Card Machines and Mobile Card Readers for Small Businesses

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Empower your small business with card machines and mobile card readers. Explore options, benefits, and boost sales seamlessly with modern payment solutions.

Card Machines and Mobile Card Readers for Small Businesses

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For years and years, it has been a business mantra that “cash is king”, but increasingly in the 21st century we’re finding that card is king, instead. A study by UK Finance, the trade body for the banking and finance industry, has found that contactless payments alone now account for more than a quarter of all transactions made, while “Nearly a third (32 per cent, 17.3 million people) of the adult population were registered to use mobile payments by the end of 2020, an increase of 7.4 million people compared to 2019.”

Increasingly, customers across all sectors are expecting to have the ability to pay by card, where possible. It’s a payment method that couldn’t be quicker or easier for the customer, and not being able to offer it as an option is only likely to harm your chances of repeat business. And with the surge in card payments not having reversed since the pandemic receded, if you haven’t been able to set yourself up to do so, now could be the perfect time to make that switch.

Types of Card Machines and Card Readers

With this proliferation in card use has come an ever-growing range of card machines and card readers to suit a wide range of different trades, businesses and industries.

Countertop and Portable Card Machines

Allowing you to take payments by card and mobile devices in person, countertop card machines come in two varieties; wired and portable. Wired machines must be used at a specific location, but portable card machines have a greater range, connected by wifi or a SIM card. Some card machine providers can issue cradles for them, allowing portable card machines to also be used as countertop card machines.

Card Readers

Card readers are similar to card machines but are much smaller and more portable. They’re designed to prioritise portability and convenience and have become increasingly popular in recent years with tradespeople and taxi drivers, as well as others who do their work on the move. But this portability comes at a cost. Card readers typically include fewer features than a countertop or portable card machine, such as the ability to print off a physical receipt, if requested.

Mobile Payment Systems

Mobile payment systems offer the ultimate in portability, allowing you to use a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet to process payments. They're an effective solution for businesses who already rely on such hardware; if you already use a smartphone to take your bookings, you can use it to take payments, as well. Payments processed through mobile devices are also typically settled quickly, sometimes within one working day, which can help with cash flow.

POS System

Full Point of Sale (POS) systems are at the other end of the scale to mobile payment systems in terms of portability and simplicity, but they come with considerable benefits, as well, such as allowing you to streamline your stock management to integrate it with sales, enhanced security features, and even in some cases staff management.

Key Features to Consider When Choosing Card Machines and Readers

If not all card machines and readers are created equal, there are certain factors that you should bear in mind when deciding on which to use yourself. Not everybody will consider all of these important, so knowing your customer–the way that your company takes its payments–is important.

Ease of use

How usable is the device? Look for a machine that’s easy to use and requires minimal training or effort, either for staff or your customers. Lengthy delays can deter repeat business!

Contracts or hidden fees

Credit card machines often require contracts to begin processing payments with their hardware, and the fees can soon start to mount up, whether for applications, chargebacks, compliance, retrieval, hardware leasing, or more. Make sure that you understand any contract that you enter into in full.

Connectivity

Connectivity comes in many different forms. How do you want to connect your device to the outside world? You’ll need a SIM card if you want to use it away from wifi connection, and you’ll need NFC connectivity to take contactless payments. No matter which point of sale you use, look for a terminal that seamlessly (and wirelessly) syncs with any POS, so you can say goodbye to manual bookkeeping and focus on your business.

Security and PCI compliance

Violating PCI compliance rules can be extremely damaging to your business. It can lead to major financial penalties, and damage trust in your business, and it leaves both your company and your customers at risk of fraud. Your credit card machine should always be PCI-compliant.

Portability

For many tradespeople, portability is the single most important feature that they need. But while extremely portable devices have their conveniences, they have to make sacrifices in terms of features. When considering the portability of the device that you want, you should also pay attention to which other features you consider essential and which you could do without.

Reliability

Getting paid reliably is the key to keeping your cash flow healthy. You can lose sales through delays because of equipment that isn’t working properly, while such problems may also tie up you or your staff when you run into problems. Make sure you check independent reviews and steer clear of any product which could be unreliable.

Trial periods and after-sale support

This may be a necessity if you don’t quite know what you want, so look for systems that you can try out and return after a trial period if they’re not suitable for your needs. Warranties can also be useful, should you have reliability issues later on. Check for details of what after-sale support will be offered after your initial set-up, too. Many will offer 24/7 online or phone support, but be aware that not all do.

Popular Card Machines and Readers for Small Businesses in the UK

There is a plethora of choice when it comes to card machines and readers for small and medium-sized businesses. Here are some of the more popular options for businesses of different sizes and with different needs.

Square Reader

Square is designed for small business owners wanting to keep costs low without missing out on good features, such as the option to integrate its accompanying POS software with food delivery apps. The Reader is portable and lightweight, fully PCI compliant and connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone or tablet. It doesn’t require any sort of contract, and pricing is fixed at 1.75% per transaction. The device itself costs £19 plus VAT and is available from the Square website.

Shopify WisePad 3

If your business is already hosting an eCommerce website with Shopify, then the Shopify Widepad 3 might be the best option for you, as it provides seamless integration between your website and physical store. It’s slightly more expensive than the other card machines listed here, at £49 plus VAT, and WisePad 3 only works with a Shopify plan, which range in price from £25-£344 per month depending on the size of your business, but processing fees are among the lowest of all. You can try Shopify free for 14 days with no credit card required, and they’re available to buy from the Shopify website.

