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Merchant services: Mobile credit card machines: choosing the right technology, at the right price
With mobile credit card machines, anything can be sold literally anywhere. With the hardware getting smaller and smaller, the software more and more reliable, the battery life longer and longer and the network connections faster and faster, accepting payments away from the shop is easier than ever.
Additionally, a very interesting development is unfolding with the rise of point of sale mobile phone applications. As credit card machines are no longer necessarily tied with traditional point of sale systems and software, the card payment business is changing, with much lower prices in the UK for mobile credit card machines.
In this changing landscape, what is the best credit card machine for mobile business in the UK?
Far from being a hardware-only matter, this question concerns a subtle bundle of technology, hardware and software, financial services and of course pricing.
Accepting card payments on the go with mobile credit card machines
Mobile credit card – and debit card – machines are now a common sighting even far away from shops. As different types of mobile terminals are entering the market, the list of benefits linked with these machines keeps expanding.
How mobile credit card payment machines work
Typical mobile debit and credit card payment machines or PDQ machines look exactly the same as standalone wireless card payment terminals.
One single PDQ machine brings together:
- A card reader to read card information,
- A display to read instructions,
- A keypad to enter transaction information and PIN,
- A receipt printer,
- An included battery pack,
- And lots of electronics inside, including a cellular modem.
But contrary to wireless or portable machines, which either use Bluetooth or Wifi signals to connect to their base and are therefore limited to a 30 to 100-metre range, mobile credit card machines use cellular networks to carry data. They can therefore be used anywhere a 3G or 4G signal can be reached. Payment gateway and electronic Point of Sale systems (ePoS) are then accessed through the mobile phone signal to authorize payment and upload transaction information.
A new type of mobile machines allowing credit card payment or debit card payment has appeared however, which can be either a standalone device including keypad, display and reader, or just a reader.
These new machines both look different, and work differently:
- The main difference with traditional mobile PDQ terminals is that these machines work with mobile phones or tablets. The tablet or mobile phone and credit card machine connect via Bluetooth or via physical connection. The credit card terminal uses the modem of this phone or tablet to access cellular networks, rather than relying on an internal, dedicated modem.
- Similarly, these devices may use the phone itself as a display and/or keypad: they’re just card readers.
- All this made possible because the whole system relies on a mobile application to work and use the phone as an Electronic Point of Sale system, rather than connecting to a traditional ePoS or till using traditional software.
Key features and benefits of mobile credit card machines
Mobile credit card machines bring together many benefits:
- They can be used anywhere, even abroad,
- Battery life is now more than sufficient on all models for normal on-the-road,
- Some can even be charged with in-car chargers,
- They are PCI-approved, which vouches for the security of payments,
- They’re super easy to set up,
- Payment methods like chip-and-pin, swipe payment, contactless payment are now accepted by almost all machines,
- Some machines even also accept Android Pay or Apple Pay,
- They can accept about any type of credit or payment card (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, JCB, China Union Pay...)
All these machines can be purchased straight away, but they are way more often than not provided as part of a merchant plan, together with a merchant account and access to a payment gateway.
The best mobile credit card machine for small businesses – and how much they cost
With such a number of different providers and different types of devices, it’s essential to remember a few tips to properly choose the device which will match specific business needs best. These tips fall into four broad categories: picking the right financial services, understanding fees, selecting the right provider and selecting the right type of machine.
Top 5 best mobile credit card processing machines in the UK right now
In the UK, mobile credit card machines for small businesses are either provided by high-street banks or by specialized mobile and online payment services providers.
As far as small businesses and SMEs are concerned, the latter seem to have taken the edge with interesting, hassle-free and non-binding plans with modern hardware sold much cheaper than traditional bank packages.
The top 5 mobile credit card payment machines in the UK right now therefore seem to be all new players in the game:
- iZettle, which machines accept about any type of card and payment method, even Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, process data extremely fast, can be used for e-commerce and cardholder-not-present transactions, and come with many extra pieces of specific, compatible Point-of-Sale hardware available,
- Square, which accepts chip-and-PIN, swipe payments, Visa, Mastercard, Amex and online payments, and has interesting software add-ons like employee-performance monitoring software,
- SumUp, which is even simpler to use and budget than iZettle, but has a little fewer add-ons,
- PayPal Here, which boasts a very responsive UK-based customer hotline, and of course, complete integration with PayPal services online,
- WorldPay Reader, brought by a traditional credit card processing services provider and PDQ machines manufacturer – which is very straightforward to use but does not accept contactless payments.
Even if this top 5 list only has new players (and one non high-street, specialized financial services provider), the market is changing faster than ever before. Traditional banks such as Barclays, which started selling “light”, cheap mobile credit card machines very similar to those offered by the new players, are starting to catch up quickly.
Top 5 mobile card machine prices
Choosing the best mobile credit card machine of course is also a matter of budget.
Indeed, because these machines need to be connected with a package of financial services in order to work, there are a lot of different fees related to card machines:
- Setup fees,
- Monthly fees,
- Sometimes a monthly minimum service fee,
- Transaction fees, which can be percentage-based, flat, or both at the same time,
- Special transaction fees for online or phone payment processing,
- Sometimes also chargeback fees...
Here’s what the fee breakdown looks like for our top 5 mobile PDQ machines:
Minimum Monthly Service Fee
If contract selected
£20 (on premium plan)
If contract selected
Flat transaction fee
Percentage transaction fee
PDQ terminal (buy or rent)
Buy - £59 (£29 if discounted)
Buy - £29
Buy - £59
Buy - £54
Rent - £4.99/mo (contract)
Buy - £69 (pay-as-you-go)
Online transaction fees
2.5% + £0.25
With £20/mo plan
2.75% + £0.20
2.5% + £0.25
3.4% + £0.20
2.75% + £0.20
One last piece of advice is to compare as many quotes in mobile credit card machines as possible to choose the right one for your business!
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