Square has built an entire brand around making credit card payment processing accessible to anyone. And lately, it’s been focusing on growing that brand to encompass a full suite of merchant services — including a free online store that seems to get better and better.
We previously took an in-depth look at Square’s Online Store and the features it offers. The store is basic in that there are no fancy advanced features, like the ability to suggest related products and host customer reviews on the page. It has everything you need for selling (the ability to generate coupons, support for gift card transactions, inventory tracking), but not much else. However, I do believe there are two larger failings that could trouble some merchants:
1. You have very little control over how the store looks—it’s essentially a plug-and-play design. You don’t even have control over the colors or fonts used. Square lets you upload your product images, your logo, and other basic information, but that’s it.
2. Your options for shipping are free or flat-rate, with an add-on fee for items. That will work for some merchants, but not all. It would be nice to be able to set multiple shipping methods and calculate shipping according to weight or other factors.
But again, the online store is completely free. You pay only the processing fees (which you’ll pay with any eCommerce setup) and the cost of whatever domain name you want (you can also use an existing domain).
If Square’s free online store isn’t for you, but you still want to process your online payments through Square, you still have other choices. Here are five options that Square lists in its app marketplace:
Each of these options will let you use Square as your gateway and payment processor on a website that isn’t hosted by Square. However, they all work a bit differently, and they come at a higher cost. Let’s take a look at five alternatives to Square Online Store and see how they stack up against one another.
BigCommerce’s pricing model works a bit differently than most SaaS options. Rather than paying a premium for a set of features or a number of products you can host in your store, you pay a monthly rate based on your annual sales volume. Here are those monthly rates:
If at the end of the year you find you’ve exceeded your plan’s limits, you’ll automatically be upgraded to the new plan. That could upset some merchants who perhaps weren’t expecting to do so well. I recommend keeping an eye on your sales and see how close you’re coming to the upper limit of your plan.
BigCommerce’s integration with Square is seamless. You can use Square simply to process your payments, or you can choose to use Square for more features. For example, you can sync inventory between your BigCommerce store and Square and use the free Square Register POS app to sell in person. Other key features include:
If you’re okay with BigCommerce’s pricing model (for smaller merchants this really shouldn’t be an issue), this is a good option. BigCommerce is full-featured, boasting all the tools that Square’s online store offers and much more.
Want to know more? Check out our full review of BigCommerce for an in-depth look.
Ecwid’s name may be a bit perplexing, but it is an abbreviation of “eCommerce widgets,” which explains a bit of what Ecwid (see our review) does. Ecwid is not like most shopping cart software in that it was not originally intended to include a website building software. Rather, Ecwid was designed as an extension that added a shopping cart to a pre-built website. And while Ecwid now offers a basic website builder, it is still best used as a shopping cart widget for already existing sites.
There are multiple pricing options available based on the number of products you want to sell. Each step up in pricing includes access to more features. Here’s a brief look at that pricing model:
Square is pretty easy to link with Ecwid. You can do it from within the Square Dashboard or from within your Ecwid account. You can use Square to process online payments, and you can choose to use Square Register to sell in person. You’ll get automatic inventory syncing between the two. However, there’s just one small catch.
To use the Square Register POS seamlessly, you need to have the Unlimited plan. That’s $100 a month just so you can use the inventory sync when you sell online and in person. That’s a big step up from the $35/month for 2,500 products (which is certainly enough for most small to mid-size businesses).
But enough about that. Let’s take a look at other features:
Check out our full Ecwid review for a detailed breakdown of the features, advantages, and disadvantages.
Note: Weebly has recently been acquired by Square. Square is currently running a promotion to celebrate the partnership. Get free processing on up to $1,000 in credit card transactions during your first 90 days with the integration. You’ll also receive 20% off your order when you sign up for Weebly.
There are four plans available:
Weebly website builder also offers a free plan. That free plan doesn’t support eCommerce at all, so we won’t be discussing that option.
There are other catches to be aware of—namely, if you choose the Starter or Pro plans, you’ll be paying a 3% transaction fee on each purchase, and your checkout page won’t be hosted on your own domain. It’ll redirect to checkout.weebly.com instead.
That 3% transaction fee is definitely annoying. While it isn’t unheard of for an eCommerce platform to charge transaction fees, it is uncommon. Keep in mind that if you spring for the $25/month or $38/month plans, you won’t have to pay these fees.
