments.

Obviously, when making or accepting payments where credit card information is simply entered online, security is going to be of the utmost importance. It is highly recommended that you choose a payment provider that encrypts credit card data; this both reduces the risk of theft and the scope of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance.

From there, you will generally have two options.

You can choose a non-validated solution which can cut down the risk of having data stolen. This is an affordable option that is offered by most processing companies, though these solutions are not defined as secure by the PCI. In other words, there is an increased chance that hackers could gain access to encryption keys which could eventually lead to a data breach.

The other option is a PCI point-to-point (P2PE) provider which meets all of the PCI standards and includes secure hardware. Processors that provide this level of protection must accept Merchant P2PE Implementation Responsibilities. Because of this added security, a much smaller number of processors offer this service (although that list is growing). If you are set on providing increased security, you will need to make sure you have hardware that meets these standards — you will also have to submit to regular security check-ups.

Merchant Services

When we talk about merchant services, what exactly do we mean? In simple terms, ‘merchant services’ is a broad term to describe the hardware and software products that make it possible to accept credit and debit card transactions. These companies and services help to connect the issuing bank (the bank that gave your customers their credit cards) and the merchant bank (the bank that is behind your merchant account). In the last couple of decades, this term has expanded to include much more than just your standard terminal scanner. The internet has opened the door for payments to be made online and those purchases can be tracked and managed from your computer or mobile device.

Merchant services providers are any businesses which accept payments (aside from just cash and checks). These can include credit and debit card processors, point of sale terminals, analytic software etc. There are a handful of different kinds of merchant services providers, including:

  • Merchant Account Providers: These providers can set you up with a merchant account and services that allow you to collect your money following a debit or credit card transaction. Some larger companies also come with direct processing services.
  • Payment Service Providers: Even though it’s advisable, it’s not essential to have a merchant account to process payments. Payment service providers, like the ubiquitous PayPal, don’t give you an ID number and are popular because they generally do not come with account fees or long-term contracts. These accounts can be frozen, sometimes without notice, and customer service can be sketchy. However, for smaller or seasonal businesses, payment service providers are a popular choice.
  • Payment Gateway Providers: Payment gateway providers represent a service provider that has emerged with increased popularity of eCommerce. These providers may or may not come with a merchant account. Some give you a choice of using their own merchant account or using a gateway with an existing account. Others only offer a gateway service, meaning you’ll have to have a merchant account from a third party.

When you’re looking at various card processors, there are a few things that you should keep an eye on. Perhaps most importantly you’ll want to research the company’s reputation. Processing payments is a crucial aspect of your business and an unreliable company can give you a lot of headaches (and affect your bottom line).

You’ll also want to compare the costs and potential fees that various processors implement. Square, for example, charges no monthly fee, which is yet another appeal for smaller or mid-sized companies. However, they also implement a 2.75% fee on transactions — if your business takes off and you’re suddenly processing a high number of transactions, those fees will add up and quickly wipe out any savings you’re receiving from not paying a monthly fee.

You’ll also want to doublecheck the compatibility of your processor. If, for instance, you’ve found a point of sale system that you are comfortable with, you’ll want to make sure that the processor integrates seamlessly without additional costs. If you’re forced to set up an aforementioned gateway, you could end up paying a large monthly fee.

To enable transactions, merchants will have to fill out an application. If you’re opening a merchant account, this process can take a little longer than going through a third-party processor. One of the reasons smaller and mid-sized merchants lean towards a third-processing account like Square is that you can be up and ready to take payments almost immediately. The price for that instant gratification, however, is an increased likelihood for potential account freezes later on.

When you’re in the process of picking out a processor, you’ll also want to pay close attention to transaction fees. The best merchant account providers usually offer what is referred to as interchange-plus pricing. This means that the provider takes the wholesale cost of the transaction and tacks on a small, standardized markup. This ensures an affordable and transparent pricing plan. It also means a slightly higher rate for transactions when a card isn’t physically present since those transactions have a higher frequency of fraud. Third-party processors sometimes provide a flat rate for all transactions — this is convenient and offers a simple way to quickly figure out your fees. However, it may not be the most cost-efficient in the grand scheme of things. A company like Square, which offers a flat rate for swiped and dipped transactions, also charges a slightly higher rate for key-in and eCommerce transactions.

There are a few other things you’ll want to watch out for when finalizing your decision about a merchant accounts provider. Along with the potential for account freezes or funding holds, keep an eye on how businesses handle chargebacks (where customers dispute a charge) and fraudulent charges in general. There are ways to mitigate these dangers, of course. You can use fraud management tools, including things like address verification services. Using a chip card terminal also dramatically cuts back on fraudulent charges.

Here are a few of our most highly recommended processing companies:

  • Fattmerchant: Fattmerchant is one of the best companies for eCommerce transactions. Its pricing is transparent without undisclosed fees. There is also a 0% markup, meaning you pay only the wholesale cost plus the monthly fee and a small authorization fee. Fattmerchant also has terrific customer service.
  • Dharma: Dharma provides a full array of processing services and also has a simple, affordable pricing structure without hidden fees. They exclusively use the interchange-plus format and are a particularly good choice for non-profits, as they offer a discount to those companies.
  • Helcim: For slightly large companies, Helcim is a very strong option. While offering a wide range of services, they have extremely competitive rates for companies that process more than $2500 a month. They also have very strong customer service and their fee structure is transparent and easy to understand.
  • Square: For companies that don’t provide a full-service merchant account, Square is the standard bearer. There is no monthly account fee and they offer free or low-cost readers. Square also doesn’t force you to sign up for a long-term contract or charge you for early termination.

Your POS System

Another way to process payments is through your POS or point of sale system. Point of sale systems have come a long way, especially in the past decade. Today, you can virtually run your entire business from one, simple device. With the influx of cloud-based systems, you can make snap decisions and check the status of your operation from anywhere with a wireless connection.

With so many options available, and with point of sale systems offering more and more features all the time, choosing the correct system to meet your needs is an important decision. The first thing you’ll need to decide is whether you want a system that is cloud-based or locally installed. Most companies have been moving toward cloud-based options for numerous reasons. First and foremost, it’s incredibly convenient. All of your data is automatically stored off-premise, so if something happens to your store or to your system, all of your payment, customer, and inventory information is still accessible. These systems are often extremely user-friendly as well, designed to be intuitive with very little training time needed. They tend to be sleek, modern, and visually appealing both to your customers and employees.

Many cloud-based systems also perform routine updates automatically, fixing bugs and adding new features so that you always have the most current software at your fingertips. Along these same lines, the best POS systems sync seamlessly to any number of integrations that can help your business in ways you may not have even considered before.

When you’re looking at purchasing a POS system, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s likely that the cost of the POS hardware and software is going to play a large role. Some systems allow you to purchase your system and all necessary hardware upfront for a flat rate, allowing you to own the software. But if dropping a few thousand dollars isn’t something you’re comfortable with, the majority of point of sale companies offer monthly rates. A few companies, such as Square, offer a free version of their software that is generally suited for small operations, though most other POS software systems run anywhere from $39 to $99 a month for basic services while often offering advanced packages with additional features.

Let’s talk about some features you can expect to find in pretty much any good, modern point of sale system:

  • Inventory Management: Not only can you view all of your stock on hand, you can set your POS to alert you when certain products are running low or, even more conveniently, you can set the system to automatically reorder products when they hit a certain level. This can be an enormous time saver and, in most systems, inventory management can be accessed remotely. You can set up quick transfers across multiple locations and, in many cases, create and print your own purchase orders.
  • Employee Management: Likewise, your staff is easy to track and manage from your centralized POS station. You can set permissions and create alerts for suspicious transactions to cut down on fraud. Employees can be given unique codes when they log into the system and can view their hours and current schedules.
  • Customer Management: Many point of sale systems come with their own built-in loyalty programs or integrate with other companies for a small monthly fee. But these days, your POS can help with so much more when it comes to analytics and marketing. Most systems allow for customer data to be stored and easily searched. Customers can look up their own loyalty points and control their own profiles in some cases. More useful for business owners, however, is the ability for the system to analyze what items are being purchased by certain customers, assessing buying habits and creating personalized marketing campaigns that can be implemented with ease, helping to maximize profits. The same can be done with coupons, targeting customers to boost repeat business.

You will also want to do your research to see what systems specifically cater to your particular business. For example, if you’re opening a pizza shop, you may want to look for a system with built-in features that makes online ordering simple, or functions that allows customers to create a custom order which is then automatically sent to the kitchen, freeing up your employees. There are also niche POS systems for specific types of businesses. Quetzal, one of our highest-rated systems here at Merchant Maverick, is built for the retail industry with a significant bent towards shoe stores.

Many POS software systems have their own app store, like Clover, or integrate with scores of apps that might help your business out tremendously. If you’re technically savvy, most POS providers also give you access to an open API, meaning that you or a developer can create your own apps within the software.

When you’re doing your research there are a number of other features you’ll want to keep an eye on. Definitely check to see what features come in the form of add-ons which will increase your monthly fee. You will also want to make sure you have appropriate, compatible POS hardware. Several companies offer hardware packages that can be purchased directly through their websites.

A robust reporting feature should be available in most highly-rated systems and many offer their own eCommerce platforms, making it easy to set up your own website and sell online, all from your POS device.

Another key factor to research is what credit card processors are compatible with your system. While some offer a wide range of choices, integrating with most major companies, others lock you into a limited number of options or offer their own processing services for credit card payments, for better or worse.

You’ll also want to see what your system has in terms of an offline mode. Most point of sale systems have evolved to now offer at least some offline functionality, but what you can actually do in the case of an outage can vary. Many systems still function as normal, allowing you to process credit cards, encrypt transactions, and store the data to be run once the internet is restored.

It’s difficult to make a decision, but at Merchant Maverick, we’ve come across a number of point of sale systems that we would happily recommend depending on your business.

  • Shopkeep: Shopkeep is routinely on the top of our lists. This simple and reasonably priced system features everything you would expect in a point of sale system. It’s well suited for small to mid-sized retail shops and restaurants with a sleek design, excellent reporting and management tools, and terrific customer service.
  • Revel: For slightly larger restaurants or retail establishments, we often recommend Revel, a product that can manage multiple locations and large amounts of inventory with ease. Revel is intuitive and extremely robust with a top-notch kiosk function and Kitchen Display System.
  • Lightspeed: Lightspeed is another highly rated company and offers both a Retail and Restaurant product. Lightspeed has great customer service and is easy to set up while also providing intuitive front end and back end features. It also has an excellent and simple to use eCommerce platform.
  • ERPLY: ERPLY is one of the top retail point of sale systems that we’ve reviewed. One of its biggest features is the ability to integrate with most major credit card processors. It also has terrific shipping integrations and excellent customer management tools, particularly when it comes to loyalty.

Final Thoughts

There is obviously a lot to process when it comes to… well… credit card terminals and payment processing. If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you’re feeling a little more confident about your knowledge of credit card processing machines, virtual terminals, merchant services, point of sale systems, and what you should be looking for from the various companies that provide this technology. Make sure you have a good grasp on what each company charges for different transactions and what might be the best option for your type and size of business. Also don’t overlook things like a company’s customer service reputation. It’s a competitive market and you have the ability to make sure you end up with a credit card terminal and processing system that can best help your business thrive.

Interested in learning more? Download our free Beginner’s Guide To Payment Processing.

The post Complete Guide To Credit Card Machines And Terminals appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Stripe Payments Competitors And Alternatives

It’s safe to say, Stripe (read our review) has done a lot to change the way people pay online, and it’s opened up the potential for merchants all over the world to sell online and reach customers almost anywhere. The company has grown massively over the years, to the point that Stripe says there’s an 80% chance any given credit/debit card has been used on the Stripe network previously.

In addition to pre-built and customizable checkout forms that you can drop into a website, Stripe integrates into mobile app payments. Square’s documentation has become the gold standard by which all other documentation is judged. Developers love it for ease of use and the extensive support for programming languages.

Merchants also get access to advanced subscription and billing tools, including invoicing. Not only that, but the Stripe Connect platform allows you to create a marketplace for other merchants to sell and easily manage all their payments. However, it’s worth noting that Stripe will charge you additional fees on top of processing costs for using these services.

Plus, Stripe offers more than 300 ready-to-go integrations from eCommerce to invoicing and much more, which can simplify the process of building your business’ back end. Check out Stripe’s Works With page for the full list.

But Stripe isn’t for everyone, and it does have some serious drawbacks. The first among them is its third-party processing model that leads to account holds and terminations for unqualified merchants. The second is the dubious customer service, which includes a lack of phone support.

If you’ve had a bad experience with Stripe in the past, or you’re not sure if Stripe is actually right for you, have no fear! There are some great alternatives to Stripe out there, that offer comparable pricing, similar tools and features, and quality customer support. Let’s take a look at six of the most promising Stripe competitors and see how they stack up for merchants.

Stripe Key Facts 

  • Merchant Account Or Third-Party: Third-Party
  • Pricing Model: Flat-Rate Pricing
  • Processing Costs: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Suitable For Low Volume: Yes
  • Suitable For High-Risk Businesses: No

Alternative #1: Braintree Payment Solutions

Braintree (read our review) is, hands down, the most direct and obvious alternative to Stripe. Its product offerings are nearly identical, documentation is quite good, and pricing is comparable. That means you get access to a pre-built payment form, a customizable form, subscription and recurring billing tools, marketplace tools, an API for custom reporting, and more. Braintree actually outperforms Stripe in terms of global reach for merchants, with more supported countries. However, like Stripe, there is no easy in-person payments option.

You also get access to a huge assortment of supported payment methods. It’s worth noting Braintree is owned by PayPal, so that does mean you can incorporate PayPal and Venmo acceptance, as well. But whereas Stripe will charge you for access to features such as Billing and Radar, Braintree charges absolutely nothing beyond processing costs to use its services.

Braintree doesn’t quite compare to Stripe as far as integrations, but there are some very good options on the list. Check out Braintree’s list of supported third-party integrations for more information there.

In addition, Braintree offers each merchant their own merchant account, which translates to much greater account stability than you get with Stripe. And despite being a PayPal company, reports indicate that Braintree is a little bit better about working with higher-risk businesses. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and you may be required to implement a reserve fund, but Braintree is certainly an option if you’ve had trouble with other processors. Braintree also promises “white glove” support, and with a few exceptions the merchant experiences support this claim.

Check out our Stripe vs. Braintree article for an in-depth comparison of the two services.

  • Merchant Account or Third-Party: Merchant Account
  • Pricing Model: Flat-rate
  • Processing Costs: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Suitable For Low Volume: Yes
  • Suitable For High-Risk Businesses: Yes (in some circumstances)

Alternative #2: Adyen

Adyen (read our review) isn’t exactly a big name. In fact, it only has about 5,000 merchants. But despite the small customer base, it had a payment volume of $50 billion in 2015, comparable to Braintree, which has quite a few more merchants. And that’s because Adyen’s built its business by chasing after the big fish. For example, Adyen powers payments for the crafting marketplace Etsy, and it recently wooed eBay away from PayPal.  However, now that it’s established itself, the company is started to court smaller businesses.

Despite providing merchant accounts (which historically translates to better stability), Adyen has one stipulation that makes it very unsuitable for high-risk businesses: a chargeback threshold. The industry standard is 1% (and that includes Stripe) but Adyen will terminate an account or implement holds if it exceeds a 0.5% chargeback rate. Adyen is also unsuitable for low-volume businesses because of its monthly minimum of 1,000 transactions or $120 per month in processing fees.

However, when you get past those concerns, you’ll find that Adyen is most similar to Stripe in its global reach and support for localized payment methods across Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, and North and South America. Adyen even accepts PayPal transactions, which is something rarely available from companies not owned by PayPal. There’s also a decent list of supported partners and integrations.

