As customers, we don’t usually think about what actually happens right after we swipe our credit or debit card (unless we’re waiting for an ‘Approved’ screen).
But, for business owners, payment card processing is more deeply vital, it can seriously impact net profits.
There’s a lot to consider if you’re a beginner to credit card processing for small businesses (SMBs) – what elements are crucial and which can you overlook?
In this guide, we’ll review best card machines for SMBs – then explore key aspects further.
- 💳 SumUp 3G card reader review - Ideal for Fees
- 💳 Square card reader review - Perfect for High-Growth Startups
- 💳 Takepayments A920 review - Best for User Support
- 💳 Zettle by PayPal review - Top POS Features
- 💳 WorldPay card reader review - Highest Security
- 💳 Barclay’s Anywhere card reader review – Best No Contract Card Machine
- 💳 Shopify WisePad 3 card reader review – Best Crypto Card Reader
- 💳 MyPOS card reader review – Best Card Reader for Niche Cards
- 💳 Clover Flex card reader review – Best High Mobility Reader
- 💳 Dojo card reader review – Best Free Standing Reader
- Credit Card Terminals: Explained
- Differences Between Card Machines, Mobile Gateways, and Virtual Terminals
- Your Processor is the Most Important Overall Factor
- How Do Card Machines Work
- What Are Mobile Credit Card Readers
Best Card Machines for UK Small Businesses
|BEST CARD MACHINES FOR SMBs UK||CARD-PRESENT FEES||CARD-NOT-PRESENT FEES||DEVICE PRICE|
|1. SumUp 3G Card Reader||1.69%||2.5%||£99.99|
|2. Square Card Reader||1.75%||2.5%||£19|
|3. Takepayments A920||0.3%||2.5%||£10 per month + VAT|
|4. Zettle by PayPal||1.75%||1.75%||£19 + VAT|
|5. WorldPay Card Reader||1% or *According to sales volume||2.75% or *According to sales volume||£19 or *£4.99 per month (Simplicity Plan)|
|6. Barclay’s Anywhere Card Reader||1.6%||1.6%||£29 + VAT|
|7. Shopify WisePad 3 Card Reader||1.7% + 0p||2% + 25p||£49 + VAT + £24 per month (Basic Plan)|
|8. MyPOS Card Reader||1.1% + 7p||1.3% + 15p||From £15|
|9. Clover Flex Card Reader||0.3% + 1p||1.5% + 1p||£15 + VAT per month|
|10. Dojo Card Reader||1.3% + 3p||1.8% + 3p||£20 per month|
1. SumUp 3G Card Reader Review – Best for Lowest Transactional Fees
The Hot Take:
- SIM-ready (ie. doesn’t need mobile phone apps/connections)
- Create online shops using SumUp’s app
- View solid metrics using its business growth focused platform
- 0 contracts (cancel whenever, only pay for sales)
In business, managing the bottom-line is at least, and maybe more, important than making a profit.
So in first place is SumUp 3G – one of the best card machines for fees – seeing as it has around the lowest transaction fees that you will find in the UK (only 1.69%). What’s more, you’ll know exactly what your expenses are for each purchase, as it has a fixed and clean pricing system.
Which means the SumUp 3G card reader is ideal for value – a perfect card reader for newbies as well as seasoned business owners seeking to simplify and minimise costs. Whether you’re seeking flexibility in-store, or operating a mobile food stall, SumUp Air has battery lungs to last.
No wonder it’s a popular card machine for start-up businesses. SumUp doesn’t slack with customer support; another critical factor when choosing a card reader, and the app is straightforward with all of the fat trimmed.
On that note, there isn’t much fancy gloss and super customisable features – you get what you pay for: a business fit card reader and a no-nonsense app, with all you need to begin scaling your business.
⭐ Overall top small business card machine for:
- Small-scale retail, eg. small shops, market stalls
- Counter order cafes and mobile food stalls
2. Square Card Reader Review – Perfect for Freshly-Booming Startups
- Clean design
- On-glass chip and pin payment
- Compatible with comprehensive and innovative POS hardware
- Live and online transactions all from one-point-of-control
Square's card reader focuses on small businesses who are budget conscious but still demand all the bells and whistles – such as the ability to integrate its additional POS systems to handle CRMs and food delivery apps.
While the card reader has industry-leading features, it should be said that the device lets customers In their PIN codes on the screen of your tablet or phone, rather than pushing buttons on a keypad. This may be a little bit beyond the pale from traditional transaction expectations for your business, however Square employs tight security best practices.
Straightforward and beautifully designed, Square’s card reader does things the bold and innovative way, and the company itself seems to be favouring fresh approaches to payments – largely, customers will overlook the fact that you are using a terminal mobile phone or tablet, or even that it is touchscreen, as long as the terminal display looks professional.
