When it comes to setting up or expanding your business, there’s a long list of things you need to get in order. One of the most important points on your to-do list is to set up a merchant service.
In this article we will explore exactly what a merchant service is, why you should have one, and what the cheapest merchant services on the market are.
What is a Merchant Service?
Merchant services, commonly referred to as card processing services, are the collective services that handle electronic payment transactions. They simply enable the smooth transfer of funds from customers into businesses merchant accounts.
This includes card terminals, POS systems, payment gateways, and merchant accounts.
If you want to find out more, read our breakdown of what merchant services are.
What Fees do Merchant Service Providers Charge?
Below is a table that explores the typical fees charged by merchant service providers and why, so you know exactly what it is that you are paying for.
|Fee||What is it?|
|Monthly Fee||A fee you’ll be charged if you fail to process the agreed amount of monthly credit card payments.|
|Terminal Rental||Set rental charge fee for chip and pin machine. Typically a one-off payment, or monthly fee depending on contract.|
|Online Payment Gateway||Integration of hosted checkout pages and an API for custom development.|
|Virtual Terminal||Software that supports telephone, mail by order, and pay-by-link transactions.|
|Chargeback||A set fee for each reversed transaction.|
|Early Termination Fee||The fee you will be charged if you exit your contract early, often dependent on the remaining time of your contract.|
|Set up fee||A cost fixed at the beginning of the contract to set up the physical or virtual terminal.|
|Cancellation fee||Fixed fee if you cancel your contract.|
|Minimum monthly transaction fee||Smallest amount charged each month on transaction fees.|
|Data Security Management||A fee charged to ensure you meet PCI compliance standards.|
|Authorisation Charge||A charge made each time a business authorises a credit card transaction.|
|Non-secure Transaction||Fees charged for high risk payments like mail, telephone, online (not pay by link), and other non chip and PIN payments.|
|PCI Non-Compliance||A fine for not maintaining PCI DSS standards.|
|Refunds||A fee for processing refunds.|
What influences how much a Merchant Service will charge me?
The fees a merchant provider charges vary.
Some of the key influencing factors include:
Your average card turnover, or the revenue generated by card payments, acts as a reflection of how much business the merchant will represent to an acquirer.
If you are a small start up and generate less than £3,000 of card transactions in a month, your best option would be to opt for an affordable card reader with low transaction and set up fees. Our breakdown of the best card readers will make your choice easier!
However, the higher the card turnover of your business, the more leverage you have in negotiating a service package.
Average Card Spend:
An important factor in determining merchant service fees is the average spend in a single card transaction. Some acquirers charge a fixed percentage rate or fixed rate plus an additional fee e.g. 1.3% +3p.
An assessment of how much your customers spend per average transaction will help you pick the best provider based on fees, and will allow merchants to determine how much to charge you.
Integrated Payment Systems:
Ideal for both e-commerce and physical businesses, an integrated system shares data seamlessly between ePOS and your physical card reader via certified payment application software.
Having an integrated system is also especially important for e-commerce business as it shares data with your chosen card reader provider and their integrated system, making receiving reports and inventory updates easier.
Card Types to Accept:
You will need to be aware of the potential fees associated with certain, uncommon cards - specifically American Express.
Merchant services tend to charge a higher fee for card transactions made by credit cards linked to business accounts. However, most merchants have a flat rate no matter the card.
If you are the owner of an e-commerce business, ensure you select an acquirer that also accepts electronic methods of payment such as PayPal, Klarna, ApplePay and Google Pay.
Different merchant acquirers provide different services with different contract terms. The majority of merchant provider contracts last anywhere from 1 - 12 months, typically. But, you may want to explore long-term contracts to negotiate fees as your business grows.
The Cheapest Merchant Service Providers for Small Businesses
Fiserv & Clover
Previously known as First Data, in 2019 the service giant merged to become part of Fiserv. Providing a variety of services, Fiserv prides themselves on moving money and information “in a way that moves the world”.
With millions of customers globally, Fiserv is particularly popular amongst some of the UK’s top banks. They offer a variety of tailored services, including Carat, Clover and CardHub. The best pick for small businesses is Clover, who offer an all-in-one platform where owners can accept payments, track performance and encourage sales.
- Offers an all-in-one system for all of your financial needs.
- Flexible options to grow with your business.
- Variety of options to suit a variety of businesses
- Customer support not 24/7.
Worldpay is a leading provider of merchant services. With 42% of all UK card transactions being processed by the giant, it is the UK’s biggest, and most popular payment gateway.
Popular customers include hospitality, retail, Government, eCommerce, supermarkets, banks, and credit unions. In fact, if you think of some of your favourite and most popular chains, they will likely be a Worldpay customer.
They are hugely successful across the globe, and work by transferring money via the trusted and secure SWIFT network.
- Worldpay software makes it easy to keep up with the latest payment technologies that enter the market.
- Customer service available 24/7
- Flexible pricing plans depending on your requirements.