Adyen has very powerful marketplace tools (it would have to, given the big marketplaces it’s landed as clients), but also a secure, customizable checkout form. It also has advanced tools to reduce chargebacks, increase success rates of transactions, and analyze your business data, all at no additional charge. Plus, Adyen has incorporated support for in-person payments into its package, making it an all-in-one solution. All of that makes it a powerful contender for growing businesses that need advanced technology to power their payments system.

  • Merchant Account or Third-Party: Merchant Account
  • Pricing Model: Blended (interchange-plus for Visa, MasterCard, Discover; flat-rate for Amex)
  • Processing Costs: 0.6% + $0.12 markup for Visa, MasterCard and Discover; 3.95% + $0.12 for Amex; $0.25 + $0.12 (totaling $0.37) for ACH Direct Debit
  • Suitable For Low Volume: Yes
  • Suitable For High-Risk Businesses: No

Alternative #3: PayJunction

PayJunction (read our review) is one of the most developer-friendly merchant account options. While its business model and product offerings aren’t exactly innovative, Payjunction does offer interchange-plus pricing with no additional fees if you process more than $10,000 per month. (Below that threshold, a $35 monthly fee applies).  The markup is a little high, but with no per-transaction fee and no other fees, it balances out and can still yield savings. And then consider that you get access to all of PayJunction’s developer tools and extra features at no additional cost.

One of the more interesting features PayJunction offers is the ability to capture signatures on emailed receipts. Customers need only open the email and they can sign the receipt on almost any device. This is a great option especially for businesses that accept orders via phone, social media, and other nontraditional channels. But more than that, you also get a virtual terminal with invoicing and recurring billing capabilities. PayJunction’s gateway, Trinity, integrates with a huge assortment of shopping carts as well as POS systems to give you an all-in-one setup.

PayJunction isn’t clear about its stance on high-risk businesses, but if you’re not qualified you’ll be told up front instead of after you’ve already set up your account and started accepting orders. In addition, the whole system is not quite as full featured as you get with Stripe, but it can handle all the essentials. Really, the account stability and pricing are the biggest perks of processing with PayJunction. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the company has an excellent reputation for customer service, either.

  • Merchant Account or Third-Party: Merchant account
  • Pricing Model: Interchange-plus
  • Processing Costs: Interchange + 0.75%
  • Suitable For Low Volume: No
  • Suitable For High-Risk Businesses: Not Stated

Alternative #4: Square

Probably the least-expected entry on this list is Square (read our review). What’s a mobile card reader and POS doing in an article about online gateways and developer platforms? But Square has expanded its platform to include eCommerce integrations and a developer platform for ecommerce, point of sale, and much more. It offers seamless advanced inventory management at no additional charge, plus online order management, a customer database, and very solid reporting tools.

Square doesn’t support in-app payments the way Stripe does, and its supported payment types are more limited; however, the biggest drawback is that Square is only available to merchants in a handful of countries whereas Stripe (and many of the other options on this list) have a much more global reach. In addition, Square is a third-party processor just like Stripe, meaning merchants can get set up quickly, but face a potential for funding holds and account terminations.

However, Square’s documentation and APIs allow you to build a system that can easily accommodate online and in-person sales, reporting, inventory, and more, using Square’s already robust tools. Square doesn’t match Stripe for number of integrations, but it does have many options and they span a huge assortment of merchant needs. Check out the app marketplace for a complete list.

It’s not exactly common to find service providers who work seamlessly with online and in-person sales. Square is one of the few that does it exceptionally well, especially when you consider the extras that get thrown in at no charge. The lack of iOS/Android support is disappointing, but not necessarily a deal breaker if you don’t have a native app.

  • Merchant Account or Third-Party: Third-Party
  • Pricing Model: Flat-Rate
  • Processing Costs: 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions, 2.7% for swiped/dipped/tapped transactions
  • Suitable For Low Volume: Yes
  • Suitable For High-Risk Businesses: No

Alternative #5: PayPal

PayPal (read our review) probably comes to mind when most people think of online payments. The commerce giant has made itself a trusted household name among consumers. But the fact that online transactions redirect and are completed on PayPal’s site isn’t a great solution for every merchant in 2018. PayPal does offer hosted payment pages but they come at a cost of $30/month in addition to payment processing. Recurring billing also comes at a cost of $10/month.

PayPal does offer a suite of developer tools for businesses interested in a custom setup. In addition to providing access to Express Checkout and the Braintree SDK, PayPal’s APIs include tools for invoicing, mass payouts, and marketplaces. However, despite being the parent company of Braintree, it seems that PayPal and its infrastructure haven’t quite kept pace. For starters, PayPal’s marketplace tools are fairly new (introduced in 2017) and they are only available after you go through an application and vetting process. And while the developer tools exist, most of the chatter says they don’t match Stripe for quality.

On the plus side, PayPal also supports a wide assortment of integrations for merchants, including POS integrations. It’s easy to create an all-in-one setup that addresses in-person and online payments. However, the default structure is a little bit cumbersome and getting access to features such as a hosted checkout page will cost quite a bit, compared to other providers who offer them at no additional cost.

In addition, like Stripe and Square, PayPal is a third-party processor and some merchants do run a greater risk of encountering a funding hold or account termination. PayPal certainly has most of the tools merchants need and a widely recognized name. It probably isn’t the best solution if you have extremely specialized needs, but if you want an all-in-one payments experience with some great add-ons thrown in, PayPal could be a good choice.

  • Merchant Account or Third-Party: Third-Party
  • Pricing Model: Flat-rate
  • Processing Costs: 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions; 2.7% for swiped/dipped/tapped transactions
  • Suitable For Low Volume: Yes
  • Suitable For High-Risk Businesses: No

 

Alternative #6: WePay

We Pay (read our review) isn’t built for merchants who want to accept payments online. It’s actually a payments service for platforms that want to build native payments into their apps or services. That means shopping carts that want to offer a seamless payment processing option, along with crowdfunding, event management, and SaaS products, as well as marketplaces. Even though merchants can’t sign up for processing directly, WePay makes the cut because platform payments is one of Stripe’s core offerings, too.

WePay supports both web-based and in-app payments for iOS and Android, and in addition to cards and ACH transactions, you can implement Android and Apple Pay for the Web, so you have more options for payment methods. You can also use WePay to create a white label mobile POS with the option for a branded card reader.

As with Stripe, WePay is a third-party aggregator, which means that not all merchants who are onboarded via one of these platforms will be approved and they may face sudden account holds or terminations. Also, pricing isn’t disclosed and it’s up to the platform builder to decide what sort of rates it wants to charge and whether it wants to take a cut of the processing costs.

  • Merchant Account or Third-Party: Third-Party
  • Pricing Model: Not Stated
  • Processing Costs: Not Stated
  • Suitable For Low Volume: No
  • Suitable For High-Risk Businesses: No

Final Thoughts

Stripe is a great option for many businesses. The fact that there are no monthly minimums makes it great for startups, and the number of supported countries, supported payment options and supported currencies make it a serious contender for global businesses in particular. The various features make Stripe especially well suited to high-tech businesses that aren’t satisfied with the standard fare in a payments processor.

But the other companies we’ve looked at are all great options, too. And in the end, they all have their benefits and their drawbacks. Stripe, PayPal, Square, and WePay are all third-party processors that put merchants at risk of account freezes and terminations. What’s right for one business may not be right for another.

That’s why you need to have a really good idea of which features are absolute must-haves. You don’t want to start the process of establishing an account and creating an integration only to find out that a processor lacks a key feature and there’s no workaround. You should also consult your developer, as they have hands-on that can help you make a decision.

And finally, you should consider what features you might need in the future as your business grows. Do you plan to expand your sales channels? Do you want to launch additional products or service plans? Think about where you want your business to grow in the future. If you find a processor that can handle everything you want now and in the future, you won’t need to worry about the hassle of switching processors.

As always, thanks for reading! Have questions? Experience using these processors? We’d love to hear from you so leave us a comment and weigh in with your thoughts!

The post Stripe Payments Competitors And Alternatives appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Accept Credit Card Payments For Your Small Business

Whether you’ve been in business for a while or are just starting out, you know how important it is to be able to accept credit and debit cards as payment from your customers. Credit card usage has soared over the past twenty years or so, while the use of traditional payment methods such as cash and paper checks has dwindled. Put simply, accepting credit cards will lead to increased sales and happier customers.

Unfortunately, adding credit card acceptance to your suite of business tools is neither easy nor inexpensive. The credit card associations (i.e., MasterCard, Visa, etc.) charge a fee known as interchange every time their cards are used, and you’ll need to sign up with a credit card processor to process your transactions and pay those fees for you. Your processor will, in turn, add a markup to your processing charges to cover their costs, and – in most cases – also charge you a bewildering variety of fees for maintaining your account.

In this article, we’ll provide a brief overview of the requirements you’ll need to meet to set up credit and debit card processing for your small business. There are a huge number of providers out there on the market, all offering different variations on the same basic services that most companies need. We’ll give you a quick and dirty explanation of how credit card processing works, what a merchant account is, and whether you need one to accept credit or debit cards. We’ll explain the various options for taking card payments, including the required hardware and software you’ll need to get started. Finally, we’ll give you some tips to help you avoid having your account suddenly frozen or terminated – a situation you can and should avoid.

If you’re looking for the best credit card processing companies for your business, you should take a look at our favorite payment processor shortlist to get you headed in the right direction.

How Credit Card Processing Works

You don’t need to be familiar with all the intimate details of processing a credit card transaction, but it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the steps involved and how they go together. A little knowledge of how processing works can help you avoid some of the common problems that can result when a transaction doesn’t go smoothly.

First, you’re going to need a way to accept your customer’s card data. This can be accomplished using either a traditional credit card terminal or a payment gateway in the case of online transactions. Another option is a software service known as a virtual terminal, which turns your computer into a credit card terminal and allows you to either input the card data manually or read it using a compatible card reader.

Once you’ve input your customer’s card data, it’s sent to your provider’s processing system for approval. Your provider’s network will check with the cardholder’s issuing bank to confirm that funds are available to cover the transaction. For debit cards, this is a simple check of the remaining balance on the banking account linked to the card. Credit cards require that the cardholder won’t exceed their available credit if the transaction is approved. The processing networks will also run a few anti-fraud checks to (hopefully) detect a suspicious transaction. If sufficient funds are available and there aren’t any clear indications of fraud, the transaction is approved, and you can complete the sale.

At the end of the day, you’ll upload all completed credit/debit transactions to your processor’s network for processing. This usually occurs automatically if you’re using a payment gateway or a modern credit card terminal. For each transaction, your processor will deduct both the applicable interchange (which is then forwarded to the cardholder’s issuing bank) and their markup. You’ll receive whatever is left over after these fees have been deducted. It usually takes another two to three days for these funds to be transferred back to your bank account.

From our payment processing infographic:

Do You Need A Merchant Account To Accept Credit Cards?

For many years, the only way to accept credit cards was to open a merchant account. At its most basic, a merchant account is simply an account to deposit funds into from processed credit/debit card transactions. Of course, maintaining a merchant account also requires transaction processing services, equipment and software to process the transactions, security features, and numerous other services, depending on the needs of your business. Traditional merchant accounts tend to end up being rather expensive, and merchant services providers often require that you agree to a long-term contract with a hefty early termination fee in case you close your account before the contract expires. As a result, traditional merchant accounts tend to be expensive, especially for a small business that’s trying to minimize their expenses.

In recent years, an alternative has become available that lowers costs for small businesses while still providing most of the essential features available with a full-service merchant account. Payment service providers (PSPs) allow you to accept credit and debit card transactions without a traditional merchant account. PSPs such as Square (see our review) and PayPal (see our review) have revolutionized the processing industry by offering simple, flat-rate pricing, no fees for basic services, and month-to-month billing that eliminates long-term contracts. They’re able to do this by aggregating accounts together, so you won’t have a unique merchant identification number for your business. PSP accounts are easier to set up, but they’re also vulnerable to sudden account freezes or terminations which can make them a risky proposition for businesses that depend on being able to accept cards without interruption.

Cheapest & Easiest Ways To Accept Credit Cards Without A Merchant Account

There are now quite a few well-known PSPs on the market, each one specializing in providing credit card processing services to particular segments of the business community. Here’s a brief overview of each of the most popular options:

Square:

This is the best all-in-one solution for low-volume users, especially those in the retail sector. Square also supports eCommerce businesses, but doesn’t have quite as many features for online enterprises as its competitors. Square features a mobile processing system that uses a new, EMV-compliant card reader, no monthly fees, month-to-month billing, and a simple flat-rate pricing system that’s more affordable for a small business than a traditional merchant account. See our review for complete details.

Shopify:

This is the best option for eCommerce merchants looking to easily set up a fully-featured webstore. While Shopify has better eCommerce tools than Square, it’s also more expensive. Pricing starts at $29.00 per month for the Basic Shopify Plan, with a flat-rate processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per online transaction. Billing is month-to-month, but you can receive a discount if you pay for a year (or two) in advance. See our review for more specifics.

 

PayPal:

Easily the oldest and best-known option for online credit card acceptance, PayPal is now available for retail merchants also. While a standard PayPal account comes with no monthly fee, you’ll have to pay $30.00 per month for the PayPal Payments Pro Plan. This upgraded plan includes a virtual terminal and a hosted payments page. PayPal uses a flat-rate pricing plan for processing fees that’s nearly identical to what Square charges. See our review for details about PayPal’s services.

Stripe Payments:

Stripe logo

Very tech-oriented, Stripe only supports eCommerce businesses. They don’t charge any monthly fees and have no long-term contracts. All transactions are processed at a fixed rate of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. Stripe offers a huge library of APIs that allow you to customize your eCommerce website just about any way you like. However, utilizing these features will require either extensive coding experience or the services of a developer. Check out our full review for more details about what Stripe has to offer.

Braintree Payment Solutions:

Braintree Payment Solutions logo

Another eCommerce-only provider, Braintree is very similar to Stripe in terms of features and pricing. The primary distinction is that, unlike Stripe, Braintree is a direct processor. This translates to increased account stability, which is very important for an online business where credit and debit cards are just about the only forms of payment you can accept. Braintree charges 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, but doesn’t require a monthly fee or a long-term contract. They also offer a variety of developer tools to help you customize your website any way you like. For more details, check out our complete review.

When & How To Set Up A Merchant Account

With so many low-cost alternatives available, you may be wondering why you would ever consider the added expense and complication of a full-service merchant account. The primary reason that merchant accounts are still alive and well today is that for many businesses the overall cost of a merchant account is actually lower – sometimes much lower – than using a payment services provider. How is this possible? It primarily comes down to processing rates and how your monthly volume and average ticket size affect them. With a full-service merchant account, you can obtain interchange-plus processing rates that are significantly lower than the flat rates charged by PSPs. Providers such as Square (see our review) have to charge an inflated processing rate to pay for all the ancillary services they aren’t charging you for with a monthly fee. A traditional merchant account provider bills for those services separately, so they can afford to offer a lower per-transaction markup.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to determine the point at which it’s more cost-effective to upgrade to a full-service merchant account. The primary factor you’ll want to look at is your monthly processing volume. Your average ticket size is also important, but to a lesser extent. We’ve seen providers recommend merchant accounts for businesses processing anywhere from $1500 to $10,000 per month at a minimum, and sometimes even more. Where to draw the line will ultimately depend on the unique needs of your business, and what options for upgrading are available to you. You’ll want to compare your current processing costs with an estimate based on a quote from a merchant account provider to see which option is cheaper. Be sure to factor in all the hidden costs that come with merchant accounts. You can usually uncover these in the fine print of your proposed contract.

For more, see our complete guide to credit card processing rates and fees.

Account stability is also an important factor. With a PSP, a single unusually high transaction can be enough to have your account suspended or even terminated. For some businesses, particularly eCommerce merchants, this can be catastrophic. While this situation can still happen with a traditional merchant account also, it’s far less likely and you’ll have better access to customer service to get your account working again if it does occur.

