Which Card Machine is Best for Your Small Business?

Portable, countertop, mobile or a touchscreen card machine? Find out which ones you need for your business.

Business Advice
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Countertop Card Machine

With the UK rapidly heading towards a cashless society, there’s never been a better time for SMEs to accept card payments. Covid-19 is, of course, impacting cash usage today, but even before the pandemic, card payments accounted for 51% of all UK payments.

Many consumers prefer card payments and contactless transactions over cash because they’re convenient, quick and secure. What’s more, the average consumer expects to pay by card if they want to. If your B2C business doesn’t accept card payments, you could miss out on revenue opportunities by having to turn customers away. And leave yourself open to theft in the process by holding bundles of cash on the premises.

There are several things to consider when deciding to accept card payments. Which type of card machine is best for your business is one of them. This guide breaks down the key things you need to know about the main types.

1. Portable card machine

Allow customers to make payments without leaving their comfy seating

As the name suggests, a portable card machine is one that you can easily carry and move around your premises. These link to a base unit using Bluetooth or WiFi technology - no wires needed. The machine needs to be in the near vicinity of the base unit (e.g. within 50 or 100 metres) for payments to be processed.

Portable card machines support the key payment options like contactless, chip and PIN, Google Pay and Apple Pay. They come with a built-in thermal printer for receipts. (Thermal printers use heat to print, which means you only need to replace the roll of paper when you run out - no ink cartridges needed.)

This type of card machine is ideal for hospitality businesses, like restaurants, hotels, cafes, or pubs. It allows waitressing staff to move around a room, taking payment from individuals seated at tables. It can also be used in a retail environment if you want to come out from behind the till and meet customers on the shop floor. An example is the Ingenico iWL250.

Portable card machine - key features

  • Portable but not fully mobile - they only work within a certain distance of the base unit.
  • Thermal printer included - for receipts.
  • Works via Bluetooth or WiFi - no cables to restrict portability.
  • Compact - portable card readers are relatively small so that they can be easily handed over to customers.
  • Long battery life - these machines are designed to work all day on a single charge; a must in a busy hospitality setting.
  • Supports a wide range of payment options - chip and PIN, contactless, Apple Pay and Google Pay and all major credit and debit cards.

2. Countertop card machine

A countertop card machine plugs into the mains and therefore needs to stay in the same spot at all times. To process payments, it needs to connect to a phone line or broadband directly. Because it’s always connected, this type of card machine is very reliable (and fast) in terms of connectivity. 

Countertop machines facilitate the full suite of payment options, and some will allow you to offer cashback to customers. They come with a built-in thermal printer.

These machines are mostly used by retail businesses and are set up in a fixed location next to the till or at a reception area. They’re ideal for convenience stores, petrol stations, hairdressing and beauty salons, vehicle repair workshops, and some food outlets. The Ingenico iCT250 is one example of a countertop card machine. 

 Countertop card machine - key features

  • Wired solution - to pay, customers will need to come to the till or other fixed location.
  • Fast payment processing - reliable connectivity means payments can be processed in just a few seconds.
  • Full suite of payment options - contactless, Google Pay, Apple Pay and all major cards accepted.
  • Compact - these are small enough not to take up too much space on a counter.
  • Built-in thermal printer - for receipts.
  • Cost-effective - countertop card machines usually have the cheapest rental costs.

3. Mobile card machine

Take payments on the go

 A mobile card reader has a built-in SIM card and uses 3G or 4G to connect to the strongest GPRS phone signal available. It lets you accept credit and debit card payments, no matter where you are. Most models come with an integrated thermal printer, so you can quickly print a receipt. An example is Check out the Ingenico Move/3500. to see what a mobile card machine looks like.

 Mobile card machines are best suited to businesses that need to hit the road to visit customers or clients. Examples include window cleaners, electricians, plumbers, mobile hairdressers, mobile pet groomers, mobile catering vans, taxi drivers and market traders.

