Which is the best card machine for small businesses?
Tips / 08.02.2024
Embracing card payment machines is crucial for businesses engaging in face-to-face transactions. According to the British Retail Consortium, around 90% of retail spending is done through debit or credit cards.
This growing preference for cashless payments, be it through cards or contactless methods, reflects the shift towards a cashless society in the UK. This has led to a wide array of card machine options available in the market.
For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it’s essential to employ tools that enhance profits and streamline daily operations. Card payment machines excel at achieving both. So, why not explore the available options and choose the best card reader for your small business?
In this article, to help you find the best card machine for small businesses, we will explain what card readers are, explore the different options available and discuss the factors to consider when deciding to purchase one.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is a card machine?
Card machines, also known as point-of-sale (POS) or payment terminals, are devices that empower businesses to accept payments via credit and debit cards. They facilitate secure card transactions by connecting to payment networks and processing financial information, offering customers a convenient and efficient way to make purchases.
Card payment machines come in different types and sizes.
There are three main types to choose from:
Traditional payment terminals, commonly seen in larger stores, require a physical connection to a mobile phone or the Internet. They can be expensive to set up and use. However, modern terminals have transformed payment solutions for small businesses, offering mobility and flexibility.
These portable devices provide an affordable option, making it easy for both businesses on the go and those operating in different locations.
For instance, whether you are a mobile make-up artist or masseur visiting clients at their homes, managing a food truck or visiting craft fairs, portable card payment machines can help you bring card payments directly to your customers.
There are also devices designed for permanent locations like brick-and-mortar stores, reception desks or integration with a self-service machine.
Regardless of your business type, you can find an affordable card machine for quick and easy setup, accepting chip and PIN, magstripe and contactless payments.
How does a card machine work?
Accepting payments with a card machine is a pretty quick and straightforward process.
Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved:
- The merchant initiates the payment process by entering the amount into the card machine.
- The customer then uses their card or NFC-enabled mobile device. They might be asked to enter their PIN.
- The card machine encrypts the card details and sends them to the merchant account provider.
- An authorisation request is sent to the customer’s bank.
- All details are verified, and if there are sufficient funds, the transaction is approved.
- The money is then transferred to the merchant’s business account.
And all this happens within a matter of seconds!
Why do small businesses need a card machine?
Card payment machines have become commonplace in the modern business landscape, serving as essential tools to streamline the payment process and ensure customer satisfaction.
Buyers nowadays require options. They want to be able to choose and see their preferred payment method available. The absence of such choices can lead to abandoned purchases.
The shift in payment trends, accelerated by the pandemic, highlights the decreasing reliance on cash. In 2021, 15% of transactions were conducted using cash, while. A significant 82% of transactions were conducted using credit and debit cards.
Despite these changes, some small business owners still believe they face limitations compared to larger players. A common misconception is that payment machines are expensive and require substantial investment. However, technology has evolved, and numerous affordable options are now available.
Besides the enhanced customer convenience and increased sales opportunities, other key benefits come with a card reader for small businesses.
- It accelerates the payment process, which reduces checkout time and minimises the need for handling cash, which enhances efficiency.
- It improves financial management by providing electronic records and reduces the risk of errors associated with manual cash payments.
- It creates a positive impression on customers and demonstrates a commitment to staying current with technological advancements.
- It gives access to valuable data that enables businesses to gather insights into customer spending patterns.
- It minimises the risks associated with handling and storing cash and enhances the security of financial transactions through encryption.
- It positions small businesses competitively against others that offer modern payment methods and appeals to a broader customer base.
In the current market landscape, flooded with modern payment tools, companies must equip themselves with the necessary means to meet customer expectations. This is particularly true for nano, micro- and small businesses, as they cannot afford to miss out on sales.
Key features to look out for when choosing a card machine
With numerous great options available on the market, choosing the best card machine for small businesses can be challenging. To narrow down your choices and identify the right type for your needs, it’s best to familiarise yourself with the various features of card readers.
To help you, below, we’ve put together a few key features to look out for before making your choice.
Types of card machines
Choosing the right small business card machine – mobile, portable or countertop – depends on your mobility requirements.
