This article is part of a larger series on POS Systems.
Overall, Square is our top-recommended POS system for small businesses. And, in our evaluation of the best retail POS systems, Square for Retail tops the list with a 4.62 out of 5 based on our assessment of 26 data points including pricing, register functions, management features, ease of use, and our test of the software.
Square for Retail is a point-of-sale (POS) system that offers software and hardware packages along with built-in payment processing for brick-and-mortar businesses. Its base plan is free and perfect for small retailers that require basic inventory tools, while its paid plans come with advanced team and account management capabilities for businesses that want to expand or further scale their operations. Both subscriptions come with barcode and online selling functionality plus optional add-ons for marketing, loyalty, and payroll.
After demoing and evaluating dozens of POS software over the course of several years, we can say that Square for Retail is the best overall POS system for most small shops. It has all the tools retailers need to operate smoothly, runs on an easy-to-use interface, is a great value for your money, and can work both in-store and on the go.
Did you know?
Square offers a full ecosystem of small business tools, which also make our lists of the best:
- Merchant services and payment processing
- Ecommerce platform
- Appointment scheduling apps
- Payroll services
- Invoicing software
One of the benefits of using Square is that you have access to its other tools, many of which are free to use and all of which work together seamlessly.
Square for Retail POS Deciding Factors
Supported Business Types
Square for Retail is specifically designed to support small shops and mobile retail operations; however, Square also has a general-purpose POS and dedicated software for restaurants and appointment-based businesses.
Monthly Software Fees
$0 forever-free plan; $60/month/location Plus plan
Setup and Installation Fees
Square only offers DIY self-install
No contracts, cancel at any time
Payment Processing Options
If you use Square software, you’re locked into using Square Payments
Payment Processing Fees
In-person: 2.6% + 10 cents, 2.5% + 10 cents with Plus plan
Online: 2.9% + 30 cents
Custom pricing available if you process more than $250,000 annually
Phone, chat, email and knowledge base / forum
Limited phone support (Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific time)
Square for Retail POS Alternatives
iPad app or browser-based
Lightspeed Payments, or third-party*
Multichannel retail and online-first businesses
Shopify Payments, or third-party**
Large brick-and-mortar retailers and multistore operations
iPad app or browser-based
Lightspeed Payments, or third-party*
Working with your existing merchant account
Clover proprietary hardware
First Data, or third-party reseller
* Software fees are higher if you opt for a third-party processor
**Shopify adds transaction fees ranging from 0.5%–2% when you use a third-party processor
Square for Retail offers a forever-free plan, and its Plus plan is very affordable at only $60 per month (most advanced retail POS systems come in closer to $100 per month). It also offers unlimited users, transactions, and products, even on the free plan. This, combined with competitive integrated payment processing earned Square for Retail a perfect score for pricing.
Square offers a 30-day free trial of its Plus plan. All subscriptions are month-to-month, with no long-term contracts. You can add, pause, and remove features and their corresponding monthly fees at any time right from within the Square dashboard. I find this particularly helpful as it eliminates the back-and-forth that typically happens over the phone or email when trying to cancel a subscription. If you need to pause your subscription, Square will save your data so that it will be there if you resume later.
Read our breakdown on pricing and fees for all of Square’s products.
Square for Retail Free vs Plus
Fees and Features
$60 per location
Card-present transaction fees
2.6% + 10 cents per transaction
2.5% + 10 cents per transaction
Keyed-in transaction fees
3.5% + 15 cents per transaction
3.5% + 15 cents per transaction
Online and invoice transaction fees
2.9% + 30 cents per transaction
2.9% + 30 cents per transaction
Barcode searching and scanning
Online store tools
Basic team management
Create and print barcode labels
Track and adjust stock transfers
Advanced inventory reporting
The main difference between Square for Retail Free and Plus is access to premium features, including vendor management and advanced inventory reporting and the ability to create and print barcode labels and track and adjust stock transfers.
All Square software works on iPads and iPhones and allows for unlimited transactions. Square for Retail also operates on Square Register (one of Square’s proprietary POS hardware systems), though with a few limitations.
In our experience working with both Square for Retail Plus and the free plan, the free option has more than enough features to get your business up and running smoothly. While the inventory controls and reporting are basic, Square will still track product levels and allow unlimited items in your inventory list. The advanced features you see in the Plus subscription become necessary if you grow to multiple locations or desire more advanced business insights.
Square for Retail Hardware
Square offers a range of hardware to support both desktop and mobile POS. Square for Retail software users can choose between a fully integrated POS terminal (Square Register) or an iPad-based stand with a contactless and chip reader (Square Stand).
