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Choosing the right online booking system can make a world of difference in how your business operates and how your customers experience your services. While Square has made a significant impact in this space - offering an intuitive design and user-friendly experience - there's a whole universe of alternatives that could potentially match or even surpass your business needs.

We’re not trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution for all businesses—because that simply doesn't exist. We also won’t be pulling names out of a hat. In this list, you can expect to find detailed information about what each booking system has to offer you and hopefully, find one that aligns with your business's unique rhythm and the kind of customer interactions you handle.

The Best Booking Systems

Acuity Scheduling

Acuity Scheduling is like that reliable assistant who never drops the ball on managing your appointments. It's a platform that keeps your schedule running smoothly and offers a suite of features that can be a game-changer for how you handle your bookings.

Let's talk about what makes Acuity tick. First up, is the interface. It's clean, it's intuitive, and it doesn't require a manual the size of "War and Peace" to understand. You want your clients to book their appointments without any hiccups, and Acuity's user-friendly design makes that happen.

It's a solid pick for service-based businesses. Think health and wellness clinics, beauty salons, fitness studios, or consulting firms. 

Key Features

Here's a rundown of the key features that stand out:

  • You can customize your booking page to echo your brand's vibe. It's like giving your clients a taste of your business before they even walk through the door.
  • Clients see your real-time calendar, which means they only see the slots you're free and willing to take appointments. No more double bookings or awkward "Oops, I'm actually busy" emails.
  • Your clients get automated emails or texts reminding them about their appointments, which means fewer no-shows and less time spent on follow-up calls.
  • You can process client payments when they book, which streamlines the process and gets that admin out of the way early.
  • If you've got a team or multiple spots, Acuity lets you manage it all in one place. Each team member can have their own schedule, and clients can choose who or where they book with.
  • For those clients who need regular spots, they can book sessions in a series. It's set-and-forget, which is great for everyone involved.

Limitations

Here are a few areas where Acuity Scheduling might fall short for some businesses:

  • Despite its user-friendly interface, the sheer number of features can be overwhelming at first. Businesses may need to invest time in learning the platform to utilize it fully.
  • While customization is a strong point, there are limits. The most advanced customization options require a good understanding of CSS, which might necessitate additional help from someone with technical expertise.
  • The mobile version of Acuity, while functional, isn't as seamless as the desktop version. Some users find managing appointments on the go less intuitive.
  • The free version of Acuity is quite limited compared to its paid plans, lacking many of the features that make Acuity stand out, such as payment processing and advanced customization.

Pricing

  • No free plan: Paid plans have a 7-day free trial
  • Emerging: $16/month (billed annually)
  • Growing: $27/month (billed annually)
  • Powerhouse: $49/month (billed annually)

Calendly

Calendly is the kind of tool that makes you wonder how you ever managed to schedule anything without it. It's all about simplicity and eliminating the endless back-and-forth that can come with setting up meetings.

Picture this: You send one link, and the person on the other end picks a time that works for them based on the availability you've set. That's it—no more "Are you free on Tuesday? How about Wednesday at 3?" Just a straightforward, "Here's my schedule. Pick a time that works for you."

It is a fantastic fit for professionals who schedule a lot of meetings—consultants, salespeople, recruiters, and anyone else whose day-to-day involves a lot of calendar coordination. It's also great for small businesses that want to streamline their appointment bookings without a hefty price tag.

Key Features

  • The platform is a breeze to navigate, which means less time figuring out software and more time engaging with clients.
  • Calendly syncs with your calendar—Google, Outlook, Office 365, iCloud—to show your real-time availability and ensure you're never double-booked.
  • It automatically detects and adjusts for time zone differences, so you're always on the same page as your clients or colleagues.
  • Automated email and text notifications to ensure everyone knows when and where (or how, if it's a video call) the meeting is happening.
  • If your meeting comes with a fee, Calendly lets you collect payment(s) through integrations with PayPal and Stripe as part of the booking process.

Limitations

Calendly’s simplicity is its strength, but it can also be a limitation for users looking for more:

  • Calendly's straightforward approach means it lacks some of the more complex scheduling features that other platforms offer, which might be necessary for larger teams or specific industries.
  • On the free and lower-tier plans, your ability to customize and brand your scheduling page is limited. 
  • While Calendly integrates with many tools, its CRM integrations may not be as robust as needed for complex sales workflows.
  • The free tier has limited support options, which could be a concern for businesses that need immediate assistance.
  • While Calendly handles group events, setting up more complex scenarios like round-robin or collective availability can be less straightforward.

Pricing

  • Free plan
  • Standard: $10/seat/month (billed annually)
  • Teams: $16/seat/month (billed annually)
  • Custom pricing for large enterprises

Appointy

Appointy is engineered to simplify the way businesses schedule and manage appointments. It's a cloud-based, cross-platform scheduling tool that supports both Android and iOS devices, providing the flexibility to manage appointments on the go. 

With Appointy, the focus is on streamlining administrative tasks. It automates the scheduling process across multiple locations, managing staff, facilities, and resources. It's not limited to a single business type or industry; Appointy's flexibility means it's equally suited to individual professionals as it is to larger, multi-location businesses.

Key Features:

  • Appointy allows customers to book appointments not just through your website but also via social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, broadening your reach.
  • If you are already using Square for payment processing, Appointy integrates seamlessly - which means you can manage bookings and take payments all in one place.
  • Like other systems, you can also reduce no-shows with automated email and SMS reminders and confirmations, keeping both your team and your clients in the loop.
  • If your business relies on booking specific resources (like rooms, equipment, or even vehicles), Appointy can manage that alongside human resources.
  • Gain insights into your business's performance with built-in analytics tools that track bookings, revenue, and customer behavior.

