As the world of making payments continues to expand, so does the way in which businesses can accept payments.
This is why more card readers are being designed with specific businesses in mind! There are those who can accept a large volume of monthly transactions, and there are those who are tailored to smaller businesses.
It’s the latter that we’re here to discuss. We here at CardSwitcher want to provide you with a rundown of the best card readers for small businesses, some of which have scooped a spot on our ultimate list of best card readers.
Exploring everything from fees to functionality, by the end of our article, we are sure that you will have found the card reader that’s right for you.
Best Card Readers for Small Businesses
We know that as a business owner that you have very little time to faff around with too many details, so we’re diving straight in. Below you will find a rundown of each of the four card machines that we are going to review in-depth:
|Cost of Reader||£49||£39||£19 + VAT||£29|
|Link||WisePad 3 Reader||SumUp Air Reader||Square Reader (2nd Gen)||Zettle Card Reader 2|
|Transaction Fees (UK)||1.6% per transaction (in-person) 1.9% + 20p per transaction (online)||1.69% per transaction (in-person)|
2.5% per transaction (online)
|1.75% per transaction (in-person)|
1.4% + 25p per transaction (online)
|1.75% per transaction (in-person)|
2.5% per transaction (all other methods)
|Chargebacks||£10 /||£10 /||Free||Free (up to £250 / month)|
|Refunds||Free (transaction fee not refunded)||Free before payout, transaction fee not included if after||Free||Free|
|Contract Terms||No contract||No contract||No contract||No contract|
|Payment Methods Accepted||Chip and PIN|
|Chip and PIN|
|Chip and PIN|
|Chip and PIN|
|Payout Time||6 days||2-3 days||24 hours||1-2 days|
|Warranty||1 Year||1 Year||2 Years||1 Year|
Now we’ve outlined the most important information in an easily digestible format, it’s time to break each reader down further. We need to explore the good and the bad, and define what businesses are best suited to each.
With nearly 1 million global users, Shopify is one of the world's most popular ecommerce platforms. By signing up for one of the monthly subscription plans (Basic, Shopify or Advanced), you equip your business with the ability to accept payments both online and in-person.
Anyone can buy this reader, with or without a Shopify subscription. However there are multiple benefits to being a Shopify subscriber such as inventory management, sales reports, and staff accounts. Such features make this a great option for small businesses, as it is an all-in-one, well-supported option.
To find out more about this card reader, you can read our in-depth Shopify card reader review.
+ A feature rich service, ideal for growing businesses
+ Full POS integration
+ 24/7 customer support
- Compulsory monthly subscription fee
- Not fully compatible with Android devices
- High purchase cost for reader
- Extensive pay out time in comparison to competitors
Best Suited to:
The Shopify card reader is best suited to those who already operate their ecommerce site with Shopify, as this will allow you to have an all-in-one, online offline POS integration. This all-in-one setup also makes this reader a good choice for growing businesses who will benefit from the 24/7 support and pre-built POS functions.
SumUp is a payment provider that prioritises small, growing businesses as they believe that everyone should have the opportunity to grow an empire. Trusted by over 4 million businesses, SumUp provides a service that aims to make everyone successful.
With a simple set-up, easy to use features and a compatible POS app, SumUp is a great choice for new businesses. Their portable reader is straightforward to use and can give you up to 12 hours of use on a single charge, making it perfectly suited to mobile businesses such as hairdressers or street vendors.
If you want to understand more about this card reader and its suitability to small businesses, explore our SumUp reader review.
- No hidden fees fees or monthly subscription required
- Free compatible SumUp POS app
- Instant payouts with SumUp Business Account
- Accepts huge range of card providers
- POS app only equipped with basic features
- Limited number of integration partners
- Basic reader requires smartphone connectivity to work
Best Suited to?
If you are a growing business trying to establish yourself within your chosen market, the SumUp card reader is a great choice. With an affordable purchase cost, low transaction fees, and easy to use POS app, SumUp’s reader is perfect for those who need simplicity to get themselves started with accepting payments.
Square can be considered a pioneer within the payment card industry, as they were the first to introduce a card reader with a compatible payment app. For this reason, alongside their range of service enhancing features, Square is often hailed as one of the best card readers on the market.
Outside the standard, some of the additional features that you get with Square include sending invoices, creating egift cards, generating reward programs and distributing email marketing campaigns. Their award winning card reader is just one way in which you can accept payments, with Square they have created a service that encourages omni-channel selling.
To discover more about why Square is a regular feature on best card reader lists, explore our Square card reader review.
- Free 24/7 fraud prevention, data security, and payment dispute management tools
- Wide range of additional hardware products available
- Affordable purchase price
- Chip and PIN payments must be completed via smartphone
- Some poor customer experiences with customer support
Best suited to?
There is no doubt that Square has excelled at covering the basics of as a payment provider, making their card reader an excellent choice for any business starting out.
With industry specific POS designs, Square is a card reader that can be suited to any business. Additionally, the range of service enhancing features are great for those who need slightly more functionality support or are looking for an all-in-one solution as their sales increase.
Once known as “iZettle”, Zettle is a payment provider that was created by PayPal to replace PayPal Here in 2021. Since then, Zettle has continued to establish itself as one of the strongest players in the payment industry, specifically in relation to its card reader.
The Zettle card reader is quick to set up, meaning you can begin accepting payments straightaway. Their mobile reader connects easily to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, 3G/4G or wifi, meaning you can accept payments from anywhere. In addition to the standard card reader functions, PayPal has equipped Zettle with tools such as a compatible POS app, Zettle Go, that allows you to accept cash payments, create a product inventory and send invoices.
