Best card machines for small businesses

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    Chris Godfrey

    Page reviewed by, Chris Godfrey, Expert financial copywriter, on July 10, 2023 2:59 pm

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      For many centuries, cash was king, powering the growth of industry, commerce and innovation. But that’s no longer the case. Cash is rapidly disappearing from our wallets, purses and high streets, replaced by digital currency that we access via cards and phones. Without physical money, small businesses have quickly embraced new methods to collect payments from their customers – so say goodbye to cash and hello to the card machine, the absolutely essential business tool for retailers, traders, and hundreds of thousands of UK SMEs.

      Does my business need a card machine?

      If your business takes payments from customers in-person, either for retail purchases, or for services like plumbers, electricians, hair stylists and more, then yes, you definitely need a card machine. A recent report found that 23 million people in the UK used virtually no cash in 2021/22, and that by 2033, less than 6% of consumer purchases will be made with cash. What does this mean for UK SMEs? It means those businesses that do not offer customers the option of paying with a debit or credit card at the point of sale will be left behind as the UK becomes a cashless society. 

      Read on to discover all you need to know about card machines, and which one is best for your business.

      Which card machine is best for a small business?

      Card machines have come a long way since the old-school chip and PIN machines. Many affordable, app-based machines that connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth and use an app to process payments are now available, or businesses can opt for the latest portable and countertop card machines that require no mobile device at all. However, it’s not only the mobility and technology that’s at stake when SMEs choose a card machine. When selecting the best card machine for your business you must also consider monthly charges, transaction fees, contract terms, and the hidden costs associated with different devices to keep profits where they should be.  

      Here’s a rundown of the best card machines currently available in the UK:

      Takepayments

      Consistently rated as a top card machine provider for UK SME’s, Takepayments offer the PAX A920 card reader that comes with a large touch screen and built-in SIM card with mobile data. There are two operating plans. The most popular – ‘Takepaymentsplus’ – comes via an 18 months contract, providing the A920 machine and a complete – but simple – till app that’s ideal as a mobile checkout, with the ability to add a product library and monitor sales by staff members. The simpler – ‘Easy Deal’ – plan offers the same machine,  but with basic payment software so you can accept cards. Easy deal has no minimum monthly service charge, includes PCI compliance, and a contract of 30 days that can be cancelled with one month’s notice.

      Takepayments at a glance:

      TAKEPAYMENTS – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: PAX A920 mobile touchscreen – £10 + VAT per month rental
      Plans
      TakepaymentsplusEasy Deal
      Cost£25 plus VAT per month£7.50 plus VAT per month
      Contract
      • 18 months
      • No setup fee
      • Monthly min. charge from £10
      • Early termination fee applies
      • Monthly contract
      • £150 + VAT setup fee
      • No monthly min. charge
      • Cancel with 30-day notice                    
      Transaction fees: 0.3%-2.5% + flat fee. 30p refund fee. £9 per chargeback.
      Payouts: Next day in your bank account – free
      Works with: Visa. Mastercard. Maestro. Amex. Contactless. Apple Pay. Google Pay. Samsung Pay.

      Pros

      • Pay as you go monthly plan available
      • Versatile machine options

      Cons

      • Pricing not fully transparent. SMEs must get a quote
      • 18 months contract on most popular plan
      • Businesses need more than £2,000 per month card turnover for top benefits

      Who is it best for?

      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)

      Worldpay

      Major credit card processor Worldpay offers two card machines to UK SMEs. Both are high-quality models from Ingenico. The Desk 5000 is a stationary chip and PIN machine for the countertop. The Axium DX8000 is portable and mobile smart POS terminal with a touchscreen that will suit most merchants. Both machines can be rented on an 18 months contract, however Worldpay plans and pricing are not as transparent as some competitors.

      Businesses have the option of the ‘Simplicity’ plan, which is for SMEs with an annual card turnover below £100,000, or a ‘Custom’ plan that is aimed at businesses with a monthly card turnover of at least £20,000. Simplicity plans charge a flat 1.5% per transaction fee, but Custom rates, which may be lower, must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Exiting the 18 months contract before its end will incur an early termination fee.

      Worldpay at a glance:

      WORLDPAY – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: Countertop Ingenico Desk 5000, or: Portable/mobile Axium DX8000 – £17.50 to £23 per month + VAT rental
      Plan
      Simplicity, or Custom – requires card turnover of more than £20k month
      CostNo separate plan charge
      Contract
      • 18 months
      • No setup fee
      • Monthly min. charge depends on plan
      • Early termination fee applies
      Transaction fees: Custom, or fixed rates from 1.5%
      Payouts: 1-3 days in your bank account – free
      Works with: Visa. Mastercard. Maestro. Amex. Contactless. JCB. Discover. Diners Club. Union Pay.   Apple Pay. Google Pay. Samsung Pay.