The main difference between the two options is the display. Square Stand is a better choice if you prefer more mobility and already have a compatible iPad. Meanwhile, Square Register offers a larger screen and customer-facing display that is ideal for stationary countertop checkouts.
Square for Retail also works on iPhones, which is ideal if you’re on the go, or want your staff to be able to accept payments curbside or on the sales floor. However, some features—such as barcode printing and scanning, cross-location inventory search, and cash drawer management—are unavailable.
Square Register vs Square Stand
Square Stand for iPad
$799 (or $39 per month for 24 months)
$149 (or $14 per month for 12 months)
Connects via Bluetooth and accepts EMV and NFC payments. Optional receipt printer, cash drawer, and barcode scanner.
Built-in EMV, NFC, and Cash App payments. Optional accessories include receipt printer, cash drawer, scale, mount, and barcode scanner.
Since Our Last Update
Square released a new version of Square Stand that has a built-in chip and contactless card reader (the previous version required a separate card reader). This version also offers a better, smoother swivel. All around, the new and improved stand has less clutter with fewer wires and peripherals, has an updated interface with an illuminated transaction summary screen, and is now offered at an even lower price point ($149 compared to $169).
Coming Soon: Square Mount. Square is soon releasing a countertop and wall mount for Square Stand to transform it into a countertop checkout or self-service kiosk.
Note that some features are currently unavailable on Square Register, including purchase order receiving, purchase order creation, and cross-location inventory lookup. If you use this hardware, you’ll need to access these features via Square Dashboard. Also of note—Square Register can only connect to peripherals like receipt printers and barcode scanners through hard connections like USB or Ethernet—there is no Bluetooth capability.
Square for Retail Hardware Accessories
Star Micronics TSP143IIU
Star Micronics mC-Print3 Thermal Printer*
Star Micronics mPOP* 39650810
Zebra Symbol LS2208
Socket Mobile SocketScan S700**
*Compatible with Square Register only through USB
** Not compatible with Square Register
Square for Retail Add-ons
Square for Retail is part of the Square ecosystem, meaning you can seamlessly integrate any of Square’s many programs into your Square for Retail POS. A few of the top add-ons that retailers may include in their Square for Retail subscription include:
- Square Online: Build a basic online store for free, upgraded plans from $12 per month. Read our Square Online review.
- Square Marketing: Starts at $15 per month
- Square Loyalty: Starts at $45 per month
- Square Payroll: $35 + $5 per employee each month. Read our full Square Payroll review.
- Team Plus: $35/month (included for free in Retail Plus plan)
All Square for Retail plans include a basic online store, though upgrades are available. For employee management, all Square for Retail accounts offer basic features, but advanced features are included for no additional cost to Retail Plus subscribers, which we detail in the sections below.
Square for Retail has solid register functionality, which improved even further with the new redesign of the Square for Retail app. It now features customizable tiles (similar to hotkeys) so you can add and sort buttons based on what’s most important to your store.
Square for Retail’s basic plan lets you scan barcodes with your iPad camera or a connected barcode scanner to ring up sales. You can save carts for later, offer discounts, and perform advanced item searches with a handy item search tool on the checkout screen. It also gives you a preview of your customer profile during checkout.
Plus plan subscribers get the added benefits of receiving purchase orders, adding inventory, selling/redeeming digital and physical gift cards, and processing cross-location returns and exchanges in a single transaction.
Square for Retail’s checkout functionality is extremely user-friendly and prompts users through each step of the checkout process to mitigate errors.
The register app also offers:
- A variety of payment options: Contactless, chip, Cash App, Afterpay, card-on-file, and gift cards
- Simple return management: You can search by customer or transaction to easily issue a refund and adjust stock levels
- Mobility: With unlimited users and the ability to download the app across multiple devices, you can arm your staff with mobile checkouts via the iPhone and iPad app. Square also has basic offline payment functionality on certain card readers, where it will store the transaction for later.
- Online ordering: Accept online orders for in-store or curbside pickup. The orders automatically appear on your POS, with configurable settings for how they are displayed.
While overall, Square for Retail offers one of the best checkout flows that balances comprehensive features and ease of use, it is missing the following features:
- Store credit: There is no option to issue or manage store credit or layaway. However, you can work around this by issuing gift cards as store credit.
- Work order management: Currently, Square does not have workflows to manage custom orders, repairs, or product assemblies.
Square has built-in payment processing via Square Payments. It offers predictable, flat-rate transaction fees that are fairly competitive, and discounts are available with certain subscriptions and for retailers processing over $250,000. Square’s payment processing is EMV-compliant and has built-in end-to-end encryption. It also has excellent chargeback protection, offering up to $250 in coverage each month. And, you can get same-day instant payouts for a 1.5% fee.
