A credit card machine, otherwise known as a PDQ (Process Data Quickly) machine or credit card terminal, allows businesses to accept card payments electronically.
The cost of not accepting card payments can be crippling. Credit and debit cards have overtaken cash as the UK’s favourite way to pay, and all signs point to the onset of a completely cashless society. If your business isn’t accepting card, you’re missing out.
But what kind of PDQ machine should you get? With plenty on the market, how do you pick the right one for your business?
Well, that’s where we can help.
This page contains all the information you need to find the best credit card machine for your small business. What are the different types available? How much do they cost, and – most importantly – how can they benefit your business? Let’s take a look.
What’s on this page?
What’s the best credit card machine for small businesses?
We get it – it’s difficult to choose the right PDQ machine for your business when they all seem to promise the same benefits.
It can all get a bit confusing.
So to make your life easier, we’ve picked out the best mobile, countertop and portable card machines on the market.
Whether you’re looking for a countertop, wireless or mobile card machine, we’ve got you covered. Read on for our reviews of the iZettle card reader, Ingenico iCT220, Ingenico’s iWL series, Sumup Air, PayPal Here, and Worldpay Zinc – or jump straight to a supplier by clicking the list below.
The best card machines for small businesses:
Best mobile card machine
iZettle card reader
Best countertop card machine
- Multi-merchant capability (ideal for multiple self-employed workers sharing one payment terminal)
- Accept smartphone payments
- Swipe function
- Ethernet connection available
- Backlit keypad
- Large buttons
- Built-in receipt printer
- PCI and EMV compliant
Best of the rest
Here are three contenders that didn’t quite make our list, but still deserve a full review:
- Accept all major debit and credit cards
- Accept smartphone payments
- No fixed monthly costs
- Short-term contract
- Low upfront costs -the reader itself costs just £29
- PCI compliant
- PCI and EMV compliant
- Compact, intelligent, and easy to use
- Crisp display to drive increased brand power
- Telium 2 technology for fast, secure transactions
- Accepts all kinds of payment options
- Built-in printer churns out 18 lines a second
- Accepts all payment types
- Optional rechargeable backup battery for mobility
- PCI and EMV compliant
- Smooth, visually appealing interface
- Powerful microprocessor enables speedy payments
- Integrates with a wide range of apps
- Quick payment processing speed
- Optional base stations offer flexibility
- Long-lasting battery
- Durable and reliable
What is a PDQ machine and how does it work?
How can you accept card payments for your small business
You can’t just grab a device and start taking payments – there’s more to it than that. To start accepting card payments for your small business you’ll need an EPOS system and a merchant account, too. And to take payments online and over the phone, you’ll also need a payment gateway and a virtual terminal.
To accept card payments for your small business you’ll need a combination of the following:
- EPOS system
- Merchant account
- Payment gateway
- Virtual terminal
- Card reader/PDQ machine
1. EPOS system
First up, if you serve customers face-to-face, you will need an Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system to pair with the credit card reader. This is essentially the till: a cash drawer, user interface and usually a receipt printer.
2. Merchant account
Next, you’ll need a merchant account with a merchant bank.
A merchant account is a type of credit account that allows your business to accept credit and debit card payments. It’s where the money sits while the bank checks that the customer has the sufficient funds to make payment. It also serves as protection against fraud.
PDQ machines are most commonly leased as part of a merchant account agreement. A merchant account can be setup with a dedicated merchant bank, such as Worldpay, or by special arrangement with a PSP (payment service provider) or ISO (Independent Sales Organisation).
Our guide to the best merchant account providers in the UK is essential reading for those looking to start accepting credit card payments.
▶ Read more: Compare UK Merchant Account Providers
3. Online payment gateway
To take card payments online you’ll need what is known as a ‘payment gateway’.
Integrated with the shopping card your website, a payment gateway is a secure piece of software that encrypts the customer’s card details and transmits them to the merchant bank.
▶ Read more: Best payment gateway providers in the UK
4. Virtual terminal
And businesses that need to accept credit card payments over the phone or by email will require a ‘virtual terminal’.
Like a payment gateway, a virtual terminal secures sensitive payment details while the bank authorises the transaction. Unlike a payment gateway, card details are entered into the system by the merchant, rather than the customer. This type of transactions is known as a MOTO transaction (Mail Order / Telephone Order).
▶ Read more: Best virtual terminals for UK businesses
5. PDQ machine
Once you’ve got all that sorted, then you can go about choosing a card reader or PDQ machine for your business.
The best PDQ machine for your business will vary depending on your specific requirements as a merchant. What works for a static brick-and-mortar business such as a coffee shop, probably won’t suit a food vendor who trades in a different location each week.
PDQ machine costs vary, so it’s important to choose the type that’s best suited to the unique needs of your business. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of devices available in the UK.
▶ Read more: How to take credit card payments in 4 simple steps
Mobile card machines
Mobile credit card machines allow you to accept card payments anywhere with mobile network coverage. They offer users ultimate flexibility, and have opened the door to a whole host of remote businesses for which a card reader was previously out of the question.
Remember when you used to have to ask the cab driver to stop at a cashpoint before dropping you off? Those days are over because of mobile card machines.
Most work via a pre-installed SIM card that connects your machine to a mobile network. Recently, though, more modern mobile card readers (like the iZettle card reader) have done away with the need for a SIM and instead connect to your phone via an app.