For a deeper exploration of Zettle and its features, read our Zettle card reader review.
- Accepts payments from a broad range of card providers
- Compatible with various integration partners
- Single charge provides you with 8 hours of transactions
- Advertised purchase price only available to new customers / first reader
- Requires Bluetooth, cellular or 3G/4G connection to function
- Customer support only available Monday through Friday
Best suited to?
Zettle is a card reader worth considering if you are a small, growing business. With Zettle Go being equipped with basic features such as reporting, inventory management and multi-channel selling, the Zettle reader is a top choice. A perfectly mobile card reader, Zettle is well suited to street vendors, taxi drivers, hairdressers and small cafes; but would not be suited to a full-service restaurant.
What to consider when selecting a card reader?
Now that we have given you a quick overview of the four best card machines for small businesses, it’s time to make a decision. But what one should you get?
Well to help you make a decision, we’re going to outline what you should consider prior to choosing a card reader.
Mobile or Countertop?
Whether you already have a business that accepts card payments, or you’re the new kid on the block buying your first reader, you’ll know that there are two types to choose from. You can either purchase a mobile reader or a countertop card machine.
All of the readers mentioned above are mobile readers, and are each suited to a variety of businesses, specifically those who are mobile or on the go. However with a countertop reader, or PDQ machine, you will have noticed that they tend to only feature in large supermarkets or your favourite fast food restaurant.
Essentially what will help you make this decision is assessing your turnover. PDQ machines have a considerably higher purchase price compared to mobile readers, but they do have lower transaction fees. However, if your monthly turnover is less than £2,000 you should opt for a mobile reader.
Where will you use the terminal?
We have previously only explored two types of card reader, mobile and countertop. However there is a third variation available, which is aptly named portable. Portable readers are essentially readers with the ability to rely on a mobile data connection with no need to be plugged into a power source.
Therefore with the choice of three readers, all of which have different requirements just to function, you must be practical. Consider where you will be using the terminal to help determine which type of reader is best for you. For example, a mobile hairdresser would benefit from purchasing a portable reader or a small convenience store can use a countertop reader and so on.
Do you need an ePOS system?
As we worked our way through each of the card readers above, you may have noticed that we mentioned POS systems, setups and apps. “What is an ePOS system?” we hear you ask, simply put, an ePOS system is an all-in-one hardware and software solution to accepting in-person payments.
In addition to this however, ePOS systems have many advantages to SMEs. Equipped with features such as inventory management, staff accounts, sales reports, invoice creation and overall increased efficiency to name a few. Plus they are a fantastic asset to growing businesses who are yet to figure out details such as staff management and performance tracking.
So how are ePOS systems relevant to you and our article? Well with some providers you receive an ePOS system integrated into the reader, either as an app or software that you combine into your back end system.
But not everyone offers them, and sometimes those who do will charge a premium for it, often in the form of a monthly subscription fee. Therefore, prior to purchasing your chosen reader you must also assess whether having a built in ePOS system, such as Zettle Go, is a determining factor or not.
Additional Features to Consider
The final factor to consider when selecting a card reader is the functionality and spec features of the card reader. These features are particularly important to consider if you’re the type of business owner who needs to know all the details about a product prior to purchase.
Therefore, a few questions to think about when choosing the reader then include:
What is the battery life?
You must consider what battery life you require from the reader. If you are a fast-paced business accepting back to back card transactions, you will likely require a reader that can last a full day on a single charge. Or if your transactions are staggered throughout the day, then perhaps you can consider a reader that requires more frequent charging.
How big is the reader? How much does it weigh?
It is worth noting the size and weight of card readers when you are contemplating buying one. If you are a taxi driver or mobile hairdresser, you should prioritise having something pocket sized and lightweight. Equally if you’re an established restaurant you can benefit from a countertop machine, so weight and size may not be a deciding factor.
Is the card reader robust?
This question is more relevant for those who work in a slightly more physical environment, where there will likely be more than just a little wear and tear. This then relates to the size and weight of the reader and its likelihood of surviving being dropped, scuffed or bumped.
What are the connectivity options?
Considering the answer to this question is the pinnacle to ensuring you choose the right reader. You must evaluate whether you require a card reader that has mobile data or Bluetooth connectivity options or not, especially if you plan on operating remotely where wifi won’t always be available. Alternatively, if you are of a fixed abode then a WiFi only reader (that could potentially be cheaper) is the way forward.
Is the card reader all that matters?
Following on from the previous section where we explored the physical elements of a card reader, we must clarify that physical features are not the only key consideration for small businesses.
From a cost perspective, once you begin earning more than a few thousand pounds of monthly card turnover, the terminal rental costs are less significant than your card processing fees/merchant service charges. We suggest that you focus on these “per transaction costs” as they are the largest element of your monthly bill.
Card terminals are largely commoditised, with most models on the market all offering similar features. Yes, some are marginally lighter or more robust, some have slightly better battery life, but generally speaking there aren't huge variances.
By and large, merchant service providers can provide most terminal types for you to choose from. There isn’t a massive range of manufacturer choice in the UK, with the market being dominated by Ingenico followed by Verifone.
So, that’s our guide to picking the best card machine for small businesses. With so many payment options available, from traditional chip and PIN to tapping your smartphone on the card reader, it is essential for your business to meet customer demands at the checkout.
Therefore we hope that whether it’s Zettles well-equipped Zettle Go POS app that sways you, or Square's low purchase cost that tips the scale, that CardSwitcher’s run down has helped you make your decision.