Limitations 

Despite its comprehensive feature set, Appointy isn't without its drawbacks:

  • We find the interface a bit cluttered, which can make the learning curve steeper for both staff and clients.
  • While customization is possible, it's not always straightforward. Businesses may need to spend extra time setting up their booking page to get it just right.
  • The free version is limited, and more advanced features like payment processing and resource scheduling, come with a price tag.
  • The features can be overkill if you are a solopreneur/small business.

Pricing

  • Free plan
  • Growth: $19.99/month (billed annually)
  • Professional: $49.99/month (billed annually)

Adalo

Adalo is a full app and website-building platform that stands out for extremely easy app development, particularly for businesses looking to create their own custom booking apps without going into complex coding. It's a no-code app builder with the ability to integrate appointment booking functionalities.

If you want full flexibility and control over your appointment scheduling, Adalo allows you to build a custom app from scratch, tailored specifically to your business needs, including the look, feel, and functionality of your appointment booking system. This is perfect if you want to, for example, allow your users to have an account, fill out pre (or post) appointment questionnaires or go through a fully personalized booking experience. 

You’ll be able to publish your booking app straight to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, as well as make it available as a website. This means your appointment booking app can be in your customers' hands faster and more efficiently, making it easier for customers to book appointments.

As a full app-builder rather than just a booking system, Adalo is priced slightly higher than some of the options on this list. But with capabilities like messaging, survey-sending, user accounts and even project management all available, Adalo can act as a one-stop solution for your entire business. 

Key Features

  • The platform uses a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface, making the design and development process accessible to those without any technical background.
  • Managing your client appointments is easy with an integrated database that can track things like bookings, and client information within the app and save you using multiple tools.
  • Engage with your clients through push notifications, reminding them of upcoming appointments or changes in their scheduling.
  • Adalo provides options to integrate payment systems, allowing clients to pay for services when they book an appointment.
  • Since the app is custom-built, you can create unique user journeys and experiences, potentially improving client retention and satisfaction.

Limitations

While Adalo offers a unique proposition with its custom app builder, there are some limitations to consider:

  • While Adalo is infinitely more customisable than other options on this list, you’ll need to spend more time setting up your Adalo booking app than with other platforms.
  • Adalo’s out-of-the-box appointment booking features may not be as deep or comprehensive as those offered by platforms dedicated solely to appointment scheduling.
  • As with any app, the complexity of your design and the logic you implement can affect the performance. A poorly designed app might run slowly or be less responsive.
  • Despite the no-code promise, there is still a slight learning curve involved in understanding how to best utilize Adalo's features to create a functional and effective app.

Pricing

  • Free plan
  • Starter: $36/month (billed annually)
  • Professional: $52/month (billed annually)

SimplyBook.me

SimplyBook.me is an online booking system that's designed to be more than just an appointment scheduler. It's a comprehensive platform that combines scheduling, marketing, and payment processing, aiming to provide an all-in-one solution for service-oriented businesses.

The platform's extensive functionality can be a significant asset, especially for businesses looking to scale up and offer a wide range of services and appointments. But, it's advisable to carefully assess which features are essential for your operations and to consider the total cost of ownership, including any add-ons. 

Key Features 

  • Your clients can book through your personalized SimplyBook.me website, directly from your own website, via Facebook, Instagram, and through Google Maps listings.
  • The system includes a Point of Sale (POS) feature, allowing for in-person payment processing, which is ideal for businesses that have a physical storefront as well as online services.
  • SimplyBook.me comes with built-in marketing tools like promotional codes, gift cards, and the sale of memberships, which can help in attracting and retaining customers.
  • You can tailor the look of your booking website with a selection of templates and design options to maintain brand consistency.
  • Clients can book additional services or add-ons during their appointment scheduling, which can enhance customer experience and increase revenue.
  • Clients can leave feedback, which can be an invaluable tool for business improvement and client satisfaction.

Limitations

Despite its robust feature set, SimplyBook.me may not be the perfect fit for everyone:

  • It can be complex to set up and navigate, especially for smaller businesses that might not need all the bells and whistles.
  • While the base plan is affordable, costs can add up quickly as you add more features and customizations, which are necessary for full functionality.
  • The free version of SimplyBook.me is quite restrictive, with limited bookings and a minimal feature set, pushing businesses towards a paid plan.

Pricing

  • Free plan
  • Basic: $8.25/month (billed annually)
  • Standard: $24.9/month (billed annually)
  • Premium: $49.9/month (billed annually)
  • Premium Plus: $82.5/month (billed annually)

Off-The-Shelf or a Custom Booking App?

Now that you’ve seen our recommendations, the key question to ask yourself is “Do I want a completely custom booking experience or an off-the-shelf system?”. 

Off-the-shelf systems like Acuity and Calendly are great for no-frills booking, especially if you’ve recently launched your business and just want to get customers in the door. They’re the quickest - and cheapest - options on our list to get up and running.

If your business is a little more mature, or you want to take advantage of personalisation or marketing, then a custom app can provide features that off-the-shelf booking systems don't offer, giving you a competitive advantage. Whether it's a unique loyalty program, integrated content, or specialized booking options, your app can stand out from the crowd.

Instead of adapting your business process to fit into a pre-existing booking system, custom booking apps like Adalo enable you to design a system around how your business operates. You decide how your booking flow should work, what the interface will look like, and what kind of experience your customers will have. With push notifications and app store publishing built in, there’s no better way to reach your customers.

Start building your custom booking system for free today.