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Square Is Bringing Real-Time Data To A Small Business Near You

Real-time sales data from Square might be a boon for small-business owners, but it could also be a burden for the people that work for them.

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Over the past several months, in an attempt to corner the small-business payments and management market, Square has launched a handful of new products focused on small businesses. These include but are not limited to Customer Engagement, Employee Management, Payroll, Apple Pay reader, and Square Cash for business.

Today, the company is unveiling yet another new feature aimed at making Square indispensable to small-business owners. Dashboard, a free real-time analytics platform, will provide business owners with information about what items and which retail locations sell best, as well as how current sales compare to past performance.

For small-business owners, the appeal is obvious: Having easy and rapid access to this information via mobile app enables merchants to test new products and spot patterns. The owner of a local restaurant chain could use Dashboard to, for example, see which menu items are selling well, and then discontinue the less popular ones and add extra quality controls on the most popular to ensure that the restaurant's most beloved dish comes out well every time. She could experiment with specials, discounts, and deals, and test their success immediately and empirically. And she could use data on short- and long-term trends to project future profits, growth, and staffing and equipment needs.

But while real-time data is great for managing products — specialty cocktails and eye-catching TV displays — it can have unexpected consequences when it's used to manage people. Square Dashboard won't offer metrics pertaining to labor costs, according to a company spokesperson. It also won't be incorporating any data from the recently announced Payroll feature, which is still only available in California.

But that doesn't mean the data around where revenue is coming from and when won't be used to make staffing decisions. Sidecar Coffee owner and Dashboard beta-tester Andy Fuchtman told Square, for example, that using the app helped him notice when sales were spiking, which allowed him to add baristas to the schedule as needed. But while that's great for Sidecar customers, who will get served faster, and therefore for Sidecar, which will make more money, it's not necessarily great for the Sidecar employee who's being called in to work with limited notice.

The introduction of data to the management of service and retail jobs has already been established as a problem for the employees of large companies like Starbucks and Victoria's Secret. Square's Dashboard, which is not wholly dissimilar to small and medium-size business analytics offerings from companies like Kronos, has the potential to be very useful. But it also has the potential to introduce the same scheduling instability to millions of small businesses that already plague individuals working for major corporations.

Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Caroline O'Donovan at caroline.odonovan@buzzfeed.com.

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