All-in-all, you get a payment hub that does everything, from printing receipts to managing inventories.
⭐ Overall best small business card reader for:
- Countertop hospitality and mobile stalls
- Restaurants and cafes with brick and mortar table service (Square for Hospitality app)
3. Takepayments A920 Review – Superb Customer Support
The Hot Take:
- Year-long contract
- No setup costs
- Terminal serves six staff members with touchscreen display
- Next-day contract settlement
Most of the leading card machines for the UK start from 18 month-long contracts, however Takepayments gives you a professional-grade way to compete at this level, but with a slightly shorter time commitment of one year.
In third-place for our guide, the touchscreen A920 handheld terminal offers a ‘multipay’ POS system that allows up to 6 staff members to use it, which is perfect if you need a mobile money tender (perfect for hospitality services). A cool sfeature available to your business is evenly distributing gratuities, so that tips received each day are spread about evenly across every user.
As for fees, these pack the most value if the bulk of your orders are moderately high. These can climb to as much as 2.5% per transaction according to things like the total bill size, type of card allowed and your revenue. But there are no monthly costs or setup fees, although you will need to pay for the remainder of any contract that is terminated early if two month’s warning isn’t given.
Sophisticated analytics, ranging from live reporting to deep sales insights, come built-in with the A920, which excels at tracking staff performance and turnover according to time horizon, as well as helping to pinpoint consumer habits.
⭐ Overall ideal small business card reader for:
- Fresh bigger businesses seeking shorter contracts
- Hospitality businesses with relatively high earnings per transaction
4. Zettle by PayPal Review – Best for Payment Features
- Works across huge range of payment providers, such as Diners Card and Amex
- App works with invoices and payment links
- Contract commitment-free (fees only come into play per-transaction)
- Select Zettle for tending your payments to gain one portal to store all online and live sales
The line between business and new venture is growing tinier by-the-minute. For this reason, Zettle has been advertised on tube trains and bus stops, as a way for anybody to instantaneously transform their idea into a proven business.
So long as you have a smartphone, Zettle by PayPal card reader can become your instantaneous payment gateway. This could be a guitarist playing for audiences in Leicester Square. Or a new delivery driving get-up looking for an instant way to take payments.
The card machine synchronises with tablets or smartphones, in order to take card payments while on the move. And customers who need a receipt can simply give you their email address.
But, the Zettle card reader also works with the full range of third-party infrastructure needed for transactions. So for fully-operational businesses – working in brick-and-mortar – use this card reader with cash drawers, receipt machines, and barcode scanners, to form a full-formed POS setup.
Nonetheless, the Zettle by PayPal card reader is primarily designed for no-nonsense taking of payments. In a similar fashion, its customer service is limited. If you need to talk to an agent, they’re only available during the work week and work hours.
As for fees, these are among the lowest. Overall, Zettle by PayPal is a fantastic alternative to standard payment machines.
⭐ Overall best small business card reader for:
- Mobile, new, or smaller businesses
- Hospitality counter services, full offering restaurants and cafes (use Zettle by PayPal hospitality), mobile food stalls
5. WorldPay Card Reader Review – Best for Security
- Selection of card readers and tiers for your business
- Good fees
- Strong security
- Good reporting software
Among the top-performing small business card machines for the UK, Worldpay is pick-of-the-litter for businesses looking for more choices for transaction charges, contract lengths, tailored to monthly turnover figures, as well as different card readers.
To make sure you get the best value for transaction fees, choose their Worldpay Simplicity plan, which lasts a year-and-a-half and cut your transaction fees from to 1.5% from 2.5% – which even undercuts the number-one card reader for lower fees on this guide: SumUp.
Worldpay is also recommended for businesses who want utmost security, and you will be covered by enterprise-grade cyber-security that meets full-scale PCI compliance (processing security standards for card payment gateways). In addition, support is available any time of the day and week for your business.
The solution fixes your problems regardless of if you need an on-the-go POS system, or a fixed countertop terminal, Worldpay gives you sophisticated choices for your small businesses.
⭐ Perfect small business card reader for:
- All kinds of SMBs
6. Barclay’s Anywhere Card Reader – Best No Contract Card Machine
- Ready for SIM cards the moment you set it up
- Works with online shopping
- No contract
Card machines require contracts for similar reasons that phones require contracts: You are using a device that can connect to the 5G network from anywhere. This takes a sort of “rent” that you have to pay consistently. This is a common method of keeping card readers regulated.