Setting up an account with a PSP is usually very easy. Most PSPs have online application forms that you can fill out and submit without ever having to talk to a sales agent. If you need a card reader, your PSP will mail it to you. Account activation is usually also accomplished online.

Traditional merchant accounts are more complicated to set up. You’ll need to contact the sales team at the provider you’re interested in and negotiate the terms of your agreement. There’s also a lot more paperwork, although some providers now offer you the opportunity to complete your merchant application online. Beware that automation can sometimes work against you when setting up a merchant account, as some sales agents are now using tablet devices to get your electronic signature. This practice often locks you into a long-term contract before you’ve had any chance to review your contract terms and conditions. Insist on a paper copy of all contract documents and study them very carefully before you sign anything. For some suggestions on making this process go more smoothly, please see our article How to Negotiate the Perfect Credit Card Processing Deal.

How To Accept In-Store Credit Card Payments

For retail merchants, you’re going to need at least one credit card machine per location. These days, you have a choice between a traditional countertop credit card terminal and a point of sale (POS) system. Countertop terminals can process transactions, but most models offer little or no other functionality. A POS system, on the other hand, can handle things like inventory management, employee scheduling, and a host of other features to help you run your business. Naturally, POS systems cost more than most countertop terminals, although tablet-based systems such as ShopKeep (see our review) are more affordable (and mobile) than a standalone POS terminal.

Whatever type of equipment you decide to purchase, make sure it’s EMV-compatible. EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) is now the standard method for accepting credit and debit cards in the United States, and since the EMV liability shift in October 2015, you can be held responsible for a fraudulent transaction if you accept an EMV-enabled card using the magstripe instead of the chip. EMV-compatible terminals are widely available and less expensive than ever. With most customers now carrying EMV cards, there’s really no good reason to continue using a magstripe-only card reader.

If you want the latest and greatest in card acceptance technology, it’s pretty easy to find a terminal or POS system that accepts NFC-based payment methods. NFC stands for near-field communications, and it’s found on payment systems such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. NFC technology is built into most modern smartphones, tablets, and even smartwatches. While it hasn’t seen widespread adoption by the general public yet, it’s gaining in use as more people become aware of its availability and convenience.

Regardless of what type of terminal or POS system you decide to get for your business, we highly encourage you to buy your equipment outright rather than signing up for a lease. Equipment leasing is still being pushed by sales agents, who cite misleading arguments about the low up-front cost and the possibility of writing off the lease payments on your taxes. While these arguments are technically true, they mask the reality that leasing a terminal or POS system will cost you far more in the long run than buying. Equipment leases typically come with four-year contracts that are completely noncancelable. The monthly lease payments will, over the term of the lease, far exceed the cost to simply buy the equipment. Adding insult to injury, you won’t even own your equipment when the lease finally expires. Instead, you’ll either have to continue making monthly lease payments or buy the equipment (often at an inflated price). For more details on why leasing is such a bad idea, see our article Why You Shouldn’t Lease A Credit Card Machine.

How To Accept Credit Card Payments Online

If your business is eCommerce-only, you’ll have it a little easier because you won’t need a credit card terminal or POS system. However, you will need either a payment gateway or at least a virtual terminal to accept payments from your customers. A virtual terminal is simply a software application that turns your computer into a credit card terminal. Mail order and telephone order businesses use them to enter their customers’ credit card data manually. They can also be combined with a card reader (usually USB-connected) to accept card-present transactions. For retail merchants, a virtual terminal can replace a dedicated countertop terminal if you add a card reader. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen many EMV-capable card readers that are compatible with virtual terminals yet.

A payment gateway is a web-based software service that connects your eCommerce website with your processor’s payment networks. Payment gateways allow customers to enter credit card data from wherever they are, as long as they have access to the internet. Most merchant services providers charge a monthly fee (usually around $25.00) for the use of a payment gateway. You might also have to pay an additional $0.05 – $0.10 per transaction for the use of the gateway in some cases. Authorize.Net (see our review) is one of the most popular payment gateway providers, but there are many others today as well. Many of the larger processors now offer their own proprietary gateways that include the same security and ease-of-use features that you’d find in a more well-known gateway. For more information on payment gateways, see our article The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway.

Depending on how many products you sell on your website and the options you want to give your customers, you may or may not need to use an online shopping cart in conjunction with your payment gateway. Shopping carts allow you to feature products, conduct secure transactions online, and perform a variety of other functions related to running your business. You’ll want to ensure that your chosen shopping cart is compatible with your payment gateway before you set up your site. Most of the popular shopping carts today are compatible with almost all of the more well-known payment gateways. For more information on online shopping carts, see our article Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business.

How To Accept Credit Card Payments With Your Mobile Phone

When Square (see our review) first introduced their original card reader in 2009, it was revolutionary. For the first time, merchants could accept credit or debit cards using their smartphones or tablets. Square was (and still is) a great choice for very small businesses, startups, and merchants who operate seasonally. Naturally, they’ve spawned a lot of competitors, and today almost all merchant services providers offer some type of mobile payment system.

Visit Square

These systems inevitably include both an app for your smart device and a card reader. Unfortunately, many of the apps are very basic and don’t offer the depth of features that Square does. Card readers have lagged behind current technology, with many providers still offering magstripe-only readers. The current trend among smartphone manufacturers to remove the headphone jack has also caused problems, as most mobile card readers use a plug that fits into the jack to connect to the device. Today, Square and a few other providers now offer upgraded card readers that feature both EMV compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity. These card readers are significantly more expensive than the older models, but they’re still cheaper than a traditional countertop terminal. For businesses that need to accept transactions out in the field, they’re lighter and far less costly than wireless terminals, which usually run at least twice as much as their wired brethren and require a separate wireless data plan. For more information on mobile payment systems, please see our article on why accepting credit cards with your phone is the easiest option.

Can You Accept Credit Card Payments For Free?

Whether you ultimately use a PSP or a traditional merchant account, you’re still going to pay several percent from every sale to cover your processing costs. While there are many ways to get this percentage down to a reasonable level and avoid overpaying, at some point you’re going to ask yourself why you have to pay for processing instead of your customers. After all, they’re the ones who consciously choose to pay with credit and debit cards rather than cash or a paper check. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to transfer this expense to your customers rather than having it come out of your profits?

In fact, there is a way to do this. Transferring the cost of processing onto your customers, also known as surcharging, is allowed in 41 states. However, the practice is currently going through a series of legal challenges that will ultimately either lead to it being banned or expanded into all jurisdictions. With surcharging, your processor will calculate the processing charge when a transaction is submitted for approval and add it to your customer’s bill.

Needless to say, your customers aren’t going to like unexpectedly having a few percentage points added to their bill just for using a credit card. For this reason, surcharging isn’t popular with most merchants, and you’ll usually only encounter it in certain industries where it’s become an accepted practice, such as taxi cabs and busses. For most merchants, it’s much easier to “adjust” your prices to cover your anticipated processing costs rather than passing those costs directly onto your customers. For a more in-depth look at surcharging, check out our article The Truth Behind Free Credit Card Processing.

How To Avoid Account Terminations & Funding Holds

Once you’ve got your merchant account up and running, you’ll naturally want it to be available and fully functional every day. While this isn’t normally a problem, account holds, freezes, and terminations sometimes occur. You’ll want to understand how this happens, and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.

An account hold usually occurs when a single transaction is held up, and you don’t receive the funds you were expecting. In most cases, your processor’s risk department has flagged the transaction as suspicious, and you won’t get your funds until they can investigate and confirm that the transaction is legitimate. A single transaction that’s for much more money than your average ticket size is most likely to trigger a hold. Fortunately, you should still be able to process other transactions while the matter is being resolved.

This isn’t the case with an account freeze, unfortunately. Your processor can and will freeze your account – preventing you from getting paid for previous transactions or processing new ones – if fraud is suspected that would affect your entire account. While the wait can be excruciating, account freezes are usually temporary unless your processor decides to terminate your account.

As the name implies, an account termination is final. Your account is shut down, and you won’t be able to reopen it. The risk of an account termination is higher with a PSP than a traditional merchant account. Account terminations usually occur when your processor determines that you’ve misrepresented your business and the type of goods you’re selling. It doesn’t matter if this was intentional or just an honest mistake on your part. If your business type is one that usually falls into the high-risk category, save yourself the aggravation and get a high-risk merchant account from a provider who specializes in these kinds of accounts. It will cost you more, but you’ll have a much more stable account. For more information on the various hiccups that can affect your merchant account, please see our article How to Avoid Merchant Account Holds, Freezes, and Terminations.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking that merchant accounts and credit card processing are pretty complicated. You’re right! There’s a lot to know, and unfortunately, there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. The credit card processing industry has a lousy reputation for misleading sales practices, high costs, hidden charges, and long-term contracts that are very difficult to get out of. The main reason that PSPs like Square (see our review) have become so popular is that they offer a simpler, more transparent alternative to traditional merchant account providers, both in terms of costs and contract requirements.

For many businesses, however, Square can actually be more expensive than signing up for a traditional merchant account, even when factoring in the various account fees and the cost of buying processing equipment. While we heartily recommend Square for very small businesses and startups, realize that if your business grows large enough, you’ll eventually want to switch to a full-service merchant account. You’ll enjoy lower costs, improved account stability and (hopefully) better customer support. PayPal is also a great choice for eCommerce businesses that are just starting out. Again, if your business grows large enough, a full-service merchant account with a fully-featured payment gateway will be a better choice.

Note that this article only provides a relatively brief overview of the significant factors that affect credit card processing for small businesses. For more information, please take a look at the other articles we’ve linked to above for a deeper dive into subjects you aren’t already familiar with. For an overview of several highly recommended providers, please see our article The 5 Best Small Business Credit Card Processing Companies. You can also compare several excellent providers side-by-side using our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

The post How To Accept Credit Card Payments For Your Small Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

Easy Accounting Software for Small Businesses

If you’re reading this, you’re in the market for a simple accounting solution. Maybe you don’t know anything about accounting and need a program that’s easy to learn. Or maybe you’ve been using Sage or QuickBooks Desktop Pro and are tired of the confusing accounting lingo.

The good news is that accounting doesn’t have to be difficult, and neither does finding easy accounting software. Thanks to the Cloud, there are plenty of full-featured, capable accounting programs that are easy to use and can help small business owners gain control of their business’s finances.

In this post, we’ll cover the top seven easiest accounting software programs. Each program on this list is easy to use and makes learning how to manage your accounting a breeze. We’ve included options to fit every budget and multiple business types.

Each program is ranked by how easy it is to use, how well the software is designed, and how quickly it can be mastered. Read on to see which is right for you!

1. WaveEasy Accounting Software For Small Businessses

Wave (see our review) is an eminently easy to use accounting software — and with a price of $0, it’s easy on the budget as well. Excellent customer support, competitive pricing, and great features have earned this software 4.5/5 stars on our site.

Best For…

Small businesses on a tight budget that still want strong accounting capabilities. Ideal for Etsy sellers and micro businesses.

Wave Pricing

As we mentioned earlier, Wave is free, no gimmicks or strings attached. With a Wave account, you get access to all Wave features and unlimited users. The only extra costs to be aware of are payroll and payment processing. Read our complete Wave review for all of the pricing details.

Wave Features

Wave is well-developed software that even rivals some paid programs in terms of features. This app is incredibly easy to navigate, and the learning curve is minimal, making it a great choice for business owners with little previous accounting experience. The software covers all of the accounting basics including invoicing, expense tracking, accounts payable, bank reconciliation, and more.

Easy Accounting Software for Small Businesses

Wave also has several unique features. In Wave, users can separate personal and business expenses, which is ideal for freelancers or side hustlers who don’t have a separate business bank account. Wave also offers Lending by Wave, which helps business owners gain access to capital through a partnership with OnDeck (see our review). Learn more about this financing option in our post Lending by Wave: Everything Small Businesses Need to Know.

Other features include:

  • Item management
  • Reports
  • Receipts
  • Contact management

Wave doesn’t offer as many integrations as its competitors; however, it does have a Zapier integration, which connects Wave with over 750 third-party apps. Besides Zapier, there are only three other integrations. (The Etsy integration makes Wave a great choice for Etsy sellers in need of simple accounting.) Wave also has several mobile apps.

There are a ton of customer support resources that make the software easy to learn. Only payroll users have phone and chat support, but Wave’s support team answers emails quickly and there’s a thorough help center with how-to videos.

The only downside to the software is that there is no project management feature and time tracking is limited to payroll users. There also isn’t a true inventory feature. If these features are integral to your business, you’ll have to use an integration. Or you can take a look at one of the other options on this list.

Takeaway

If you’re looking for an affordable accounting option, it doesn’t get better than Wave. With positive customer reviews, excellent customer support, and a well-organized UI, it’s no wonder this free accounting software is so popular. It’s easy to jump straight in and start using Wave, even with little previous accounting experience.

To learn more, read our full Wave review or sign up for an account to test the software yourself. You’ve got nothing to lose — after all, it’s free.

Read our full Wave review

Visit the Wave website

2. Zoho BooksEasy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

Created in 2011, Zoho Books (see our review) offers unbeatable invoicing and strong mobile apps. In fact, recent updates have put Zoho Books on par with QuickBooks Online in terms of features, but with better customer service, cheaper pricing, and a more user-friendly UI, Zoho Books is a great option for small businesses.

Best For…

Small businesses in need of strong online accounting, affordable pricing, and good invoicing. Ideal for international business.

Zoho Books Pricing

Zoho Books offers three affordable pricing plans ranging from $9/mo – $29/mo. Each plan comes with basic features and unlimited invoices. The larger the plan, the more contacts, users, and advanced features you’ll have access to. Read our Zoho Books review for the details.

Zoho Books Features

Zoho Books has an impressive number of features. With good customer support and a well-designed UI, the software is easy to use and learn. The software has all of the features you’d expect from a fully-developed accounting solution including invoicing, contact management, expense tracking, time tracking, inventory, project management, and even tax support.

Easy Accounting Software for Small Businesses

The best part about Zoho Books is its invoicing offerings. Zoho Books offers 15 customizable invoice templates, a client portal where customers can pay invoices directly online, recurring invoices, and the unique ability to encrypt invoices. There are also many automations that make it easy to invoice customers, like the ability to autoschedule invoices to be sent at a later time. In addition, you can send invoices in over 10 languages, making Zoho Books a great choice for international business.

You’ll find these key accounting features as well:

  • Accounts payable
  • Charts of accounts
  • Bank reconciliation
  • Fixed asset management
  • Reports

Zoho Books offers 30 integrations, including 12 payments gateways options and a Zapier integration that connects Zoho Books to over 750 other third-party apps. Zoho Books also has easy accounting apps that are highly developed and praised by existing users.

Zoho Books is known for great customer service. Phone support and email support are both available. Representatives are generally helpful and quick to respond to questions. The majority of customer reviews are positive, and users especially like the level of support they receive.

The only drawback is that Zoho Books has no payroll feature. You’ll either have to find a payroll integration or opt for a different software.

Takeaway

With almost as many features as QuickBooks Online, Zoho Books is definitely a contender worth considering. The software is easy to use and its invoicing features are unbeatable. Great customer support, a good number of integrations, and international features are also perks of the software.

If Zoho Books sounds like it might be a good choice for your small business, start a free trial or read our complete Zoho Books review to learn more.

Read our full Zoho Books review

Visit the Zoho Books website

3. ZipBooksEasy Accounting Software for Small Businesses

ZipBooks (see our review) is an up-and-coming accounting software that was launched in 2015 and offers a free accounting software plan. The software may be new, but it has already mastered simplicity. ZipBooks is one of the easiest accounting programs out there, and with a free plan, unlimited users, and ample automations, it’s not hard to see why this software gets 4/5 stars.

Best For…

Small businesses in need of affordable, strong accounting. Ideal for business owners with little previous accounting experience.

