Mailchimp Website Builder: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

This post originally appeared at Mailchimp Website Builder: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives via ShivarWeb

MailChimp Website Builder

MailChimp has been one of the fastest growing email marketing providers for years now. They’ve built an huge base of customers ranging from tiny personal accounts to some of the most prestigious enterprise brands in the world.

In 2019, they added a ton of functionality, including postcards & remarketing as they grow their positioning into a marketing platform. And as part of their growth, they’ve introduced a free website builder.

See MailChimp’s Current Plans & Pricing

I’ve been using Mailchimp for years, and was super curious when they announced the beta version of their website builder (FYI, beta just means it’s their first, trial run version. They’re looking for feedback from users to improve the product).

So I gave Mailchimp’s beta builder a try for a full Mailchimp Website Builder review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Mailchimp Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Mailchimp’s website builder lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Mailchimp is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Mailchimp, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Mailchimp competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, Yahoo!, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on ease of use and their platform providing everything you need to market online — from their opt-in pages to their email software to their website builder.

Pros of Using Mailchimp Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Mailchimp’s website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

If you already have a Mailchimp account, using their free website builder is just a matter of navigating to it in the main menu and getting started. If you don’t have a Mailchimp account, it’s still incredibly easy to sign up. All you have to do is create an account with your business information + pick your payment plan to get started.

mailchimp sign up process

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without an extensive sign up process.

Ease of Use

Another pro of Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s incredible easy to use. When you first get started with the platform, Mailchimp actually creates a homepage for you to use as a starting point.

Mailchimp Homepage

Once you get into the platform, you can “drag” and “drop” additional elements onto the page, remove elements from the premade page, add new pages to your site with the click of a button.

The whole setup is like painting by numbers. You just add in your content, add additional elements if you want them / need them, add your branding colors and fonts, and click publish.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having an easy and quick way to get your site up and making sure it still looks decent.

It makes Mailchimp a great option for entrepreneurs / DIY-ers who want a website that gets the job done, looks clean, and doesn’t require hiring a professional to put it all together (and don’t want to worry about “messing it up”).

Completely Free

Another benefit Mailchimp’s website builder is that it’s completely free.

There’s no upsells, no limited access based on your payment plan, no restrictions. You can use the website builder with your free Mailchimp plan if you have under 2000 subscribers and don’t need additional email functionality, or you can use it with your paid plan for no additional charge.

While there are some limitations with the platform (more on that in a minute), it’s a great option for test projects or those who need a simple, functional website and don’t want to spend money on a platform.

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. And for Mailchimp, there’s two big cons that stand out: limited design and functionality features.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS).

And you can really see this trade-off with the Mailchimp website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward and fast, and puts your focus on getting your content into a premade template. You can add pages and a few elements based on your specific needs, but for the most part, it’s got everything you need.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with the builder.

You can’t add anything aside from the few drag and drop elements available to you, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited (AKA essentially just font and color).

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Mailchimp website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet.

In their beta from, Mailchimp has extremely limited integrations (social sharing, social following, file downloads, etc.), but there are a ton of technical features that Mailchimp currently doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

There also aren’t add-ons or additional integrations to use with the platform, which makes it even more difficult to do anything besides the very basics on your site.

Ultimately, Mailchimp leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better use and market your website.

Mailchimp Review Conclusion

Mailchimp makes getting your website up and running simple and fast, which makes it a great choice for DIYers who want a quick and easy way to build a website without the hassle of getting into the code or having something custom made.

Get started with Mailchimp here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control. Mailchimp leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to design customization and functionality. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Mailchimp fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

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20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020

This post originally appeared at 20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020 via ShivarWeb

Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing

There has never been a time when running a website has been more accessible, convenient, and profitable than now.

But there has also never been a time when running a website has been so confusing, frustrating, and winner-take-all than now.

And that contradiction comes because some of the major computing & networking innovations from the 2010s are finally coming to the everyday Internet.

And as the 2010s close out and the 2020s begin, here are some of my considerations (in no specific order) that I think would be useful for DIYers, freelancers, small online business owners, and anyone planning an online presence.

Nobody Fully Knows What Is Going On

This post is deliberately a listicle because I don’t have a grand unified idea about the future of running a website on the Internet. And I’m skeptical of anyone who does.

Cloud computing, machine learning, APIs, high-quality open-source software, free toolkits, mobile devices, streaming, and the lumbering giant behavior of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft all point to continuing massive disruption of entire industries that no one can predict or prepare for.

The Website + Marketing Tool Model Is Gone

For years, people built a website on a multi-purpose host with a custom domain. And then they used 3rd party tools & distribution channels to promote content, products & services that lived on the website.

But now, the website on a domain is simply one tool in a toolkit. In fact, you can build a model where your website is a backend for your other marketing tools…or you can use a marketing tool to build & run your website.

This shift is clearest with online stores. Between Buyable Pins, Checkout on Instagram, Amazon integration, dropshipping APIs, offline pop-up shops, etc – the website is just another piece in the business puzzle.

Now, websites are still critical because they remain the only piece of that puzzle that you can control & own as an asset. But…I do think they are losing their relative importance. And their importance depends massively on what industry you are in.

Platform Choice > Tool Choice

The demise of the website + marketing tool model will mean that website owners will choose their platform of choice rather than their tools of choice based on what business they have.

Online retail is in this place already. Very few successful retailers have a collection of tools. It’s all about integrations and platform. But increasingly, every business sector will move to this model.

Local small businesses will look at platforms that do their primary function plus whatever integrates well with that platform. For example, a website builder will not compete with other website builders. Instead, the website builder will compete with the CRM platform and the email marketing platform…because all three will have a website builder, CRM, and email marketing tool bundled in a single platform

In other words, a website builder like Wix no longer competes with Squarespace. Instead, Wix competes with MailChimp and HubSpot and Google.

In online retail, Shopify and WooCommerce and BigCommerce don’t really compete with each other. They all compete, as a group, against Amazon, Instagram, Depop, MailChimp, Square, Salesforce, and eBay.

In hosting, hosting companies no longer compete with each other as much as they compete against Google Business Suite, Hubspot, hosted website builders, etc.

Now, there will still be incredible power & opportunity for website owners who have the resources & wherewithal to mix & match services to get the best of all worlds. Those website owners will be able to maintain costs and control where others will cede more power to their platform of choice.

