Complete Credit Card Machine Guide for Small UK Businesses
A credit card machine also known as a PDQ machine or credit card terminal lets you take customer card payments in person or over the phone.
Before you gear up for success
First you need to set up the payment processing throttle – the faster it goes the better customer service you can offer.
Your consumers appreciate a great variety of payment options more than ever before, with the advent of innovative technologies.
What’s more, with over 41% of customers preferring to pay on card for purchases over £17, not being equipped could cost you significant business.
How well-equipped and futureproof is your credit card machine?
Understanding your options means staying ahead of the curve. Flowing along with the trends is not a surefire way to financial triumph any longer – even for a small business innovation before anything else is the key to being alive within the next 10 years.
Luckily, when it comes to PDQ (process data quickly) machines you are spoiled with a cascade of solid options which come at competitive prices.
While most likely you are familiar with the types of credit card machines available on the market, in this article we take a closer look at the general pulse of the PDQ machines industry and we dig a little deeper into the technical side as well as give your prices and show you the best credit card machines.
There’s no need to worry if you are less digital-savvy as we’ll explain everything step by step.
Here’s a quick outline of our findings:
- Credit card machines are equipped with the latest security protocols (PCI-PTS) sporting EMV and NFC technology for contactless payments. Roughly 90% of all credit card machines in the UK are EMV-compliant.
- Mobile card readers are on track to matching the technical complexity of handheld PDQ machines – Although currently mobile card readers are targeted to SMEs, they will only become more prominent in features and functionality once the market matures.
- The actual costs of a credit card machine depend on how many devices you need within your premises, for how long you intend to use or upgrade them (depreciation rate) and whether you plan to rent or purchase them.
- There are payment machine providers aplenty but the market is dominated by a few players which control over 80% of all card-present transactions. Find out which one is most suitable for your business!
Now that you understand better what type of security your card machines should possess, let’s dissect further into their ins and outs. As previously mentioned, all modern machines support contactless payments and come with PCI security or equivalent.
At the time of writing, customers can purchase up to £30 per transaction with their smartphone device, but this limit is due to be increased soon as a result of the popularity of contactless payments in the UK.
Countertop credit card machines
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re very likely to have encountered this type of machine at every corner. It is ridiculously ubiquitous and does not need too much introduction. But how does it work and what’s under the hood?
These devices sport PCI-PTS security which stands for Payment Card Industry-PIN Transaction Security, have bright colour LCD screens, are connected via dial-up or ethernet (cable) and can print up to 30 lines/second. Sturdy and resilient, they can also operate up to 50 degrees celsius, which makes them perfect devices for a hot British summer day.
The very traditional models still have the paper roll attached at the top of the device which makes them rather bulky and not so ergonomic. If you value lightness and flexibility, you should go for a more palm-friendly device.
Retail Pin Pads and self-service devices can also be considered countertop, although most manufacturers and sellers prefer to advertise them in separate categories since they ring more innovative and have additional features.
Portable Credit Card Machines
Wireless handheld machines have long been the staple of card payments for hospitality businesses. Portable card machines come in smaller sizes and have a decent connectivity range of up to 100 metres within premises from the base unit.
While they still feature all the dongles you wish for (dial-up, ethernet, USB), their intended purpose is for Wifi, Bluetooth and GPRS/3G/4G connectivity.
Normally they sport larger LCD screens up to 5.5” and consume more battery – during rush hour in a high-footfall retail or restaurant, you might want to have one or two portable devices on standby ready to take over.
Since they are paraded around and offer “pay at table” functionality, portable devices have a sleek and more elegant design purposefully engineered to make consumers pay more or leave some tips. Don’t undermine the marketing power of your portable device and opt for something trendy and enticing.
Mobile Credit Card Machines
First off, let’s clear up the confusion – the mobile credit card machine moniker can refer to a series of devices. This can include handheld PDQ machines, card readers in conjunction with a smartphone/tablet and headphone jack card readers plugged into a smartphone.