ZipBooks Pricing

ZipBooks offers three pricing plans ranging from $0/mo – $35/mo. Each plan comes with unlimited invoicing and unlimited users, which is almost unheard of (especially for the free plan) Each pricing level adds more features. Read our complete ZipBooks review to see which plan’s features suit your needs best.

ZipBooks Features

ZipBooks offers a good number of features that are easy to use and has one of the most attractive interfaces out there. The software’s design is simple and intuitive, using automations to save you time. The UI is even color-coded to make navigation a breeze. ZipBooks offers the basics you’d expect from accounting software, including invoicing, contact management, and expense tracking.

Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

One unique aspect of ZipBooks is that the software takes the data you input and uses it to provide helpful business insights, including a business health score and business recommendations specific to your financial situation.

In addition, ZipBooks offers:

  • Time tracking
  • Project management
  • Reports
  • Category tracking

ZipBooks only comes with eight integrations, so if you’re looking for ample add-ons, this may not be the software for you.

If you’re looking for good customer support, ZipBooks has you covered. Representatives are quick to respond to questions. Phone support is available for the paid plans. Other support options include email, in-software chat, a knowledge base, and a blog.

Before purchasing ZipBooks, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider. Compared to the other choices on this list, ZipBooks has very limited invoicing and only a small number of accounting reports. There also is no item or inventory feature. Despite these shortcomings, ZipBooks receives many positive customer reviews.

Takeaway

If you’re looking for easy accounting software, ZipBooks is hard to beat. With a great design, good learning resources, and ample automations, ZipBooks does everything it can to make accounting simple.

If ZipBooks sounds like a good fit for your business, use the free plan to take the software for a spin. Read our complete ZipBooks review to learn more.

Read our full ZipBooks review

Visit the ZipBooks website

4. FreshBooksEasy Accounting Software

FreshBooks (see our review) is invoicing software with a few bookkeeping tools tossed in. Although it’s not true “accounting” software, we kept in in the mix because it is incredibly easy to use and free of accounting jargon.

Best For…

Small businesses looking for strong invoicing and basic bookkeeping but not a full accounting software.

FreshBooks Pricing

FreshBooks offers three pricing plans ranging from $15/mo – $50/mo. Most features are included in all plans, so each larger level mainly adds more billable customers.

FreshBooks only supports a single user (additional users cost an extra $10/mo each). Read our full FreshBooks review to learn more.

FreshBooks Features

FreshBooks has always been easy to use, but a recent redesign has made the user experience even simpler and the UI more attractive. Setup is simple and the software takes very little time to learn. In terms of features, you’ll find invoicing, expense tracking, contact management, and more.

Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

FreshBooks offers two customizable invoice templates and a client portal where customers can pay their invoices directly online. One of the coolest features in FreshBooks is the ability to chat with your customers directly on their invoices.

Other features include:

  • Project management
  • Time tracking
  • Reports

FreshBooks offers 60 integrations, which is significantly more than most invoicing programs. There are also mobile apps available.

FreshBooks has great customer support. Representatives are friendly, helpful, and quick to respond. There is phone support, email support, a help center, and several other resources to help you learn the software.

For the most part, FreshBooks receives positive customer reviews; however, there are some recurring complaints.

In addition to not being true accounting software, FreshBooks only supports a single user — and this invoicing software is already more expensive than most accounting software. Instead of purchasing additional users, you’d get more bang for your buck by choosing a full-fledged accounting program (or a less expensive invoicing program like Zoho Invoice or Invoicera).

Takeaway

While FreshBooks isn’t accounting software, many small businesses are able to look past the lack of double-entry accounting because the software is so simple and easy to use. This easy bookkeeping software is ideal for small businesses that only need to send invoices and track expenses.

If the simplicity of FreshBooks sounds appealing to you, take the software for a spin with a free trial or read our comprehensive FreshBooks review to learn more.

Read our full FreshBooks review

Visit the FreshBooks website

5. QuickBooks Self-EmployedEasy Accounting Software for Small Businesses

QuickBooks Self-Employed (see our review) is tax software designed to help freelancers with basic bookkeeping and tax support. While QuickBooks Self-Employed isn’t exactly accounting software, it offers easy bookkeeping and tax support for freelancers.

Best For…

Freelancers, contractors, and other self-employed individuals needing basic bookkeeping and tax support. Ideal for managing estimated quarterly taxes and maximizing deductions.

QuickBooks Self-Employed Pricing

There are two pricing options for QuickBooks Self-Employed. There’s a $10/mo plan that includes all of the software’s features. Going with the $17/mo plan adds a Turbo Tax integration, so you can easily file your self-employed taxes.

QuickBooks Self-Employed Features

QuickBooks Self-Employed is well-organized and easy to use. The features help simplify estimated quarterly taxes and allow freelancers to manage their expenses and track their deductions.

Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

This software also makes it easy to separate personal and business expenses, which is ideal for freelancers who don’t have a designated business bank account. LIke Wave, QuickBooks Online also has a built-in lending feature called QuickBooks Capital (see our review) that helps small businesses manage gain access to working capital to manage their cash flow.

In addition, QuickBooks Self-Employed offers:

  • Invoicing
  • Fixed asset management
  • Schedule Cs
  • Tax checklist

QuickBooks Self-Employed offers a small number of integrations, but the Turbo Tax integration is the best part of the software by far. This integration makes self-employed taxes a breeze and makes it easy to file taxes online.

Unfortunately, QuickBooks Self-Employed is known for poor customer service. With no phone support and limited additional resources, it can be hard to find help, though the company is working to improve this. There is a live chat feature, a redesigned help center, and a small business resource center with helpful business advice.

While QuickBooks Self-Employed is a great option for managing your federal taxes, our one concern is that the software lacks state tax support. This means you’ll have to find another way to file state taxes.

Takeaway

If you’re a freelancer looking for a way to manage your finances and taxes, QuickBooks Self-Employed could be a good option for your business. The software is easy to use and comes with good mobile apps for quick access to your data.

To learn more about this software, read our complete QuickBooks Self-Employed review. If you’re already convinced, sign up for a free trial or start using the software today.

Read our full QuickBooks Self-Employed review

Visit the QuickBooks Self-Employed website

6. SlickPieEasy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

Founded in 2015, SlickPie (see our review) is an easy-to-use accounting software that has already received positive customer reviews and press coverage. Like Wave and ZipBooks, SlickPie offers an impressive free plan and a beautiful interface.

Best For…

Small businesses on a tight budget in need of basic accounting features and bookkeeping automations.

SlickPie Pricing

SlickPie offers a free plan and a paid plan which costs $9.95/mo. Both plans come with basic features and unlimited users. The main difference is the number of invoices you are allowed to send. Read our complete SlickPie review for all of the pricing details.

SlickPie Features

As we mentioned earlier, SlickPie is easy to use and offers several automations to help save you time and energy. There are a few occasional navigational difficulties and the organization could be improved, but overall the software is simple to set up. Features include invoicing, expense tracking, contact management, accounts payable, and more.

Easy Accounting Software for Small Businesses

One of the coolest features is SlickPie’s MagicBot, which is a data entry tool that automates your receipts. When you take a photo of your receipt, SlickPie will automatically gather the information from the photo and enter the data for you.

Here are some other features found in SlickPie:

  • Chart of accounts
  • Item management
  • Reports

SlickPie only offers three integrations, which might not cut it for many small businesses.

This app does have good customer support, however. Emails are responded to incredibly quickly. There is also phone support and a helpful knowledge base. SlickPie receives positive customer reviews, especially where support is concerned.

There are a few limitations to consider when comparing SlickPie to the other options on this list. While SlickPie is still easy to use, the software is difficult to navigate at times. There are also no project management or time tracking features. Unlike the other options, SlickPIe does not have mobile apps.

Takeaway

SlickPie is simple accounting software with basic features and a few promising automations. However, its limited automations, missing features, and occasionally unintuitive organization may rule this software out as a viable option for some small business owners.

If you’d like to learn more, read our complete SlickPie review or see the software in action for yourself by signing up for a free account.

Read our full SlickPie review

Visit the SlickPie website

7. QuickBooks OnlineEasy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

QuickBooks Online (see our review) is a fully-featured accounting software program that is generally easy to use. With 200+ integrations, strong mobile apps, and tax support, it’s no wonder this software receives 5/5 stars.

Best For…

Small businesses looking for a full-featured accounting solution that is relatively easy to use. Ideal for businesses with five users or fewer (though you can add up to 25 users for an additional cost).

QuickBooks Online Pricing

QuickBooks Online offers three pricing plans ranging from $15/mo – $50/mo. The larger the plan, the more feature you have access to and the more users you can have.

Payroll costs an additional $39 – $90/mo (plus $2/mo per employee). Read our full QuickBooks Online review to learn more and to see if Intuit is running any sales promotions.

QuickBooks Online Features

While this cloud accounting software is not quite as easy to use as the other options on this list, the trade-off is more advanced features. Set up is a bit involved and the organization is occasionally difficult to navigate, but compared to other big-name programs like Xero, Sage, and AccountEdge Pro, QuickBooks Online is a piece of cake.

Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses

QuickBooks offers double-entry bookkeeping and strong accounting features like bank reconciliation, accounts payable, reports, and a chart of accounts. You’ll also find invoicing, expense tracking, time tracking, project management, and more. In terms of invoicing, QuickBooks Online offers the second best templates and automations (with Zoho Books being the first).

Other features include:

  • Class tracking
  • Client portal
  • Tax support
  • Contact management
  • Budgeting
  • Inventory

With over 200 integrations, QuickBooks has more integrations than any other accounting program on this list. This includes 15 payment processing options and great mobile apps.

As we mentioned earlier, QuickBooks has been known for poor customer service in the past. Recently, QuickBooks Online has made great strides to improve their customer support. While the company still has a ways to go, phone response times have greatly improved and a redesigned help center makes it easy to find assistance.

Takeaway

While QuickBooks Online may not be quite as easy to use as the other options on this list, this online accounting software might be a good fit for businesses looking to get the most bang for their buck in terms of features.

Read our comprehensive QuickBooks Online review to learn about all that this software has to offer, or sign up for a free trial to see for yourself.

Read our full QuickBooks Online review

Visit the QuickBooks Online website

Final Verdict

Any one of these simple small business accounting software options will allow you to easily manage your business’s finances and balance the books, no matter what level of accounting experience you bring to the table. Ultimately, the decision will come down to your budget and the features your business needs.

Want a good double-entry accounting solution that’s more robust than the options we discussed above? I suggest trying Xero, Sage, AccountEdge Pro, or QuickBooks Pro. These apps aren’t quite as easy to use as the seven programs in this post, but they come with far more advanced features. If you need higher-level inventory management, payroll software, or a more refined method to track bank accounts, credit card payments and/or credit card charges, you’re going to be better off with one of these solutions. Conversely, for small business owners who are in the market for something very simple and don’t want to pay anything for an accounting app, we’ve compiled a list of the best free online accounting software programs out there.

If you need more help deciding, read the Complete Guide to Choosing Online Accounting or 20 Questions To Ask Before Choosing Accounting Software. And don’t forget to download the Beginner’s Guide to Accounting — in this free ebook, we make accounting simple and teach you everything you need to know without the confusing accounting jargon.

As always, let us know if you have any questions, and happy hunting!

The post Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Stripe VS Square

Stripe VS Square
✓ Products and Services ✓
✓ Compatible Hardware ✓
✓ Fees and Rates ✓
✓ Sales and Advertising Transparency ✓
Customer Service and Technical Support ✓
✓ Negative Reviews and Complaints ✓
✓ Positive Reviews and Testimonials ✓
Tie Final Verdict  Tie
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Overview

Spend a little bit of time reading up on Stripe (read our review) and Square (read our review) and you’ll start to see the similarities. They’re both giants in the payment industry, media darlings that have transformed the way people pay for things and the way merchants accept payments. They’re both on the leading edge of technology and rely heavily on machine learning to drive their payment processing systems.

Most importantly, both Square and Stripe offer huge assortments of commerce tools that make it easy for merchants to run their businesses. With the various APIs and integrations available, there are almost limitless possibilities for creating a custom system with everything from invoicing to email marketing and more.

But that’s where I stop pointing out the similarities. Once you get past that point, it becomes harder to draw apples-to-apples comparisons because Square’s offerings are much more varied. Square really is an all-in-one processor that can handle in-person and eCommerce payments, as well as inventory management, customer databases, and more. Stripe is more limited to eCommerce, both for websites and for mobile apps, but it has powerful tools for global enterprises, subscription-based businesses, and other online companies.

To keep things fair and within a manageable scope, we’re going to limit the scope of this comparison to each companies’ online and mobile commerce tools. That means, for the most part, we’re not going to look at mPOS apps, POS integrations, appointment booking, or email marketing…except to say if you need them, Square is the better choice.That also means we’ll be ignoring Stripe Atlas, the company’s service for helping international merchants establish themselves in the US.

If you want to sell online and Square and Stripe have made your shortlist, you should start by asking yourself some questions:

  • What features do you absolutely need? Which features aren’t essential, but would be very nice to have?
  • What percentage of your transactions are from outside the US?
  • Do you have a developer or advanced coding knowledge yourself?
  • Do you have limited tech knowledge and need an easy solution?
  • Are you looking for specific integrations?
  • What industry is your business part of?
  • How advanced are your subscription tool needs?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can sit down and look at each company in more detail. Read on for our comparison of Stripe vs. Square!

Products & Services

Winner: Tie

It’s so important to have a list of must-have features before you set about choosing any sort of payments or eCommerce software because you don’t want to make the decision and then find out that you’re missing a very important function. But it’s also important to think about where you want your business to go and what tools you want to invest in as your business scales up. If you pick the right service, it could mean you never need to switch. But if you don’t think about growth, you may wind up having to make a complicated switchover later in the future once you’ve outgrown a solution.

The good news is that for the most part, Stripe and Square are both very good solutions that scale up as a business grows. It just comes down to in which direction a business wants to grow.

Square Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Square initially stood out among mobile competitors by offering a free webstore to its merchants. Since then, the company has branched out considerably to include eCommerce integrations as well as developer tools. For a more in-depth review of all of Square’s offerings, check out our full review.

  • Online Store: Square’s free online store is very basic. There are only four templates to choose from, and you can only customize portions of the site (such as filling in your business name and address in the footer) in addition to loading your products. This is not a good solution for anyone with a large and diverse inventory, especially if your shipping costs vary significantly or if you’re looking for a particular visual aesthetic.
  • eCommerce Integrations: When you first take a look at Square’s eCommerce offerings, you’ll see that Square very conveniently groups everything by a merchant’s level of technical expertise. I think this is a really helpful approach.

    The easiest integrations are listed on the site and Square lets you know that you can choose from an assortment of templates.

    The intermediate level includes eCommerce integrations that require a bit more work and technical knowledge to get set up.
    Square’s list of integrations includes some of the best shopping cart options, and the list keeps growing. That makes me happy, but if your preferred integration isn’t on the list yet and you do have the technical knowledge (or an eager developer on your payroll), there are more tools at your disposal. You can check out the list of Square integrations in the app marketplace.
  • Developer Tools: Square’s dev tools make it possible for you to create almost any custom integration you could need. For eCommerce, there are two APIs, Checkout and Transactions.  Square Checkout is a premade form that can be dropped into a site with minimal fuss. Using Checkout means merchants are eligible for some perks, like next-day deposits and chargeback protection. The Transaction API, combined with Square’s payment form, is more customizable. Square has other APIs to handle other aspects of commerce, but you’ll find that Square doesn’t readily support in-app payments.
  • Dashboard Reporting: Square’s reporting tools are fairly advanced, especially for a company that started as an mPOS. They’re very popular with merchants who want to know what’s selling and how much they’re processing and need standard business data. The dashboard is actually quite intuitive, as well. However, Square doesn’t allow for a huge amount of customization in reports unless you get into the Reporting API, which allows you to create real-time notifications using webhooks.

