UX Review: First 4 Days Paying with Square / 07.24.2012

by Suzanne Ginsburg

Square is best known for its card reader and companion smartphone application.  With these two simple tools even the tiniest merchants—taxi drivers, indie bands, food trucks—can easily process credit card transactions.  Although Square has made great innovations on the merchant side, the customer experience was largely ignored until recently.  A few months ago, Square launched Pay with Square, a new service that may soon revolutionize how we pay for almost everything. This UX review documents my first 4 days using the application in San Francisco’s Mission District.  If you’re interested in a quick overview, read the Pros & Cons below.  If you’d like more details, the remainder of the review is organized by user task.

The Pros:

  • The overall app design is simple (this is also a con for a couple of areas as noted below.)
  • Signing up is super fast & easy.
  • Once you’ve opened  your tab, transactions are snappy—just say your name & you’re done!
  • The possibilities for future Pay with Square features are endless.  For example, knowing precisely what I ordered in a restaurant could provide interesting insights and recommendations not just for me but for other users as well (assuming it’s kept anonymous.)

The Cons

  • At present, very few merchants are using the technology, though this will most likely change over time.
  • The emphasis on the directory makes the app feel like it was designed mostly with Square merchants in mind, not customers. To find my stores I must search or switch to the cards view.  This aspect of the user experience make it less palatable than using my credit card which requires no searching for businesses or opening of tabs.
  • The simplicity of some areas of the app means they’re unlikely to scale well over time (directory and cards.)

Getting started
After downloading the app from the App Store (version 2.2.1), I moved it to the front page of my iPhone, optimistic that I’d access the app frequently.  Next, I tapped on the Square icon and viewed the welcome screen below.  Uncertain if I had already created a Square account—I ordered a card reader back in 2010—I tapped on “Get Started.”

Welcome screen: There are 3 tag lines that the screen circulates through.

After tapping “Get Started,” the app displayed a screen with information on the $10 offer for new users.  Tapping “Next” meant I was accepting the offer and the Square User Agreement.  At the time, I tapped on “Next” without thinking twice about the User Agreement but in retrospect the app could’ve been more clear about how to view the agreement.  The bold text may have linked to these agreements but it did not appear active.

$10 Offer and User Agreement Info

Once I agreed to the terms, the app walked me through the four main steps for setting up an account: 1) Create Profile, 2) Create Account, 3) Share Location, 4) Link Credit Card.  The overall process was streamlined and easy to complete.  In particular, the credit card entry was pretty nifty, flipping the credit card and highlighting where users could find their CVV number.

The app lets users skip the “Link your Card” step, a smart move to attract individuals who may be hesitant to share this sensitive information at first.  Additionally, it’d be useful to embed (or link to) security information.  Given that Pay with Square is a new concept and service, users may have reservations when asked to provide their credit card number.

Get Started Screens

(Note: partway through the signup process I learned that I did in fact have a Square account so I had to exit the “Get Started” flow and sign in.  Since I forgot my password I was sent through the “forgot your password” path.  Aside from getting booted to the browser for the reset, the process was fairly painless.)

Finding places to use app
Armed with my Square-powered phone, I was excited about the possibility of leaving my wallet at home.  Although I was optimistic, I wasn’t ready to abandon my Visa card quite yet (or my license, or my health insurance.)  Perusing the directory of businesses that presumably work with Pay with Square (see image below), I noticed that my hair salon was listed.  Since I had an appointment later that afternoon, it seemed like a fine time to give the app a whirl.

As you’ll see in the image below, the directory has a featured store at the top, followed by a hodge podge of nearby businesses.  I’m using the term “hodge podge” since there are tons of places that I’d never use (glass tinting!) plus the sort order seems arbitrary (some closer places are sorted below farther ones.) I’ve been racking my brain and can’t quite figure out why some businesses have foods/items listed while others have an address.  Some guesses: most popular item bought via Square?  Last item bought via Square?  The first guess has promise only if Square is widely used.

