The best card machines for your UK small business

The cheapest, best value and most feature-rich options for your SMB.
20 December 2022

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Small business card machines are essential in a post-covid, near cashless world to take payments and give refunds – contactlessly. As little as five years ago, card machines required a physical connection to either a phone line or WiFi-plus-broadband and were expensive even before the high recurring fees that using them cost. Binding contracts and bureaucracy meant that most small businesses opted to only take cash payments.

Now, portable card readers that connect wirelessly to mobile phone data services can be used to process payments on the go, in multiple locations around a store, or from customers seated at their tables in a café.

Should you invest in a small business card machine?

Traditional card payment methods can be costly, but at a time when few people carry much cash, it can be as much of a loss to business not to offer card payments. At this point, even buskers and beggars can evade a mumbled “sorry, no cash” with a surprise card machine!

Cash-only businesses risk alienating a large proportion of their customer base but choosing a card machine for small business comes down to several factors. We run through the benefits and ideal uses of the top card readers available and assess their drawbacks.

Worldpay is one of the best-known small business payment providers in the UK. It offers a range of contracts and transaction fee tiers based on monthly sales income; ideal for seasonally-affected industries.

There are also both stationary and portable options, and Worldpay offers good security too, with robust fraud protection and complete PCI compliance. It’s a trusted brand with plenty of options available, such as the ability to take over-the-phone payments (for an additional monthly fee).

The biggest drawback of using Worldpay is the minimum 18-month subscription required to use its services. This commitment could be daunting for new businesses, unable or unwilling to forecast that far ahead. Further, Worldpay’s transaction fees are some of the highest.

Per transaction, small businesses using Worldpay card machines will pay 2.75% + 20p. If an item is sold for less than £2 at this rate, more than 10% of the purchase is lost. For companies selling high-cost items, this shouldn’t present as big an issue.

Low cost small business card machines.

Square is an alternative designed for small business owners who need to keep costs low. Despite its relative cheapness, the platform still offers the option to integrate its accompanying POS software with food delivery apps or customer relationship management systems.

This provides a good option for an accompanying ecommerce websites and the service is one of the most competitively priced on the market.

However, the stripped back approach means it lacks in some areas – it doesn’t do things like print receipts (although there is an option to buy a Square terminal that does).

Still, it has a free app and is good for inventory tracking, it can give real-time updates on items sold, plus, it doesn’t have monthly or annual fees!

Banks’ small business card machines.

Another strong player is the takepayments A920 card reader. Ideal for service-based industries, this provider allows an allocation of a gratuity on each payment, plus financial reporting and in-depth analysis as standard.

The console leads on design, with a touchscreen interface that will be familiar to any smartphone user – everyone, in other words! Other benefits include a £0 setup fee, next day fund settlement, a specialist onboarding team and, should anything go wrong, excellent customer service

Specific drawbacks are that, with Barclaycard, chargebacks have a fixed fee of £9. Also, a mandatory fee of £15 must be paid to Barclaycard for PCI-DSS compliance. Refunds will cost the small business 30p each.

From UK national bank, Tyl by Natwest is one of the most powerful machines on offer. The all-in-one POS system can be used to take payments and help manage business finances from one device, including features for inventory and customer management, as well as itemised receipts.

The tie with Natwest means that payments go through in only a business day, ideal for businesses who need to pay freelance staff or rely on fast cashflow.

The full range of services it offers does come at one of the highest prices on the market. However it comes with a merchant account that allows overseeing staff and online payments to be made without a card. As small business card machines go, Tyl covers the most functions and might just be worth the investment.

Alternative small business card machines.

Zettle by PayPal is ideal for taxi firms and businesses based in remote areas. It has ultra-low costs and provides a good alternative to traditional card payment processing methods. It can be used with third party hardware, or be synced with a smartphone or tablet using the Zettle Go app.

The card machines have an 8-hour battery life, and payouts from transactions come in 1-2 days. Using it doesn’t require a contract either, so it’s low commitment. However, beware the higher transaction fees!

SumUp Air is another affordable choice and ideal for startups and business owners wanting simplicity and low costs.

The ePOS machine itself travels well and has a strong battery life; it can make 500 transactions in one charge. The service runs using a simple app and is easy to sign up for. Cheap transaction fees will attract many users who don’t necessarily need add-ons like business management and financial analysis features.

SumUp Air is a standalone device with its own 3G connection, meaning it uses its own SIM card and doesn’t need to be connected to a phone – so no mobile data fees!

It’s also contract free but doesn’t have any hospitality-specific features like tipping. Its simplicity could be, for certain industries, as much of a negative as it is positive, therefore.

Finally, Dojo is a good option for businesses that need a low-commitment merchant provider.

Dojo is really targeting larger, established firms who want to switch from a different provider. The cost of using Dojo isn’t low, but appeals to businesses wanting a monthly, rolling contract. Dojo even offers to pay up to £3,000 of exit fees from an old contract.

It’s not all about taking business from rivals though: startups are able to enter a six-month contract with Dojo, which is half the length of industry norm. Transactions are usually settled by 10:00 next working day, and the mobile app makes managing your account easy.

The biggest negative of Dojo is the price: a 3.85 pence authorisation charge on all transactions, and a minimum monthly service charge as high as £40

Conclusion – best small business card machine choices.

Whether your business is a startup, pop-up restaurant, or an established chain of retail stores with accompanying e-commerce websites and a dedicated app, the point of sale is a critical part of CX (customer experience). Payments that stumble, or refunds that are difficult or slow can severely impinge on a nascent company’s reputation.

Choose well, choose wisely, and while it pays to keep an eye on costs, you won’t make a better long-term investment in retail technology than a card machine.