Additionally, Square offers the following tools:

  • Advanced Inventory: Square will reconcile online and in-person sales and give you an up-to-date count on your inventory, including low-stock alerts when you hit a specified threshold. Plus, you can bulk upload products and generate SKUs, create variants, and more.
  • Fraud Protection Tools: Square uses machine learning to analyze transactions and identify and flag possible fraudulent transactions.
  • Customer Database: Save customers’ contact information and build a database with records of their purchases so that you can market to them later.
  • Invoicing: Create invoices from within the Square dashboard or from within the mPOS app. Square also allows customers to store their cards to automatically pay invoices (using this Card on File will cost you a bit more). You can also create recurring invoices. However, if you want extensive subscription management tools, you’ll need an integration with a service like Chargify, which will add to your costs.
  • Free Virtual Terminal: If you want to process payments over the phone or you don’t have access to the mPOS, you can use Square’s virtual terminal. Transactions will be processed at the manual entry rate (3.5% + $0.15) rather than the eCommerce rate, but the solution is PCI compliant and is designed for regular use.

All in all, while it’s worth noting that Square really is an omnichannel solution for merchants who want to sell anywhere without needing to build a complicated system of integrations. But it has some shortcomings, especially for digital merchants. Subscription tools are nearly nonexistent, and fraud protection doesn’t compare to the tools Stripe offers. If you want advanced, custom reports, you’ll be better served by Stripe. However, Square’s tools and overall design are incredibly easy to use, especially for business owners who don’t have a lot of technical expertise or a large budget to hire someone. And it has very strong tools for merchants who sell physical products in particular.

Stripe Tools and Services for Online Merchants

Stripe has earned its name as a developer-friendly option, but you can also integrate with a host of third-party apps to accept payments with ease. The company focuses on internet and mobile commerce, but developers have extended Square’s power to include mobile payments and more. Just take note, there’s no free storefront option here. For a more detailed look at different features, check out our complete Stripe review.

  • eCommerce Integrations & Plug-Ins: Stripe outclasses Square in terms of shopping cart integrations by virtue of sheer numbers. In addition to integrations with major eCommerce software providers, developers have created an assortment of plug-ins for businesses operating on WordPress, Magento, and other websites. If you’re not really sure where you start, you might end up doing a lot of research to decide the best course of action, but you can at least take heart in knowing that there’ll be something that will meet your needs. You can check out the full list of eCommerce integrations on Stripe’s “Works With” page.
  • Developer Tools: Stripe is much loved by developers for its flexibility, its extensive documentation and its support for multiple programming languages. Its APIs allow you to create invoices and subscriptions along with many other features.

    Stripe Elements will let you create an entirely custom form with pre-built components; Stripe Checkout generates a pre-built form you can just drop into the site with a few lines of JavaScript. With Stripe, it’s very easy to accept payments on a desktop computer, a mobile site, or within a mobile app. Stripe now even supports 1-touch payments on mobile
  • Stripe Sigma: Stripe offers your standard user dashboard with some general sales reports at no charge. But if your business is heavily data-driven, Sigma’s customizable reporting is the perfect solution for you: you can generate reports based on SQL queries. This is pretty cool, and it’s a great way to make sure that anyone on your team can get the reports they need without creating an information bottleneck. Pricing is based on a sliding scale rather than a set additional monthly see.

Stripe’s additional tools include:

  • Stripe Billing: Stripe’s subscription tools are industry-leading, with the ability to charge clients based on a recurring quantity or metered usage, to set free trial periods, and much more. You can also create invoices or set up recurring billing tools. However, new businesses will pay a small additional charge per transaction to use these tools.
  • Stripe Radar: Stripe makes a big deal of its fraud monitoring tools, bundled under the very-apt name Radar. The system uses machine learning and a host of criteria to analyze every transaction and decide whether it is legitimate or possibly fraudulent. Radar also lets merchants set custom criteria for rejecting transactions and review flagged transactions to decide whether to accept or reject them.
  • Marketplace Tools: Merchants who want to operate a marketplace can use Stripe to build the platform. Stripe’s marketplace tools are grouped under the moniker “Stripe Connect.”
  • Multiple Currency Displays & Dynamic Currency Conversion: These tools are a major reason why Stripe is such a powerful tool for global businesses. Whereas Stripe will automatically convert transactions to USD (usually at the cost of a fee to the cardholder), Stripe will allow you to display prices in local currencies based on where the customer is located. Stripe then automatically converts them for the merchant, charging a small markup over the exchange rate. This makes a business more appealing to international customers.

There’s no doubt that Stripe is very powerful. It can handle all sorts of payments, from digital subscriptions to retail goods. It’s one of the best solutions for global businesses with its currency tools. But it does have some limitations. If you plan to sell across multiple channels, there’s no option for in-person payments unless you have an integration like Flint Mobile (read our review), but it’s still more costly than other mPOS options. There’s no virtual terminal, either. While Stripe does allow you to manually enter a transaction if all else fails, it’s a last resort rather than a tool to be used on the regular because of PCI compliance issues.

Stripe’s inventory tools aren’t on the level of Square. They’re powerful, but if you want advanced inventory management, you’ll need to tack on an integration. I also don’t think that Stripe’s inventory tools are even half as intuitive as Square’s. But I think part of that is Stripe’s focus on online payments and tools for digital merchants, compared to Square’s omnichannel approach.

All in all, it’s really hard to say one of these companies is inherently better than the other. Both have a good assortment of integrations for shopping carts and other tools, though Stripe has a greater number of supported integrations. If you want ease of use, especially if you sell physical goods,  Square is the standout option. But if you need flexibility, robust tools, and advanced data, Stripe is the better choice. So it ultimately comes down to your business’ needs.

Fees & Rates

Winner: Tie

I am happy to say that pricing for both Square and Stripe is mostly straightforward:

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online card transaction

There are no monthly fees, no monthly minimums, no statement fees. That’s very nice to see.

I do want to point out that Square charges different rates for its card-present and keyed transactions (2.7% and 3.5% + $0.15, respectively). However, invoices process at the same rate as eCommerce transactions unless you’re using Card on File, which process at the keyed transaction rate.

Square also has no chargeback fees, which is very unusual. Not only that, but the company has rolled out Chargeback Protection, which will cover the actual chargeback costs on qualifying disputes up to $250 per month. This doesn’t apply to merchants who use the Transactions API, but it is available for those who use Stripe Checkout.

You can get volume discounts if you process above $250k per year AND have an average ticket size exceeding $15. That’s a mark in Square’s favor for large businesses. However, nonprofits don’t get any sort of special discount, which you can often find with other processors.

Stripe’s pricing has become a tiny bit more complicated. In addition to card transactions processed at 2.9% + $0.30, you can also accept ACH transactions for 0.8%, capped at $5 maximum.

The base fee per transaction is simple. And for each chargeback, Stripe will assess a $15 fee, unless the chargeback is decided in your favor. In that case, you’ll pay absolutely nothing.

Stripe’s subscription tools, lumped under the name “Stripe Billing” along with invoicing, will cost you a small percentage fee (between 0.04% and 0.07%) on top of your transaction.

Existing Stripe merchants are grandfathered out of this new pricing. Large businesses will actually pay the higher 0.7% markup, but it seems Stripe has compromised by offering lower transaction fees.

You’ll also pay a monthly fee for access to Stripe Sigma. The cost is a sliding scale based on the number of transactions you process each month, which is a great way for very small businesses to still get crucial data. But for a company that built its reputation on not charging any fees beyond transaction processing, it’s a little bit disappointing to see that model disappearing. You can estimate your cost with Stripe’s tool.

Stripe does offer enterprise pricing for very large businesses, and some nonprofits may be eligible for a special rate. Stripe doesn’t make any promises about nonprofit pricing apart from “let us know and we’ll see what we can do.” So you shouldn’t assume it’s guaranteed.

With Stripe, you may also be able to negotiate for micro-transaction rates. Whereas per-transaction fees like the $0.30 Stripe and Square charge can eat up fees from small transactions (less than $10 in particular), micro-transaction rates typically include a higher percentage and a lower per-transaction fee that can save merchants money. This is ideal for anyone who sells digital goods and other low-cost items.

Because it’s something offered as part of a custom package, Stripe may not offer this deal to everyone. If you’re unable to get a micro-transaction plan from Stripe, it might be worth looking at a third option — PayPal (read our review) — instead. The 5% + $0.05 fee could save you quite a bit of money in the long run.

All in all, Stripe and Square are fairly evenly matched in pricing. Some merchants might enjoy the lack of chargeback fees and included chargeback protection that Square offers. But Stripe might be a bigger draw for other companies, despite the additional charges for using its subscription tools or Sigma reporting.

Contract Length & Cancellation

Winner: Tie 

Both Stripe and Square offer pay-as-you-go processing with no locked-in contracts or early termination fees. It really is that simple. Stripe will even help you transfer your customer data to another processor in a PCI compliant way.

If you’re using any of Square’s monthly services in addition to eCommerce processing, you can get a free 30-day trial, and then if you choose to continue with the service, you can cancel at any time. Square doesn’t bill annually for those services the way many SaaS providers do. (Conversely, you also don’t get any discounts for paying annually, either.)

Sales & Advertising Transparency

Winner: Tie 

One of the reasons I like pay-as-you-go processors is that they are, on the whole, very upfront and transparent. They tend to not have extensive sales teams, and if they do have a sales team, they’re all in-house. They’re very clear about their pricing and terms, and they’re applied fairly to all merchants.

Square and Stripe both fit this pattern to a T. You won’t see reports of misleading sales pitches or rates not as promised here, which is always nice to see. You can find Stripe’s terms of service on the site, both the general user agreement and the Stripe Payments agreement. Like Stripe, Square has separate agreements applying to general use, payments, and other services. I do recommend you be cautious and check that your business doesn’t fall on either list of “prohibited businesses,” because that’s an easy path to account termination.

Overall, I’m really happy with both companies in this category, and you shouldn’t have any worries about whether you’re being told the truth or whether you’ll pay what you were quoted.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Square

I think it’s fairly clear that Square outshines Stripe in terms of its customer support — both in quality and in the number of channels available.

Square offers merchants phone and email support, as well as an extensive knowledgebase. That’s pretty typical of any processor, but on top of that, Square operates the Seller Community, a community forum about all-things Square.

 

You can get answers from other Square merchants as well as from Square support reps. It’s a pretty powerful tool. But on top of that, Square’s team monitors Stack Overflow for questions about Square products and responds to them.

And that’s not even talking about Square’s dedicated Twitter support handle (@SqSupport), or the developer portal and documentation.

I can’t say that Square customer support is all sunshine and rainbows, because I do see customer complaints about the quality. However, without a doubt the biggest complaint about the quality of customer support comes from merchants whose accounts have been terminated. In that case, Square cuts off access to phone support and will only communicate via email. This is unfortunate and I don’t know if it’s actually a good solution. But I am sure part of the reason to reduce the odds of a customer support rep saying something they shouldn’t, and to prevent support resources from being tied up dealing with complaints from terminated merchants whose accounts won’t be reinstated.

Stripe is more limited in its support options. Its primary support channel is email. However, Stripe also operates an IRC Freenode chat (#Stripe) that developers may find useful. There’s no dedicated social media support with Stripe, but you can follow the general @Stripe twitter feed.

Stripe also maintains a self-service knowledgebase, though I don’t think it’s as extensive or detailed as Square’s. But I will say that Stripe’s documentation is pretty legendary, and so it’s going to be one of the best resources you can get.  You can also find questions about Stripe on Stack Overflow, but I am not able to ascertain whether Stripe’s team is active on the forum at all the way that Square is.

I do see comments from merchants that the support is pretty good. But I also see a lot of complaints from frustrated merchants about the lack of phone support. That complaint has actually become one of the biggest marks against Stripe. I’ve seen one mention that Stripe might be rolling out phone support to “select merchants” (presumably high-value clients). However, take this with a grain of salt. I wasn’t able to verify it through any sort of authoritative source.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

As far as complaints go, the single biggest issue for both Square and Stripe is a common one:

  • Account Holds And Terminations: This is unsurprising (understatement of the year, right there) because it’s a common issue with any third-party processor. Because these payment systems are usually open to almost anyone right away and they are all lumped into one large merchant account, there’s a greater risk that some of those accounts will be terminated for risky behavior. There’s very little scrutiny done before a sub-account with one of these processors is approved, which stands in contrast to merchant accounts, where the processing company will do a lot of underwriting and investigation before approving your application. Both Square and Stripe use a lot of machine learning to analyze transactions and flag suspicious behaviors. This potential for account holds or terminations is universal — you will encounter it with any third-party processor. If you want to avoid it, your only alternative is to seek out a traditional merchant account.

The other big complaint that I see with both is also a pretty common one:

  • Poor Customer Support: If I’m honest, reports about the quality of customer service conflict. But because of how common the complaints are, I’m listing it here. With Stripe, the most common issues are the lack of phone support and slow response times for email. With Square, a lot of the complaints about poor customer service come from terminated merchants, but I’ve seen a few complaints about slow or unhelpful email responses.

Additional frequent complaints about Stripe include:

  • Lack Of Fraud Protection: I want to be clear: Stripe does have fraud management tools and a system to help merchants fight chargebacks. But I have seen complaints from merchants who don’t think these are adequate. Chargebacks are not settled by Stripe, so there’s not much the company can do beyond pass the requested documents on. But for fraud prevention, merchants need to make sure they have the appropriate tools enabled.
  • Not User-Friendly: There’s a lot of testimonials from users (especially developers) who really like Stripe and find it simple to set up. There are plenty of others who disagree with that idea. I’m inclined to think most people with a decent technical backing will get along fine with Stripe, but for some people, especially those with less technical knowledge, it’s not going to be a good choice.

For Square, there is one other common complaint:

  • Lack of advanced features: It’s not that Square doesn’t have enough features, or that it’s missing anything important. The complaints about Square often focus on the lack of very particular advanced features that you typically find in full-scale POS systems. In this case, I think Square’s lack of extensive subscription tools would fit the bill. Some merchants have been upset for quite a while over the lack of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) reporting. Square added this feature with its Square for Retail app, but not for online sales or its free POS. Square has some very powerful reporting tools, but in the end, they won’t hold a candle to Stripe’s Sigma offering.

I think, yet again, that the two companies are pretty evenly matched in this category. The largest complaints are identical, and that’s because they’re the same complaints we see with third-party processors. To be entirely honest, poor customer service is a common complaint across the entire payments industry. It’s frustrating, for sure. But you can take steps to better inform yourself — read our article on how to prevent holds, freezes, and account terminations. And please take reports of poor customer service with a grain of salt, because I see conflicting accounts there.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

As media darlings, both Stripe and Square have gotten lots of press. They’re both lauded for the way they’ve transformed payments.

I usually feel a little bit silly comparing two businesses in this category because it almost feels like a bit of a popularity contest. But in this case, we’re dealing with two companies who have both gotten a LOT of positive press over the years, not to mention high-profile clients. And the bits of each service that merchants love most are pretty similar, too.

Square merchants love how easy the service is to use. And I tend to agree — Square is one of the most intuitive options out there as far as payments and using the dashboard. Merchants also really like the predictable pricing and lack of fees. Other than that, the integrated invoicing feature and the seamless omnichannel commerce experience are big draws.

Stripe also wins merchants over with its pricing, and its tools are very much loved by developers. While if you don’t have a lot of technical knowledge, Stripe may feel foreign to you, developers say it’s incredibly easy to use. Also on the dev side of things, it seems like the quality of customer service is great, even if business owners don’t always like the lack of phone support. And unsurprisingly, merchants really seem to love Stripe’s robust subscription tools. The predictable pricing and lack of monthly fees are also appealing.

Final Verdict

Winner: Tie

Stripe and Square have some very important core similarities: they’re both third-party processors with an assortment of tools that allow merchants to sell online. Neither one is suited to high-risk industries, and there’s a lengthy list of businesses neither company can work with. But despite that, both Stripe and Square offer tools that cater to a huge assortment of industries. They’ll both grow with your business, making it easy to scale up.