Convenience Killed Cost & Control

The big reason why DIYers are a declining & disrupted market is that when consumers distill down what they truly care about – convenience always wins.

The same reasons driving the growth of takeout, restaurant, delivery, and meal kits at the expense of cooking are also driving the growth of online platforms at the expense of websites + tools.

If you are a DIYer, it will pay to be hyper-aware of what your true wants, needs and goals are – and what tradeoffs you are willing to make. Platforms are great in many ways, but beyond 2020, the most successful DIYers will be able to manage the tradeoffs of platforms.

If you are a freelancer, it will lead to bigger rewards to both specialize in a platform and maintain familiarity with how adjacent choices work. Even if your clients do not know about or understand platform choices, you can still use them to streamline your business and add value without adding extra work.

Spam, Security & Speed Killed What Could Have Been

I am a huge fan of the Open Web. Regardless of the short-term rewards of the platform of the day, it’s still worth investing in a website for the long-term.

But in 2020, even the most die-hard prophets preaching against Google, social media companies, cloud computing, hosted builders, and big corporations will have to admit that the vulnerabilities in the Open Web & running / managing your own website are pushing people to big platforms as much as those big platforms are pulling people.

For example, Google might be pulling people & businesses to hand over their personal email & confidential documents. But hackers, spammers, and human impatience are doing plenty of pushing as well.

For example, I would *love* to run conversations via blog comments instead of using Twitter. But my blog comments are like an absolute honeypot for the worst of the Internet.

Another example, I would love to avoid ecommerce transaction fees and SSL fees but hackers only need one shot. Security is difficult and, honestly, much more effective to do at scale across thousands of websites.

Most of my clients gain a lot from controlling their own hosting rather than using a hosted website solution. But I have to set expectations to prep clients for the amount of time & money it takes to keep the site secure & speedy beyond using a solid hosting company. Web visitors will absolutely ditch a website in a heartbeat over a millisecond. That’s why so many publishers with massive brands are blindly handing control over to Google’s AMP initiative. Even the biggest brands in the world can’t compete with human impatience.

Traffic Sources Are Consolidated & Fragmented

Facebook’s properties & Google’s properties will continue to become bigger. But they’ll also become more winner-take-all. But also, a much longer tail of random completely unpredictable traffic sources will continue to fragment.

Even more traffic will be “dark” or untrackable. Planning a marketing strategy will increasingly rely solely on your target audience rather than your target traffic source.

Organic Traffic Is A Bonus

Treat any organic traffic from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, etc like a bonus. You can’t project or plan long-term around organic traffic. Agencies, freelancers, etc will have to adjust pricing and clients will have to adjust expectations.

Digital marketers spent years making fun of John Wanamaker old-fashioned quote that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Online attribution was supposed to solve that problem. But now, no matter how creepy your tracking and attribution is…consumer & traffic behavior is so unpredictable that you won’t be able to truly plan long-term…unless you pay.

Marketers Growth Demands Killed What Could Have Been

More and more platforms & websites will be “walled gardens”* due to pressure to grow…and grow…and grow some more. The Web could have been a world of accessible, free-flowing information where many businesses and types of businesses made a living. But platforms have to be more closed to make more money off users. And as valuable traffic has declined, website owners have become more desperate and more annoying to drive up ad rates.

*Even previously open platforms like Reddit, Pinterest and Twitter are closing in.

For example – see basically every recipe website ever. As Google and Pinterest strive to keep more users on their sites, serving their ads…recipe content websites have become more desperate to monetize what little traffic they do have…leading to horrendous car salesman-like levels of unusability.

Users Killed What Could Have Been

Users want convenience above all. For all the pulling that Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, etc are doing…users are also pushing attention there…because it’s convenient.

For example, I have no idea what to say to website owners about voice search. And anyone who does have a “strategy” for voice search – I call B*S* on. Users want it. I want it. It’s amazing, but you can’t build a publishing business or profitable content marketing strategy around it.

1,000 True Fans Is Still True

That said, the future will always have a small, tough, but sustainable spot for Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.

On balance, there has never been a better time to run a website or online presence than right now. If you have a good product, service, or concepts, there are likely 1000 True Fans that can & will support your work. Sure, there were “Golden Ages” of organic Facebook traffic, organic Google traffic, etc…but those eras had serious issues and limitations as well.

There Is No Magic Bullet

There is no sure-fire way to build a successful website. I’ve been working in digital marketing for years now. I know that in SEO, there used to always be a sure-fire tactic that was working. Now, there are tactics that work marginally better than others. There are things that you can focus more or less on…but the magic secrets are gone.

Same goes with Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, etc. The only real magic bullet now is hard creative work, constant research, careful planning, constant learning…and a whole lot of luck.

Opportunity Costs Are Very Real

When you choose to do Action A instead of Action B, there is the cost of doing Action A plus the cost of *not* doing Action B.

In a world of limited marketing resources, choosing to create social media posts means that you are also missing out on *not* creating blog posts.

Back in the world where everything online was growing, you could afford to miss one big opportunity for another…because most every opportunity was growing.

Now, mobile devices are ubiquitous. Desktop traffic is actually declining. And many social networks have reached maturity. Choosing one over another or bouncing around chasing “shiny objects” has real costs above whatever you are paying for your main investment.

Even with aspects of running your website, many website features are standardized and predictable. There are opportunity costs to choosing what part of your site to improve or leave alone.

Lookalikes Killed Privacy

I wrote a guide to tracking marketing data on your website. I actively use any & all data to help clients & aid my own research. But on this website & my personal website, I’ve deliberately removed all tracking tags except for Google’s. Why?

Well, sure, there’s the token virtue and hand-washing hypocrisy part of it.

But also, I found that my own retargeting & tracking did not matter in comparison to the massive opportunity presented by lookalike audiences and the data gathered by the big platforms.

Because here’s the thing about “big data” that people miss. It’s that individuals do not matter. All that matters is the sample size.

Every single person has a lookalike about some part of themselves. No matter how special or unique you think you are; no matter how carefully you avoid trackers or cookies or online ads, you can be personally marketed without any kind of tracking to due to lookalike audiences.

