Thursday, May 24, 2018

[REVIEW] Is Square Marketing's Simple Email CRM Program Right for your Small Business?

Square Marketing launched about 3 years ago as a simple, turnkey email marketing system for small businesses. I've used it and other email marketing applications and wanted to provide a hands-on review about what I like and don't like about Square Marketing.

First of all, keep in mind Square Marketing is an intentionally simple CRM email marketing program for small businesses who don't have the time or knowledge to deal with relationship marketing. But they know it's important. It's not really for prospecting, but more for customer retention, because it is based on email addresses tied to your customer's credit card that Square may already have in its system, even if a customer has never bought from you. That's one of the beauties of this solution. You've got a lot of customer emails without having to spend time asking for it from each customer and slowing things down at the register.

What I Like About Square Marketing

Square Marketing is easy to setup! I love how they have created the most common templates already for welcoming a new customer, lapsed customer, product promotion, newsletter, and events, to name a few.

The biggest advantage of using Square Marketing is its integration with the Square POS register that seamlessly ties customer profile, campaign, and sales transaction data!

First, you get basic email performance overview metrics, like emails sent (a.k.a. Recipients in Square's language), email opens, and unsubscribes. You don't get bounce rates though.

Square Campaign Overview Report

One metric to be careful about with Square reporting is the notion of an "Attributed" sale or purchase. Square defines "Attributable Sales" as the total sales generated from customers who made an in-store purchase within 14 days of viewing this campaign, or any customers who redeemed a coupon. This is different than the offer redemption rate because it doesn't mean everyone included in this metric actually redeemed an offer. It's meant in some ways to imply that by simply reaching out to customers via email, you reminded them about your business and that might have influenced their decision to repurchase.

The usefulness of attributed sales depends on how frequent customers shop with you and if you use coupons a lot. For a cafe or coffee shop, where customers may routinely come in several times a month, I think Attributable sales is less relevant. But if you are a shoe retailer where a customer may shop less than a handful of times per year, this may mean your emails kept your business top of mind for customers, even if they didn't redeem an offer.

Now let's look at actual Coupon Performance reporting. I love how Square effortlessly tracks actual redemptions in store by just entering a unique promo code from the email a customer got or you can actually look up the customer's name from the Square POS and select the offer available to that customer. The latter is pretty darn convenient if a customer loses or can't find that email at the time of checkout.

Square Coupon Performance Report
As the above shows, you get daily-level coupon redemption by "source", where source refers to email received (blue line above) or receipt (yellow line above). In my experience, I rarely get customer redemptions from receipts. But it's a nice touch from Square, I guess.

In this report, you also get the true offer redemptions and net sales, not attributable sales like above.

One thing I like to look at is redemptions-to-open rates (RTOR). I normally look at click-to-open rates (CTOR) from email marketing campaigns, but these simple Square emails don't really have a ton of links so Square doesn't even provide any click reporting. So that's why I created my RTOR metric as a way to benchmark across my campaigns.

Areas for Improvement

There are several things I'd like to see in Square Marketing.

Promotion times: I wish you could run promotions for certain days of the week or time of day. For example, you can't run happy hour promos. Or to run weekend promos, you have to send emails out Friday night and have the campaign expire Sun night. Similarly, for weekday promotions, the workaround is to run campaigns Sunday night until Friday.

Customer drill down from redemption report: I wish I could drill down and see who actually opened an email and/or redeemed the offer from a campaign. In the example above, I'd love to click on the 18 redemptions and see a list of the names of the 18 customers. As an owner of the business or the marketer, you may not always be the one who rang up the person, but you'd like to get to know who is actually using your coupons. I don't know why Square doesn't offer this capability since it has this data and does show you such granularity when you pull up a customer record from the Customer menu. Here is a customer profile record:
Buyer Summary from Customer Profile
The top shows any current coupons this user has. Then it has some very useful RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) stats in the Buyer Summary. More on RFM below.

Below that is the historical timeline of activities of the customer. This is where you can see not only when they purchased and the amount spent, but also when the customer received an email, got a coupon, and actually redeemed it. So, if Square can show this from the Customers menu, why does it not let me go directly to this view from the Square Marketing's Campaign reporting section? I also wish they added Email Open to this timeline.
Customer's historical activity

Limited segmentation within Square: In the Customers interface, you can filter your customer directory and create your own custom segments, which is cool! Here is what you can segment by:
Customer Filters for Segmentation in Square
A big Filter miss I think is including the Monetary value or cumulative amount a customer has spent with your business. I could run campaigns for the big spenders or promos to get little spenders to spend more. Square obviously has this data at the customer level because it's in the Buyer Summary above. Why can't we segment on it?!? This prevents you from employing the most common, yet powerful, segmentation out there - RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary).