But despite their similarities in terms of business model, it’s also pretty clear that what each company does best is completely different.

Square is a spectacular all-in-one processor. You can sell in a store, on the go, and online and get all of your information and payments and orders collected in one simply, intuitive dashboard. There’s a huge array of add-on products that allow you consolidate a host of business functions under one name, and they’re guaranteed to work together perfect. eCommerce support is really the newest branch of Square’s offerings, and it’s a work in progress as the company establishes more partnerships and integrations with other major players.

If you have limited technical knowledge, Square is going to be much easier to get started with and to navigate through the different features. It’s free advanced inventory tools are also very well suited to retailers and other businesses that sell primarily physical goods.

Stripe focuses only on Internet payments (both on the web and in-app), but its tools make it possible for businesses to cater to customers all over the globe. The international appeal — from the local currency displays to the sheer breadth of payment methods accepted — make it clear that Stripe is already a global player.Not only that, but with Stripe’s APIs and documentation, a savvy developer could create all kinds of payments platforms for a business. Business owners who don’t have a developer on staff, and who don’t have a lot of technical knowledge themselves, might struggle with understanding how to use Stripe, especially if you want to do anything more than integrate it with some sort of shopping cart software.

You also get a far more limited scope of features. There’s no native support for omnichannel commerce. No mPOS app, no POS integration to support card-present pricing, no invoicing. If you need more than online payments on a regular basis, Stripe isn’t a suitable choice. But if that’s all you need, Stripe isn’t just a good option — it’s one of the best out there, period. If your business has a global reach, again you’ll find that Stripe once again tops the lists of best solutions.

I’m not comfortable saying that one of these solutions is better than the other because it really comes down to what your priorities are. Do you need something easy to use? Do you want to embrace multiple sales channels? Or are you limited to online sales and want best-in-class tools to reach a global audience, manage subscriptions, and even drive mobile commerce? Square can get the job done, and it’ll be the easier solution, but Stripe offers far more tools.

Sit down, think about what features are absolutely mandatory for you to have — and then look at which ones you’d like to have, but aren’t necessarily required. From there, it should be fairly clear which solution is right for you! Don’t forget to check out our complete reviews of Stripe and Square for more insights into how they function.

Have questions? Leave us a comment and we’ll help! Have experience using either of these tools? We’d love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for reading!

The post Stripe VS Square appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is Payment Processing?

What Is Payment Processing?

Running your own business always works much better when your customers actually pay you for the products and services you provide for them. Paying for purchases has become a lot more complicated in the modern world than it used to be. It wasn’t all that long ago that cash and paper checks were the preferred payment methods, but now consumers increasingly prefer credit or debit cards. Online payments, while commonplace today, have only been available for a little over twenty years. The recent introduction of NFC-based payments, which allow a consumer to make a payment with their smartphone (or smartwatch), adds yet another way for your customers to complete a purchase.

Each of these payment methods requires specific hardware (and, in some cases, software) that you’ll need if you want to support them. The days of just having a cash drawer in your shop are long gone. In this article, we’ll review the various payment methods you’ll want to be able to accept, as well as explain how those payment methods are processed so you can receive your money.

Payment Methods

Customers have a lot more options for paying for purchases today than they did just a few years ago. While cash is still the simplest payment method, it’s fallen out of favor as the use of credit and debit cards has risen. Merchants, of course, prefer to be paid in cash because they don’t need a merchant account to process these transactions, and they receive 100% of the sale price immediately. Paper checks are almost as good, although they require a trip to the bank and there is a significant risk of fraud or having the check “bounce” due to insufficient funds. While some customers prefer to pay in cash or by paper check, they’re a dwindling minority. Most customers today will want to use a credit or debit card, which requires a merchant account and a processor to ensure you receive your payment.

Credit Card Processing

While credit cards have been around for over 100 years, their use has skyrocketed within the past few decades. Although this has also led to a nationwide crisis in consumer credit card debt, it’s also created headaches for merchants who have to set up a merchant account and pay for processing costs. Nonetheless, credit card use has become so prevalent that for most merchants, the additional sales more than make up for the cost of maintaining a merchant account.

While most credit cards are issued by banks, they’re also sponsored by a small number of credit card associations, such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. These entities charge a variety of fees whenever a purchase is made with one of their cards. These fees are collectively known as interchange. When a transaction is processed, the processor will charge you both the interchange and a markup in exchange for its processing service. Unfortunately, interchange rates vary widely based on the type of card used and other factors, and this has made it easier for processors to rake in higher profits by offering merchants “simplified” processing rate plans such as flat-rate or tiered pricing. For this reason, we recommend interchange-plus pricing for most established businesses. This pricing method adds a fixed markup to each transaction, regardless of types. Example: interchange + 0.30% + $0.15 per transaction. While the interchange variable will vary widely with each transaction, the markup that you pay to your processor will always be the same.

In addition to paying processing rates for each transaction, maintaining a merchant account also usually requires the payment of a variety of account fees. These fees are different for every processor, and sometimes even among merchants using the same processor. For a more in-depth discussion of merchant account fees, please see our Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates and Fees.

The advent of interconnected banking and credit card processing networks has drastically sped up the process of purchasing with a credit card. While the transaction approval process is rather complicated, it can be completed within just a few seconds in most cases. Here’s a very simplified explanation: The consumer’s credit card data is submitted to the processing network, which contacts the issuing bank to ensure that sufficient credit is available on the consumer’s account to cover the cost of the purchase. Several anti-fraud checks are also completed, and if no red flags are raised, the transaction is approved. The processor then processes the transaction, paying the interchange to the issuing bank and credit card associations, and keeping the remainder of the processing charge. Only then are funds released to the business owner’s merchant account. Unfortunately, this part of the process takes much longer, as most merchants submit their transactions in a batch at the end of the day. It can take up to several days before funds are deposited into your account.

Debit Card Processing

Paying with a debit card is also increasingly popular with consumers, particularly for small, day-to-day purchases such as groceries and automobile fuel. These transactions are also much easier to process, as the issuing bank doesn’t have to decide as to whether to issue a credit to the consumer to cover the cost of the purchase. As long as there are sufficient funds in the consumer’s bank account, the transaction will usually be approved.

Because there is no need to issue a credit, the overall risk associated with debit card use is significantly lower than it is with credit cards. For this reason, the interchange rates for debit card use are substantially lower as well. One of the reasons we encourage you to avoid tiered pricing plans is that many of the processors that offer these plans charge the same rates for debit card use as they do for credit cards. This can result in you paying significantly more for debit card processing than you should. This issue is also a shortcoming with flat-rate pricing plans offered by providers like Square (see our review). However, the lack of account fees usually associated with these types of processors often outweighs this consideration, especially for small or seasonal businesses.

eCheck (ACH) Payment Processing

Although it’s becoming less common, some consumers still prefer to pay by check whenever possible. Merchants can accept paper checks without the need for an eCheck processing service, and you’ll receive 100% of the sale price. However, you’ll have to make a trip to the bank to cash the check, and it might be rejected due to insufficient funds. There’s also the possibility of losing a paper check.

eCheck processing services eliminate all these problems, but they’re not free. Because not all merchants need them, most providers offer eCheck processing as an optional service, and charge a monthly fee for it (usually $20.00 – $30.00). You’ll also have to pay a small transaction fee for each processed check, but it’s much less than most credit or debit card transactions.

Most eCheck processing services require the use of a check scanner, which scans an electronic copy of the check and submits it to the customer’s bank to confirm the availability of funds. As long as the check won’t bounce, the transaction is approved immediately. Because of the monthly fees associated with most eCheck processing services, we recommend them only to businesses that accept a high volume of paper checks from their customers.

Digital Wallet Acceptance

We’re using the term “digital wallet” here to include payment methods that rely on near-field communication (NFC) technology. NFC-based payment methods utilize small, very short-range radios in both the consumer’s payment device (typically a smartphone or smartwatch) and the merchant’s credit card terminal. Apple Pay and Google Pay are currently the most popular forms of NFC-based payments. This technology has only been on the market for a few years and acceptance has been slow. The use of this payment method is growing, however, and merchants should consider adding it to meet the increasing demand. NFC payment methods are, of course, ultimately tied to the user’s credit or debit card, and these transactions are processed as a regular card transaction without any additional fees or markup. While they’re generally not available to independent merchants, other forms of digital wallet payment, such as Walmart’s proprietary Walmart Pay, use the smartphone’s camera and a QR code scanner to accept payments.

Payment Processing Methods

Credit and debit card transactions will be processed either through a traditional, full-service merchant account or a third-party payment processor like Square (see our review). While eCheck payments also go through your merchant account, they are processed under an Automated Clearing House (ACH) system that’s separate from the one used to process credit/debit cards.

Merchant Account and Payment Gateway

Merchant accounts can be used to accept both card-present and card-not-present transactions. Processing rates for card-not-present transactions are usually higher due to the higher level of risk associated with not having the cardholder’s magstripe or EMV data available. While card-present transactions require a magstripe or EMV terminal, card-not-present transactions can be keyed in manually or processed online using a payment gateway. While eCommerce-only merchants require a gateway to accept payments, retailers don’t need them. However, they’re becoming increasingly popular with retail merchants who want to add an online sales channel or take advantage of their integration with cloud-based reporting or inventory management applications.

Third-Party Payment Processor

Third-party payment processors (also known as payment service providers (PSPs)) offer credit/debit card processing services without a full-service merchant account. These types of payment processors are also known as aggregators, as they combine their merchant’s accounts rather than issue each business a unique merchant identification number. This arrangement eliminates most of the account fees associated with traditional merchant accounts, but also results in an increased risk of account freezes or terminations. Third-party processors generally charge using a simplified flat-rate pricing plan with rates that are higher than those available under interchange-plus pricing. The most well-known PSPs include Square (see our review) and PayPal (see our review).

ACH Payment Processor

As we’ve noted above, eCheck payments go through a separate processing method than credit/debit cards. While it’s possible to have an eCheck-only service without the need for a merchant account, this arrangement won’t be practical for most businesses. eCheck processing is usually offered as an optional service (at additional cost) due to the decreasing use of paper checks by consumers.

Final Thoughts

With so many payment methods to choose from, you’ll have to decide which ones are important to your business. While there are still a handful of cash-only businesses out there, today most retail merchants accept credit and debit cards due to the increased sales generated by offering this payment option. Whether you need a full-service merchant account or a third-party payment processor will depend on the size and nature of your business. Merchants operating seasonally or processing only a few thousand dollars per month can usually save money by signing up with a third-party payment processor. Most other businesses will require a full-service merchant account due to the lower processing costs and increased account security. For a brief overview of our highest-rated merchant account providers, check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

The post What Is Payment Processing? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is A Merchant Services Provider?

What is a merchant services provider?

If you’ve just started your own business or you’re looking to add credit and debit cards as payment methods, you’re going to be bombarded by a bewildering variety of new terms and concepts that you’ve never encountered before. One very basic term you’ll want to familiarize yourself with is the type of business entity known as a merchant services provider.

To understand what a merchant services provider is and what it can do for your business, you’ll first need to understand the concept of merchant services. This term describes the range of services and hardware and software products that allow merchants to accept and process credit or debit card transactions. Before the internet came along, things were pretty simple. Merchant services consisted of countertop terminals to input card payments, processing services to approve the transaction, and merchant accounts to deposit the money in after the sale. Today, it’s a much more complicated landscape, with eCommerce opening up far more opportunities for selling products remotely than just mail and telephone ordering. Software products such as payment gateways allow customers to pay for purchases directly over the internet, while inventory management and online reporting services give you the power to track virtually every aspect of your business on your computer.

Merchant services providers are sometimes also referred to as acquirers, processors, or merchant account providers. Here at Merchant Maverick, we use the term merchant services providers as a catch-all to cover entities such as merchant account providers, payment services providers (PSPs), payment gateway providers, and any other type of business that allows you to accept payment methods other than cash or paper checks.

Types of Merchant Services Providers

Not all merchant services providers offer the same features, but most fall into one of several categories that help to differentiate them a little from their competitors. The most common types of merchant services providers include the following:

Merchant Account Providers

These entities are the most commonly encountered merchant services providers. A merchant account provider can, at a minimum, provide you with a merchant account and processing services to ensure that you receive your money when a customer pays by credit or debit card. While all merchant account providers can set you up with a merchant account, only a few of the largest companies can also offer processing services to process your transactions. These companies are called direct processors, and include industry leaders such as First Data (see our review), Elavon (see our review), and TSYS Merchant Solutions (see our review). Most other merchant account providers rely on one of these direct processors to process their merchants’ transactions.

Payment Services Providers (PSPs)

While having a merchant account is a good idea for all but the smallest of businesses, you don’t absolutely need one to accept credit or debit card payments. A payment services provider (PSP), such as Square (see our review) or PayPal (see our review) can give your business the ability to accept these kinds of payment methods without a dedicated merchant account. Instead, your account will be aggregated with those of other merchants, and you won’t have a unique merchant ID number. This arrangement has the advantage of virtually eliminating the account fees and lengthy contract terms that often come with a traditional merchant account. However, these accounts are more prone to being frozen or terminated without notice, and customer service options aren’t as robust as they are with a full-service merchant account. PSPs are an excellent choice for businesses that only process a few thousand dollars a month in credit/debit card transactions or only operate on a seasonal basis.

Payment Gateway Providers

With the advent of eCommerce, a new kind of provider has come on the scene: the payment gateway provider. These companies can offer you a payment gateway, which you’ll need to accept online payments. However, they may or may not also offer you a merchant account to go with it. Authorize.Net (see our review), one of the largest and oldest gateway providers, gives you a choice between one of their merchant accounts or using their gateway with your existing merchant account. Other providers, such as PayTrace (see our review), offer a gateway-only service. You’ll have to get your own merchant account from a third-party provider.

Types of Merchant Services

Most merchant services providers offer a wide variety of products and services to allow merchants to accept credit and debit card payments, as well as manage their inventory and track other aspects of their business. Your needs as a merchant will depend on the nature and type of your business. While all businesses will need either a merchant account or a payment service account (if you’re signed up with a PSP), other features will only be useful for certain types of businesses. For example, if your business doesn’t sell anything online, you won’t need a payment gateway. Here’s a brief overview of the most common types of merchant services:

Merchant Accounts

Every business that wants to accept credit or debit cards as a form of payment will need a merchant account. While most merchant account providers offer full-service merchant accounts, those from PSPs like Square (see our review) lack a unique merchant ID number. Merchant ID numbers make your business easier to properly identify to payment processing systems, giving you some protection from fraud and adding stability to your account. A merchant account is simply an account where funds from processed transactions are deposited. Those funds are then transferred by your provider into a business account that you specify, such as a business checking account.

Credit Card Terminals

Retail merchants will also need a hardware product that can read your customers’ credit and debit cards and then transmit that information to your provider’s processing network. Traditional countertop terminals such as the Verifone Vx520 can connect to processing networks via either an Ethernet connection or a landline. Wireless models are also available, but they tend to be bulkier and more expensive than wired models, and require a wireless data plan (usually around $20.00 per month) to operate.

Terminals may be purchased outright or leased from your merchant services provider. Because most providers support the same terminals, we recommend either buying your terminal directly from your provider or purchasing it from a third-party supplier. Terminals require a software load which must be installed before they can accept transactions. If you buy your terminal from a third-party source, you’ll need to have it re-programmed to install this software. We strongly discourage terminal leasing due to the noncancelable nature of the leases and the fact that you’ll pay several times more than the value of the terminal over the lifetime of the lease.

In shopping for a terminal, you should select an EMV-compliant model as a minimum. Support for NFC-based payment methods (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay) is also a good choice as these methods are becoming more popular among customers.

