With debit and credit card payments overtaking cash as the preferred way for UK customers to pay, the shift towards a cashless society is definitely on the cards. For a small business owner just starting up, it is important for you to accept card payments otherwise you could find yourself losing out to one of the other 56% of small UK businesses that do.
If you have never purchased a credit card (PDQ) machine before, it can be a little confusing to know which one you should get. You must consider your situation, the features you’ll need and which ones will cost you more in charges.
Let’s take a closer look at your options.
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What’s the best mobile card machine for small business?
At first glance, you may notice that all mobile credit card machine providers will promise the same set of benefits. However, don’t be dazzled by everything on offer because you may end up paying through the nose for added features that will be of no use to you.
OK, probably the first thing you will want is a mobile chip-and-pin card machine that can take payments, but do you want one that can take smartphone payments? What about a machine with a swipe function for magstripe credit and debit cards? Confused yet? Don’t worry, it can be confusing to start with.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the different types of card machines that are available on the market:
1. Mobile credit card machines
Mobile credit card machines allow you to accept payments anywhere that has good mobile network coverage. Mobile credit card machines are a popular choice because they offer great flexibility, especially for remote or mobile business owners where using a traditional card reader wouldn’t be practical.
The majority of these card machines work using a pre-installed SIM card that will connect via a mobile network to allow you to take electronic payments. The more modern cutting-edge models, such as the iZettle card reader for example, no longer connect using a SIM card but instead connect remotely to your phone via an app.
In summary, the benefits of choosing a mobile card machine are:
- Greater portability: Ideal for mobile businesses such as hot food and drink vendors, market traders, taxi drivers and mobile hairdressers etc.
- Less hassle: Because there is minimal hardware required in most cases all you will need is the card machine and a smartphone or tablet to connect it to.
- Flexible contracts: Most mobile card machine providers will offer short-term contracts suitable for small UK businesses, so no commitment to a long-term contract needed!
2. Wireless portable card machines
Wireless portable card machines are a popular solution for small businesses because they allow you or your staff to walk around to take payments from your customers directly, but without relying on using a mobile network.
This type of credit card machine is perfect for restaurant, cafe or bar owners in a setting where your point of sale may be at a customer’s table. It makes for a smoother, convenient and individual customer experience where you can make the customer feel important.
Wireless portable card readers will connect using WiFi at your establishment, but if your business doesn’t have WiFi then you can connect the reader via your traditional business landline.
These card readers do need to be charged up to work, but most models will function for about eight hours before they will need recharging. Portable card machines have a good range of up to 200 ft so should be suitable for most small business settings.
The benefits of a wireless portable machine for small businesses include:
- More personal customer service: Take payments from your customer’s table – ideal for the hospitality trade.
- Stable connection: The machines are not reliant on a mobile network.
- Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity: Most models can connect to your network through the internet or via a landline.
3. Countertop credit card machines
For small businesses where you have just one point-of-sale area such as a shop till point, then a countertop credit card machine will be the most convenient way to process payments. This solution is ideal for coffee shops where you pay at the counter, boutiques, hairdressers, newsagents and other small shops with a traditional payment counter.
Countertop card machines use a hardwired connection to operate, meaning they don’t need to rely on WiFi or a mobile network to function. They will also not need to be charged up at the end of the day, unlike a portable card machine. This is a good choice if you are looking for the most reliable and often the cheapest way to take card payments.
Countertop card machine benefits include:
- Stable connection: As the card machine is hardwired, it will have a more reliable connection.
- Zero charging: These machines don’t need recharging to work.
- Cost-effect solution: Hardwired countertop card readers usually have cheaper upfront costs when compared to mobile or portable card machines.
|A thought about accepting contactless payments →
|From a customer’s point of view, making contactless payments is by far the fastest and most convenient way to pay. More and more customers are choosing to pay this way so make sure that you choose a credit card machine that includes contactless payment as standard – luckily, most modern makes and models do but check anyway.
Concerning contactless payments, you need to compare transaction fees between providers. These charges can vary greatly so don’t assume that there is a standard rate charged across the board – some providers can charge as much as 4 pence to process a contactless payment!
What’s the difference between a merchant account and a card machine?
It can be confusing for a first-time card machine user when setting up your business to accept card payments. It’s not a simple as grabbing the first card machine you can find and then begin taking payments.
Firstly, you will need an EPOS system and a merchant account. If you plan to take payments online and over the telephone, then you will also need a virtual terminal and a payment gateway.
So, to be able to take card payments you will need a working combination of the following:
- EPOS system
- Merchant account
- Online payment gateway
- Virtual terminal
- Credit card machine
EPOS system: When serving customers face-to-face you will need an Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system that pairs with your credit card machine. Your EPOS system is like a mobile till that you can take to your customer’s table.
Merchant account: A merchant account is an account that lets your business accept card payments. This is where the money is held while your bank checks to see that your customer has enough money to cover the payment.
Your credit card machine will most commonly be leased as part of your merchant account agreement. You can set up a merchant account with a dedicated merchant bank such as Worldpay, or via a payment service provider (PSP) or an independent sales organisation (ISO).