- High early termination fee
- 18-month contract
- Variety of additional fees
SumUp is a merchant service provider that believes in giving small businesses the power and opportunity to grow. Once a small business in Berlin, the team has grown to serve over 3 million customers today since 2012.
They are hugely inclusive to many businesses, from street vendors to restaurants and retail. SumUp accepts a wide range of cards, from Mastercard and Visa to ApplePay and Google Pay.
SumUp also offers up a variety of portable card readers, the Air, Solo and 3G, which all offer up different features to suit your businesses. Including compatibility with the free SumUp app where you can receive reports, inventory updates and monitor transactions.
- Customer support available in a range of languages
- No rental contract
- No other hidden, recurring costs
- Reporting is limited
- No in-app invoices
Opayo by Elavon
Formerly known as Sage Pay, Opayo by Elavon is proud to call themselves “the UK’s most reliable payment provider”.
Acquired by Elavon in July 2020, in the last two years, the company has racked up many positive customer reviews. With a score of 4.9 stars from nearly 4,000 reviews, the payment provider certainly leaves their customers happy. This is supported by the 24/7 customer support they offer.
They are partnered with sites like WooCommerce and Shopify, and serve over 50,000 customers. Opayo is a fully secure brand, offering enhanced fraud screening too.
- 24/7 customer service support via telephone
- No hidden additional monthly or annual fees
- Offers integrated systems and cloud solutions
- Price rise since Sage Pay became Elavon
Adyen has one of the widest, most influential client bases and is hugely popular amongst millennials. Their clients include giants like McDonald’s, Spotify, Uber, and Ebay, to name a few.
Aiming to help businesses grow, Adyen offers up end-to-end payments, data and financial management in a single solution. They have eradicated the middleman with their modern approach, making them both the acquirer and processor for their customers’ merchant accounts.
They offer an omnichannel payment solution that allows businesses to accept payments face-to-face, online, and via their app. All transactions are seamless, and with their in-app reporting system you can gain insights into areas to improve.
- Omnichannel payment solution
- Unique system that provides direct insights into areas to improve
- Required monthly minimum transactions volume
- Not suitable for high-risk businesses such as adult or finance industries
Emerging onto the scene in 2010, Zettle provides one of the best card readers, and is extremely popular amongst small businesses.
Zettle’s wireless card reader is feature-rich, and they also offer payment links, gift cards, and QR code links. Accounting software is also integrated into the service to make tracking invoices straightforward, whilst also accepting a huge variety of cards.
It’s an extremely affordable option for small businesses with readers starting from as little as £29, no monthly fees and transaction fees as low as 1.75%. Plus, it is equipped with an integrated app that supports card and cash payments, provides sales reports and helps with the management of refunds and discounts.
- No monthly fees
- No contracts or hidden fees
- Customer service support isn’t 24/7
- No offline capabilities
AIB Merchant Services
AIB (Allied Irish Bank) Merchant Services is one of the most popular merchant providers here in the UK. Through a combination of transparent pricing and cutting-edge features, AIB is a solid option for businesses looking for stability and flexibility.
AIB offers many of its services through esteemed partners such as their Clover EPOS systems for face-to-face payments and AuthiPay for secure, online payments. In relation to international payments, AIB offers the Dynamic Currency Conversion service (DCC) in partnership with First Data’s Global Choice Service which entitles customers to pay in their native currency without incurring any extra payment processing fees.
- Wide array of recognisable partners
- No integrated payment solutions
- Lack of transparent pricing
- Website and terminal prone to crashing
A global brand trusted by global brands. Elavon has been in the merchant service game since 1991 and has continued to go from strength to strength, becoming one of North America’s most popular providers, serving nearly 2 million customers.
Elavon offers their merchants a bundle of cutting edge features including 24/7 customer service, real-time reporting tools, fraud screening and DCC which allows customers to accept over 60 worldwide currencies with no additional costs.
Elavon’s innovative technology and wide range of products and services ensure that they attract both small and larger businesses, which is a major coup in the merchant services market. Unique services such as gift and loyalty programmes and industry specific solutions (#1 payment processor for airlines) all play their part in retaining customers and clients.
- 24/7, 365 days in house customer service support
- Supported by its parent company, the U.S bank
- Joining and chargeback fees
Across the UK, Barclaycard is appreciated as a household name. It's trusted by customers for their personal accounts, by business for their business accounts and when you provide customers with the Barclays branded reader they immediately trust the transaction.
The bank’s main focus is of course the provision of credit and debit card services, but they also provide some of the best, and most trusted card readers and merchant services.
Barclays isn’t just for larger, corporate businesses. They offer up competitive prices and reliable solutions for everyone.
- Free accounting software worth over £200 for every customer
- Reliable, trustworthy brand
- High monthly rental fees
- Some hidden costs to be wary of
Stripe is the all in one solution for small businesses, as they offer a complete solution that combines merchant services and gateway into one. If you go with Stripe, you only need Stripe to accept payments and deposit them into a bank account.