Here’s an analogy. Think about the world of DNA testing & genealogy. There are real fears & real consequences to having your DNA in a database. But protecting your own DNA is near-pointless. If a company (or government) knows the DNA from a couple cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents or a sibling…then they know yours as well.

Lookalikes are the same. Even if Nate Shivar avoids all retargeting trackers, there are still enough people out there similar to me that will allow marketers to reach me if they want.

So – what does this mean? It means that whether you have a large audience data set or not, you can still think creatively about how to profile & reach your audience.*

*that is – until privacy can get solved in a meaningful way. Be sure to tell your political leaders that this needs to be solved at the national / international level. Individual choice & freedom in this issue is a moot point.

Alternative Channels Matter

In investing, modern portfolio theory says that diversification pays for itself because it maximizes expected return even if it fails to maximize actual returns.

In other words, you may know that Investment A is your best bet. But you should still make Investment B as well, because you can’t be sure that Investment A will be amazing.

Same with traffic sources and alternative channels and even website tools.

You may be pretty sure that your priority is the right one. But in a world of uncertainty, alternatives are good to have.

Now – going back to Opportunity Costs Are Real – you have to be honest with the tradeoffs. If you spend time on YouTube in addition to Google Search, you might lose some in Google. But you also won’t lose it all if you have some investment in YouTube.

Web Hosting Is a Utility

Amazon made the technology of hosting files a commodity service. Web hosting companies no longer compete on technology. In fact, they don’t want to compete on technology…because Amazon / Microsoft / Google win on that. Web hosting companies make money on what they provide in addition to basic hosting.

That can include support, onboarding, graphical server management tools, bundled 3rd party services, etc. But the main point is that if hosting is a utility – then anybody can offer it as a feature…not just web hosting companies.

There will be even more plugin makers, software makers, theme designers, tool makers, etc that will simply bundle & resell hosting as a feature.

Website Builders Are a Feature

I remember when I used my first drag & drop builder in the early 2000s with Homestead. It was a “WYSIWYG” builder. And it was terrible. Actually, every WYSIWYG builder was terrible…until just a few years ago.

Now…developer and marketer snobs will turn their nose up at drag & drop…but the software is actually pretty good….and it’s only getting better.

If drag & drop were microwavable pizzas in the 2000s, they became Domino’s in the 2010s…and now they are more like Mellow Mushroom pizza. Nothing like your local sit-down Italian haunt…but consistent and really solid.

All this means is that the core website building software can be a feature bundled with everything else rather than a stand-alone business. That’s why Google, MailChimp, Shopify, HostGator, InMotion, GoDaddy, and a dozen other non-website builder companies are bundling free website builders that otherwise compete directly with Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc.

SEO Is a Tactic

For years, the “contract” between publishers and Google was that Google gets to copy & analyze copyrighted content in exchange for free organic traffic.

If publishers made their content easier for Google to copy & analyze (i.e., “search engine optimization“), then Google would reward them with even more free organic traffic.

It created a virtuous cycle that worked for everyone. Sure, Google had to deal with publishers who took advantage of loopholes. And publishers had to waste some time dealing changing guidelines and features (remember Author markup?).

But on whole, the deal worked for everyone.

In fact, you could build an entire marketing strategy around the deal. That’s how entire businesses got built. Help Google and they’ll help you.

But, that deal has broken down. As Google focuses more on users and advertisers – publishers will get left out more and more. And as SEO as a strategy goes away, it will really only remain as a tactic in a broader strategy of organic traffic from all the places.

IRL Original Content Is Underestimated

The Internet makes copying & sharing more convenient than ever. In fact, it’s so convenient that we often forget that there are other sources of information in the real world.

But even more so, we forget that information in the real world is the source for information on the Internet.

In fact, this instinct is true not just among social media users but also among serious website owners and professional journalists.

Because of this instinct for convenient & copyable information – there is a growing premium on original information gathered from the real world.

Anyone can get a screengrab from Google Earth. But not many people will take a picture of a location. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can get a screengrab from social media…but not many people will go an compose a proper photo in context. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can make a drawing or an illustration…but not many people will make an IRL video or photo sequence. And which is more useful & unique?

On my websites & my clients’ websites – I am continually amazed at how often original, IRL images get copied, cited & linked-to. It’s amazing.

It’s no magic bullet, but it’s the most magical of all bullets that SEO’s & website owners have.

IRL Data Is Underestimated

On a related note, data copying and analyzing is easy. IRL data gathered from real people is harder and harder to gather and share.

That’s what makes the US Census so invaluable. But that’s also what makes companies’ internal data so valuable and why some companies use it for incredible link building & PR efforts.

Above & Beyond Pays Off Even More

Regardless of hosting platform, marketing toolset, marketing strategy or collection of tactics – going above and beyond the competition will provide winner-take-all dividends.

Onward!

The Internet & globalization continually push towards sharper and sharper winner-take-all markets for money & attention. And they also increase the long-tail of choice. And technology is continually disrupting itself. Until those core forces are fully understood, you have to play the game.

Focus on using products that you understand and match your goals. Focus on marketing strategies based on audiences that you understand and match your financial goals.

Onward!

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Why You Need A PayPal Business Account If You Want To Take Payments Via PayPal

The post Why You Need A PayPal Business Account If You Want To Take Payments Via PayPal appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store

WooCommerce Pros Cons Alternatives for Online Store

WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, which is the Internet’s most popular content management software.

Explore WooCommerce’s Feature Set

Explore my WooCommerce Setup Guide

WooCommerce was originally developed by a small theme / web design firm in 2011. It grew rapidly among the WordPress community due to its feature set, but also due to its business model.

Same as now, you could download & use the full WooCommerce plugin for free from the start. WooThemes made money by selling compatible designs, support, and from specific extensions (e.g. to connect to a credit card processor).

1 WooCommerce Install

In 2015, Automattic bought WooCommerce from WooThemes. Automattic is the software company run by Matt Mullenweg, the original author of WordPress software.

Ever since, the development of WooCommerce has been tightly coordinated with the development of both self-hosted WordPress and Automattic’s hosted WordPress.com software.

So that’s enough introduction. The point is that WooCommerce is legit, WooCommerce is growing, and WooCommerce can be a great fit for many storeowners…but not all.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

What is WooCommerce?

To run an ecommerce website, you only need a few additional features. You need a product listing, a shopping cart, a payment processor, and order functionality that will merge & manage all the order information within a database. That’s it.