But not every card reader has these contracts. Barclay’s Anywhere card reader does away with them. It is easy to set up and use, has low transaction fees, and very clear-cut pricing. So, what does it lack?
We mentioned card readers requiring contracts to connect to 5G. Well, Barclay’s can avoid that because it connects to WiFi instead. This is part of what makes using it so easy. Connecting to WiFi instead of 5G means that its security can be lighter, as it is less vulnerable to remote hacking.
Altogether, this gives Barclay some interesting trade-offs. It is not good for a business operating out on the street or from a food truck. But anywhere with even the most basic storefront should be fine. Some business owners do not feel the need to get WiFi at all though. This can’t be for them by necessity.
7. Shopify WisePad 3 Card Reader – Best Crypto Card Reader
- Integrates with an app for management
- Accepts Google pay, Apple pay, and cryptocurrency
- Only works for Shopify users
If you go to your average grocery store, the card readers they use there will be far less advanced than the ones you find on this list. The reason for that is that the card reader industry exploded when smart phones and other highly miniaturized technologies started revolutionizing transaction payments.
Not longer were we bound to just writing checks and swiping cards. Suddenly your phone or a keychain could act as a credit card. And not long after that, cryptocurrency came around and changed things again. Keeping up with this is hard—which is why Shopify has a card reader that keeps up for you.
Shopify’s WisePad 3 is a card reader that accepts basically every kind of payment on the market. From the most common payment apps to the most obscure cryptocurrencies, Shopify knows how to process it and make it easy. The buyer does have to be a Shopify customer, however.
This limits the use of this card reader to mostly online stores. There are ways of using it that do not require your customer to have a Shopify account, but they are all a little complicated and require additional fees.
8. MyPOS Card Reader – Best Card Reader for Niche Cards
- Takes all kinds of payment cards
- No contract required
- Easy to use
In user experience design, many devices employ aspects of older machines that are obsolete purely to be more recognizable. A paint brush, for instance, is not the most efficient way to apply colour to a digital canvas. It is, however, the method that humans understand the best.
Similarly, many people turn to MyPOS because while it might not be the most advanced card reader, it is familiar to them in many ways. This means that it does not have that many prompts and uses an interface similar to card readers you would find in a storefront in the late 2000s or early 2010s.
It also comes with the ability to read some pretty obscure cards. Most card readers are only going to accept your Visas and Discover cards. But those are far from the only cards out there. Many businesses have their own cards that are mainly used to transfer money between storefronts of that business.
MyPOS actually takes those as normal cards, which almost no other card reader can do. But with all of these options, especially dealing in business expense cards, the fees are quite a bit steeper than others.
9. Clover Flex Card Reader – Best High Mobility Reader
- POS system for efficient management
- Wireless and boasts a good battery life
- Fast settlement of payments
When you get a card reader, you should be picking something to prioritize and be aware that you will sacrifice something else to get there. That means if you pick mobility, it comes at the cost of transaction fees. If you pick low transaction fees, it will probably mean slower settling of payments.
Clover Flex gives you lots of mobility by being wireless and long-lasting, and settlements of payments within the day they are made. The drawback is much higher than average transaction fees.
This makes the device great for street vendors, where high prices are expected, and mobility is necessary. But it is much less attractive to normal storefronts.
10. Dojo Card Reader – Best Free Standing Reader
- Easy to place and secure
- Fast processing speeds
- Highly secure
Part of the reason why card readers have become such a diverse industry is because they can fill so many uses. Most of what we have talked about so far has been card readers used in store fronts or handled directly between buyer and seller. But what if your needs are more remote?
Dojo’s card reader is a free-standing card reader. It is easy to set up, highly secure, and incredibly fast. This means that it is easy for you to implement, hard for hackers to compromise, and provides a great user experience. You do have to enter into a contract to use it, however.
Best Card Machines for Small Businesses 📚 - Buying Guide
This section is good for beginners who are still learning how card readers work. It should also help you to discern between the top card machines for small businesses available to use:
Credit Card Terminals: Explained
Before we jump into the ins and outs of choosing a card machine for your business, you may be wondering how card terminals work. So let’s do a refresher on some of the common jargon used to describe their day-to-day operations.
Let’s begin with authorising credit and debit card transactions. Well actually occurs during the process of your customer's card being read? In essence, three stages happen in the card reader:
- Authorisation: The card reader is transferring identifying card data across to the payment processor, such as MasterCard or Visa. Their network receives the processing request which they send on to the card’s issues, ie. the bank, who verifies if the customer’s account funds are large enough to pay. If so, an approval message is returned to the merchant’s terminal. This all happens in seconds (if you’re lucky).