      Pros

      • High quality card machines with options
      • 24/7 customer support
      • Accepts all major cards

      Cons

      • Pricing not fully transparent, SMEs must get a quote
      • 18 months contract, no other options
      • Fees higher than competitors for SMEs with card turnover below £20,000 per month

      Who is it best for

      • New and small businesses
      • Businesses who regularly take card payments
      • Mobile professionals (plumbers, electricians, stylists, etc)
      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)

      Zettle by PayPal

      As you may expect from a card machine provider backed by global payments giant, Paypal, Zettle brings simplicity and efficiency to the UK card machine market. Their offering is clear and stark – two types of machine, which you must buy – then a flat 1.75% transaction fee (even for foreign and premium corporate cards). After that, there are no other fees to pay, nor are you locked-in to a fixed term contract. Zettle card machines are also delivered to your door without shipping or set-up fees.

      The Zettle Reader comes with a push-button keypad and clear display. The machine must stay connected, via Bluetooth, to a smartphone or tablet with the Zettle Go POS app to take payments. The more sophisticated Zettle Terminal works without a phone or tablet and features a touchscreen with Zettle’s free POS app installed. The built-in SIM card connects directly to 3G or 4G if not using Wi-Fi, and you can get it with a built-in barcode scanner or receipt printer attachment. 

      Zettle at a glance:

      ZETTLE – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: Zettle reader – £29 + VAT for 1st device, extras at £59 + VAT purchase, or:                                       Zettle terminal – £149 + VAT (no barcode scanner), £199 + VAT (with barcode scanner and printer) purchase
      Plan
      Zettle
      CostNo separate plan charge
      Contract
      • No contract lock-in
      • No setup fee
      • No monthly min. charge
      • No early termination fee
      Transaction fees: 1.75% per transaction, no other fees
      Payouts: Next day in your bank account
      Works with: Visa. V Pay. Mastercard. Maestro. Amex. JCB. Discover. Diners Club. Contactless. Apple Pay. Google Pay. Samsung Pay.

      Pros

      • Only pay for machine, then flat 1.75% per transaction, no other costs
      • Most ergonomic reader
      • Widest range of cards accepted
      • Easy sign-up, no need to get a quote

      Cons

      • Limited customer support (Mon to Friday only)
      • Basic online tools

      Who is it best for?

      • Businesses with less than £2,000 per month card sales
      • New and small businesses
      • Businesses with occasional card payments
      • Mobile professionals (plumbers, electricians, stylists, etc)
      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)

      Tyl by NatWest

      Launched in 2020, Tyl is NatWest Bank’s competitor in the card machine race. Offering two types of card machine, one rental only, the other for rent or purchase, Tyl is attempting to create a following by opting for the stripped-down approach set by competitors such as Zettle and Square. With no contract lock-in, no setup fees and a flat 1.5% transaction fee (except Amex sales) for businesses with less than £50,000 annual card sales turnover, (and a range of custom fees for SMEs with card sales over this sum), the offering is simple and easy to understand.

      Unfortunately, the Tyl app-suite and other products do not match the capability or range of those from nearest rivals, although business customers who already bank with NatWest may enjoy the synergy of keeping all their digital sales eggs in one basket.

      Tyl by NatWest at a glance:

      TYL by NATWEST – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: Clover Flex – £14.99 + VAT per month (wi-fi only), £16.99 + VAT per month (4G and wi-fi) rental. 4G costs charged up to £9.99 per month depending on usage, or:                                                                    PAX A50 pocket reader – £6.99 + VAT per month rental, £75.00 + VAT purchase
      Plans
      Card turnover up to £50k yearCard turnover more than £50k year
      CostNo separate plan chargeNo separate plan charge
      Contract
      • Cancel anytime
      • No setup fee
      • No monthly min. charge
      • No early termination fee 
      Transaction fees: Flat 1.5% transaction fee for under £50k turnover (except Amex).                                                Custom transaction fees, authorisation fees and PCI compliance fee for more than £50k turnover
      Payouts: Next business day in your bank account – free
      Works with: Visa. Mastercard. Amex. Discover. Contactless. Apple Pay. Google Pay. Samsung Pay.

