My good friend Mallory owns the wonderful Vintage Heart Coffee here in Austin, TX. As a small business owner, she has to be concerned with cost-effective ways to manage purchases and things. Before opening earlier last year, she was courted by Square (as many small businesses were) to use their card reader and point-of-sale (POS) app as her primary means of accepting payment for coffee purchases.
Square's model is great – they provide a free card reader that plugs into your iPhone, iPad, or Android device and a free app that processes the payments securely. They allow businesses and individuals to setup an account on their website. Each transaction your account accepts sends a small cut to Square, keeping them financially stable (okay, a bit more than that).
Late last year Square penned a deal with Starbucks, allowing consumers with the Square Wallet app to pay digitally with a connected credit card. Square has focused on ease-of-use and widespread accessibility for both consumers and business owners.
The problem comes in user confusion. And I'm not talking about interface design. Rather, because of Square's "free" model (free apps, free card reader, free account) some users feel they cannot justify a complaint and are vocal about it – going so far as to criticize other customers who do complain.
The difference is this: Square is not a social network or marketing platform. They are a business that takes money from their users. It feels free, but it isn't. The card readers are subsidized by transaction fees paid to Square. And this means its users have a right to expect a certain level of features.
This past summer Square had a pretty large outage that affected a lot of businesses. It has had frequent short outages since then as well. Mallory and her staff have experienced the difficulties in maintaining an active and engaged clientele. In an environment like a coffee shop or food trailer (two large clients segments for Square, at least in Austin), customers can't wait for a reboot or for the Square servers to start acting properly. And this equals lost sales.
Now, if Square hadn't made a push to be the sole POS system for these businesses, there wouldn't be such an issue. But Square is not an add-on, it's a complete replacement system. It's like depositing all of your money in a free checking account and from time to time being told you can't access your cash when you need it. You wouldn't shrug it off, because you are entitled to the money you have entrusted to your bank.
The same is true with Square. Businesses across the country have entrusted their entire means of accepting non-cash payments to Square. When it goes down, they are entitled to complain about it. It's lost sales for their businesses and lost trust for Square.