Mobile card machines
Mobile credit card machines are handheld standalone devices that allow businesses to mobile payments on the go. They are often wireless and rely on mobile network connection (3G, 4G or 5G) or Wi-Fi to process transactions.
Ideal for businesses that operate in various locations or need the flexibility to accept payments away from a fixed point of sale, mobile card readers are often used by market vendors, food trucks and delivery services.
Portable card machines
Operating as standalone payment terminals, portable card machines are similar to mobile card readers, and these two terms are often used interchangeably. However, portable card machines usually come with more features and connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, offering mobility but also having limitations due to the connectivity range.
For this reason, they are particularly useful for businesses where customers prefer to make payments at their tables, such as in restaurants or cafes, as waiters can take the machine directly to the customer, enhancing convenience.
Keep in mind that there are portable card machines that come with a built-in data SIM card for constant Internet connectivity, so make sure to conduct thorough research on your device before purchase.
Countertop card machines
Countertop machines are stationary devices typically positioned on a counter or fixed location within a store. They are connected to the Internet, usually via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, though some devices come with data SIM cards. Despite this, these payment devices are designed for use at the till and often require a power source.
Countertop card machines are generally more complex, offering additional features and the ability to connect to external hardware for supplementary services. As a result, they are better suited for businesses with a fixed location, such as retail stores or hotels.
In summary, countertop machines are best for fixed checkout points, mobile payment solutions are great for on-the-go businesses, and portable card machines offer flexibility for businesses with diverse payment needs.
EMV chip compatibility
EMV, which stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa, represents a global standard for processing credit and debit card payments. EMV chips generate unique transaction codes for each purchase, making it significantly more challenging for fraudsters to clone cards successfully.
When selecting a card machine, ensure that it is EMV-certified. This certification assures compliance with the necessary security standards for processing card transactions. By adopting a device with EMV chip compatibility, you will not only protect your business against fraud but also align with a universal standard, fostering enhanced security and trust in the payment method you offer.
NFC, Near Field Communication, technology facilitates short-range communication between devices, enabling quick and secure data transfer. In the context of card payment machines, it facilitates contactless payments, making transactions faster and more convenient. Popular mobile payment methods, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and contactless card payments, rely on NFC technology.
These card transactions are considered to be the fastest in-person payment method, as customers simply need to tap their card or mobile device on the terminal to complete the payment.
Recognising the growing demand for contactless options, integrating NFC payments into your business ensures that you can cater to your customers’ expectations. So, when you are looking for a card machine, make sure it supports contactless payments.
We already covered the need for EMV chip compatibility as protection against fraud, but there is more you need to consider in terms of security.
Check for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance. This set of security standards ensures that your card machine adheres to industry regulations, providing a secure environment for processing cashless payments. Compliance is not only a legal requirement but also a testament to your commitment to data security.
Select a card machine that facilitates regular software updates. These updates bring new features and patch vulnerabilities, ensuring that your device remains resilient against emerging security threats. A proactive approach to software maintenance is crucial in today’s dynamic security landscape.
Customisation and branding
In the competitive business environment, every interaction with a customer serves as a chance to leave a lasting impression. When selecting a card machine, customisation and branding features are something to look for if you want to elevate your business identity and customer experience.
It involves incorporating elements such as your logo, brand colours or taglines directly onto the payment terminal. A visually cohesive and branded device not only leaves a memorable impression but also adds a professional touch.
For example, certain card payment machines provide paper receipt customisation with your brand elements. This is an excellent opportunity to ensure that your business remains top-of-mind even after the transaction is completed.
Moreover, some merchant service providers offer colourful cases for card machines, allowing for additional personalisation.
Nevertheless, when contemplating the branding of your card machine, it’s essential to choose devices that allow customisation while adhering to industry standards and compliance requirements.
Choosing the best card machine for small businesses is about finding a solution that aligns seamlessly with your unique requirements. That’s why, before diving into the array of card machine options, take a moment to assess your business needs.
Consider factors such as:
- Anticipated transaction volume: Determine the expected transaction volume to ensure the chosen device can efficiently handle your business demands.