Because of that, ecommerce platforms are very similar to general website software…with just a bit of added functionality.

And like general website software, your choice of software depends on your personal desire for control / customization vs. convenience.

It’s a bit like real estate. A house provides maximum control. But you have to deal with maintenance, contractors, and random issues. A hotel offers zero control or customization, but they take care of *everything*.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

WooCommerce lives on the more control / customization end of the spectrum. If Etsy & Amazon are hotels, then WooCommerce is a house.

WooCommerce is a software plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress, which is general website software (aka “CMS”).

And WordPress is part of a 3 part bundle that “makes a website” –

  • domain (your address on the Internet)
  • hosting (where your website files live)
  • software (what generates the files & pages that make up your website)

In other words, WooCommerce can help WordPress build a stand-alone store instead of a single-family home.

Now, this leads to the first overarching choice with WooCommerce.

Your choice is that WooCommerce is *part* of that 3 part bundle. It directly competes with other WordPress ecommerce plugins.

But…it also competes with other big bundled ecommerce solutions. And many big competitors deliberately bundle domain, hosting, software & ecommerce into a single, simple monthly price.

That’s great – and there are plenty of upsides & downsides to that bundling. But it’s important to be aware of since exploring the pros & cons of WooCommerce is a bit like comparing apples & oranges with other ecommerce solutions.

But – we’ll do it anyway. I love WooCommerce for what it is, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a few pros & cons of WooCommerce both in comparison to direct & indirect competitors.

Pros of WooCommerce

Most ecommerce platforms have a series of strong advantages, and WooCommerce is no different. Here are a few reasons to use WooCommerce, not only instead of other WordPress plugins, but also instead of other ecommerce solutions.

Long-term Cost & Value

WooCommerce is free to download & free to use. If you have WordPress installed on your hosting account, you can navigate to Plugins –> Add New and add it to your website right now.

Explore my WordPress Ecommerce Setup Guide here.

WooCommerce is also fully functional with no add-ons or extensions.

That means that your annual website costs could be as low as ~$120/yr, depending on what hosting plan you have.

For contrast, the average low-tier ecommerce bundle with a hosted service like Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review) or Wix (review) will run around $360/yr for a single website.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

Since your main annual cost will be for a hosting plan, you can maximize the value of your hosting account with multiple websites.

If you had 4 small WooCommerce powered websites on your hosting account, then your annual per website costs would be $30/yr.

To run 4 small ecommerce websites with Shopify or Wix, your annual per website costs would be at least $1,440/yr.

For example, one of my earliest clients had a personal website, a home decor blog, a cat collar store, and an embroidery store – all on her same hosting account.

All 4 sites used WordPress, and the 2 store used WooCommerce. It helped her defray the costs and keep her 2 stores profitable – since they were side-hobbies anyway.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

WooCommerce comes fully-featured and fully supported with no transaction fees of any kind. There’s no “premium tier” to move to. Your long-term per-feature costs will always be lower with WooCommerce.

Also, almost all of WooCommerce extensions are flat-fee and under $100. You have access to a huge and rapidly expanding library of advanced, complex ecommerce features for flat-fee optional cost.

WooCommerce Extensions

And, lastly, since WooCommerce works within WordPress, you get a double cost benefit for any free or premium plugins that you already want to use with your website.

For example, the most popular Redirection plugin for WordPress is free. And it’s free for WooCommerce too, since WooCommerce is integrated with your website.

If you are already paying for speed, security, and anti-spam for your existing WordPress website (with something like JetPack), then you can simply extend that subscription to cover your store as well.

And, you can piece together any 3rd party software based on cost, need, compatibility, etc.

If we stick with the housing analogy with WooCommerce, you can sub-lease rooms to help with the rent, your home office can benefit from your general security bill, and you can add-on *exactly* as your budget allows.

Now…all these massive cost benefits for WooCommerce comes with a few massive caveats, which I’ll cover in the cons. But on face value, WooCommerce is an incredible short-term and long-term value for any storeowner.

Integration with WordPress

WordPress software powers more than 1/3rd of the entire Internet. And it’s popular for a reason – it works well, it’s incredibly versatile as software, and it has a huge community (both for-profit and non-profit) supporting it.

And WooCommerce benefits from all three reasons as well, since it’s been a part of the broader WordPress community for years now.

This seamless integration with WordPress is important because WooCommerce can pull features in from an entire universe of plugins, themes, tutorials, and values that simply does not exist anywhere else.

For example, Yoast SEO has long been a hugely popular plugin with lots of international translations, advanced SEO feature support, and good usability.

There is no hosted platform with anything like it (or like any of Yoast’s excellent competitors). But since WooCommerce is integrated with WordPress…Yoast is integrated with WooCommerce as well.

The same goes with popular themes. Themes will support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce. In fact, developers will often go ahead and add bonus features to WordPress themes to make it extra appealing to WooCommerce users.

Plus, WordPress has long upheld the values of the Open Web with full RSS support, nice permalinks, W3 valid code, cross-browser compatibility, and full control over your code, content & data.

Themes for WooCommerce

f you want to leave WooCommerce, it’s easy and well-supported. Your data is only accessible to you – and anyone you grant permission to (not the other way around).

Lastly, if you have an existing WordPress powered website and want to add ecommerce, WooCommerce makes it as seamless as any other plugin so that you don’t have to style & support a store on a completely different platform.

Support from Automattic

Automattic is a company founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is also the author of WordPress software.

WordPress software is free, open-source and community supported. But Automattic is the for-profit company that makes & sells tools for WordPress software.

They run WordPress.com, a bundled hosted service for WordPress software in addition to JetPack, a speed / security / utility kit for WordPress websites, and WooCommerce.

Now, there’s a whole universe of for-profit companies offering WordPress plugins, themes, support, etc. They all do great work, and I recommend many of them.

But for longevity, consistency, and building more 3rd party integrations, I think it’s in WooCommerce’s advantage to be owned by Automattic.

There are plenty of WordPress software companies, and plenty of good ecommerce plugins. In fact, some have features and setups that I like a bit better than WooCommerce (mainly for digital goods only).

But the bottom-line when comparing WooCommerce not only to other plugins, but also to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc – is that you need a large company that will be around and have an financial interest in keeping the software cutting-edge.