Point of Sale (POS) Systems

POS systems combine the functions of a credit card terminal with a large computer display, enabling you to manage inventory and monitor your sales through a single piece of equipment. These systems include fully-featured, dedicated terminals and tablet-based software options that can run on an iPad or Android tablet. Many providers offer optional accessories such as tablet mounts, cash drawers, and check scanners, allowing you to accept any form of payment through a single device.

Mobile Payment (mPOS) Systems

These systems allow you to use your smartphone or tablet as a credit card terminal. mPOS systems consist of a mobile card reader that connects to your mobile device and an app to communicate with your provider’s processing network. While Square (see our review) was the first provider to offer a simple mPOS system, most providers now offer similar products. Although they’re difficult to find and cost more than simple magstripe-only readers, we recommend selecting a card reader with EMV compatibility and a Bluetooth connection (rather than the traditional headphone jack plug) to future-proof your system.

Payment Gateway

A payment gateway is simply software that communicates between your website and your provider’s processing networks, allowing you to accept payments over the internet. Because not all merchants need a gateway, providers usually charge a monthly gateway fee (around $25.00) to access this feature. Most gateways include support for recurring billing, a customer information management database, and security features such as encryption or tokenization to protect your customers’ data.

Virtual Terminal

A virtual terminal is another software product that turns your computer into a credit card terminal. Transactions can be entered manually or swiped using an optional USB-connected card reader. Virtual terminals are most commonly used by mail order/telephone order businesses that don’t have an eCommerce website.

Online Shopping Carts

Shopping cart software is designed for eCommerce merchants who need a more specialized shopping experience or want to customize the features of their website. Shopify (see our review) is one of the most popular online shopping carts. Check compatibility with your merchant services provider before selecting an online cart.

eCheck (ACH) Processing

eCheck processing is an optional feature offered by most merchant service providers. It allows you to scan paper checks and instantly confirm that funds are available to cover the purchase. This service protects you from fraud and saves you a trip to the bank.

Merchant Cash Advances and Small Business Loans

Merchant cash advances and small business loans provide another way for your business to receive funds when you need them, and most merchant services providers offer them. Check out our Merchant’s Guide to Short-Term Loans for more information.

Final Thoughts

Which specific merchant services you need will depend on the nature of your business. Retail-only businesses won’t need a payment gateway, but they will need reliable credit card terminals. eCommerce businesses can’t function without a payment gateway, but do not require terminals. Of course, if your business operates in both the retail and eCommerce sector (which is becoming more common), you’ll need just about every service your provider has to offer.

Every merchant service provider has their own unique combination of products and services, so you’ll want to ensure that a provider offers the features that you need before you sign up. Many of these services are proprietary, meaning they’ll only work with the provider that offers them. While this helps to ensure compatibility between different products, it also means you won’t be able to take your favorite product with you if you switch providers. This is more of a factor in the eCommerce sector, where payment gateways are often proprietary products. For an overview of our highest-rated merchant services providers, check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

The post What Is A Merchant Services Provider? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best iPad POS Systems

iPads: “They’re not just a way for tourists to awkwardly take photos anymore!”

(That is just one of the hundreds of rejected slogans I’ve pitched to Apple over the years, but I’m still optimistic. One of these days, I’ll hit the sweet spot and retire on the marketing royalties.)

In all seriousness, the iPad has been an enormous technological breakthrough across multiple platforms and, when it comes to the world of point of sale software, the iPad completely changed the game. Now entire businesses can be run on a simple, portable, and surprisingly cost-effective tablet. It’s really no surprise that so many POS companies have developed apps either specifically designed to run on the iPad or that are at least compatible with iOS. While Apple will always have its critics, the iPad’s appeal to business owners and customers alike is undeniable. But in a landscape where new iPad POS software dominates the market, it’s tough to figure out the best option to meet your needs. Fortunately, evaluating SMB software is what we do best here at Merchant Maverick. Read on for a look at a few of our favorite Apple iPad point of sale systems.

ShopKeep

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail businesses and smaller restaurant establishments.

Pricing

$69 per month per first three registers.

Feature Overview

ShopKeep (read our review) remains one of Merchant Maverick’s most recommended iPad POS systems because it features nearly every element you would want in a good point of sale software, and does so in a highly palatable and efficient manner. ShopKeep is also competitively priced and routinely updates its software to improve on an already stellar product. And with its recent advances in features for the restaurant/foodservice industry, ShopKeep continues to live up to our 5-star rating.

ShopKeep is successful largely because it stays in its lane. It is designed for small to mid-sized businesses and caters to them in most aspects. After a comprehensive walk-through during set-up that can help you with as much or as little as your previous experience with POS systems dictates, ShopKeep is exceptionally easy to use in all facets. The inventory management feature is truly impressive, offering an unlimited number of products and a matrix inventory, which is an advanced feature for a small to mid-sized business.

The company’s multi-store function has also come a long way and you can view details across all of your locations on one device. ShopKeep’s customer service is excellent and, although the company suggests using its own payment processing plan, it is integrated with numerous other processors so you’re not locked in.

Takeaway

Like most of the best POS systems, ShopKeep continues to improve. In particular, ShopKeep is becoming a better and better option for restaurants. Already boasting an excellent interface and strong reporting and employee management, the modifier and check functions of this POS make it worth a look for any new business owner. ShopKeep is at the top of its field for user-friendliness, working well with most versions of the iPad, including the iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad Mini.

Read our complete review or check out ShopKeep’s website for yourself.

Vend

Best For…

Any sized retail establishment

Pricing

Four options, starting with a limited free version. Other packages are $69, $99 and $249 a month with discounts for being billed annually.

Feature Overview

Vend (read our review) is a terrific option for anyone looking for a tablet POS system. The company offers a Mac bundle, PC bundle, and an iPad bundle, all of which feature Vend’s easy-to-use software and fairly robust feature set. If you’re a retailer looking to keep costs down while not feeling like you’re missing out on any top-tier functions, Vend is worth a long look.

Like ShopKeep, Vend does a nice job catering to its specialty: small to mid-sized retailers. There is some basic foodservice functionality that makes Vend perfectly acceptable for small vendors like cafes or food carts but, to retail shops will get the most bang for their buck (or lack of buck if you take advantage of Vend’s limited but still generous free version). Although the software is geared to smaller, more independent retailers, Vend is more than capable of handling a multi-store operation. Its eCommerce platform (available in the Advanced and Multi-Store versions) is easy to set up and navigate.

Vend thrives in the area of customer management. It offers a built-in and comprehensive loyalty function and makes it easy to take and store customer information for future promotions. The inventory management tool offers everything a small business would need, with the ability to import via a CSV file and an option for creating purchase orders. Vend integrates with loads of other software apps and has strong customer service, although it charges extra for its premium support.

Takeaway

Vend is one of the most versatile and effective iPad POS systems for retail businesses. If you’re a small company just starting out, you can take advantage of its free package. And if you have a large-scale multi-store enterprise, Vend is robust enough to have your back as well. With an advanced eCommerce platform and great customer management, Vend is worth a long look.

Read our complete review or visit Vend’s website on your own.

Revel

revel systems

Best For…

Mid-sized to larger foodservice businesses, though it can be adapted to smaller restaurants as well.

Pricing

Revel has a flexible pricing structure depending on what features you need. The cost of the software is built into the monthly subscription.

Feature Overview

Revel (read our review) packs a ton into its relatively unassuming software. The company, which functions best as an Apple-based restaurant POS, has also expanded to suit certain retail establishments as well. Revel currently is only offered on Apple iOS devices, but it is a fully functional POS and is robust enough to suit large, multi-store restaurant chains. However, as long as you’re not overwhelmed by its wealth of back-end features and an interface that is slightly less intuitive than average, Revel is flexible enough to work with smaller retailers as well. It features a flexible pricing structure to suit multiple needs.

As you would expect, Revel offers real-time inventory management with a convenient matrix for importing mass items and tracking them across multiple locations. Revel also has a fantastic Kiosk option for iPads which allows customers to order and pay on their own with a number of different methods. The Kitchen Display System for cooks is a strong feature, helping to cut down on ticket times and increase communication between the front- and backend of a restaurant.

Where Revel really separates itself is reporting. Its comprehensive suite features a convenient layout and runs nearly any report you could think of. Combine that with a great QuickBooks integration, and Revel makes some of the minutiae and tedium of backend features simple.

Takeaway

Revel is a powerhouse of a POS that can handle large-scale restaurant establishments. The system boasts excellent real-time reporting and an extensive employee management system. Though it comes with a slightly higher learning curve than some systems, Revel’s wealth of integrations gives it a big edge in a very competitive market, and it’s one of our favorite POS solutions here at Merchant Maverick.

You can find our full review here or check out Revel’s website.

talech

talech POS logo

Best For…

Almost any type of food service establishment.

Pricing

$69 or $99 a month with an enterprise option as well.

Feature Overview

There are many nice things about talech (read our review), but what I really appreciate is that, depending on your size of business, you can really get what you pay for. The Standard package gives you everything you would need for a small retail store or quick serve restaurant, while the Premium package expands its features to serve larger retailers and full-service restaurants, meaning you’re generally not going to be paying for features you’re not using.

talech does plenty of things well, starting with a strong and functional inventory management system. You can generate your own barcodes and print them from any device, track product history and performance across multiple stores, and create complex inventory bundles. Employee management is another strength; talech makes it easy to track an individual’s sales and actions. There is also a function which makes it so that managers, via swipe cards, are the only ones allowed to make voids.

talech review

talech is constantly updating and adapting to stay on top of current trends. One of its most recent changes is its online ordering system, which is an add-on that can dramatically increase a business’s sales output. talech integrates with a handful of major companies, including QuickBooks, Xero, Shopify, and Magento. It also offers highly regarded customer service.

Takeaway

talech is exceptionally affordable and has options for small to large restaurants. Even with lower tier packages, you get terrific inventory and employee management. With its commitment to updating its software and the ability to set up online ordering, talech continues to impress.

Read our complete review of talech or check out their website.

ERPLY

erply-logo

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail businesses.

Pricing

$200 or $350 a month with enterprise options available.

Feature Overview

For ease of use, ERPLY, (read our review) continues to be at the top of the iPad point of sale class. Designed specifically for small to mid-sized retail businesses, ERPLY is another company that specifically seeks to alleviate recurring issues that smaller, independent business owners may be having with their software. ERPLY is remarkably user-friendly and comes with the ability to customize and print purchase orders — and it also connects with major shipping companies.

Inventory management is simple and customizable. You can set limits for stock to be automatically reordered. Tracking inventory across multiple stores is intuitive, and ERPLY’s inventory module makes it possible to determine pricing by location (or even by a specific promotion or sale that you may be running). Speaking of which, ERPLY offers a built-in function for promotions and it can store all kinds of information on customers, from their social media IDs to their loyalty points.

ERPLY comes with well over 100 reports, so if you’re into analytics, they’ve more than got you covered. You would think with that much to offer, the software would be a bit unwieldy, but ERPLY prides itself on its simple to use platform. Everything can be customized to suit your personal style.

Takeaway

ERPLY isn’t a bargain by any means, but if you’re looking for an iPad POS that’s pretty much hassle free and loaded with features, it might be worth the expense. ERPLY is easy to navigate right out of the box and does just about everything well. It is particularly useful if your business has multiple locations. You’ll have to shell out a bit more per month than you would for some other systems, but many merchants will find the convenience worth the cost.

You can find our full review here or visit ERPLY’s website on your own.

SalesVu

Best For…

Small to mid-sized retail and restaurant establishments.

Pricing

Flexible, but generally ranging from $25 to $150 a month.

Feature Overview

Another one of our 5-star systems, SalesVu (read our review) can handle both small to mid-sized retail and restaurant establishments. The software isn’t flashy, but all of the functionality you would expect from an Apple-based POS is there. Food industry businesses can set up their menus to switch to Happy Hour prices at specific times, and a convenient kiosk function allows customers to order directly at the table. SalesVu’s simple eCommerce platform is ideal for online ordering, and creating your own website with back-end integrations built-in can be done in a matter of minutes.

SalesVu’s inventory management is excellent, allowing for mass imports via CSV files. You can also use your iPad or your iPhone as a scanner. When an item is getting low, SalesVu alerts you and gives you the option of pulling the item completely or allowing for sales to go through even when supplies are limited.

SalesVu is also a great option for spas, salons, or any service-based businesses, featuring a built-in function that connects employees to a scheduling calendar.

Salesvu review

There are also plenty of reports available, as well as a built-in loyalty integration that can store customer information for sales and promotions. Currently, SalesVu is limited in its integrations but it does pair with QuickBooks and a handful of different credit card processors. You also get highly rated customer service. SalesVu is a fairly affordable iPad point of sale system, but its pricing structure can be a bit convoluted, so you’ll want to speak with a representative to sort out the details.

Takeaway

SalesVu’s flexibility is refreshing and, even if you’re going with one of its smaller packages, you get a lot for your money. The inventory management is excellent and, for small food service businesses, its kiosk function is terrific. Built-in loyalty and integrations with multiple processors are also big pluses.

Read our complete overview of SalesVu or visit the company’s website.

Lavu

Best For…

Quick service or full-service restaurants.

Pricing

$79/month with enterprise option available.

Feature Overview

Designed specifically for iPads, Lavu (read our review) is an impressive POS that can fill the needs of most mid-sized food industry businesses (either quick service or full service) and some light retail establishments. The interface is sleek and modern and designed with servers in mind. Order taking is simple and table and menu layouts are all intuitive and customizable. Lavu has a very convenient system for creating and executing modifiers as well.

Keeping with its employee-friendly theme, employee management is one of Lavu’s strong suits. Servers can log in with a key code and their hours and overtime are easily tracked; permissions can be assigned with a simple click. The company has also recently bolstered its inventory management feature, allowing for bulk importing and automatic alerts when products run low. If you are operating multiple stores, inventory can quickly be transferred from one location to another.

Lavu’s gift card and loyalty plans are both available as add-ons, which isn’t ideal. However, once you’ve purchased these add-ons, they integrated seamlessly with the software. Lavu has some other nice integrations, including an impressive customizable kitchen display system and customer-friendly features for online ordering and pick-up. Lavu integrates with a wide range of processing companies as well, giving you flexibility.

Takeaway

Your employees should love Lavu — its interface is easy to learn and simple to navigate. And, as a manager, you’ll appreciate the customizable options and employee management functions. Lavu has recently beefed up its inventory management, which had been one of its few flaws in the past, and it is now an extremely well-rounded option.

Check out our complete review of Lavu or visit Lavu’s website.

iConnect

Best For…

Most retail establishments with a bent toward spas and salons.

Pricing

$75/month with a multi-store option available,

Feature Overview

With a name like iConnect, (read our review) you know you have a POS made specifically for iOS (although it recently updated to function on Windows as well). iConnect is a versatile system that is perfect for small or large retail establishments, depending on the plan you purchase. iConnect has some unique features that make it a particularly strong option for businesses that book appointments, like salons. With the ability to set up recurring billing, it’s also a useful system for gyms and other businesses that operate on monthly subscription plans.

Customer management is a big draw for iConnect. Each customer is assigned a code, storing their information and making it simple to create specific promotions with its built-in loyalty program. As with most Apple POS systems, the interface is intuitive and comes with a helpful set-up process. Some of the more advanced features come with a higher learning curve, but the front-end, in particular, is easy to navigate.

iConnect comes with 55 reports and you can customize how they appear, easily adding your most run reports to the top of the screen. It’s not the most robust reporting system around, but most businesses shouldn’t find it lacking. There is also eCommerce functionality that can help you create your own website at no extra cost. The system comes with a large number of impressive integrations and the option to purchase add-ons that could be helpful, depending on your specific business.

Takeaway

iConnect is another versatile option that can be customized to fit your business’s needs. This iPad POS features some unique features for gyms, spas, and salons. iConnect has strong customer management features, especially in terms of setting up promotions, and its interface is intuitive and easy to operate.

You can find our full review here or visit iConnect’s website on your own.

