The experience of making a payment is undeniably the most important user journey for these services.
It’s a process that on the surface looks very simple to build, but is subject to awkward use cases which make it incredibly difficult to get right.
Which of these payment service providers has the best experience—for both the employees, and the customers?
Let’s dive in.
Summary: Most iZettle, Square and SumUp customers would save money by switching to Verifone. But that doesn’t mean they should.
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Benchmarking the experience
These services make money by charging you a fee as a percentage of every transaction. So if you sell a coffee for £3, you’ll pay a few pence.
Percentage fee (on my package)
And although the difference between 1% and 1.75% may seem insignificant, it quickly becomes noticeable.
Here are three scenarios, showing what the total costs would be in the first year of usage, including purchasing the card reader.
Estimated year 1 costs (device + card transaction fees)
£500 in monthly revenue (12 months)
£2,500 in monthly revenue (12 months)
£5,000 in monthly revenue (12 months)
Total cost for 12 months (GBP)
These prices don’t scale infinitely though—they all offer custom pricing to larger companies. But how much do you need to be making before iZettle, Square and SumUp will even consider giving you a discount?
Advertised monthly turnover to qualify for a discount.
Annual savings at that point if you were with Verifone.
And how realistic is it for a small business to ever reach these thresholds?
A recent study suggested that 43% of cafes have a revenue of less than £100,000—the minimum required to even be considered for SumUp’s custom pricing.
And for many industries—like those who sell homemade goods at weekend events—£100k in annual revenue is well out of reach.
Essentially, customers are paying for access to the iZettle, Square and SumUp apps. That begs the question: are they worth it?
Here are 6 ways that these services could improve their UX.
1. Handing your phone to strangers
Square’s entry-level device stands out for a few reasons, one being that it doesn’t have a keypad.
So, when contactless payments aren’t suitable, the user needs to input their PIN number on the device that the seller is using.
Not only does entering your PIN number into a strangers mobile phone require a serious level of trust, but it’s also uncomfortable for the seller.
And yes, you can still receive notifications while on the PIN-entry screen.
How many people would feel comfortable passing their mobile phone back and forth between customers all day?
And as a customer, how would you feel knowing that the seller probably plays with their ‘card reader’ on the toilet?
2. A virtual basket
“Can I have 3 lattes and two shortbreads please?”
This introduces a new variable: selling multiple items at once.
If you’re using Verifone—and hadn’t invested in any additional retail hardware—then your only choice would be to add up the value of these 5 items, and then type the total amount into the card reader.
Being able to add items into a basket like this fixes a number of user experience issues that Verifone face:
No calculators required
i.e., it adds it up for you, and gets it correct every time.
No need to remember exact values
i.e., was adding cheese to the burrito +20p or +30p?
Therefore, sales are quicker
i.e., so you can serve more customers in an hour.
3. Timing permissions modals
In most instances, you want to ask the user for permission to access their data in the context of doing that action.
i.e., only asking for permission to access their photos at the point that they are trying to add a photo.
But there are a few exceptions, including this one:
iZettle require access to your location in order to accept card payments, which feels totally reasonable. However, they ask for your permission whilst you’re making your first sale.
In the excitement of making a sale, you may be surprised by this request and click ‘Don’t Allow’ out of habit. Perhaps you didn’t even read what it was asking for.
And what would happen if you did accidentally click ‘Don’t Allow’?
Well, the modal closes, and it looks like the payment can go ahead. But when the customer taps their card…
Instead, iZettle should request this permission before the sale is initiated—perhaps when they’re connecting the card reader. If nothing else it’d help avoid any potential embarrassment.
4. Cancelling a payment
Imagine that you’ve initiated a payment, but before the customer taps their card, you realise that you’ve entered the wrong amount.
You’d obviously want to cancel the payment and start again.
But with SumUp, this is more awkward than you’d probably imagine. You only have two options:
Wait 60 seconds
After which it’ll automatically cancel the payment.
Click a physical button on the card reader
It’s the power on/off button.
This is a process that you can only initiate using the application, and then only cancel using a separate device.
There are obvious reasons why this is frustrating, but perhaps the most practical one is that the card reader might not be in your hands—it might even be in your customer’s hands.
And as Covid-19 changes the way we interact, it’s entirely possible that the card reader is on the ‘customer side’ of a sheet of perspex.
5. Tap whenever you're ready
There’s a light on my oven which tells me when it’s pre-heated to the correct temperature. However it’s entirely useless to me, because I can never remember if the light goes on or off when it’s ready.
And that’s the problem with a single and unlabelled LED—you never know if ‘on’ is good or not, or what it does.
With that in mind, look at the ‘ready to pay’ states for each of these devices:
Sure, in a nice and relaxed coffee shop the employee could say “tap your card when you’re ready”. But in a chaotic, noisy and under-staffed environment, that may not be possible, or audible.
The screen acts as a visual cue. It’s not really for the benefit of the employee, but for the end customer. It’s a subtle signal that helps the logistics of every transaction go slightly smoother.
And as an example of how important these cues can be, imagine if there was no beep sound when making a contactless payment. How would you know when to withdraw your card?
You wouldn’t, and it’d be annoying.
6. The other benefit of the screen
But knowing when to pay isn’t the only benefit of a screen. There’s something else it does which is so obviously important that it’s hard to imagine how a device like this could exist without one.
Imagine that you’re on holiday in a foreign country, at a Christmas market stall. You know that you’ll never return, you don’t speak the native language and you’ll have no way of contacting the seller ever again.
Would you feel comfortable making a contactless payment without seeing the value of the payment on a screen?
Not every bank has immediate push notifications
I did the research, they don’t.
The seller may not show their screen
i.e., the app says what the payment amount is, but the seller could just not show the buyer their screen.
i.e., the verbal nuance between 6 and 16 sound very similar in some languages. But numbers are universal.
In some contexts—such as the Christmas market above—Square’s device is so basic that the general user experience suffers.
I’m repeating myself, but I need to clarify this here: Square do offer a reader with a screen, it just costs £199.
I’d argue that the software that these services provide are not optional, they’re almost essential to run a retail business in 2020.
And it’s also hard to recommend the entry-level card reader from Square. Sure, it’s £10 cheaper than the others, but the utility of the keypad and screen are far more valuablethan that.
The bottom line here is this: building a great payment experience is hard. In a test environment, sure, you can build one that’s awesome.
But then you put it into the real world—which is full of chaos, noise and employees who don’t read instructions—and you notice the gaps.
These UX edge cases can, and likely will, be softened over time. The real question is whether or not the incumbent providers—who currently have no real software—will ever catch up.
In the next chapter we’ll look at this software in more detail.