LightSpeed vs. Shopify vs. Square

Seamless payment processing for commerce in today’s mobile-tech dominated environment is extremely important. How do you know which one is suitable for your business needs when there are so many options to choose from?

We have reviewed three of the strongest players in the industry, and allow leave you to determine which one is most suitable for your company.

LightSpeed offers retailers a front-counter POS system and back-office management application for Mac. In July 2013, it shifted to a fully-integrated system complete with a customized ecommerce platform and a cloud-based POS system for iPad and mobile.

Shopify provides the tools required for any business to set up and customize their own ecommerce store. It diversified into a complete POS application in August 2013 and in January 2014, the POS system became compatible with the iPhone.

Square is a mobile payment gateway for iPad, iPhone and Android. First to market with a POS system based in the cloud, the software can be synchronized across devices and is used for accepting credit card payments in the offline environment.


LightSpeed has focused in on medium-sized companies and retailers for whom their “bricks-and-mortar” presence is the foundation of the business. Its users usually have a full, in-store setup and take a “continuing the conversation” standpoint to ecommerce service integration. Its consumer base is slowly broadening to include larger chains and brands such as Adidas (for its pop-up stores). Having acquired 7,000 retailers in the past year, it is experiencing rapid growth.

Shopify is known for its ease of use and you can have a cookie-cutter online store up and running quite easily, with add-ons to handle very specific needs. It has a diverse range of plug-ins, from web design customization to changing the shipping options and tax rates. Shopify has traditionally focused on (but not been limited to) small-scale e-tailers and has more recently diversified into the live retail market within the last year with the release of its own POS and mobile-commerce solution.

Square has rapidly overtaken its peers for volume of annual payments with the assistance of $200m investment and a partnership with Starbucks. In 2013, it reportedly processed an incredible $20 billion in transactions. It can be tailored to any type of business, from lemonade stands to grocery stores. Its market segments include both retailers and the general public, meaning the market is considerably more broad than that of its POS counterparts.

Ease of implementation

LightSpeed's offering of “LightSpeed Pro” requires some advance planning to set up, install and back-up, as it isn’t cloud-based–yet. However, it does have a clean and intuitive interface design and in the last year, acquired a cloud-based POS system. Along with the new cloud-based offering, it has also introduced Web Store 3.0, a customizable ecommerce platform which offers a basic feature-set and web presence, linking the retail POS offerings to the power of the cloud, along with beautiful templates that are equipped for mobile commerce.

Shopify has developed a very simple interface which makes it a top player for ease-of-use. It provides good customer support and the framework (Liquid) is built on Rails and provides a very solid platform for building upon for an e-tailer, including support for mobile commerce. It offers many themes and plugins (marketing, social media, accounting etc) for less tech savvy people to build the own stores with. The POS system may take extra time to set up, but everything can be integrated from end-to-end.

Square is exceptionally simple to integrate, providing a card reader for free, the application runs off the cloud and inventory can be synchronized across devices. The interface is simple, intuitive and depending on the hardware you order with your bundle, you can can connect a receipt printer, cash drawer and barcode scanner. Another positive is the fixed processing fee of 2.75% for all transactions. All you really require to set this up is an internet connection and a mobile device.

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Square is easy, cheap and provides a nimble setup. Where it has limitations, however, is its limited support for building an online presence and does not provide the comprehensive tools like LightSpeed or Shopify.

Having approached the integrated ecommerce from the bricks-and-mortar perspective, LightSpeed’s strengths remain with the POS, inventory, customer accounts, sales management and analytic systems that it started with. The ecommerce platform offers a basic foundation for both developers to build upon, and regular users to customize their stores. LightSpeed is very well suited to large retailers with a significant physical presence and the resources to implement LightSpeed properly. Once integrated with their cloud-based offering, there’s no better way to implement multi-channel commerce.

Plugins are a strong part of Shopify and provide an easy work-around for developers. The mobile-friendly aspect of the service means that an e-tailer may choose a totally different mobile theme (or the same) that uses the same data as the desktop site, just rendering it to a mobile layout. The more plugins you have, however, the more expensive it becomes. In addition, it charges third-party payment processing fees (on top of monthly fees) if you do not use the Shopify payment gateway.

All three of the platforms featured here provide a high level of service for their customers. Each platform has unique strengths which can be tailored to your business depending on your company size, budget and goals. The costs associated with both Shopify and LightSpeed may mean that smaller, mom-and-pop operations are turning to Square for their POS systems, and given the volume of payment processing so far, the level of acquisition for them is not about to slow down anytime soon.

The pattern we’re seeing between the three is a move towards smooth integration of the online and offline environments whilst continually enhancing usability and great user experience. With the move, there is now an overlap of target markets; small to medium, independent sellers tend to like the low price and ease of use for Square, whereas established retail stores who once only enjoyed the solid POS system of LightSpeed now have an opportunity to integrate ecommerce and mobile payments through LightSpeed Cloud. Conversely, ecommerce businesses who have enjoyed the largely customizable Shopify webstore now have the option to integrate it with their offline stores and mobile POS.

To keep a tight hold on their customers may mean having to evolve and compete for business… watching the evolution in this space has been fascinating and, as ecommerce developers, incredibly exciting for us – there have never been such varied and robust, next-generation options available for our clients.

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