They have millions of customers using their all-in-one solution, and businesses of all sizes use the service. Some of their most recognisable customers include ASOS, Deliveroo and booking.com.
Stripe specialises in ecommerce, but provides payment solutions for in-person payments too. Honing in on their merchant service however, Stripe accepts over 135 currencies, and gives you the ability to offer your customers different methods of paying, such as via a payment link or in app.
- All-in-one merchant and gateway solution
- Ideal option for web developers
- Not suitable for high risk industries
- Stripe holds funds for 7 days as an anti-fraud measure
Fondy’s leading one-stop payment solution for cross-border commerce, marketplaces and platforms enables the means to move money without friction. From credit cards and e-wallets to direct payouts, this platform can simplify payment processing without compromising security. It supports an extensive selection of currencies and can handle both one-time and recurring payments. It also allows you to automate refunds and perform online invoicing to further streamline transactions. Fondy platform extends beyond accepting seamless payments at the checkout page on their website or MobileApp, to seamless payouts to 3rd parties.
In addition to the abovementioned functionalities, this platform can support email and SMS payments. This not only simplifies payments for clients but also allows you to collect payments faster. Last but not least, Fondy is also built to integrate across various devices, making cross-platform transactions easy.
- Don’t have hidden and additional fees;
- Cross-border payments;
- Payuts solution
- Custom Checkout and Payment link
- Integrations with popular CMS and Web-builders
- Not 24/7 customer support
If you're looking for a cheap way to take payments online, Accepting new online payments from Pay.com is a great option. You can sign up for an account and start taking payments in minutes, without any setup fees or monthly charges. There are no hidden costs - you only pay for the transactions you process.
Plus, Pay.com offers competitive rates, with discounts available for high-volume businesses. You can also get free customer support 24/7, so you can always get help when you need it.
So if you're looking for a cheap and easy way to take payments online, Pay.com is worth considering.
- Easy to interact with the platform
- Doesn't include any setup fee or monthly fee
- Can integrate all the most popular payment methods
- 3D secure transaction methods
- Global payment processing
- VIP service
- Free customer support
- Competitive rates
- For now, there is the unavailability of cheque deposits
Merchant Service Provider Pricing
All merchant services that have been explored provide more in-depth pricing for your business and its needs upon the submission of a service enquiry or request. We have provided details on the basic pricing listed in the table below.
|Provider||Fiserv/Clover||Worldpay||SumUp||Opayo by Elavon||Adyen||Zettle||AIB||Elavon||Barclaycard||Stripe|
|Set up Fee||£250||£0||£0||Undisclosed||£0||£0||£100||£99||£60||£0|
|Annual/Monthly Fee||£45/ month||£0||£0||£32-£45/ month||n/a||£0||From £21.99/ month||£0||£10/ month||£0|
|Contract Length||12-48 months||Undisclosed||Undisclosed||Undisclosed||Not fixed||12 month with Zettle PRO||Up to 4 years||Not fixed||18 months||Not fixed|
|Termination Fee||Remaining monthly fee||Undisclosed||Undisclosed||Undisclosed||£0||£0||Not specified pre-contract||£0||Undisclosed||£0|
|Transaction Fee||2.3% + 10p||Undisclosed||1.69%||Undisclosed||10p||1.75% - 2.5%||2.25% +5p||1% - 2.5%||1.6%||1.4% +20p|
|Terminal Fee||£500 - £1400||Undisclosed||£29 + VAT||Undisclosed||n/a||£19 + VAT||£25 (monthly rental fee)||£29||From £15 + VAT||from £49 excl. VAT|
When it comes to expanding your small business, having a merchant service in place that allows you to accept various card payments and easily deposit the money into your account is essential.
Now that we have provided you with a breakdown of what a merchant service is and the cheapest ones available to you, it’s now time for you to lock in your decision!
So to make things even easier, we’ve broken down why you should pick each of our recommended providers:
- Fiserv/Clover: They offer up a variety of flexible options, perfect for growing businesses as they grow with you.
- Worldpay: Reliable option for first timers due to brand's reputation.
- SumUp: Perfect for small vendors who need a portable, affordable method of accepting payments.
- Opayo by Elavon: Great if you require great customer support through your first set up.
- Adyen: Their all-in-one solution is an omnichannel system that allows growing businesses to accept payments via multiple channels.
- Zettle: An extremely affordable option for growing businesses with their feature rich terminal that is equipped with accounting software.
- AIB: Great for established businesses seeking reliability.
- Elavon: Ideal choice for businesses seeking to get more from their merchant account.
- Barclaycard: A trustworthy choice for both you and your customers.
- Stripe: Perfect option for ecommerce businesses who operate multiple platforms.
At Card Switcher we hope we have helped you in your search for finding your ideal merchant service provider.
If you need to explore our other articles on merchant services, we also explain the difference between payment gateways and merchant services.
CardSwitcher can help you reduce your credit card processing costs - save up to 40% by using our comparison engine today!