Since our Last Update: Afterpay available for Point-of-Sale Transactions
As of May 17, 2022, Square sellers can now offer buy now, pay later (BNPL) payments through Afterpay for online and in-store transactions. Through September 10, 2022, transaction rates for Afterpay sales will be reduced to 2.6% + 10 cents (same as Square’s standard in-person transaction fee). After that point, rates will increase to 6% + 30 cents. Learn more about BNPL.
If you unsubscribe from Square for Retail’s Plus plan or if your plan lapses, you can still use Square to process payments. However, the processing fee will go back to the standard 2.6% + 10 cents.
Read our dedicated Square Payments review to learn more.
Square for Retail allows you to keep your business going even during a temporary loss of internet connectivity. You can still take payments and create and manage items in offline mode. Additionally, you can still access and manage inventory and customer directory data from your register or iPad stand. Note that offline payments will be processed automatically as soon as an internet connection is established; otherwise, they will expire after 72 hours.
Square for Retail Offline Functions*
Create and manage items
Access customer directory
*Offline mode is available only for card-present transactions using magnetic stripe cards.
Square Invoice is a smart invoicing tool that automates your billing process and allows you to streamline billing and client/vendor information in one place.
With Square for Retail’s invoicing, you can:
- Keep card information on file
- Send out custom notes on time
- Monitor the status of your sent invoices from any device
- Accept and create invoices
- Assign discounts and taxes so that you can add them quickly to your invoices in a few clicks
Customization tools allow you to personalize your invoice design with line item notes, your company logo, color scheme, and personalized messages. Aside from regular invoices, you can issue progress invoices and multi-package estimates.
As Square’s industry-specific solution for retailers, this software is designed to provide more refined retail features for all levels of business operations. You can get more control of your inventory across multiple locations, stay on top of your purchase orders, and manage vendor information easily. Advanced inventory reporting ensures you get both historical and projected data when you need it.
In our evaluation of inventory management, purchase ordering, stock counting, CRM, omnichannel, employee, and reporting tools, Square for Retail ticked just about every box.
Square’s web-based dashboard is the nucleus of your POS system. It can be accessed from anywhere to view reports, manage inventory, track orders, process payroll, adjust account settings and subscriptions, receive stock, print barcode labels, and more.
On your dashboard’s home screen, it will display an overview of your daily business data, helpful insights, and important notifications—such as low-stock alerts and loan application status. This helps you stay on top of everything you have to manage at the moment and gives you a live picture of your business’s daily performance.
Square for Retail provides intuitive management features to handle inventory. Like other Square POS solutions, you can upload unlimited items, track inventory in real time across locations and your online store, set low stock alerts, and view inventory reporting and forecasting. The most important inventory alerts will appear right on your dashboard as notifications, and you can manage your employee access controls so you are the only one to see them.
Square’s inventory management system also lets you organize and manage your stock with advanced controls. You can use Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) and Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) barcodes, organize your inventory with item categories, and perform cross-location stock counts all from your Square for Retail POS.
The primary differences between Square for Retail’s Free and Plus plans are in the inventory control features. With a Plus subscription, you can add and transfer stock across locations in bulk and create and print different label sizes. It also makes processing exchanges easy as stock adjustments are automatic. Users can even create and send purchase orders and manage vendor information all from their POS platform.
Square for Retail Plus plan users also get access to other advanced tools, such as inventory counting (makes inventory count easier and more accurate with real-time stock adjustments) and smart stock forecasts (highlights the projected profit of each category in your inventory on a daily report).
Inventory Management Features in Square for Retail Free vs Plus Plans
Inventory counting tool
Smart stock forecasting
Automatic purchase orders
Multilocation stock tracking
Every Square account comes with a free online store that links directly to your POS. Square Online includes a smart website builder, which lets you create a professional and completely custom branded online store without the need for experienced web developers. It is fully integrated with your retail POS system, so it automatically syncs all your online and in-store orders, items, and inventory.
Square’s online selling features allow you to reach a diverse group of customers. You can hand out e-Gift cards to potential customers and sell them directly from your Instagram page. Omnichannel tools give your customers the freedom to choose from shipping options, like in-store pickup and local delivery. And, Square has tools to sell on social channels including Instagram and TikTok.
Square Online Features Included in Square for Retail
Free (Included with all Square for Retail plans)
2.9% + 30 cents
2.9% + 30 cents
2.9% + 30 cents
2.6% + 30 cents
Online store w/ Instagram integration
In-store pickup and delivery
Even without a website, you can still sell your products online with Square if you:
- Create a link and paste it on emails, text, and social media
- Make a payment button and embed it on websites and blogs
- Print a payment QR code and display it in-store and on other printed materials
Interested in learning more about building a website with Square? Read our guide on creating a Square Online store.