The benefits of a mobile card reader are:
✔ Portability — great for merchants such as food vendors and market traders
✔ Minimum hardware required — with some models, all you need is the card reader and a smartphone or tablet to connect it to
✔ No long-term contract — most mobile card reader providers offer short-term contracts tailored specifically for UK small businesses
Perfect for UK businesses such as: food truck vendors, cab drivers, pop-up shops.
Wireless/portable card machines
A portable card machine allows merchants the flexibility to move around and take payments without relying on mobile network coverage. They’re the perfect choice for a restaurant or bar setting where the point-of-sale is often at the customer’s table.
Wireless terminals usually connect via WiFi, but if you don’t have an internet connection they can be hooked up to a traditional landline too. Most will operate for around eight hours before needing to be recharged and work at a range of up to 200 ft.
Benefits of a portable card machine include:
✔ Improve customer service — bring the card terminal to your customer. Ideal for hospitality businesses
✔ Flexible with a stable connection — not reliant on mobile network coverage for connection
✔ Choice of Wifi or Bluetooth connectivity — connect to the network via the internet or a traditional phoneline
Perfect for UK small businesses such as: cafes, restaurants, bars.
Countertop card machines
Many small businesses choose to rely on countertop card machines to process payments. With a hardwired connection, they’re sturdy, reliable, and often the cheapest option in terms of upfront cost.
This varies from provider to provider, but you can expect to pay around £100 to buy a countertop card machine outright, compared with £200-£300 for a portable machine. The savings are real.
So for businesses like coffee shops, where the customer pays at the counter, a countertop card machine is often the best option.
The advantages of countertop card machines include:
✔ Reliable connection — you’re not reliant on WiFi or mobile network coverage
✔ No charging — there’s no risk of the dreaded low battery warning
✔ Save on upfront costs — countertop card terminals are generally cheaper than portable and mobile card machines
Perfect for UK small businesses such as: coffee shops, newsagents, beauty spars.
Accepting contactless payments
Contactless payment is the fastest and most convenient payment method for customers. Modern PDQ machines come with a contactless payment facility as standard. So while there’s not much to compare in terms of hardware, it is important to compare transaction fees, as these can vary a lot.
Some providers will charge as much as 4p to process contactless payments, others won’t charge at all. To ensure you’re getting a good deal for your business it is important that you compare quotes from multiple providers.
▶ Read more: Contactless card payments
Pros + cons of card machines for small businesses
Advantages of accepting credit cards
✔ Higher revenue — card payments account for over half of all UK transactions, and that number is set to rise year-on-year. That’s right — by 2025, only one in four of all transactions will be made with cash. Businesses that don’t accept card payments will be left in the dark ages.
✔ Credibility — as a business, if you don’t accept debit and credit card payments you look amateur. That’s a fact.
✔ Better end-to-end customer experience — a quick tap or swipe of a credit card is much more convenient for a customer than laboriously counting out cash. Streamline their shopping experience with a card reader. Remember: a satisfied customer is a loyal customer.
✔ Better cash flow — providers that specialise in making the best card machines for small businesses prioritise a speedy transfer of funds as part of their service. Cashflow can be a major problem, so having having quick access to the money from card payments is a major benefit.
✔ Upsell — it’s been proven that customers typically spend more when paying by card. Why? Well, when they aren’t physically parting with any cash, a quick stop for coffee can easily turn into a full blown lunch (and maybe even a muffin for dessert!)
✔ Security — handling large amounts of cash poses an obvious security risk to your business. Reduce this risk by accepting payments electronically. Plus, the EMV computer chip in modern cards makes them extremely difficult to clone, further reducing the chance of fraud.
Disadvantages of accepting credit cards
✗ Cost and transaction fees — you will be required to pay a transaction fee for every card payment processed. Fees vary depending on the volume of transactions; the more transactions you process, the lower your rates will be. This poses an obvious problem to small businesses who tend to process a low-volume of card payments. Don’t worry though, the providers reviewed on this page specialise in PDQ machines for small-scale business operations, with fees to match.
✗ Chargebacks — dealing with chargebacks can be a long and arduous process for business owners. Customers have the right to challenge any card payments they see on their statement, which can sometimes mean business owners have to refund the transaction plus a chargeback fee of around £15.
✗ Fraud — fraudulent transactions may be few and far between, but when they do occur it is usually the merchant who loses out.
How much do credit card machines cost for a small business?
A card machine is usually rented as part of a merchant account agreement. But if you can afford to swallow the upfront cost, in the long run it pays to buy the terminal outright.
Aside from a charge for the payment terminal itself, there are two other fees you need to know about: transaction fees and a minimum monthly charge.
|Type of cost||Price|
|Card machine rental||£20 to £30 per month|
|Purchase device outright||£100 to £300|
|Transaction fees||1-3% + 2-4p fixed authorisation fee|
|Minimum monthly spend||£5 to £25|
▶ Read more: PDQ machine costs
Transaction fees for debit cards are typically around 1% and credit cards 2%, while the authorisation fee for both is the same.
The minimum monthly spend is the minimum amount in fees you will pay each month, regardless of the number of transactions processed. For smaller businesses especially it pays to choose a merchant account with a low minimum monthly spend to avoid unnecessary charges.
How do I get a PDQ machine for my small business?
Simply fill in this form and compare quotes from the UK’s leading card machine providers. It’s quick, easy and there are no hidden fees.
The questions asked are designed to match you with the most suitable suppliers, and there’s absolutely no obligation to buy.