Additionally, since Automattic is still private and venture-funded – they are still in “growth” mode, which only means more investment in features & customer service.

WooCommerce’s ownership is a huge advantage for choosing WooCommerce over other ecommerce plugins, and put it at parity with other ecommerce solutions offered by large, stable companies.

Versatility & Compatibility

A few fun facts about WooCommerce –

  • You can use it to sell memberships
  • You can use it to sell recurring licenses
  • You can use it to sell digital goods
  • You can use it to sell apppointments
  • You can use it to sell affiliate, drop-ship, or even Amazon products
  • You can “hack” it and combine to sell really anything you can imagine

The actual plugin is incredibly versatile and compatible with a huge range of uses. Like WordPress, your imagination is likely more limited than the tool is.

WooCommerce Extensions

The plugin automatically creates & manages a range of page types including products, product categories, orders, confirmations, etc

It’s compatible not only with most single-use WordPress plugins but also with large site-type plugins like the BuddyPress social network plugin and bbPress forum plugin.

In other words, you can create a niche social network with forum and online store all with the same WordPress install.

3rd Party Integrations

WooCommerce has a large & growing Apps & Extensions store. It’s a library of premium extensions that allow you to harness powerful 3rd party software for things like payments, shipping, cross-product listings, inventory management, marketing, bookkeeping, and more.

If you are an offline merchant who loves a 3rd party processor (like Square), then you can use an extension to add it to WooCommerce.

If you love your 3rd party shipping or inventory software, it will probably integrate with WooCommerce.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

This pro has a caveat – I’m assuming that you have worked with WordPress before. If not, this will actually appear in the cons section.

But, if you have, WooCommerce’s onboarding is amazing. They’ve upgraded the process to the point where my WordPress Ecommerce Setup guide isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.

Woocommerce Wizard

When you add the WooCommerce plugin, you are instantly moved into a setup sequence that will help you list your first product, set up your page types, and get all your basic settings ready to roll.

You really can be set up to sell in minutes. And unlike some plugins that create a dedicated section for use, WooCommerce automatically folds pages, media and options within the existing WordPress install so that everything appears where you think it should be (e.g., media settings, categories, etc).

Control & Customizations

Since WooCommerce is a PHP-based plugins that integrates with your WordPress install, you have direct access to the code via browser and FTP.

You can add, remove, edit scripts and bits of code to your heart’s content. If you want to edit your checkout flow or your error codes or your analytics script or your CSS – then you just do it.

WooCommerce Permalinks

You are not limited by a platform’s plan or code access or script limitations. If you want to hire a designer or developer or marketer, you can hire from a huge pool rather than a narrow field.

There are even custom extension developers who will create whatever extension for WooCommerce that you want.

Do you run a store than needs to accept Dogecoin? Or a very specific shipping option? You’ll need to use WooCommerce – because no major ecommerce platform will be building that anytime soon.

Cons of WooCommerce

Every ecommerce platform has natural disadvantages since there is an inherent tradeoff between control & convenience. You’ll likely find a lot of WooCommerce complaints and issues around the Internet.

Here’s a few of the key disadvantages you’ll find with WooCommerce – and using WordPress as an online store in general.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

WooCommerce & WordPress both try to make ease of use & onboarding (i.e., moving a new user to an active user) simple, straightforward and intuitive.

There are plenty of guides around the Internet, along with prompts, Q&As, support, and more.

But the bottom line is that there is still a basic tradeoff between control and convenience.

For a beginner, WooCommerce has a learning curve that is even steeper than WordPress’ learning curve. When you install WooCommerce, you not only have to learn the basic jargon of an ecommerce store (listings, checkout flow, payment tokens), but you also have to learn the basic jargon of WordPress (permalinks, posts, pages, plugins, etc) and the basic jargon of any self-hosted website (difference between HTML & CSS, page load speed, etc).

WooCommerce Menu Settings

For a beginner with zero experience with WordPress or running a website, WooCommerce will require a steep learning curve. Now, it might be worth it if you have the time & patience to learn everything.

But compared to drag & drop basic online store builders like Weebly or Wix or even comprehensive ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce’s onboarding & setup is a huge downside.

Technical Maintenance

Sticking with the house / apartment analogy, you know how you can just call the landlord when something goes wrong?

Yeah, you can’t do that with WooCommerce. There is some semblance of support via your hosting company and Automattic (if you are a premium JetPack subscriber) and the WooCommerce community. But there’s no single place to just call and get something fixed.

In fact, like a landlord, there’s no one who will come by and just check on the HVAC filter, the roofing, and basic structure.

Running WooCommerce is really like owning a house. There are plenty of people who will help you maintain it. In fact, many are quite reasonable and even quicker than a landlord.

But…when it comes down to it, *you* and *you* alone are in charge of keeping your website maintained, available, and operating.

Plugins will notify you of security updates, but you will need to install them and manage any new conflicts. Your hosting company will give you support, but you need to know what questions to even ask. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot.

This downside comes directly from the benefit of maximum control. With maximum control & freedom comes maximum responsibility.

Again, you can get customer support for WooCommerce. In fact, some hosting companies offer “WooCommerce Hosting” with management included.

But compared to online store builders like Wix & Weebly or ecommerce platforms like Shopify & BigCommerce, WooCommerce is lacking in simple technical maintenance.*

Shopify Backend

*The one caveat here is the WordPress.com option – they are a hosted version of WordPress run by Automattic. Since they bundle hosting, software, support & more – you can get many of the benefits of WooCommerce without this downside. They’ll take care of all the maintenance…at an extra price.

Speed & Security

With the continued growth of mobile and the profitability of hacking, website speed & security are more important than ever.

Like the situation with technical maintenance, WooCommerce leaves you basically in charge of speed & security – even though there are plenty of native & 3rd party options to help you.

WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently secure when installed with a good hosting company, maintained, and used with basic security best practices.

Additionally, WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently fast when installed with a good hosting company, maintained and used with basic speed best practices.

But your weakest link is the toughest part with both speed & security.

For hosted platforms like Weebly, Wix, Shopify or BigCommerce (and the WordPress.com option) – this is an area where they truly shine. Your website lives on their infrastructure with their team of professionals watching constantly for issues and keeping software cutting edge.