Whatever the nature and design of the device, they all have one major thing in common which is out-of-premise payment processing. However, most merchant providers advertise as mobile credit card machines only smartphone-linked card readers.
While mobile credit card machines had a limited scope in the past such as being used at outdoor events, festivals and trading shows, today they have become fully-fledged machines which are offered as an exclusive option by online payment processors like PayPal for small businesses.
They have yet to be on par with handheld PDQ machines in terms of processing large sale volumes and robust reliability, but with 4G becoming more ubiquitous and stable day by day, mobile card readers are catching up very fast.
Another downside is that they do not command the same level of trust among consumers but again – this is only a matter of time!
Virtual Terminals (MOTO Payments)
If credit card machines are for brick-and-mortar companies and payment gateways are for online businesses, a virtual terminal is somewhere in-between although most merchant providers include this service in their payment gateway since it’s actually an online portal.
Remember those good old days of “we do not accept payments over the phone or via email”? That’s why MOTO (Mail Order and Telephone Order) payments came into play – to facilitate and expedite the payment processing for that group of people who needed more flexible options.
It is a niche market though – with payment automatization on the rise, processing credit card details manually over the phone can be rather laborious and decrease productivity in a high-velocity sales environment.
On the plus side, the costs are rather low since all you have to do is use a PCI DSS-compliant online portal on your personal electronic device (desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone).
If you run a restaurant, coffee shop or a small grocery shop opting for a virtual terminal could be more of a backup solution if you occasionally find yourself experiencing problems with your POS station (in which case you should change the device).
But if you run a small consultancy or accounting firm accepting recurring payments, a virtual terminal could easily become your first and most consistent payment processing option.
It goes without saying that whatever credit card machine you opt for, you won’t pay solely for the machine itself. Transaction fees, monthly fees, merchant account setup fees can sneak up on you faster than you can say “pay”. Down below we only take a closer look at the device itself and how much you’re expecting to shell out for each type.
In a sea of bizillion options you might get discombobulated at the prospect of selecting the best device for your particular type of business. Put your worries aside and don’t let the myriad of options intimidate you – in the end you cannot really go wrong with any machine! One crucial aspect to consider is whether to rent or buy up front your credit card machine. Each option has advantages and disadvantages – it comes down to your budget and how independently you plan to operate.
TIP: Consider how many credit card machines you need for your premises – if you need to constantly change, swap and replace devices or simply need a large number of portable devices, buying them outright might turn out to be too large an investment.
First off – there are plenty of payment machine providers specialising in POS stations like Epos Now, merchant acquirers developing their own POS stations (Worldpay) and companies with dedicated card reader solutions. We’ve chosen and ranked the most popular ones based on reviews, market shares, competitive prices and reputation. Moreover, we’ve categorised them into 3 separate tiers denoting their influence and adoption on the market. For more information about the best credit card machines for small businesses click here.
Clover by First Data
With the most futuristic and progressive designs on the market, Clover products push the boundaries of ergonomics and nonpareil functionality.
While the company focuses more on POS stations, their unique and branded terminals such as Clover Go (card reader) and Clover Flex (countertop/portable device) support the most wanted features in a terminal – built-in receipt printer and scanner or electronic signatures to name a few.
Clover stations and terminals are offered by many UK merchant providers such as Barclaycard thanks to their unmatched elegance and innovative features.
Ingenico and Verifone account for 80% of the market for payment machines – it’s safe to say they are the two indisputable titans! The Paris-based payment machine provider have that je ne sais quoi attraction to all types of businesses thanks in part to their decades-long history and blue-chip status.
You’ve spotted their devices all over the city and their brand equals trust and reliability.
The relationship between Verifone and Ingenico is very much similar in nature with that of Airbus and Boeing – French and American giants fighting over market supremacy!
