Building a store

In the final chapter of this publication, we look at the general experience of building and running a store using these devices.

Photograph by Built for Mars

Up to now, this publication has focused on very specific parts of the ownership experience.

But it’s time to take a step back and consider a more general question: what it is like to run a store with one of these devices?

And, while we benchmark that experience, it’d be unfair to not include the billion-dollar behemoth that is Shopify. So for this final chapter, I’ll be throwing them into the ring too.


Verifone are so far behind with their software—compared to iZettle, SumUp, Square and Shopify—that I doubt they’ll ever catch up.

Key takeaways


Why you can’t blame the chimpanzee.


Why mundane tasks hurt so bad.


The importance of timing.


How data lies.


The danger of MVPs.

Case studies

This chapter only has 3 case studies, because Verifone’s portal lacks most of the functionality that would make it comparable.

Benchmarking the experience

If you Googled ‘iZettle vs Square’, or something similar, then you’d be inundated with comparison tables.

But most of these have an achilles heel: they’re all comparing stuff that you don’t really care about.

“iZettle has feature A, SumUp has feature A, Square has feature A…”

Instead, let’s look at 5 ‘real-world’ scenarios—things you’ll actually do, and miss if they’re not there.

This includes the new Verifone portal that I’ve been given early access to, which is currently in a limited Alpha.

What's possible with each service?

Photograph by Built for Mars

Saving products in the app, so the seller can quickly add to a ‘checkout’ later.

Offer custom discounts or vouchers.

Print receipts from a normal printer, from a mobile phone.

Automatically manage an inventory of items.

Offers integrations to major  accounting tools (or IFTTT).

I know—I was disappointed at Verifone’s portal too. Perhaps that’s not the aim of this platform, but then what is the point in it?

Credit where it’s due, iZettle excelled here. They’ve got a really deep feature-set, solving even minor annoyances.

But as always with Built for Mars, what was the more general experience like, and how could these services improve their UX?

The experience

1. We're all chimpanzees, really

If you gave a chimpanzee a screwdriver and some Ikea furniture to build, you’d probably be disappointed when you came back a week later and found that they’re only using the tool to fish for termites in mounds of soil.

Even if these chimpanzees had a perfect comprehension of the english language, you still couldn’t blame them, because you didn’t explain the core principles:


What the end result is

i.e., what is the Ikea furniture?


The benefit of the end result

i.e., why should I want to have this furniture?


How the tool works

i.e., when do I need the screwdriver and how does that work?

Without this foundation of understanding, it’s unreasonable to expect somebody—especially a chimpanzee—to use your product in the right way.

As a product designer, it’s your responsibility to convert new users into power users, not theirs.

This example sounds silly, but this is more or less what has happened to many of the ‘power-user’ features inside these payment services.

A good example of this are the coloured tags that you can associate to products.

Literally, at no point is it explained why anybody would want to use these, when they should use them or how to use them effectively.

As a result, I doubt many people ever do use them—at least not in a productive way.

🙉 Don't blame the chimpanzee

As a product designer, it's your responsibility to convert new users into power users, not theirs.

2. Exponential effort required

iZettle, SumUp and Square all allow you to create variables—for example, if you were selling T-shirts, then they’d be ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’.

But what would happen if you had two variables, like size and colour?

The answer is that the number of combinations grows exponentially. A T shirt with 4 sizes and 4 colours has 16 possible combinations.

Now imagine that a coffee shop owner is adding ‘latte’ as a product, and there are 3 variables: 4 sizes of cup, 4 types of milk and 4 types of bean—there would be 64 combinations.

The point is this: unless your software automatically creates these combinations based on your variants, then it quickly becomes unmanageable.

iZettle and Square do, but SumUp doesn’t.

Photograph by Built for Mars

Technically, this is just the lack of a feature. But the frustration for the user is amplified by a few psychological biases.


Peak end rule

You’re likely to remember this mundane and boring experience, even if the rest of the app is great.


The planning fallacy

People underestimate how long tasks like this will take, so it’s likely that they’ll be frustrated with how long they spend doing it.

In short: this would be a major point of friction for many users, possibly even deal-breaking.

📈 Mundane tasks

Boring, repetitive and mundane tasks have a disproportionately negative impact on the user's overall experience. You should avoid them at all costs.

3. How not to time onboarding

When it comes to onboarding, timing is everything.

