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This article was published on March 28, 2017

Why I’m convinced Square can conquer the UK

Why I’m convinced Square can conquer the UK
Matthew Hughes
Story by

Matthew Hughes

Former TNW Reporter

Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twi Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twitter.

Rumors have abounded for months now, but today it became official: Square, the payments company founded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, is coming to the UK. This will be the fifth market the company has entered, after Canada, Japan, Australia, and the United States.

Square is an off-the-self tool that allows anyone to accept credit-card payments. All you need is a compatible smartphone or tablet, and the iconic Square reader.

Square itself makes money from sales of the card readers – which in the UK are going for £39, as well as a percentage of the transaction. In the UK, this is 1.75 percent for all in-person transactions, and 2.5 percent for all sales made online, or where the credit card has to be keyed-in.

The company is a bit late to the UK market. It come at a time when there are a plethora of contenders, including iZettle, SumUp and Paypal, all offering a fundamentally similar product.

The UK loves its plastic. In January of this year alone, British consumers spent over £57.1 billion (roughly $71.5 billion) via credit and debit cards, according to the UK Cards Association. In total, Brits made a record 1.4 billion card payments.

Despite that, plenty of places steadfastly refuse to take card payments. You can almost forget it’s 2017.

There’s an entire sector of the economy that’s still stuck in the stone ages. Taxis are largely cash-only. So too are tradesmen, like plumbers, carpenters, and handymen.

And anecdotally, I’ve noticed that pop-up food stands and independent traders are resistant to the march of the credit card. If you go to a farmers market, or a trade show, you’d best remember to withdraw a load of cash beforehand, as was the case when I went to the UK Cake and Bake Show last year.

This contrasts massively with my experiences in the United States.

I’ve been to farmers markets where, nestled amongst the produce and preserves, would sit an iPad and Square Dock. And over Christmas, I paid for a big box of arancini at the Bryant Park Winer Village with my UK credit card, and it was all thanks to Square.

I’m not sure why American vendors have been so receptive to Square, when the same hasn’t been true of UK small businesses, and the indigenous Square analogs here.

I’m sure the hardware has something to do with it. Have you ever seen an iZettle reader? They’re not particularly nice to look at. I’d liken them to a Casio calculator from the 90’s – no offense to Casio.

But Square? My god. It’s just this sleek, pristine slab of plastic. It’s effortlessly stylish. Californian, even.

This gorgeous hardware is married with software that feels fluid and intuitive – on both sides of the register.

From a consumer perspective, it made it easier to pay for things, and to give a tip where appropriate. The only difficult part of the transaction was figuring out the labyrinthine American tipping system.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Square is a really great product. While it’s a little late to the show, I’m sure it will make up for lost time on those merits alone.

It’s also worth remembering that when done right, the UK is hugely receptive to innovative fintech products. Just look at the stratospheric success of Monzo and TransferWise.

As Jack Dorsey said today at the company’s launch event, it’s not about being first, “but being the best.”

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