Square for Retail Free users have access to Team Management, while Square for Retail Plus subscribers receive full access to Team Management Plus plan features, which are detailed in the chart below. The latter option allows you to create team member profiles with corresponding personal passcodes, customize roles, and assign permission for each of your staff.
Employee schedule creation only takes minutes, and you can view your staff’s availability, plot which roles you need filled week by week, and publish schedules with assigned staff members or as open shifts. Retailers and their employees also get access to the Square Team app, where members can trade and claim open shifts. Time tracking and analytics tools for better staff performance management are also available.
Team Management Features Included in Square for Retail
Square Team Management Features
Square for Retail Free
Square for Retail Plus
Scheduling creation and publishing
Up to 10 days
View team member availability
Open shift, swapping, and last-minute changes
Early and unscheduled clock-in/break prevention
Timecard, break, and overtime reporting
Scheduled vs actual hours reporting on time cards
Multiple wage rates
Activity logs by team member
Sales reporting by team member
Individual and aggregate labor vs sales reporting
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Square Customer Directory is free for all Square for Retail account holders. Use the app to automatically generate customer profiles, create and segment customer groups, add shopper details, and send digital receipts with feedback surveys. And, because your directory syncs seamlessly across the Square ecosystem, you can access all this information when making appointments, sending marketing emails, and creating invoices.
Instant Profile is Square’s CRM tool that allows you to create customer profiles during checkout. You can even save cards on file for your regular customers, so the checkout process is easy and can be completed with a few taps of a button. From there, you can accurately record and keep track of their purchases during every visit.
Square for Retail also has a built-in messaging tool within the POS app and dashboard that consolidates all customer email, texts, and Facebook messages in one place, so you can send customers notes when their favorite products are in-stock or if they left something at your store. You can also send payment links and invoices.
Optional add-on CRM and marketing tools include:
- Square Email Marketing
- Square Text Marketing
- Square Loyalty
Square for Retail’s basic reporting lets you know in minutes how much inventory is being moved, along with its corresponding sales value. This provides a quick overview of your inventory management system’s effectiveness and alerts you just in time to make corrections and adjustments when necessary.
With Square for Retail’s built-in reporting, you can see:
- Sales history
- Sales trends
- Payment methods
- Item sales
- Category Sales
- Team Sales
- Gift Cards
Advanced reporting tools are available in Square for Retail’s Plus plan. In addition to vendor sales reports that help you create an efficient purchase strategy, you get valuable insights into your inventory and sales performance. You can track inventory value by item, along with any adjustments made, and filter reports according to adjustment type.
Additional advanced reporting features include:
- Inventory reporting by category
- Automated cost of goods sold (COGS) report
- Projected profit margin report
- Adjustment history log
These granular reports give you a deeper insight into which items in your inventory are getting the most sales and which type of sales are the most cost-effective and driving your revenue.
Square offers a huge list of third-party integrations. You can search by category—which ranges from accounting to ticketing and events—or view curated selections based on the type of use. The search toolbar helps you find specific applications or keywords. Each third-party app shows you an overview of its features, including pricing, additional requirements, and supported Square solutions. Reviews are also available.
Here are some of Square’s available third-party integrations in its App Marketplace:
- SKU IQ
- Zoho Books
- Easy account creation
- Intuitive Square Dashboard
- Step-by-step guided account set up
- Business process automation
- Seamless business tools integration
- Extensive knowledge base
- Community forum
- Mobile app for iOS devices
Setting up a Square for Retail account only takes minutes, and because it uses in-house payment processing, there’s no extended approval process necessary. The system itself guides you through sign-up, and once the account is confirmed, a step-by-step guide helps you complete the setup so that you can start selling right away.
Square also has an active community forum where you can find answers to both standard and not-so-common questions that real-life users have. The website hosts an extensive support center, where sections are divided by product, topic, and most popular articles. There is also in-app support with quick tutorials and Square’s YouTube channel with online videos.
However, the one area Square for Retail falls short is customer support. You can access customer service (by phone, messaging, and email) only once you log in to your account. This can be problematic if your account is suspended or otherwise locked out.
Also, live phone support is available from Mondays through Fridays, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pacific time. Since many retailers operate on the weekends, we prefer to see weekend support hours.
Here, we considered any unique or standout features, as well as the overall value the POS provides, user reviews, and feedback based on our own experience testing the system.