- Submission: Before actual payment takes place with the merchant and customer, who has to submit the now-authorised transaction. This may be immediate or held in a queue for next-day settlement or over the weekend. In network terms, the submission order is first sent to the processor, who then forwards it to the relevant card network. That network then sends a submission to the relevant bank, who pays the requested amount.
- Settlement: Actual settlement or payout from the relevant bank occurs by standard money transfer (bank-to-bank) until funds hit the merchant’s specific bank account. During this process, the core network, processor, and bank(s) take a certain commission.
Differences Between Card Machines, mPOS, and Virtual Terminals
You should be aware that using a credit card machine isn’t always necessary. Today, a few methods exist for taking card payments without using a machine. Let’s overview these.
Mobile Apps for Processing
Credit card “machines” means specific hardware with multiple capabilities. These devices can read card data, and encrypt it before sending it to your card processor.
But you can also opt for hardware that does only one thing: reading payment card data, doing encryption if desired, and beaming it across to a physically close, more sophisticated hardware device (ie. your phone) that is capable of broadcasting to the processor.
The skeletal physical devices are known as “credit card readers.” Some can be connected to your smartphone’s headphone jack and others work using Bluetooth (eg. Zettle). The hardware itself works with software known as “mobile processing apps,” or sometimes “mobile point-of-sale apps” (“mPOS” for short).
These are basically watered-down versions of card machine software and are pretty comprehensive despite usually being free: take payments, track staff performance, staff hours, inventories, see reports. You can also input card details into the app directly, without using a machine.
The specific feature in mPOS apps (traditional card machine software also offers this) that lets you input card payment data without using any extra hardware has a specific name in this industry: a virtual terminal.
Virtual terminals can also work on laptops, via browser. Other than swiping or touching the chip and pin, data is manually entered by hand (keep in mind that the transaction fees are usually higher because “card-not-present” transactions require heavier security audits, due to greater fraud rates.)
Nonetheless, virtual terminals best-fit online businesses who take payments over phone (such as food delivery companies). Some of these terminals let you custom-design your payment browser so your consumers can manually enter credit details themselves to confirm an order.
A few virtual terminals let you connect to a card reader (using Bluetooth, headphone jack, Wi-Fi, or USB). Which is a good combination if you want the benefits of lower transaction fees that are naturally present with “card-present” transactions.
Your Processor is the Most Important Overall Factor
Surprise surprise – after all of this hard work absorbing new credit card machine terminologies, it might seem unbelievable that the credit card machine itself doesn’t matter all that much. But this is the case. Each machine is mostly just a piece of hardware.
Some are more beautifully designed, let you touch the screen rather than using buttons, or have deeper integration with POS systems than others. But when you boil it down, they all are hyper- specialised at one task: taking data from EMV smart payment cards and forwarding it to your processor so your business can get turnover.
Truth is, only a few different manufacturers exist who even make credit card machines. These manufacturers may sometimes create beautiful custom labels for certain credit card brands (such as Square’s unique touchscreen design), most of the time you get capabilities that are similar to competitors.
In terms of security and software, once again, every legal card machine has to comply with security standards for the payments industry, with programming that is pretty fixed in nature. In fact, most card machines can be custom programmed to speak with the different processors.
Which is why small businesses should pay more attention to variances in processor costs, contract conditions, and level of customer care than with specific card reader manufacturers. Oftentimes, the same hardware is used, but at different costs.
Some of the best card machine processes even connect your pre-existing machine when you register to them. For a small additional charge sometimes for free, they reprogram your device to integrate with their software.
The following may be your best options, according to your circumstances:
- ☑️ If you have a pre-existing POS/card machine system, make a request to your hardware manufacturer for a list of processing software that it is compatible with. Which means you can simply reuse the device.
- ☑️ If deep integration is your focus (such as Clover), keep an eye on offers. A good deal of processors offer Clover, but there is wide variance in contract conditions and fees. Although many merchants still lease their card machines, particularly with Clover, we strongly advise against this.
- ☑️ If the specific hardware is not that much of a concern, focus on a great payment processor. They should give you a good overview of solutions to your specific business situation.
How Do Card Machines Work?
- Type in a payment amount
- The customer swipes or touches their card
- The machine reads the card’s chip
- It sends an authorisation request
- Networks run through verifications
- The payment is approved
For a more detailed overview of the steps, head to the Credit Card Terminals: Explained.
What Are Mobile Credit Card Readers?
Is it possible to use your phone as a card reader? Can you use my phone as a POS?
Absolutely. Mobile credit/debit card readers are devices you can connect to your smartphone, physically, to let your phone become a card reader. They read Chip and PIN data when your customer swipes, uses contactless, or chip payments on the device.
Whereas virtual payment systems need no device – and only your phone.