In fact, several have bounty programs where they pay hackers to deliberately seek vulnerabilities in their systems. They will also have direct partnerships with payment processors for real-time fraud alerts.

Overall, speed & security should not be an issue for WooCommerce storeowners – including beginners. But, like with owning a house, you are still the one responsible for any issues.

It remains a key downside of WooCommerce, especially if you store starts growing rapidly from hundreds of visitors to hundreds of thousands of users – which brings us to the next downside.

Growth & Scaling

Since WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it has to work within WordPress’ basic functionality.

And WordPress’ basic functionality is not built specifically for ecommerce, it’s built for versatility.

This issue means that the way WooCommerce works starts to break down when you get above a certain threshold of “queries” – ie, requests of the database.

And unlike browsing content, or really any other type of functionality, ecommerce can generate *a lot* of queries, very quickly, and in a short space of time.

Imagine WooCommerce is a single dude standing between a group of customers and a library. Imagine they all need to request books and return books before paying you, getting change, and then leaving. Now, if they go one at a time, it’s fine. In fact, you can probably push the guy to handling several returns and new books at once.

But imagine they all show up at once, say, on Thanksgiving, and start shouting out lots of book orders. And they start giving books to put back…and they all want to pay all at once.

Well, the dude is going to get really confused, tired, and crash. Not because he’s not good but because it’s a not-ideal system.

That’s WooCommerce’s core problem – handing *lots* of add to cart and checkout events all at once.

Ecommerce platforms that are built from scratch for ecommerce like Shopify and BigCommerce do not have this issue. They use a completely different set of technologies to avoid WooCommerce’s inherent issues.

Now, before a bunch of WordPress folks’ start sending me emails, WooCommerce can absolutely scale to hundreds of thousands of orders. WooCommerce says that the issues is a myth and has examples to prove it.

All true. But it take a lot of work & expertise to make that type of scaling happen. Here’s an interview with a top WordPress expert on making WooCommerce scale…and even he discusses it like a huge project, not something built-into the product.

If you have a small, growing store, this is a non-issue. You can solve problems as they come.

But if you are starting what will be a large ecommerce site very quickly, it’s a critical disadvantage to be aware of – especially when looking at other Enterprise ecommerce options.

Potential Long-term Costs

WooCommerce’s price (free!) and potential long-term value are amazing for beginners and anyone on a budget.

However, you may have noted the potential need for 3rd party help, WooCommerce can become quite expensive.

One of my earliest clients back paid me $1200 to fix several emergency issues that she simply could not figure out before her sales deadline.

She had chosen WooCommerce specifically to control costs (rather than integrate with an existing content site). But it will take several years of no issues to recoup those costs compared to a Shopify plan.

Shopify Pricing

Since WooCommerce is not bundled with hosting and other software, it’s also easy to let regular costs get out of control. Once you start paying for automated backups, security scanning, managed hosting, CDN, premium plugin extensions, and more – your monthly costs may be much higher than anticipated (again, just like homeownership vs. renting).

Now, all these costs are *potential* costs. And if you have the time and patience, many storeowners would rather than potential costs that they choose rather than an high guaranteed cost. But it’s a potential downside to be aware of.

Future of Ecommerce

Ecommerce is changing rapidly. And the speed of change is happening faster everyday.

Apps like Poshmark, Depop, Pinterest, and Instagram are moving more ecommerce to happen seamlessly within apps via “headless” ecommerce backends.

In other words, some ecommerce platforms are simply inventory & order tracking systems where the actual shopping, cart, and payments happens within a 3rd party app.

In some ways, WooCommerce’s open structure should be an advantage. And yet, cutting edge ecommerce relies increasingly on APIs and direct integrations, which are not WooCommerce’s specialty.

Shopify is able to leverage its size, infrastructure, and tech team to create cutting edge integrations. Same with MailChimp, Square, and a whole universe of similar marketing tools.

And all that does not even start to discuss Amazon.

All that to say, WooCommerce does have a current disadvantage with ecommerce as it is currently evolving.

However, it could have a huge advantage as content becomes more important. And it will forever have an advantage as somewhere that you truly own & control. It’s this bet that Automattic has their money on.

It’s a potential downside to consider. There’s no right answer, it all depends on your goals, expertise, and view of the future. There’s a reason why so many website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress.com, and GoDaddy GoCentral are adding basic ecommerce functionality.

All of which leads us to a few direct comparisons.

WooCommerce Alternatives

There is a whole universe of ecommerce solutions on the Internet. Compared to 2003, this is a really good problem to have. But as an online storeowner, navigating choices is still an issue. Here’s a quick rundown of the main alternatives to WooCommerce, along with links to further posts.

WooCommerce vs. Other WordPress Ecommerce Plugins

There are lots of ecommerce plugins, but most are pretty terrible. WooCommerce’s main direct competitors are –

  • Easy Digital Downloads – a focus on simple digital goods.
  • WP Easy Cart – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
  • WP Ecommerce – a non-Automattic comprehensive option. Meant for developers due to limited support options & simple extensions.
  • NinjaShop – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.

WooCommerce can also run on WordPress.com as part of a hosted bundle. This option removes a lot of WooCommerce’s negatives, but also increases WooCommerce’s costs & removes some of the self-hosted freedoms.

WooCommerce vs. Shopify

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and Shopify here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with Shopify.

WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and BigCommerce here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with BigCommerce.

WooCommerce vs. Wix

Wix is much more user-friendly compared to WooCommerce. However, Wix also constrains your options more than even WordPress.com and hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify. If you have a small store and want drag & drop convenience, then use Wix.

WooCommerce vs. Magento

Magento used to be a much tougher competitor to WooCommerce until Magento’s sale. Now, self-hosted Magento is going away. If you run an enterprise site, then scalability will likely make your choice for you. You’ll want Magento (or other Enterprise options). If you have a small ecommerce shop, then WooCommerce will be a better option.

WooCommerce vs. OpenCart

OpenCart is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then OpenCart is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use OpenCart, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce vs. Ecwid

Ecwid is less an ecommerce solution and more of an “anywhere shopping cart”. You can quickly add it to an existing website (ie, a plain WordPress website) and provide an ecommerce experience of a sort. However, it does not integrate with your backend. You also will have trouble competing for inbound marketing. It’s a good option to quickly add ecommerce functionality to your website without going through the WooCommerce setup process.

