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Square, Square for Retail, and ShopKeep: Which is Best for Your Business?

There are many choices to consider when looking for mobile point of sale software for your business. Should you use an app that you pay for, or can you get by with free apps? Are you comfortable using a third party credit card processor, or would you rather use your own? This article will look at three fairly similar and commonly used point of sale apps, Square, Square for Retail and ShopKeep. We’ll discuss whether or not it’s worth it for your business to use paid monthly software, and which of these apps, if any, you should use. Specifically, we'll go over:

What are Square, Square for Retail, and ShopKeep?

Square, Square for Retail, and ShopKeep are all point of sale apps, primarily for iPads, that work in conjunction with a card reader (and other optional hardware) to create an easy, affordable point of sale station for your business.

Square - A free, easy to use mobile point of sale app with a card reader that allows you to accept credit card payments. It’s fairly basic, especially when compared to the others, but it has all the standard features, and is more than you'd expect from a free app.

Square for Retail - A new, expanded version of Square that you pay for monthly. It’s specifically designed for retail locations, and includes a bigger inventory capability, as well as more inventory management options and reporting features.

ShopKeep - An app originally design for retail businesses, also paid monthly. It’s fairly similar to Square for Retail, with a robust inventory management system and detailed reports.

Fees and Credit Card Processing

For the most part, there are two main monthly fees associated with using a mobile point of sale app: the cost of using the software, and your credit card processing fees. For many people, the biggest draw of using Square is that there are no monthly fees for using the software, so you only pay monthly for credit card processing fees. Square for Retail and ShopKeep, on the other hand, are paid apps. Square for Retail costs $60 per month per iPad, and ShopKeep costs $69 per month per register.

Both Square and Square for Retail use Square's third-party credit card processor and have the same credit card processing fees - 2.75% for US card swipe, 3.5% +$0.15 for key in cards, 2.9% + 30¢ for invoices and online sales. ShopKeep's credit card processing fees are variable, depending on your processor. You can use one of ShopKeep’s payment partners as your credit card processor, or use your own. Because ShopKeep allows you to work with a variety of credit card processors, it's likely your processing fees can be less than Square’s 2.75%.

In addition, one of the selling points of using a mobile app over a traditional, PC-based point of sale station is these apps emphasize their transparency in terms of fees and stay away from hidden fees. None of the three apps we're looking at here require contracts, and there are no termination or cancellation fees, inactivity fees, activation fees, etc.

How do these fees impact your decision?

Overall, when looking at the credit card processing fees and monthly fees together, Square ends up being a cheaper option for businesses making less than approximately $10,000 per month. Square for Retail and ShopKeep are both cheaper for businesses making around $10,000 or more per month (dependent on credit card processing fees). This is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule though, and we encourage you to go with the software you feel is the best choice for your business, especially if you fall around the $10,000 per month point.

In addition, although all of these monthly cost differences should factor in to your decision, the main difference to take away is whether or not you’re willing to work with Square’s third party credit card processing. Working with a large-scale, third party credit card processor like Square has the potential to cause some issues, making Square and Square for Retail a slightly less stable option (more on this later).

Devices and Hardware

Devices - All three apps are designed for mobile devices, like tablets and smartphones, and do not work on your desktop computer (although there are desktop applications for the back office). Square works on iPads, iPhones and Android devices, while Square for Retail and ShopKeep both work with iPad only. If you’re looking to take credit card payments on the go, from your mobile phone, or traveling to many places (like craft shows or farmers markets) Square is the best for this kind of mobility. Square for Retail and ShopKeep are both built to be a part of stationary point of sale registers.

Card Readers - In terms of card readers, Square and Square for Retail offer a free magnetic stripe card reader (available from their website), as well as paid options including chip card readers and NFC Bluetooth card readers. In addition, if you're using Square or Square for Retail on an iPad, there is the option to use the Square Stand, which integrates a magnetic stripe card reader and adds USB hub for using USB hardware (see our guide for choosing between the Square Stand and Square reader for more information). ShopKeep is compatible with a handful of card readers, including the iDynamo 5, which must be encrypted specifically for ShopKeep and can be purchased from ShopKeep’s website.

Hardware - In terms of hardware options, all three primarily work with Ethernet and Bluetooth interface receipt printers, printer driven cash drawers, and Bluetooth barcode scanners. If you’re using the Square Stand, there are also USB hardware options (again, see our Square Stand comparison for details). If you’re looking for more information on using hardware, see our Square Basics guide, ShopKeep Basics guide, and Square Hardware Kits. As always, we recommend the TSP100III Ethernet receipt printer if you're looking for a printer.


Because Square is free and designed for smaller businesses, it’s a bit more basic compared to the others. That's not to say that Square isn't a good app - it's an excellent point of sale app, especially for being free, but it may be lacking certain features necessary for bigger businesses. Square for Retail and ShopKeep both are more robust feature-wise, especially in terms of inventory management and reporting.