 Mobile card machine - key features

  • Fully mobile - providing you have mobile network coverage, you can process payments from anywhere in the UK.
  • Comes with a built-in SIM - it works via 3G or 4G, not Bluetooth or the internet.
  • Base unit needed - for charging purposes.
  • Small - can be easily carried around in a bag.
  • Good battery life - works all day from a single charge. Some models come with car chargers too.
  • Integrated printer - for fast receipt printing.

4. Touchscreen card machine

Touchscreen card machines are sleek and stylish in design and reasonably practical since they can be easily wiped clean. Some models function as an all-in-one POS device, eliminating the need for old-school, clunky cash registers.

The Square Terminal, for instance, can manage the till point, take payments and print receipts. It has just one button (the power button) - all features are controlled via its touchscreen interface. Another example is Clover Flex; a single handheld device that works as an all-in-one POS terminal and complete business management system. 

Touchscreen card machines are typically portable devices that work via the internet - but there are mobile solutions available that work via a phone signal.

This type of card machine is suitable for retail and hospitality companies that need an element of portability or want to save space on the countertop. It’s also for businesses where aesthetics matter. For instance, upmarket hotels or boutique shops might use touchscreen card machines to show they’re embracing the latest technology and are moving with the times.

Touchscreen card machine - key features

  • Innovative design - some models take card payments and work as a POS terminal, allowing you to manage inventory and carry out barcode scanning.
  • Nice aesthetics - contemporary, sleek design.
  • Wipeable - glass screen can be wiped, making it a hygienic option; an important consideration in the face of Covid-19.
  • Versatile - can be carried around or used in a fixed location if preferred.
  • Various connection methods -  depending on the model, it may use 3G, 4G, WiFi or Bluetooth.
  • Variety of receipt options - some machines can email receipts to the customer as well as print them.

5. Lightweight card reader

iZettle Card Reader

A lightweight card reader is small, light, cable-free and usually app-based. This type goes a step further than the small mobile card machines we’ve mentioned already in this article. Some of the best lightweight card readers are not much bigger than a credit card, yet can still accept multiple types of payments securely and process them quickly.

The iZettle Reader 2 is an excellent example of a lightweight card reader. With its tiny design, it can be held in the palm of your hand, yet can manage around 100 transactions on a single battery charge. The card reader works alongside the iZettle mobile app, processing payments through the phone’s internet connection. Other examples include the SumUp Air or the Square Reader, the latter being so lightweight that it doesn’t even have a keypad.

A lightweight card reader is best for sole traders and micro-businesses (such as pop-up restaurants) that need a no-frills solution, without the expenses often associated with traditional card machines. It’s also handy for mobile businesses, as it can be used to take payments in any location where there’s a phone signal.

Lightweight card reader - key features:

  • Easy-to-use - this type of card machine is a simple solution for getting started in accepting card payments.
  • Ultra-compact - much smaller and lighter than traditional card machines.
  • Aesthetically pleasing - these look very cool.
  • Leverages existing smartphone technology - lightweight card readers tend to work with a mobile app.
  • Fully mobile - fits into pockets and works on-the-go.

Choosing the right card machine for your business

Consumer expectations, and the impact of coronavirus, are driving the trend towards a cashless society. In this day and age, it makes sense for most B2C businesses to accept card payments and give consumers a choice of how to pay. 

Most card machines on the market support contactless transactions, chip and PIN, Google Pay and Apple Pay. But not all card readers will be right for your business. Consider your business’s objectives and logistics when choosing one for the first time, or if you’re planning to switch to a different type of card machine.

Ask yourself these questions. Do you need the the following: 

  • Do you Travel to visit customers?
  •  Operate from behind a fixed till?
  •  Or do you Need to take a payment facility to your customers, within the premises?
  •  Do Consider aesthetics to be important matter? 

The answers will help you decide which card machine type is best suited to your business.

Even when you’ve settled on the right type of card reader, there are other things to think about and watch out for. For starters, card machine features vary, and so do payment service provider contracts, pricing, set up and exit fees. It’s all too easy to get tied into an expensive contract that won’t actually serve your business well.

You can compare card payment solutions easily - at no cost to you - with Card Payment Guru. Simply tell us your requirements, and we’ll match you to a trusted payment service provider that fits with your needs. Get started here.

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