SumUp Air

With low transaction fees in the UK (just 1.69%, and there are occasionally promotional offers at a lower rate for new users) and flat-rate prices, the big selling point of the SumUp Air is that it’s cheap, with very clear pricing. This mobile reader is clear and simple to use and it can take 500 contactless payments on a single charge, but it comes with few bells and whistles. They’re available from the SumUp website for around £29 plus VAT.

Zettle by Paypal

The Zettle card reader is quick to set up, meaning you can begin accepting payments straight away. Their mobile reader connects easily to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, 3G/4G or wifi, meaning you can accept payments from anywhere. Zettle also has some neat tricks up its sleeve, with tools such as a compatible POS app, Zettle Go, that allows you to accept cash payments, create a product inventory and send invoices, while you also can use Zettle with third-party hardware such as receipt printers, cash drawers and barcode scanners as part of a complete POS system. They’re available from PayPal at £29 plus VAT.

WorldPay from FIS

The WorldPay from FIS payment solution is better suited to businesses at the larger end of the scale because you can negotiate a custom plan and reduce your card machine rates if your business has a high enough turnover. The Worldpay app also allows your business to accept payments over the phone, send remote payment links and send email invoices. The WorldPay name is also well-known and trusted around the world.

To qualify for Worldpay's custom fee plans, your business needs to have an annual turnover of at least £20,000. If your business turnover is less than this, you can only take advantage of their Simplicity plan. It's important to be aware that if your monthly turnover dips below £20,000 once you're on a Custom plan, you may have to pay additional fees. WorldPay’s website has more details on the plans that they offer.

Comparing Costs

Pricing structures vary from reader to reader, with upfront costs, transaction fees and occasionally hidden charges. To compare the costs, we’ve put these in a table alongside details of the customer service hours that they keep.

Reader

Hardware Cost

Transaction fees*

Customer Service

Square Reader

£29 + VAT

1.75% per transaction

9am-5pm Mon-Fri

Shopify Wisepad 3

£49 + VAT

From 1.5% per transaction

24/7

SumUp Air

£29 + VAT

1.69%

9am - 7pm Eastern Standard Time (USA)

Zettle

£19 + VAT

1.75%

9am-5pm Mon-Fri

WorldPay from FIS

Varies according to plan

Varies according to plan

24/7

*Transaction fees may be subject to change, quoted fees are for card payments; additional fees may be applicable.

The Importance of Security and Compliance

While cost, convenience, portability and customer service are all important, nothing is more important than the security of your payments. Both you and your customers deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing that payments are being made safely and that card data is completely safe.

This is upheld by Payment Card Industry standards. The PCI Security Standards Council even has a handy PDF guide which covers every aspect of making payments safely. There are certain things that you can do yourself to ensure that you’re being PCI compliant. Check to see if they have an SSL certificate and if their website is encrypted. When choosing a provider, check that they have a PCI compliance seal or badge on their site. You can also contact their customer support team and ask them about their PCI compliance policies and procedures.

How to Choose the Right Card Machine or Reader

Business type and nature

What do you do and how do you do it? Some people will value portability over anything else, while others may prefer greater integration with other payment types, or being able to fully integrate into a Point of Sale system. Different types of businesses will have different needs, and there are no right or wrong answers, only what works for you.

Volume of transactions

If you don’t take that many card payments, something cheap and cheerful might suit you just fine. Not everybody needs (or necessarily even wants) all the bells and whistles. But if you have a large volume of payments by card and more complex accounting processes, subscription services might start to make more sense.

Budget considerations

With subscription costs for larger businesses running to more than £300 at one end of the spectrum and remote payment readers that cost the same as a round of drinks at the other, there can be huge variations in terms of what this might cost you. But just as you shouldn’t skimp on what you need, saving coppers now but costing you pounds in the future, you should as a responsible business owner be aware of the importance of good cost control. Don’t feel obliged to spend more than you can comfortably afford.

Fees and subscription charges

Transaction processing fees are just part of life if you accept card payments daily. And the more of them you take, the more closely you need to start looking at the comparative costs of fees and subscription charges. High-volume businesses, for example, will get greater benefits from even marginal-looking differences in transaction fee charges than those who only take a few payments per day, week or month.

Try to take a holistic view of what the costs of any system would be to your company. It’s worth sitting down with a pen and paper and working out what the costs would have been had you used various services in previous years, should you still have that sort of information to hand.

After vast and sudden increases in card payments after the events of early 2020, both customers and businesses went on something of a crash course in learning the ins and outs of card payments. And more than three years on, although the rate of increase has slowed the number of card payments as a proportion of all payments made continues to rise, year-on-year. If you’re not doing so already, it is surely time for your business to offer this sort of flexibility to your customers, and even if you are, it might be worth having a review of the costs that you’re currently incurring and seeing whether there might be alternatives that save you time and/or money.

In a rapidly growing sector, new technologies are coming through, with innovations targeting specific business sectors becoming increasingly commonplace. And at SwitchPal we understand that it can be confusing and that there is an absolute jungle of information to have to wade through. With our knowledge in the area and a trusted panel of payment processors, we can help you find the solution that best suits your needs.

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