- Mobility requirements: Evaluate whether your business needs a portable or mobile card reader to facilitate transactions on the go.
- Receipt printing necessity: Assess if your business requires the capability to print receipts for customers.
- Device usage: Consider how many individuals will be using the same card machine to ensure it accommodates your staff or operational setup.
- Tip acceptance feature: Determine if a tip acceptance feature is helpful for your business model.
By thoughtfully addressing these considerations, you can ensure the card machine you choose will meet the specific needs of your business, ultimately securing a smooth and fast payment processing experience.
Factors to consider before purchasing card machines for small businesses
Now that you’ve determined the type of card machine you need, resist the impulse to buy the first device you come across with the necessary features. Before deciding, consider additional factors such as pricing, accepted payment methods, scalability and ease of use.
Contemporary card payment machines usually accommodate the widely-used credit and debit cards like VISA, Mastercard, and Amex. As long as they support NFC technology, they typically facilitate contactless payments, as well, through digital wallets like Google Pay and Apple Pay.
However, some foreign payment options are not always supported. It is not a problem for most small businesses, but it could be an issue if you operate in a tourist-heavy area.
Additionally, you may need to accept payment methods other than the most common ones, such as e-vouchers and gift cards. Make sure to conduct thorough research beforehand so that you can ensure you offer your clients their preferred payment method.
Cost and transaction fees
When it comes to which card payment machine to choose for your business, the financial aspect plays a crucial role in the decision-making process.
Understanding the various costs associated with payment terminals is essential for making an informed and cost-effective choice. Therefore, consider how much you are ready to spend for the initial card machine purchase and what monthly fee will be worth it at your particular transaction level.
One of the primary considerations when acquiring a card machine is the upfront costs. These encompass the one-off price of the device, set-up fees and any additional costs associated with the installation process.
For those constrained by their budget and seeking the cheapest card payment machine for small businesses, it is reassuring to know that plenty of affordable options exist.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize that a card machine is an investment that, in the long run, can prove to be more profitable for the business. Therefore, it might be beneficial not to base the decision solely on price.
Merchant account fees
Beyond one-off expenses, card machines also come with monthly costs and payment processing fees.
If you are looking for a provider offering the lowest transaction fees, keep in mind that the payment processing fee structures may vary, so it’s essential to become familiar with the rates in advance.
Some card payment machines charge a fixed percentage fee per transaction. These transaction fees typically fall within the range of 1.5% to 2% of the transaction value.
Others have a fee that decreases as your volume of card transactions increases. The card reader transaction fee can also vary depending on the type of transaction or the type of card used.
Additionally, keep in mind that some providers impose monthly or annual fees. These charges are usually fixed and apply irrespective of the number of payments accepted in the given month. Fortunately, companies like myPOS don’t burden merchants with monthly costs.
The contracts associated with card payment machines are also something you need to consider. Some card machine providers offer no long-term commitments, allowing you to terminate the agreement at any time. This flexibility is especially vital for small and emerging businesses.
Now, picture this – your business experiences unforeseen growth, or perhaps the industry undergoes a sudden transformation. In such scenarios, having an escape hatch becomes imperative.
Assess the flexibility provided by different contract lengths and termination clauses. Opting for a card machine with no monthly contract or a contract that allows for adjustments without severe penalties ensures your business can adapt to changing circumstances seamlessly.
While the allure of a longer contract may come with certain perks, weighing the potential penalties associated with early termination is essential. Unforeseen circumstances or dissatisfaction with the service might necessitate ending the contract prematurely, and understanding the financial implications beforehand can prevent unwelcome surprises.
Your business is likely to evolve, and so should your payment solution. In the fast-paced world of modern business, staying ahead often means embracing technology that can adapt and grow with your company.
Opt for a card machine that is scalable and can adapt to your future needs. It means evaluating how well the solution can accommodate the growth of your business, whether that’s an expanding customer base, a broader range of products or services or an increase in overall transaction volume.
When evaluating the best card machine for small businesses, make sure to:
- Check if the device’s software is regularly updated and if updates can be seamlessly integrated into your system.