      Pros

      • Choice of readers
      • Simple plan for smaller SMEs
      • Support of global bank

      Cons

      • Larger SMEs need to negotiate fees from five rate cards
      • Doesn’t take all credit cards
      • Charges more for Amex transactions

      Who is best for?

      • Businesses with regular card payments
      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)
      • Existing NatWest business customers

      Square

      Square joins Zettle (and SumUp) in the ‘keep it simple’ card machine category. They provide two types of machine, both for purchase only, and charge a flat transaction fee with no other fees to pay, and no locked-in, fixed term contract. The Square Reader is the smallest, most lightweight card machine from the options on our list, but it needs a Bluetooth connection to the free Point of Sale app on your phone or tablet to take payments.

      The Reader’s bigger sibling, the Square Terminal, connects directly with a Wi-Fi network and has a touchscreen with Square Point of Sale features built in – making it an ideal portable checkout on your premises. One unique point in favour of Square is its speed to put money in your bank account. If you can wait 1 to 2 business days, it’s free, but if you really need the money now, you can have the cash in your account instantly for an extra 1% fee.

      Square at a glance:

      SQUARE – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: Square reader – £19 + VAT (connects to phone or app) or:                                                                   Square terminal – £149 + VAT (standalone wi-fi terminal) purchase
      Plan
      Square
      CostNo separate plan charge
      Contract
      • No contract lock-in
      • No setup fee
      • No monthly min. charge
      • No early termination fee
      Transaction fees: 1.75% per transaction, no other fees
      Payouts: 1 to 2 days in your bank account for free, or instantly for 1% fee
      Works with: Visa. V Pay. Mastercard. Maestro. Amex. Contactless. Apple Pay. Google Pay. Samsung Pay.

      Pros

      • Smallest reader, excellent POS app
      • No contract, no monthly fees
      • Wide choice of payment tools and integrations
      • Instant deposit option available for a 1% fee

      Cons

      • Limited customer support (Mon to Friday only)
      • Doesn’t accept as many cards as some competitors

      Who is best for?

      • Businesses with less than £1,500 per month card sales
      • New and small businesses
      • Mobile professionals (plumbers, electricians, stylists, etc)
      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)

      SumUp 

      The third of our simple, no fuss contenders is SumUp. Offering three types of machine, all of which must be purchased, they follow the same model as Zettle and Square buy the card machine, pay a flat 1.69% transaction fee, then pay nothing else at all. The SumUp Air is a simple card reader that connects to a phone or tablet to take payments.

      Moving up the range, there is the SumUp Solo, a standalone terminal that connects via Wi-Fi or 4G, or at the top of the tree, you can choose the SumUp Solo Plus that offers a printer. At £139 plus VAT, the Solo Plus is the cheapest card machine with a receipt printer in the UK, and even though it doesn’t have a product library or too many bells and whistles, it’s a highly effective option for many types of small business.

      SumUp at a glance:

      SUMUP – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: SumUp Air reader – £39 + VAT (connects to phone or app) purchase, or:

      SumUp Solo – £79 + VAT (standalone wi-fi and 4G terminal) purchase, or:                                                        

      SumUp Solo Plus – £139 + VAT (standalone wi-fi and 4G terminal with printer) purchase

      Plan
      SumUp
      CostNo separate plan charge
      Contract
      • No contract lock-in
      • No setup fee
      • No monthly min. charge
      • No early termination fee
      Transaction fees: 1.69% per transaction, no other fees
      Payouts: Next day in your SumUp Business Account, or 1 to 2 days in your bank account for free
      Works with: Visa. V Pay. Mastercard. Maestro. Amex. Discover. Diners Club. Contactless. Apple Pay. Union Pay. Google Pay. Samsung Pay.

      Pros

      • Biggest choice of card machines
      • Comes with SumUp business account and card
      • Free multi-channel payment tools

      Cons

      • Slow shipping and support
      • Comes with few integrations

      Who is best for?

      • Businesses with less than £1,500 per month card sales
      • New and small businesses
      • Businesses with occasional card payments
      • Mobile professionals (plumbers, electricians, stylists, etc)
      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)

      Dojo

      Dojo is recent member of the card machine club, provided by fintech Paymentsense, a payment solutions provider with more than 70,000 business customers in the UK. Dojo comes with the PAX A920 reader and a single plan that offers different terms and transaction fees depending on your card sales turnover. Plans are 6 months for businesses with less than £150,000 turnover, and month to month for SMEs with card turnover above this sum.