WooCommerce vs. Prestashop

PrestaShop is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then PrestaShop is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use PrestaShop, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce Review Conclusion

WooCommerce is the best ecommerce solution for 3 types of storeowners –

  • Storeowners with technical resources who want to heavily customize their store or use unique functionality.
  • Website owners who have a content-driven website and want to add-on a complementary, but seamless store.
  • Storeowners who are highly cost-conscious and feel comfortable investing time rather than money into running their own website.

If you fit those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out the main WooCommerce website and using my guide to setting up your WooCommerce-driven ecommerce store.

If you don’t fit in those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out a hosted solution. Explore my ecommerce platform quiz here. Or if you are building a small store (a dozen products), explore my online store builder quiz here.

Lastly, be sure to explore my guide to marketing your ecommerce store. So many stores fail, *not* because of platform…but because of a bad marketing plan. Spend as much time planning your marketing as you spend researching your store software.

The post WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Prepare Your Small Business For The Holiday Season With These Top 10 Tips

The post Prepare Your Small Business For The Holiday Season With These Top 10 Tips appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Best Free Credit Card Readers For Small Businesses

We’ve done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.

A lot of third-party processors are also mobile processors. Their primary offering is usually the mobile app and card reader. Sometimes, they make money not only on processing cards but also on other value-added services related to running a business in general, services such as invoicing and payroll processing. (Yeah, we’re looking at you, Square.) Once a merchant signs up, the processor will try to upsell and cross-sell these services to the merchant. It makes sense for some merchants — the centralized management of their business is an advantage.

Since an expensive reader can discourage signup, third-party processors often offer readers for free. They make it very obvious on their website that you can get a free reader. However, keep in mind that these services are designed for small businesses — they don’t expect you to need a lot of equipment. Your first reader might be free, but you will typically have to pay for any additional readers.

As to merchant account providers, they typically work with more established businesses that can afford (sometimes expensive) countertop registers and credit card terminals. It’s pretty rare to see credit card terminals given away for free. When they are, it’s usually only a “rental,” and you’ll have to return the equipment when you leave the processor. However, as mobile processing becomes more and more popular, many merchant account providers are starting to offer mobile processing services as a convenience to their existing customers. With these mobile processing services, the merchant account providers do tend to give away free mobile credit card readers. Sometimes the information is clearly advertised but not always. You might need to contact your payment processor and ask if you’re interested in adding on a mobile POS and card reader.

Let’s be clear: Just because you’ll get something for free doesn’t mean that you should immediately sign up with a particular processor. There are some negative issues you might wish to consider.

Why You Should Be Wary Of Free Credit Card Reader Offers

As already alluded to earlier, free card readers are generally provided as loss leaders — something provided for free or at a drastically reduced cost to bring in a new long-term customer. Often, this means that the reader will be a lower-cost magstripe reader, with no EMV capability. If that is the case, then you might not be able to recover losses from purchases made with cards using stolen credit card numbers. At this late date, there is very little reason to settle for a reader that doesn’t support chip cards, and doing so can make your business look a bit antiquated.

If you are getting a free mobile card reader (or a “free” device of any kind) from a merchant account provider, be aware that there could be a tradeoff. Of course, a top-rated merchant account provider such as Payment Depot will deal with their customers honestly and fairly and will give a free reader under their usual no-contract deal. Other merchant account providers, however, might require you to sign a contract to tie yourself to them for a more extended period. Read your contract carefully, so you understand which services you’ve signed up for and for how long. You should also understand how to get out of the contract if you’re not happy with the provider.

Despite the negatives and our caveats, all of these free readers will be serviceable. If you need one of these devices to get your business off the ground or for occasional off-premises use (e.g., trade shows), then these free readers should fit the bill.

How To Find The Best Free Credit Card Reader

Below, we will highlight four free readers currently available in the market. But, before we delve into the specifics of each, we want to point out a few benchmarks you should think about when considering any free reader.

  • Reader Type: Typically, these readers will read magstripe and potentially EMV cards. It’s unusual to get a contactless (i.e., NFC) reader for free. Keep in mind that a magstripe reader could create a liability issue for you under some circumstances, so it is better to have a reader that can take both magstripe and EMV.
  • Connection: There are two types of connections — physical connection or Bluetooth. The physical connectors can break off if you’re not careful, and a reader that uses a Bluetooth connection still needs to be periodically charged. We typically recommend a Bluetooth connection over a physical one since smartphones and tablets seem to be phasing out the headphone jack. For example, all the recent iPhones and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 do not have headphone jacks.
  • Software: A card reader is just a piece of hardware. Without its supporting software, the reader is useless. Each business is different, however, so its software needs are different. Some businesses will prefer a no-nonsense basic mobile processing app. Others might want additional functionalities, such as inventory tracking. Be sure to think through your software needs before you decide on a free reader.
  • Battery Life: Battery life applies to Bluetooth and/or EMV readers. Ideally, you want something that can last you at least one day, so you can process credit card charges without interruption.
  • Peripherals: A basic, pocketable magstripe reader that plugs into a headphone jack or Lightning connector won’t have any peripherals, but Bluetooth and/or EMV readers need cables to charge them up. Other nice-to-have items include carrying cases, docks, clips, and even lanyards that allow the user to carry the reader without losing or damaging it.

Now, let’s look at four simple readers that are available for free. For ease of reference, we’ve put the card reader comparison information into a table:

Payment Depot Swift B200 Square Magstripe Reader Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader
Reader Type EMV, Magstripe Magstripe EMV, Magstripe EMV, Magstripe
Connection Type Bluetooth Headphone jack (for Android) or Lighting connector (for Apple devices) Bluetooth Bluetooth
Processing Software SimpleSwipe Square Point of Sale Shopify Lite or Shopify POS PayPal Here
Battery Life 420 transactions Not applicable 400 chip or 700 swipe transactions “all day”
Peripherals Micro USB charging cable; mounting sticker None Stand, micro USB charging cable, mounting sticker, travel case Device clip, micro USB charging cable

There are plusses and minuses to any free card reader. Ultimately, the “best reader” is the one that fits with the specific needs of your business.