To create a workaround for this RFM shortcoming, you can export your entire customer directory as a .CSV file and pull it into Excel. In addition to some personal contact info, you also get these useful transaction data that serve as the basis for creating RFM segments:

RFM metrics exported from Square
In Excel, I calculated Avg Spend and defined some Low, Mid, and High breakpoints for Recency, Frequency, and Monetary. And proceeded to assign my customer list to 1 of these 27 cells (e.g., High Recency, High Frequency, Low Monetary). BTW, to simplify this, you can also use 8 cells (=2x2x2), using Low and High segments.

Then I hit another snag with Square. There is no easy way to import my segmentation back into Square through the front-end interface. I had to manually sort by name and individually locate each user to assign them to the custom group I created in Square. This makes it very difficult to maintain the RFM segmentation on an ongoing basis so I have to "re-score" the customer database myself manually periodically.

Exporting item category purchased: Since I'm on the subject of the .CSV export, I wish I could export what categories or items customers bought as columns in the export file. Then I could run targeted cross-sell campaigns. For example, if you're a shoe retailer and you know a customer always bought athletic shoes from you, you can cross promote casual walking shoes or dress shoes. Because Square Marketing lets you offer discounts by item category, this is a natural desire for cross-sell campaigns.

User-defined Campaign Names: Square automatically assigns a Campaign Name to each campaign based on your subject line. While that may sound convenient, it's actually quite limiting, especially if you use the same subject line again because it will lead to duplicate Campaign Names. Below is how Square lists all your campaigns chronologically. To better organize my campaigns, I wish it allowed me to edit the Campaign Name. For example, instead of "We miss you! Come back and save 15%", I would call that "Lapsed Test 15% offer." Then my other "We miss you! Come back for a special offer" campaign would be called "Lapsed Test Special offer."

List of all campaigns in Square Marketing

Slow email preview: Before you activate and launch an email campaign, Square lets you preview the email by sending you a test email of how it will actually look. Nice feature! But I have noticed a wide variance in how long it takes to receive the test email. Sometimes over 5 minutes. This is annoying because you'd like to get the preview email instantly so you can then activate the campaign while in their campaign editor tool. Instead, I often have to save what I've done and come back later.

Losing offer details while editing coupon:
Another annoying bug I've found is often I would go in to edit a previously saved offer in a saved draft campaign, and Square loses my existing content and I have to start over. So I take a screenshot of it now before I click the "Click To Activate" button to edit the coupon, just in case.

Editing coupon offer

Better image editing features: For my custom uploaded photos, it would be nice to have some common photo editing features, like crop, brightness, contrast, etc.

No A/B testing: Ok, this request may be for advanced users and not who Square Marketing is targeting with this solution. But it would be nice if Square could randomly split an audience and send 2 slightly different emails to 2 subgroups for A/B testing. Instead, I have to manually test different offers, copy, or images serially by pausing one campaign, duplicating it, editing it slightly, and relaunching it.

Brief Word about List Sizes

List size matters and is actually how Square and other email marketing solutions like Constant Contact price their offerings! Your potential email marketing list depends on your business and the percentage of customers who pay with cash vs. credit card. That's because Square (and any solution) can't capture any customer data from cash transactions without some kind of loyalty program link. So if you have a primarily cash-driven business, your list will be smaller and the potential impact of email marketing campaigns will be likely be lower. For example, a hair salon can have over 80% cash customers, while a restaurant could have 20% cash customers. In this case, there is more opportunities for the restaurant.


Overall, Square Marketing did a solid job with a K.I.S.S. email marketing solution for small businesses. And despite all the items on my wish list above, if you're not a hard core marketer like me, but wish you could do something with customer emails, this may be right for you, depending on how large your reachable target list is!



  1. Hello, I have been using Mailchimp for years and have built up a total audience of around 20,000 opt-in addresses. 5 months ago, we switched our POS system to Square, and I now have 5600 reachable customers in their data base. I have sent a couple of emails during a "free trial" period with Square, and my open rates with square have been 35% and up. I'd like to use one platform, rather then making two newsletters. I learned that I can only export about 200 of the 5600 reachable customers - so adding my Square customers to Mailchimp doesn't look like a good option. Would you recommend importing my Mailchimp actives to Square? The platform is more limited, but honestly, is quicker to create and looks pretty decent. I send weekly emails.

    1. WineDiva,

      Thanks for sharing your situation. Here are my thoughts. If you're a small business that has most of your transactions at retail and with credit card payments, and you seem to like the basic templates from Square, it may make sense to just consolidate on Square, especially if you're seeing much better performance. The other advantage of Square is the ability to tie email performance to actual sales seamlessly. Not sure if you're trying to do that with Mailchimp. So while open rates is nice to know, tracking conversions is much more valuable!

      Migrating your list over is a pain, but it's a one time activity that is hopefully worth it for you.

      Good luck!