If you show the user how to do something too early, then they won’t pay attention. Too late, and well, the damage has already been done.

Imagine if the instructions for how to build your Kinder egg toy were carved into the chocolate shell—you’d have eaten the instructions before you realised that you even needed them.

It can be frustrating to use Square as a new user, because although they have ‘learn more’ links dotted around the app, they’re often a few actions too early.

For example, when creating options and variations for your products, there is literally no guidance at the point where the user will actually need it.

🏌️‍♂️ Timing onboarding

If your onboarding is too early, nobody will pay attention. Too late, and you've already frustrated the user. Timing is everything.

4. Data lies, (and is lying to these services)

Imagine that you’re trying to buy tickets to a popular event, and halfway through the process you’re shown this screen:

What would you do? Well, you’d most likely just click that proceed button. And therein lies a problem.

If you were looking at Google Analytics, this page would have a normal conversion rate. There would be no symptoms of a bad experience in the data.

I call these leap of faith pages. They’re essentially pages where there is only one obvious action—so regardless of how awful the UX is—the user takes a leap, clicks the button and proceeds.

And these types of pages don’t necessarily have to be ugly like in my example, they can be the opposite: totally empty, like Square’s customers page.

You see, other than the main menu, there’s really only one clickable item for the user, and that’s the three dots (top right).

Most of Square’s users who see this screen will click those 3 dots, and stumble across the ‘create new customer’ link. But that doesn’t mean it was comfortable.

Is this screen self-explanatory? No. Is this good UX? No. Will the data show that users have an issue with this? Unlikely.

🙅‍♂️ Data lies

Data is great, but when it comes to UX, follow common sense. If something looks or feels awkward, it probably is, even if the data says it's fine.

5. Most MVPs suck

Here’s an ugly truth: most companies don’t understand how to produce an MVP (minimum viable product), and they’re a total waste of time.

It feels like the whole purpose of an MVP has been forgotten, and companies use it as an excuse to release half-baked services—or as a buzzword to postpone taking the time to really understand their users.

MVPs should not be buggy, or frustrating and awkward to use.

A more accurate definition of an MVP is this: the minimum product required to actually learn from your users.

Their purpose is to validate assumptions about a product’s requirements. But how can you determine if people like or need a feature if it’s horrible to use?

You often can’t.

With that in mind, Verifone have given me access to the MVP of their new portal, which is essentially their take on the software layer that iZettle, SumUp and Square have been building for more than a decade.

The data that Verifone accrue from this version may be wildly unrepresentative of how users would really like to use their software. 

For example, if we just focus on the screenshot above:


How often will people check their reports?

Probably not very often, because it’s awkward to do. Does this that mean people don’t want to check their reports? No.


Which filters do people want?

Verifone won’t know, because when users realise how fiddly they are to use, they won’t bother using any of them.


Do people search for individual transactions?

Because the table is so hard to use people may rely on using the search function. Verifone could read into this as “people want a better search”, which might not be true.

The risk here isn’t just annoying your users, but building the wrong thing based off misleading data.

👨‍🦯 The danger of MVPs

A bad MVP will teach you that a man on crutches wants better crutches. They don't, they want to be able to walk without them.


The irony of incumbent organisations building software, is that in addition to being far worse at actually building it, often they don’t understand it enough to know how far ahead the competition are.

And I worry that Verifone is in a similar position. I doubt they’ll ever catch up.

Yes, as I demonstrated in chapter 3, Verifone is the cheapest provider. But, honestly, I’d rather pay for any of these 3 services. I’d probably pay double what they’re charging now—that’s how much better they are.

One thing is for sure: none of them are finished. The user experience of building and running a store using these devices hasn’t peaked.

All of these companies will need to listen to, and understand, what drives small businesses—their goals, frustrations and hardships. And then take the time to obsess over, and fix, the tiny annoyances that stop people really loving their products.

And that’s exciting, because if there are still improvements to be made, then starting a business in 5 years should be even easier than it is now.

There are 3 more chapters...


Square’s device was 71% cheaper than Verifone’s, and arrived more than 2x faster.


Verifone’s device arrived misconfigured and was unusable for 3 business days.


Switching to Verifone could save you hundreds of pounds ever year.


Verifone are so far behind with their software, that I doubt they’ll ever catch up.

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