Directory Screen

Learning about stores
If you come across a business and want to learn more, users can tap on its row in the directory to view details.  As shown in the screen below, the business screen that follows contains the following: 1) business name & logo with background photo, 2) “Save to your cards” button, 3) thumbnail map image with business blurb and address, 4) ability to open tab, if business nearby, 5) latest Tweet with ability to view more, 6) # of items for sale with ability to view all, 7) ability to “Auto-open tab when near,” 8) distance from current location, 9) sharing options.  Much of this info is relatively standard except for the # items for sale.  Square can do some potentially interesting things with such rich information tied into actual sales.

Store Screen: There are additional “child” screens with more information & Tweets.

Saving your favorites
Businesses that you’d like easy access to can be saved to a “Cards” section of the app.  Moving forward, I suspect users may want this to be the default screen instead of the directory but it’s too soon to tell.  For now, I decided to add my salon to my cards so I could quickly find it when I was there later that day. As you can see in the image below, one card takes up a large amount of real estate and the info presented isn’t very useful.  Perhaps the information evolves over time as users engage with businesses, including coupons and other perks for loyal customers?  Regardless, assuming users end up with at least a dozen cards, the overall design of this screen will need to be rethought.

Your Cards Screen

Paying for transactions
And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for—actually using the app!  I’ve paid with Square at my salon numerous times so I expected it to be cake that day.  After getting my haircut I walked up to the receptionist and asked if I could use Square to pay for my cut.  “Sure!” she said cheerfully, as she scanned the app for a way to help me out.  In the meantime, I pulled up the salon’s card and opened my tab.  After a few minutes of her nervously opening and closing screens, she apologized and said that the manager probably hadn’t updated the app and that she had only used it for credit card swiping.  Sigh. I took out my credit card and used that instead.  A short time later, I received a text message that my tab with the salon had expired.

Well, my first attempt didn’t work but I was still hopeful.  Over the next three days, I tried to exclusively use the app for all of my purchases.  Most of the places I regularly visit—Whole Foods on 24th, Walgreens at 23rd, Ritual on Valencia, Philz on 24th—weren’t listed in the app.  I realized I had to change my strategy if I wanted to test out Pay with Square so I focused on the directory and chose Mission Minis.  With my iPhone in hand, I headed over to the shop, glancing at the app along the way.  When I was close enough (about a half block away) the app gave me the option to open my tab which I did.

Alas, I arrive at the shop and it was closed!  Now here’s a feature request: if the store is closed, please tell me and do not let me open a tab!   After all of this frustration, you’d expect me to go home and call it quits, right?  Nope, I was determined to use this app, darn it.  I opened the directory again and found a juice bar I had recently noticed near my parking garage and opened a tab.

Walking into the shop was a surprising delight.  The shopkeeper was very friendly and assured me that he could accept payment via Pay with Square.  In fact, I could see my photo and name on his iPad sitting on the counter.  After I selected my drink, he confirmed my name and processed my order.  As his assistant made my juice we talked a little bit about his experience with the app and how many people have paid via Square.  All in all he had nothing but great things to say.  He has used Square since opening his shop on June 1st.  After he processed my payment, I received a text alert, as shown below.  Soon after, he handed me a cup of freshly made juice—delicious!

Purchase Confirmation within the App

Purchase Confirmation via Text

Tracking expenses
Since I didn’t add the juice bar as a card, I wasn’t completely sure how to view the payment.  My first thought was to see if a card was automatically created for this merchant but one was not.  Next, I went to my account screen and tapped on “All Expenses. ” Interestingly enough, I discovered dozens of past payments I’d made with Square.  Although I understand the desire to integrate their products, I imagine this section getting very unwieldy over time.  Like the Cards section, I can envision this area undergoing many redesigns in the future, incorporating search, tagging, and other mechanisms to help users manage and view their expenses.

Receipt for Purchase within Purchases section

Want to learn more?
Pay with Square is just the beginning of the mobile payments revolution.  If you’d like to learn more, here are some great articles on the topic.

Pay by Voice? So Long, Wallet (NY Times)

The Death of Cash (Fortune)

Paying With Square’s New Mobile-Payments App (All Things D)

Square to launch revamped payments app, Android support (GigaOm)


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