All three apps are pretty comparable in terms of organizing items for sales, ringing items up, and processing sales. All of them can do split tender payments, offer multiple tax rates (which is a new feature for ShopKeep) and discounts on individual items or whole orders. Both Square and ShopKeep have the option for open checks, which can be opened on one device and closed on another. Square for Retail, which is designed for the retail side of business and not for restaurants or bars, does not have this option. In addition, all three include an offline mode, where you can continue taking payments even if you lose internet access (although you are liable for any declined transactions that may happen in this period).


In terms of basic inventory features, all three apps have you covered. Inventory items added can be given item modifiers and variations (see our Square vs. PayPal Here Comparison for an in depth look at item modifiers and variants). You can sort these items into different categories, like Drinks, Dessert, Sandwiches, etc. ShopKeep also has an extra level of inventory categorization, item departments, which allows you to sort categories into departments.

Square has a pretty good, if basic, inventory management system, which can give low stock and out of stock alerts, as well as track stock across multiple locations. Square for Retail improves on this, and can track stock received, track damaged, lost, or returned stock, and can transfer stock across locations. There are also a variety of reports Square for Retail can run on inventory, such as inventory value by item and report on costs of goods sold. ShopKeep has the most robust inventory management system of all of them. From ShopKeep, you can do similar inventory reports and diagnostics as Square for Retail, but in addition, you can track individual ingredients or parts (like each ingredient for a burger, the meat, the bun, the lettuce, etc).


Square and Square for Retail both have the same employee features, although with Square you have to pay $5 per employee per month, while Square for Retail includes unlimited employees in the monthly $60 fee. The Square/Square for Retail employee features include individual employee logins with different permissions and an employee time clock. ShopKeep includes unlimited employees, and has similar features to Square, including individual employee logins with individual permissions. In addition to an employee time clock, ShopKeep can automatically calculates hours worked for individual employees, and calculates tips earned for each employee.

Back Office and Reporting

All three apps have a pretty good back office system and reporting. They all can show sales summaries and transaction reports, and can run sales reports by item, employee, category, location, discount, taxes, sales trends. Square and Square for Retail can also run reports on sales by item modifier and by payment method. ShopKeep has the option to run reports by customer and sales by department. In addition, as we mentioned above, Square for Retail and ShopKeep include a variety of reports for inventory, including costs of goods sold.


Overall, the biggest difference between Square, Square for Retail and ShopKeep is the kind of credit card processor you want to use. Square and Square for Retail are a third party credit card processor, while with ShopKeep, you work directly with your credit card processor (either one of ShopKeep’s partners or your own). This means with Square and Square for Retail, they're much more likely to flag transactions or accounts, and customers report funds or accounts being frozen or terminated without warning. There are guides available online to minimize the chances of this happening (restricting your transactions to under $3,000 and not engaging in high-risk businesses are the primary ways to protect your business), but losing access to your account is still a possibility.

One of the reasons this is such a big problem is Square and Square for Retail are pretty lacking in terms of customer support. You can contact Square via email or by phone, but there are many customer reports of email support being largely unhelpful, and you can only call customer service if you have a customer code, which are only provided to current customers. This becomes a problem if your account is terminated, as you can no longer use your customer code. Customer support from ShopKeep is by far better, although there are reports that the quality of customer support declines over time, and phone support is only available to customers with premium support accounts.

So, which app is best for you?

Square is an excellent point of sale app, especially for being a free app. It has a whole range of features, but with a somewhat lacking inventory management system and paid employee features, we feel it's best for small businesses with small inventories and few employees. We recommend it for those types of businesses, especially ones that earn less than around $10,000 per month. In addition, it's the only one of these three apps that's available for smartphones in addition to tablets, so is better for mobile businesses, like vendors at farmers markets, craft shows, or contractors. For another alternative that works with smartphones and tablets in addition to iPads, see our Square vs PayPal Here comparison.

Square for Retail is a good option if you already use Square and your business is growing, you're expanding, or you’re looking to upgrade. It improves upon Square in a variety of ways, but primarily in terms of inventory management and back office reporting. At the very least, if you're using Square and you have six or more employees, switching to Square for Retail is a good idea.

ShopKeep is an excellent alternative to Square for Retail. Depending on your credit card processing fees, ShopKeep is pretty comparable price-wise to Square for Retail, and they have similar features. ShopKeep has a more in depth inventory management system than Square for Retail, but other than that, the biggest difference between them is credit card processing and customer support. We feel that this is a very substantial difference, and if you're not already a Square customer and you need something a bit more in depth than Square, we highly recommend ShopKeep.

Keep in mind that none of these apps are designed for very large businesses (most point of sale apps aren't), and if you have a business with more than 20,000 inventory items, we'd recommend considering a traditional point of sale system instead.