- Try to assess how well the card machine will integrate with other systems and software used in your business.
- Look for devices that offer various connectivity options, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular, to adapt to different business environments.
Additionally, evaluate whether the card machine provider offers supplementary services that could benefit your business, such as tools for online payments, website development, integration of an online payment gateway, and the creation of payment links.
Investing in a payment device with scalability in mind is a strategic move that pays off in the long run. Instead of having to replace your payment system entirely as your business grows, a scalable solution allows you to build upon your existing infrastructure.
Ease of use
One of the main reasons to have a card machine is to streamline business operations and improve efficiency. A payment device that is easy to use can significantly facilitate work processes. In a fast-paced environment, such as retail, for example, time is of the essence, and every second saved on transaction processing can contribute to increased productivity.
A user-friendly payment terminal ensures that staff members, regardless of their technical expertise, can quickly and accurately process transactions, reducing the risk of errors and minimising customer wait times.
In addition, an easy-to-use card machine can contribute to your customers’ experience by facilitating smooth and hassle-free transactions. Cumbersome and confusing payment processes can frustrate customers, potentially leading to abandoned transactions or a negative perception of your business.
Finally, make sure to verify the availability of customer support offered by your payment provider of choice. This includes assistance and resources provided to help users resolve issues and receive guidance.
Card payment machines have become essential for small businesses, addressing customer preferences for diverse payment options and minimising abandoned purchases.
Despite the decreasing reliance on cash, some small businesses hesitate due to misconceptions about costs. However, affordable options now exist, offering streamlined transactions, improved financial management, a professional image, access to valuable data, reduced security risks and a competitive edge.
Selecting the best card machines for small businesses can be challenging with the huge amount of options available. To streamline your decision, consider the type of card machine that suits your mobility needs – mobile for on-the-go businesses, portable for table-side convenience and a countertop for fixed checkout points.
Additionally, prioritise features, such as EMV chip compatibility for enhanced security, NFC support for quicker transactions, adherence to PCI DSS standards, and customizability for branding to create a unique and professional business identity.
Assess your business requirements, including anticipated transaction volume, receipt printing, and tip acceptance features, to ensure a seamless and efficient payment processing experience tailored to your specific needs.
When assessing costs, be mindful of the one-off expenses, monthly fees and payment processing fees. Additionally, evaluate the compatibility with various payment methods, ensure scalability to accommodate business growth and prioritise user-friendly card payment machines to streamline operations and enhance both staff and customer experiences.
Frequently asked questions
Which card payment machine is best for small businesses?
For mobile businesses like pop-up shops or visiting clients at home, a mobile card machine is the ideal tool. It’s compact, like a mobile phone, and offers constant connectivity via a data SIM card.
If your business operates from a fixed location and needs a till payment terminal, it’s best to choose a countertop card machine. These devices provide additional features and a cash register connection.
Alternatively, for businesses such as restaurants, cafes or those with fixed points of sale occasionally visiting markets or clients, a portable card machine allows a transition between designated checkout points and client locations.
What’s the cheapest card payment machine?
Contrary to popular belief, card transactions are more cost-effective in the long run than cash payments, as cash incurs hidden expenses from storing, guarding, depositing and accounting for it.
Fortunately, numerous budget-friendly options now exist for card payments. With minimal research, you can find affordable card machines with low transaction fees and minimal monthly service charges, or even none at all, as seen with myPOS.
Moreover, alternative methods exist to accept card payments at even lower costs. Nowadays, you don’t always need a card machine; payment links and QR codes provide viable options, depending on your business requirements.
How do I set up a card machine for my business?
Setting up a card payment machine for small businesses is a straightforward process that can have you operational in just four simple steps. They are the following:
1. Select your payment provider: Every merchant aiming to accept card transactions needs a business bank account or a merchant account with a payment provider.
2. Choose the best card machine for your needs: Evaluate the features it offers and the associated costs.
3. Conduct some test transactions: Ensure your staff is trained on using the device effectively.
4. Start using the device in real scenarios: You are now ready to accept credit and debit card payments hassle-free.