Online payment gateway: This is a gateway that allows you to take payments online. You will find these gateways integrated with your online shopping cart, but in reality, they are simply a secure piece of software that will encrypt your customer’s card details before transmitting the payment details to your merchant bank.
Virtual terminal: Virtual terminals are used for businesses that accept credit card payments from their customer over the phone or via email. Virtual terminals operate like payment gateways to secure the customer’s card details until the bank authorises the payment. Virtual terminals differ in that you as the merchant will enter the card details into the system rather than the customer.
Credit card machine: Once you have the right payment systems in place, it is time to choose your business credit card machine! Which one you choose will depend on your individual business requirements and the level of flexibility you will need.
How much does a card payment machine cost?
Card machine charges will vary from provider to provider, however, the most cost-effective credit card machines are the countertop version that comes in at around £100 to purchase outright. Compare this with anything between £200-£300 for a portable machine, so make sure you carefully think about the type of card machine to choose if you are operating on a tight budget.
A lot of small business owners wonder if they can hire a credit card machine rather than buying one outright. It is quite normal for a card machine to be rented as part of a merchant account agreement, but you can buy the machine outright if you can afford the upfront cost. Buying the machine outright can be more cost-effective in the long run, so if you have the funds available it is worth considering!
Apart from the upfront costs of the card machine itself, you will need to cover two other fees:
- Transaction fees
- Minimum monthly charge
Transaction fees charged for debit cards purchases are around 1% and for credit cards around 2%, but the authorisation fee for both is exactly the same.
The minimum monthly fee will be the amount you pay to your provider per month regardless of how many card payments you take. This is why it pays to take a close look at what providers charge so you can choose a merchant account that offers the cheapest minimum monthly spend to help keep your overheads down and avoid unnecessary charges.
Typical costs you can expect to pay:
|Type of cost
|Card machine rental
|£20 to £30 per month
|Purchase machine outright
|Between £100 to £300
|1-3% + 2-4p fixed authorisation fee
|Minimum monthly spend
|Between £5 to £25 per month
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best devices available in the UK for small businesses and start-ups.
Our pick: 7 of the best credit card machines for small UK businesses
No 1: Best mobile card machine: iZettle card reader:
The iZettle reader is a cost-effective choice for small businesses. At £59 (+VAT) standard cost, you can often find it on special offer at around £29 (+ VAT), so that’s a very reasonable upfront cost for a small business owner on a tight budget. Connect it with the iZettle App and you can take payments via tablet or smartphone.
The credit card machine has up to 8 hours of battery life, accepts all major credit cards, has UK-based support and is PCI and EMV compliant.
No 2: Best mobile card machine: SumUp Air:
SumUp is the new kid on the block and is challenging iZettle for the crown as the king of mobile card machine providers. This device comes with a flat transaction fee of 1.95% and no fixed monthly costs.
The SumUp Air is tiny by comparison measuring just 84 x 84 x 23 mm so can be easily carried in your pocket. You can buy it outright at a bargain-basement price of just £19 + VAT. It accepts all major cards as well as smartphone payments and is PCI compliant.
No 3: Best countertop card machine: Ingenico iCT220:
This is a robust all-around countertop card machine that is built for hard knocks. Good for customers with poor sight, the machine has a backlit display and large finger-friendly keys. This hardwired card machine is tough and reliable and comes with a built-in receipt printer.
What makes this machine handy is its multi-merchant capability. This means that businesses that hire multiple self-employed workers, such as in hair salons that rent out chairs, everyone can share the same payment terminal. It is also PCI and EMV compliant. See our Ingenico review.
No 4: Best portable card machine: Ingenico iWL series:
This is a lightweight card machine that is easy to move around. You can connect and use it through either GPRS, 3G, WiFi or Bluetooth technology. The machine is very robust and is water and shock-resistant, meaning this is a good choice for using outdoors, such as a cafe or restaurant with outdoor seating.
This machine can take up to 650 transactions on a single charge so has good battery life. It accepts smartphone payments and swipe payments. PCI compliant. See our Ingenico review.
No 5: Best mobile card machine: PayPal Here:
PayPal Here is a mobile card machine that is integrated with your PayPal merchant account. Priced a little higher than the iZettle and the SumUp at £54, other than the price there isn’t much to compare between these three options. Compatible with Apple Pay and Google Pay and is PCI compliant.
No 6: Best mobile card machine: Worldpay reader:
This is Worldpay‘s own version of the iZettle and SumUp mobile card machines. Ideal for small businesses, this can be purchased outright for a very reasonable £39.99. It also offers a choice between issuing receipts via SMS or email. It also comes with a virtual terminal for taking card payments over the phone or via email.
No 7: Best countertop card machine: Vega3000:
The Vega3000 Countertop card machine is very popular and widely used across the UK. It is a versatile model that uses either WiFi, GPRS, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Fast, efficient and reliable, this card machine is equipped with high-tech software and a powerful microprocessor to protect and process transactions at super-fast speed. The model also comes with an optional rechargeable backup battery for mobility, so offers a good level of flexibility for small business owners.