      Transaction fees vary depending on the brand and type of card accepted. Consumer debit and credit cards from Visa, Mastercard and Maestro cost 1.4% + 5p per transaction. Business, premium and corporate cards cost 1.8% + 5p per transaction. Amex has their own (typically higher) fees that are customised to match your business. Above an annual card turnover of £150k, Dojo customises your rates which may reduce to 0.3% to 2%, plus a fixed authorisation fee.

      One thing Dojo has that no other card machine provider can supply is an offer to pay up to £3,000 of the cost for clients to exit their current card machine contract and choose Dojo Go. That may be enough for some UK business owners to choose this provider.

      Dojo at a glance:

      DOJO – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: PAX A920 mobile touchscreen – £15 – £20 per month rental
      Plan
      Dojo Go
      CostNo separate plan charge
      Contract
      • Monthly or 6 months
      • No setup fee
      • Monthly min. charge £24.95
      • Early termination fee applies
      Transaction fees: 1.4%-1.8% + 5p or custom. 50p refund fee. £28 + VAT per chargeback.
      Payouts: Next day in your bank account – free
      Works with: Visa. Mastercard. Maestro. Amex. Discover. Diners Club. Contactless. Apple Pay. Google Pay. Samsung Pay.

      Pros

      • Next-day payouts include bank holidays and weekends
      • Dojo can buy out your existing card machine contract up to £3,000

      Cons

      • Quote and monthly fees mandatory
      • 6 months contract if annual card turnover less than £150,000 
      • Lower (customised) fees require annual card turnover of more than £150,000

      Who is best for?

      • Businesses with less than £1,500 per month card sales
      • New and small businesses
      • Mobile professionals (plumbers, electricians, stylists, etc)
      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)

      Smartpay Anywhere from Barclays Bank

      Barclays Bank offers their Smartpay Anywhere mobile reader for small businesses with low card sales turnover. The simple device is a basic card reader that comes with one of the lowest transaction fee rates on the UK market and no fixed contract. However, the technology lacks many of the newest features, only linking to the Smartpay app on your phone or tablet by Wi-Fi or 4G.

      The app does not connect with receipt printers, cash drawers, barcode scanners or any other hardware. Customers wanting these kind of integrations must choose other Smartpay devices that come with fixed contract plans and variable transaction costs.

      Smartpay Anywhere at a glance:

      SMARTPAY ANYWHERE – technology, plans, pricing, etc.
      Machine: Anywhere terminal – £29 + VAT per month rental
      Plan
      Smartpay Anywhere
      CostNo separate plan charge
      ContractNo contract lock-in
      No setup fee
      No monthly min. charge
      No early termination fee applies
      Transaction fees: 1.6%, or 2.5% card not present fee, or customised plans available
      Payouts: Next day in your bank account – free
      Works with: Visa. V Pay. Mastercard. Maestro. Amex. JCB. Contactless. Apple Pay. Google Pay. 

      Pros

      • Simple plan for all types of SME
      • Pay as you go flexibility
      • Support of a global bank, with 24/7 live customer service

      Cons

      • Doesn’t take as many cards as some competitors
      • Reader only suitable for basic use – for more features, SMEs must upgrade to other machine options and a 12 or 18 months contract
      • Ageing technology  in need of an upgrade

      Who is best for?

      • Businesses with low monthly card sales
      • New and small businesses
      • Mobile professionals (plumbers, electricians, stylists, etc)
      • Retail (small boutiques, market traders)
      • Hospitality (independent restaurants, B&Bs, food trucks, etc)
      • Existing Barclays Bank business customers

      How to get the best business card machine

      To get the best business card machine, you first need to open a new account with a card machine provider or switch the card machine provider you currently have. Both options can be difficult and time-consuming. The paperwork you need and the application forms and processes you must complete will vary from one provider to another.

      Without expert guidance, SMEs could find themselves forever searching for a card machine provider that suits their individual needs. Instead, working with a broker, who can compare card accounts and card machines from a wide range of providers is a better way to go. No more cold calls and demands for information, just tell us what you need and leave the rest to us. 

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      Written by

      Chris Godfrey

      Chris is a freelance copywriter and content creator. He has been active in the marketing, advertising, and publishing industries for more than twenty-five years. Writing for Barclays Bank, Metro Bank, Wells Fargo, ABN Amro, Quidco, insurers and pension funds, his words have appeared online and in print to inform, entertain and explain the complex world of consumer and business finance.

      To read our editorial policy, please click here.

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