Final Thoughts

iPad users are notoriously loyal to their devices and, if you fall into this category and are hunting for a POS system, you’re in luck. Many of the best point of sale systems were specifically designed to run on iOS — there’s almost certainly an option that will meet your needs. And this is not an exhaustive list, by any means. For the full scoop on all the top-rated POS systems for iPad, be sure to check out our iPad POS software reviews. 

The post The Best iPad POS Systems appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Best Shipping Software For 2018

It’s 4:30 on a Friday and you’re knee-deep in packing peanuts and cardboard boxes. You’ve got twenty orders to pick, pack, and ship before the post office closes, and you keep misplacing your packing slips.

There must be a better way.

If your storage space is covered in packing materials and you record all your shipping information in spreadsheets and Post-It notes, it might be time to try something else.

In the era in which an app solves everything, it makes sense to turn to software solutions to soothe your shipping woes.

Shipping software solutions integrate with most popular eCommerce software programs and can help simplify your day-to-day operations. They let you calculate accurate shipping rates and print shipping labels and packing slips in bulk. They can even grant you discounted shipping rates.

These programs are typically available as SaaS solutions that range in price from $25/month to $99/month — a small price to pay for the shipping issues they resolve.

It’s clear you should subscribe to a shipping software, but with so many options available, how do you choose?

We’ve tested out a handful of shipping solutions, examining price, ease of use, and customer service. Keep reading to learn more about the best shipping software for 2018.

1. ShippingEasy

With a near-perfect score of 4.5 stars, ShippingEasy (see our review) is our top-rated shipping solution for eCommerce businesses. This software is true to its name: it’s easy to learn and use and customer support representatives are ready to help with any potential hiccups.

Best For…

Businesses of all sizes. It works especially well for eCommerce merchants who run their own online stores.

Pricing

Pricing for ShippingEasy is simple and affordable; plans range from $29/month for 500 shipments to $99/month for 6,000 shipments. Each step up in pricing includes more monthly shipments and higher level customer support.

ShippingEasy has a free plan available for merchants shipping fewer than 50 shipments/month. For high volume sellers, ShippingEasy also offers enterprise options. Read more about ShippingEasy’s pricing in our full review.

Features

As I mentioned above, we found ShippingEasy to be highly user-friendly. You can easily import orders, create shipments, set shipping parameters, and buy and print postage, shipping labels, and packing slips.

We also like how many features come included with ShippingEasy. And we especially love the fact that ShippingEasy’s partnership with USPS lets you benefit from lower shipping rates. You can save up to 46% on shipping rates when you sign on for one of ShippingEasy’s paid plans.

Other features include:

  • A Free Endicia Account
  • Shipping Status Updates & Real-Time Tracking
  • Individual Or Batch Shipping

If you’re worried that ShippingEasy might not integrate into your eCommerce software, fear no more! ShippingEasy integrates easily with the biggest names in eCommerce, including 3dcart, Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify, Volusion, and WooCommerce. View all of ShippingEasy’s integrations.

ShippingEasy also has a good record when it comes to customer service. Their support representatives are knowledgeable and helpful.

Takeaway

With so many positives to ShippingEasy, it’s hard to find any downsides. You should note, however, that ShippingEasy still has room to grow when it comes to simplifying their daily operations. In particular, users would like to see improvement in expediting the data entry process.

Otherwise, ShippingEasy is an excellent option. Take a look at our shipping software reviews to learn more about the software or sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Read our full ShippingEasy review

Visit the ShippingEasy website

2. OrderCup

OrderCup (see our review) is one of our favorite shipping software solutions. OrderCup offers an easy to use interface, multi-carrier shipping options, and discounted shipping rates. And best of all, OrderCup provides users with reliable and responsive customer support, so you can get answers to your pressing questions quickly.

Best For…

Merchants who ship between 500 and 12,000 shipments a month and who only need up to 12 users on the platform. With five tiered pricing plans, OrderCup is accessible to many merchants.

Pricing

As I mentioned before, OrderCup separates pricing into five tiers. To add a little fun to the pricing, OrderCup has named each tier after a Starbucks drink size. Plans range from Short to Trenta, and each step up in pricing includes more sales channels, more monthly shipments, and more users.

The Short plan begins at $20/month for 500 monthly shipments, and Trenta costs $180/month for 12,000 monthly shipments.

For more information, view OrderCup’s pricing page.

Features

OrderCup’s dashboard is well-organized and quick to learn. During setup, you’ll be able to integrate your hosted shopping cart. Your online store’s orders will be automatically transferred to your OrderCup dashboard.

Then, you’ll be able to connect with your favorite carriers and start processing orders.

OrderCup’s feature list includes everything you’d expect from a multi-carrier shipping software. They have made arrangements with several carriers, including the USPS, DHL, UK Mail, and DX to offer their customers discounted shipping rates. You’ll also be able to integrate with worldwide shipping carriers across Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Here are a few more features you can expect from OrderCup:

  • Automate Your Shipping Process
  • Print Return Labels To Include With Shipments
  • Bulk Import Orders Using CSV Files
  • Schedule Shipment Pickups
  • Integrate With Third-Party Fulfillment

OrderCup integrates with many eCommerce solutions, including Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, WooCommerce, and Volusion. Integrated marketplaces include Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. Check the full list for more information.

Out of all these features, OrderCup users seem to be most enthusiastic about OrderCup’s support team. Support representatives are responsive and patient, often spending up to an hour on the phone with users to make sure everything is working properly. Users also praise OrderCup’s Canadian shipping options; it is easy to ship to and from Canada.

There are few negative comments about OrderCup online, though we have seen customers complain about having to pay extra in order to access phone support and get priority attention for their technical issues.

Takeaway 

OrderCup is one of our favorite shipping software programs, scoring an excellent 4.5 out of 5 stars. If you think this software might be the right fit for your business, we recommend you try it out. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial in minutes.

But if you’d like a bit more information before you proceed, take a look at our complete review. We include in-depth information about pricing, customer service levels, and more.

Read our full OrderCup review

Visit the OrderCup website

3. Ordoro

Ordoro (see our review) is a shipping and inventory application designed for SMBs. Known for its drop-shipping features, Ordoro is particularly popular among Shopify users.

Best For…

Small to medium-sized businesses. Merchants who are planning to dropship can benefit especially from the software.

Pricing

With Ordoro, you have two options. You can use Ordoro to handle just your shipping, or you can have Ordoro handle shipping, inventory management, and dropshipping. Ordoro sets up their pricing structure differently, depending on which features you choose.

In my opinion, it’s best to use Ordoro for shipping only. Paid plans for shipping begin at $25/month and go to $129/month. Each step up in pricing includes additional features and monthly shipments. There’s also a free plan available for merchants shipping fewer than 50 orders/month.

Pricing for shipping and inventory management is structured much differently. The lowest plan costs $199/month for 700 orders. This plan includes drop shipping features. Plans can go as high as $499/month for 4,000 orders. For more information, view Ordoro’s pricing page.

Features

Ordoro comes with a minimalistic user interface. You can easily link your shopping cart to your new Ordoro account during setup. Then you’ll be able to sync your inventory and push new orders automatically to Ordoro. You can create shipping labels and packing slips one-by-one or in bulk.

Ordoro’s best feature is without a doubt their dropshipping functionality (available with shipping + inventory plans). You can set select items to ship directly from your supplier, and you can automatically split orders to dropship from multiple suppliers.

Here are a few more features that come with Orodoro:

  • Process Orders From Multiple Sales Channels
  • Integrate With USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL, Canada Post, & Amazon Seller Fulfilled Prime
  • Best-In-Industry Shipping Rates (Up To 67% With USPS)
  • Tracking Number Automatically Sent To Customers Upon Shipment
  • Inventory Management (If You Choose To Purchase It)

Ordoro integrates with a wide variety of eCommerce solutions, including Shopify, BigCommerce, FBA, 3dcart, Magento, WooCommerce, and more. See if your preferred vendor is on the full list.

Ordoro users have a lot of good things to say about the platform. In particular, they praise Ordoro’s technical support options. Customers report that a real person will be available to answer your support concerns. On the off chance you can’t reach anyone, Ordoro’s knowledge base is detailed and well organized. You might find the information you need there.

I’ve seen a few negative reports of Ordoro. Some customers cite trouble syncing their Ordoro account with other software programs (namely Shopify and FedEx). Other customers complain that while Ordoro’s interface is easy to navigate, that simplicity is due to a lack of features.

Takeaway

In our opinion, Ordoro is best suited to small businesses, especially those that engage in a lot of dropshipping. To learn more about Ordoro, read our full review, or try out the platform yourself by signing up for a free 15-day trial.

Read our full Ordoro review

Visit the Ordoro website

4. ShipStation

ShipStation

ShipStation (see our review) is arguably the best-known shipping solution, partly due to the company’s excellent marketing campaigns and partly due to the numerous integrations they offer with major eCommerce vendors.

Best For…

Small to mid-sized businesses, particularly those which sell online.

Pricing

Pricing for ShipStation is on par with industry standards. You can choose from six pricing tiers, ranging from $9/month for 50 orders to $145/month for unlimited shipments. ShipStation does not offer a free plan, but they do offer a free 30-day trial of their software.

Features

When it comes to ease of use, ShipStation prioritizes functionality over aesthetics, which is perfectly fine by me!

If you have any trouble learning your way around, ShipStation provides video tutorials to help you figure out the admin. In general, we think that ShipStation is highly usable, though it may take some time to get the hang of the advanced tools.

ShipStation offers the basic collection of features, including the following:

  • Integrations For USPS, UPS, FedEx, & DHL Accounts
  • Discounts On USPS Priority & Express Mail
  • Stamps.com Account Included
  • Batch-Print Hundreds Of Shipping Labels & Packing Slips
  • Print A Return Label To Include In Your Shipments

ShipStation really shines when it comes to integrations. Check out this full list to see which eCommerce platforms, shipping carriers, and payment solutions integrate easily with ShipStation. Happily, it integrates with the most popular eCommerce solutions, including BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Volusion, Miva Merchant, and PrestaShop.

ShipStation’s customer service is available by email. They also provide live webinars, a knowledge base, and a community forum.

We see only one potential issue with ShipStation: it’s lacking customer management features. You cannot add identifying characteristics to a customer’s account, and ShipStation does not always recognize a customer when they make a second purchase on a different sales channel. However, for most users, this difficulty is not a deal breaker.

Takeaway

If you’re looking for an efficient, reliable shipping solution, ShipStation may be the way to go. Once you invest some time into learning the system, you’ll be able to reap the rewards of a feature-rich shipping solution.

Learn more about ShipStation in our full review or take it for a spin with a 30-day free trial.

Read our full ShipStation review

Visit the ShipStation website

 

5. ShipRush

ShipRush (see our review) is an affordable software solution that is designed to make shipping selection efficient. ShipRush displays rates from multiple different carriers on the same page in your admin, allowing you to quickly and easily choose the most cost-effective shipping rates. What’s more, ShipRush offers support for many different types of shipping, including individual package shipping, freight shipping, and LTL shipping. Keep reading to learn more about the merits of ShipRush.

Best For…

Merchants who need to ship freight. I would recommend ShipRush primarily to smaller businesses, as the pricing model is designed for three users (though more can be added on at an additional expense).

Pricing

ShipRush’s pricing model is simple. It is divided into two options: Web and Desktop.

ShipRush’s web option is based on a monthly payment model and costs $29.95/month for up to three users (additional users can be added on three at a time for an additional $29.95/month).

On the other hand, the ShipRush Desktop version can be purchased annually for $795/year per workstation.

Features

You can test out ShipRush for 60 days by signing up for a free trial. Once you sign up, you’ll be presented with this dashboard.

The dashboard is a bit austere, but we don’t mind much as ShipRush has proved itself to be very functional.

Once I got over the initial learning curve, I was able to calculate shipping rates and print shipping labels and packing slips easily.

Here are a few other features that ShipRush users benefit from:

  • Discounted Shipping Rates (Save Up To 60% On USPS Rates & 21% On FedEx Rates)
  • View Rates From Multiple Carriers On One Screen
  • Send Notifications To Customers When Orders Ship
  • Dropshipping Support
  • Print Scan-Based Return Labels

For the full list, head over to ShipRush’s website.

ShipRush integrates with over 75 eCommerce platforms, payment processors, shipping carriers, and accounting and CRM software apps. These integrations include 3dcart, Ecwid, LemonStand, Big Cartel, Shopify, FedEx, UPS, and USPS.

ShipRush has a lot of positives. Customers especially like the quality customer service and the relative ease of use. One downfall potential users should note is that merchants who maintain a large inventory (thousands of products) may have a hard time with the software. Creating shipping rules for all these different types of products could be more effort than it’s worth.

Takeaway

ShipRush is a great software for many businesses. It’s affordable, functional, and reliable, and you can test it out for yourself using their free 60-day trial.

For more information on ShipRush, take a look at our complete review of the platform. Otherwise, keep reading for more shipping options.

Read our full ShipRush review

Visit the ShipRush website

6. ShipHawk

ShipHawk (see our review) is a bit different than the alternative shipping software we cover above. While those software programs provide easy to use interfaces and hundreds of features, ShipHawk focuses its energy on one thing: an algorithm. ShipHawk is a complex shipping calculator, designed for large businesses and businesses that ship oversized or unique items.

Best For…

Larger businesses. ShipHawk’s cheapest plan is targeted at merchants who spend up to $500K on shipping annually. ShipHawk is also good for merchants who ship uniquely shaped or oversized items.

Pricing

ShipHawk offers three pricing tiers. With each step up in pricing, you’ll be able to ship more parcels and freight and have access to more advanced features and technical support.

The Starter plan starts at $250/month and is for merchants who spend up to $500K on shipping annually. Then there’s the Pro plan, which begins at $2K/month and is intended for annual shipping expenses up to $2M; finally, there’s the Enterprise plan, for an annual spend of up to $25M. Enterprise begins at $4,500/month.

As you can see, ShipHawk is not a cheap platform. It is designed for high volume shippers who need a high volume platform.

Features

In order to test out ShipHawk, you can sign up for a free demo of the starter plan. I didn’t find ShipHawk to be as intuitive as other shipping software apps I’ve tested. However, given time, I was able to figure out a few features. And as a whole, the dashboard seems well designed.

As I’ve mentioned before, ShipHawk works a bit differently than most shipping software when it comes to features. While ShipHawk does offer some of your typical features, they primarily advertise the calculator behind the software. ShipHawk will help estimate expenses for hard-to-ship items.

Here are a few of the more notable features:

  • Get Quotes From Multiple Carriers
  • Real-Time Tracking Updates
  • API: Integrate With Shipping Carriers & Shopping Cart Software
  • Set Up Automatic Shipping Rules
  • Provide Shipping Options To Customers

ShipHawk advertises that you can integrate with most software solutions through their API. You can expect to find pre-built integrations with a few shipping carriers and shopping carts, including DHL, FedEx, UPS, USPS, Magento, Shopify, and more.

Customer feedback regarding ShpHawk is very limited. However, after some time searching the web, I was able to find a few comments. Customers primarily love ShipHawk’s customer service and robust calculation abilities. I myself was a bit disappointed with ShipHawk’s support material. There did not seem to be enough tutorial information to help me set up the program.

Takeaway

ShipHawk is not the right fit for many of our readers. However, if you ship thousands of products each month and you need access to freight and individual shipments, ShipHawk may be right for you. Test it out with a free demo and read our review for more information.

Read our full ShipHawk review

Visit the ShipHawk website

Get Started!

If you’re tired of losing yourself in packing peanuts and misplaced notes-to-self, try out one of these software options. You’ll find that shipping is much less of a chore when order processing and fulfillment is automated, organized, and synchronized. With many solutions beginning at $25/month, shipping software is a small investment that could do a lot for your business. Click one of the buttons above to get started with a free trial, or search our site for more quality shipping software reviews.

Good luck, and happy shipping!

The post Best Shipping Software For 2018 appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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