Swift B200 From SwipeSimple

The Swift B200 from SwipeSimple is a Bluetooth magstripe and EMV reader. The parent company, CardFlight, makes two models of readers: the B200 and the B250 (which we review here). The B200 is the less expensive of the two readers, and it lacks the NFC card reader function in the B250.

The B200 can pair with both iOS and Android devices. It uses a rechargeable battery that lasts about 420 transactions. There’s a battery indicator LED light on the device, and the box includes a USB cable. You also get a lanyard and a carrying case.

SwipeSimple’s mobile processing app is available through several providers, but we recommend Payment Depot. Payment Depot is one of our top-rated providers because of its great customer service and fair, transparent pricing. The company also offers a mobile processing plan exclusive to Merchant Maverick readers, which includes the B200 reader for free (you can upgrade to the B250 for $25). You’ll pay $10/month plus 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction with no monthly minimums or additional fees.

We like the SwipeSimple app, and you can find more details about the app in our review. The app takes care of all your credit card processing needs without the clutter of too many extra features. If you’re a no-nonsense kind of person, this might be the app for you.

SwipeSimple Swift B200 Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free (when you sign up through Payment Depot)
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe, EMV
  • Companion Software: SwipeSimple
  • Connection: Bluetooth

Square Magstripe Reader

The Square Magstripe Reader is, as its name says, just a magstripe reader. This reader has been Square’s trusty free reader for many years, and it hasn’t evolved much. Of course, when Apple stopped providing headphone jacks on its phones, Square had to adapt to come up with the Lightning connector for its reader. (Soon, it will have to adapt again for Android phones, as Samsung seems to be phasing out headphone jacks too.)

Square


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Read our Review

The Square Magstripe Reader does not need charging, and it’s small enough to fit in your pocket to be carried around. There’s a certain elegance in that sort of simplicity, even though it’s only a magstripe reader that can open the merchant up to liability from fraudulent cards.

Square does offer a tradeoff for that liability, and, for some, the risk might be worth it. The Square magstripe reader works with the very robust (and free) Point of Sale app as well as opening up the rest of Square’s highly-rated (and value-added) services to you. In addition to processing cards at 2.75% per transactions, the Point of Sale app can also track inventory, manage employee hours, keep track of appointments, and do much more. So before you rule Square out based solely on its magstripe reader, we encourage you to think about your company’s future needs and see if Square might be a fit for you after all. Here are our full Square review and our Point of Sale app review to help you make a better-informed decision.

If you decide you want to upgrade to one of Square’s other devices later, Square offers financing for all hardware purchases starting at $49 — conveniently, the price of its Contactless + Chip card reader.

Square Magstripe Reader Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free (additional readers $10)
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe
  • Companion Software: Square Point of Sale
  • Connection: headphone jack or Lightning connector

Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader

Shopify is better known as an online shopping cart and eCommerce platform. With its free POS software and credit card reader, though, it appears to be branching into stores with physical locations. The Shopify reader is of a proprietary design. It’s a magstripe and EMV reader that comes with a charging cradle. Packaged in a neat little carrying case, you’ll also find a micro USB charging cable, mounting hardware, and everything else you need.

Shopify Lite


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Shopify’s Chip & Swipe Reader connects to a mobile device through Bluetooth. The reader can process 400 chip transactions or 700 swipe transactions on one charge. It works with Shopify POS, which runs on both iOS and Android devices. If you subscribe to any of Shopify’s eCommerce plans, the POS app and hardware are included as part of your service. However, if you’re just interested in the mobile app and some tangential eCommerce features, you can opt for the Shopify Lite plan, which goes for $9/month and 2.7% per transaction. It doesn’t include access to all of the advanced features, but as a mobile offering, it’s quite serviceable.

Be sure to check out our detailed review of the Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader. We have reviewed Shopify’s eCommerce plans as well as its Shopify Lite plan and Shopify POS software. Take a quick look at the reviews and see if Shopify is a good fit for you.

Shopify Chip & Swipe Reader Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe, EMV
  • Companion Software: Shopify POS (with eCommerce plan or Shopify Lite)
  • Connection: Bluetooth

PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader

PayPal first made its name as an online payments processor. These days it’s more of an all-in-one solution for businesses, including its free mobile software, PayPal Here, and the free card reader that comes with it. Like most other free readers in this article, the PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader is a magstripe and EMV reader that connects to a mobile device via Bluetooth. The reader comes with a micro USB charger and a clip for attaching the reader to the mobile device.

PayPal Here


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According to PayPal, the reader has enough battery to last all day. However, a little digging in the comments section of reviews and tech support messages suggests that some people have issues with the battery life. So you might want to proceed with caution if long battery life is important to you.

PayPal, like its closest competitor, Square, used to offer a free basic card reader. However, it discontinued that offer and implemented account restrictions on merchants who use the basic magstripe reader (see our PayPal Here review for more information on that). The free Chip & Swipe reader is a nice alternative to this policy. The mobile app is free to use, with transactions processing at 2.7%.

Signing up with PayPal gives you access to all its payment-related services. Make sure you understand the full scope of PayPal’s business as you consider whether or not to get the PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader. And if you do want a mobile card reader with contactless support, check out the PayPal Chip & Tap reader.

PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader Fast Facts

  • Reader Cost: Free
  • Payment Types Supported: magstripe, EMV
  • Companion Software: PayPal Here
  • Connection: Bluetooth

As you look through the reviews, don’t forget to look at the upgraded readers available from each provider. You might wish to take these readers into account, so you’ll know how much more it might cost you in the future to upgrade.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Promise Of A Free Card Reader

Mobile card readers are usually loss leaders used to entice merchants to sign up with a particular card processor. The free readers tend to be a simple piece of hardware without a lot of extras, and they tend not to be able to read NFC signals, so customers won’t be able to tap to pay. For the card processors, free readers are merely a way to introduce you to their other services.

Before you sign up, it’s important to research the processing company to make sure the mobile software and other features are worthwhile and that the pricing works for you. Otherwise, while you might get your free card reader, you will suffer the administrative headaches or reduced profits that come with choosing the wrong credit card processing company.

Lastly, don’t forget to read our article, The Best Credit Card Readers For Your Small Business, for a truly comprehensive discussion on the best card readers in the marketplace today.

Have you used any of these free readers? If so, what’s your experience with them?

The post The Best Free Credit Card Readers For Small Businesses appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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