Overall, Square for Retail offers an incredible value and all the basic features a retail operation needs. The software is one of the most intuitive and easy to use of all the programs we’ve tested. And, users love it, which you’ll see from the high user ratings below.
However, if you’re serious about ecommerce, you’ll likely find the online store functions lacking (in which case, consider Shopify). And, while the inventory features are sufficient for small to medium operations, if you have a complex product assortment, you might be happier with a system that has matrix inventory management (like Lightspeed).
Finally, Square for Retail is locked into Square Payments, which does not work with high-risk businesses (with the exception of CBD vendors). So, businesses like firearm retailers and multi-level marketing retailers cannot use the software.
What Users Think of Square for Retail
Square for Retail has an overall positive review from both users and critics alike. Users give the software top scores for value for money, features, and ease of use, and I found few negative comments about the platform. Overall, Square offers one of the easiest POS systems to use, which is evident in its high Apple App Store ratings, and user ratings on sites including G2 and Capterra:
- Apple App Store: 4.7 out of 5 based on 5,900+ reviews
- G2: 4.4 out of 5 based on 60 reviews
- Capterra: 4.7 out of 5 based on 420+ reviews
|Straightforwardness and ease of use||Limited features in the free plan|
|Reliable, secure payment processing||Some lag issues|
|Ability to use with an iPhone||Customization process can be confusing|
|Value for money (worth the premium)||Limited customer service|
Methodology – How We Evaluated Square for Retail
To evaluate Square for Retail, and all POS systems, we test each system ourselves. We start by looking at affordability along with a core set of features every POS should have, including a speedy checkout flow, thorough transaction management, CRM, stock tracking, employee management, and reporting. Ease of use, customer support, and the overall value each system offers are always heavily considered.
We use these criteria to examine the best overall POS systems. However, when looking at specific use cases, such as for retailers, complex inventory management, or mobile POS, we adjust the criteria to match the needs of those business types, which is why every POS has multiple scores across our site depending on the use case you are looking for.
Click through the tabs below for our retail POS evaluation criteria:
15% of Overall Score
We award points for: systems with a starter plan with monthly fees less than $75 (extra points for free plans) and transparent payment processing fees including negotiable or volume discount rates. We also dock points for caps on the number of users, products, transactions, or sales you can process without upgrading plans. Square for Retail earned perfect marks here.
20% of Overall Score
We look for customizable hotkeys and easy product lookup, return management, mobility to ring sales curbside or on the sales floor, flexible payment tools like contactless, gift card, store credit, layaway, and order-ahead options. Finally, we considered whether the system can process custom, work, or service orders such as repairs. Square for Retail earned high marks here, as it is just missing tools for managing custom and work orders.
35% of Overall Score
For retail POS, our main focus is on inventory management—low-stock alerts, matrix inventory, and purchase orders, plus easy stock counts and shipment receiving. We also consider CRM tools, marketing, employee management features, omnichannel management for creating an online store, and reporting capabilities. Square for Retail earned a near-perfect score, missing points as many reporting tools and purchase ordering are locked behind the Plus plan.
15% of Overall Score
We look for easy installation, detailed training materials, and 24/7 customer support. We also consider whether the system is a hybrid installation or otherwise offers an offline mode so you can still operate if the internet goes down.
We also favor software that can run on various hardware so retailers can choose their preferred devices. Finally, we took our own experience using the software into account, examining how features performed in practice. Square for Retail earned a near-perfect score here, just missing points because of its limited phone support hours.
15% of Overall Score
In this section, we evaluated Square for Retail by its full feature set (including any standout tools), the value it offers for the price, popularity, user reviews, whether or not the system experiences a lot of downtimes, and the overall experience of navigating the system’s interface. Square for Retail earned high marks here, as it offers an excellent value and toolset, but is lacking in ecommerce functionality and compatibility with all retail types.
Square for Retail Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Who should use Square for Retail?
Square for Retail is best for most retailers, including new and small shops. It tops our list of the best retail POS systems for small businesses.
When should I use a Square for Retail alternative?
- Square for Retail is not a good fit for many specialty retailers and food-based retailers including larger grocery stores, cafes, and liquor stores.
- Multichannel retailers will also want a system with more sophisticated ecommerce tools.
- And, retailers with complex product assortments will want a POS inventory system that can handle items by the thousands.
Square for Retail will help streamline your business processes so that management is easy. It also offers a complete, user-friendly set of tools to handle your sales, inventory, purchase orders, customer directory, and reports from a single platform.
If you’re still unsure whether Square for Retail is right for you, you can visit Square for a 30-day free trial and get access to its paid features. There are no hidden fees, and you can cancel anytime.