Competition breeds innovation though and Verifone offer the latest technological advancements on the market for their products. As it’s the case with their brand and image, their products reflect a traditional design and they do prefer a more orthodox and tried-out approach to their machines.
Albeit Shopify are no slouch when it comes down to ecommerce and payment processing, they are quite a newbie to card-present payments.
Slowly gaining traction on the market thanks to competitive transaction rates and ingenious card reader solutions, Shopify are here to take on any respectable competitor.
Targeting SMEs with an online presence, they have that friendly neighborhood vibe but are ready to show you they can play the big game too.
Just like Shopify Payments, but on a much higher level, PayPal Here is a solid card reader solution marketed to SMEs and entrepreneurs who value integrated payments.
Their reputation precedes them and with exponential growth at the horizon, PayPal Here card readers will get substantially smarter and equipped to handle efficiently large sales volumes.
A card-present only solution provider, iZettle are a very microentrepreneur-centric company with plenty of perks and benefits.
The in-house built and designed card readers are veiled in an air of elegance and sprinkled with a plethora of innovative features.
The pocket-friendly (economical and small-footprint) card readers accept swiped, keyed and contactless payments and sport an all-day battery lasting 30% longer than other competitive devices.
London-headquartered SumUp “modestly” claim the top spot of mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) solutions in Europe and they are not far off the mark – at least in terms of small business support.
The tap-chip-swipe card is a director competitor of iZettle Reader in terms of functionality and price-wise (£50-£60). If you are after something on the cheap but reliable, you can rest assured that your small-business needs will be met with the card reader solutions offered by SumUp.
Intuit are more of a software company specialising in accounting and financial services hence the hop to a mPOS solution is not surprising by any means.
Their recent paragon payment solution GoPayment EMV card reader simply needs to plug into your smartphone’s headphone jack and tap-chip-swipe card transactions happen at the snap of a finger.
You’ve been constantly thrown into a tizzy by all traditional merchant providers and high street banks that there’s no way under the sun you can accept credit card payments without a merchant account. While having one gives you plenty of benefits – mind you though, there’s no shoestring budget with a merchant ID – the truth is you can!
Enters PayFac! Payment facilitators (aggregator or sub-merchant account) like PayPal, Stripe or Square have profoundly altered and streamlined payment processing for SMEs. Your business is underwritten in real time and you can start selling to customers within minutes.
As with any other side of your business, you do want to ensure that your machines are relevant to the needs of your customers. Sometimes, it might not be so cost-effective for small businesses to jump on the innovation bandwagon every time something makes waves on the market. But when it comes down to the latest available security and mobile payments you cannot ignore the ado.
NFC which stands for Near-field Communication is the technology behind contactless payments supported by Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay. NFC refers to wireless data transfer between two devices in very close proximity (a few centimeters apart) and it has a wide application from contactless payments to transfer of photos and other data. It is safe, fast and hassle free. Why not Bluetooth? NFC has some pivotal advantages over Bluetooth in terms of contactless payments such as low energy consumption, low risk of interference (with other devices in crowded places) and automatic connection when two NFC-chipped devices are in close proximity.
EMV which stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa is a global payment standard that uses computer chips to secure chip-card transactions. The chip & pin technology has been around for decades in the UK and Europe. Compared to chip and signature machines prevalent in many Asian and South American countries, EMV technology presents higher security protocols and better protection against fraud. With JCB, American Express, China UnionPay and Discover having joined the consortium, it is a matter of time until EMV-compliant machines become the status quo of card-present transactions.
You do not need to worry much about this aspect – all modern machines on the market have embraced both technologies and almost all UK merchant providers offer fully equipped machines. So, if you find a provider not offering these options then you should definitely look elsewhere.
So to wrap up
Credit card machines deserve more credit than they get… no pun intended! Investing handsomely in a device which will be partly determinant in the success of your business is something you should not steer away from. Use your credit card machine for marketing purposes as well, to consolidate your brand and to blend it in with your premises’ decor or ambiance. Tell a story and success will follow!