I was curious as to what the break-even point was for the $8 and $12 monthly plans (the point at which sales justify the higher-priced plan), so here are the calculations:
With an average transaction size of $20, you’d need about 28 purchases monthly for the Starter Plan and just 22 for the Pro plan. For all but the smallest merchants, the Business or Performance plans will be the best options.
There’s something else we haven’t discussed, either: added value. Weebly’s Business plan gives you many more features—such as a tax and shipping calculator on your site—that are absolute necessities for serious online sellers.
An integration with Square lets you process your online payments and sell in person with Square Register. Fortunately, you can also now sync your inventory between the two programs.
But enough about that. Here are the main features of Weebly’s eCommerce store:
Overall, I find the lower-tiered plans to be pretty basic. They only allow a limited number of products, and you’ll have to pay a 3% transaction fee. You’re better off springing for the Business or Performance plans or just sticking with the Square online store.
For more information, check out our full Weebly review.
Installing WooCommerce is completely free. However, the core WooCommerce offering is very basic. If you want more complex features, you’ll need to purchase add-ons. Some are free, but quite a few aren’t. You’ll pay either a one-time fee or a yearly subscription. In addition, you’ll need to pay for your WordPress hosting and security. Beware: Add-ons and hosting expenses can quickly add up.
WooCommerce’s extension for Square is available for free and lets you accept payments online and in person. An inventory sync between the two platforms ensures that when you add new products to WooCommerce, they will be updated in Square.
Here are a few of the features you can find with WooCommerce:
WooCommerce is a great solution for many merchants. In fact, they host over 40% of all online stores according to stats from BuiltWith. Keep in mind, however, that because WooCommerce follows a Core+Extensions model, you’ll likely have to spend to add advanced features to your platform.
Check out the full WooCommerce review for more information.
The last option on the list here is Square’s own API (application programming interface).
Square’s API allows Square to serve as both your gateway and your payments processor. Use the Square API to create a custom connection between Square and your online store (if your platform is not already supported).
You’re going to need programming and coding skills to make this work for you. Or, more likely, you’ll have to find a developer to do the work for you. (Good news, you can find them on freelance platforms like Upwork. Bad news, it could cost you a pretty penny depending on your needs.)
Square’s API is a great option if you have a solid grounding in web technology and how programming works (even if you’re not a developer yourself). But if you don’t know your way around the eCommerce space already, I suggest sticking to a pre-built solution until you get some knowledge.
Now that we’ve explored each of the alternatives to Square’s Online Store, it’s time to make a judgment call: Which is the best option?
I think it’s important to look at the differences between these online shopping carts and the features they offer first. Check out the table below for a quick comparison:
|Cost||$30 – $250|
|$0 – $99|
|$8 – $38|
|$0 + Add-Ons||Varies|
|Customer Support||Email, chat, phone for all plans|| Tiered|
|Tiered support||Helpdesk tickets, Limited support for WooThemes||Phone, knowledge base, email|
Any of the supported shopping cart integrations — BigCommerce, Ecwid, Weebly, WooCommerce — would be far more advanced than Square’s Online Store. In fact, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what they’re capable of. However, they’re not without their own limitations.
Different merchants have different needs. So, what’s right for one online store will not necessarily be right for the next.
Square’s API will give you the most freedom, but you’ll have to have some technical knowledge, and you might need to hire a developer. If you really need something special and unique, the API is a good option. But it could be time-consuming or costly to implement.
We recommend WooCommerce to merchants who feel comfortable with code, but don’t want to build a site completely from scratch. Ecwid is a great option for merchants who want ease of use at a low cost, and BigCommerce works well for merchants who want an all-inclusive option so they can better focus on their businesses. Weebly, on the other hand, may be a good option for merchants who plan on listing just a few products on their site.
As always, you know your business best, and so you know what solution will fit. But compare the options, be aware of shortcomings, and know that there are always multiple options out there.
Do you have experience using Square with any of these eCommerce options? Leave a comment! We’d love to hear from you!
Melissa Johnson is an independent writer and editor who loves e-commerce, digital marketing, technology, and social media. Once upon a time, she earned a journalism degree, but she went on to discover that she could work from home, researching, editing, and writing about the things she found most interesting. When she’s not tied to her laptop, Melissa can usually be found in the kitchen, reading a book, or doing something of the nerdy persuasion.