There were 2.1bn debit card transactions in August 2022, nearly 10% more than the same month last year.

Total spending on debit cards hit more than £64bn that month, up 4% compared to the same period in 2021. So what’s clear is that having a card machine for your business isn’t just a bonus, it’s a necessity.

Debit and credit card payments are still the most popular form of payment in the UK today. 

And though cash remains second, digital payments like those using Apple Pay or Samsung Pay aren’t far behind.

But while you know a card machine (especially one that can take contactless and digital payments) is essential, how do you know which one is best for you?

Picking the right card machine has become more important than deciding you need a device in the first place.

Having the right machine can streamline your payments and give you a chance to make more money. The wrong machine can make your payments more complicated.

In this guide, card machine provider Handepay offers expert advice on choosing the right card machine for your business.

What you need to get started

If you’re new to card payments or using a card machine, there are a few things you’ll need to have in place first.

A merchant account

A merchant account is linked to your card machine and is where a customer’s payment stays until it’s been authorised by their bank.

This isn’t the same as your business account (which is where the funds ultimately end up).

But this is something you’ll need to be able to accept and process card transactions.

You’ll also need a merchant account to accept online payments or payments over the phone.

A business account

Your business account is the final destination for any transactions you take. This will be linked to your merchant account.

A payment gateway (for online payments)

A payment gateway is the online equivalent of your card machine. It’s a secure webpage (that’s linked to your website) where customers can enter their payment details to complete a purchase.

Similar to a card payment, the funds will be transferred to your merchant account before being authorised and landing in your business account.

A virtual terminal (for online and payments over the phone)

A virtual terminal is a variation on a payment gateway that lets customers pay for goods remotely.

The only difference between a virtual terminal and a payment gateway is that you enter the payment details into a virtual terminal.

With a payment gateway, the customer enters the payment details themselves.

Which card machine is best for your business?

To say your business needs a card machine is slightly oversimplifying it because there are different types of card machines you could invest in, and which is best will depend on the type of business you have and how you want to accept card payments.

On a basic level, there are three types of card machines you could invest in.

(We’re not including contactless machines as a separate device because if you’re going to invest in any card machine, you should be ensuring it’s capable of accepting contactless payments)

–   Countertop card machine

–   Portable card machine

–   Mobile card machine

– Android card Machine

Countertop card machine

A countertop card machine is the most common type of machine used by many high street stores and businesses that want a single point of purchase.

As the name suggests, you put this machine on a counter (usually near the till), and customers can easily tap their card or phone, or enter their details.

A countertop card machine is ideal for smaller businesses like salons or for any business that wants all customers to come to a single point to pay.

They’re also incredibly reliable because you can keep them connected to a power source and plug them directly into a broadband connection or phone line.

A potential downside is that you need customers to congregate in one place, and when you’re busy, this could cause queues if you can’t serve customers quickly enough.

Portable card machine

Portable card machines are perfect for businesses that want to take payments directly to customers.

The best example is a restaurant, where you’ll likely want to allow customers to pay for their meal at the table – rather than standing at the counter.

They can also be great for big department stores, where it would be easier to let customers pay on the shop floor rather than asking them to go and find a till.

Apple stores are a good example of this.

Portable card machines add a lot of flexibility to your payments because you can make money anywhere in your building.

It can also help to increase customer conversions because customers have less time to change their minds about a purchase because you can take the payment where they stand rather than asking them to walk to a counter.

The only potential downside you have with a portable card machine is, they’re not constantly connected to a power source, so the battery will deteriorate throughout the day.

This is more of a device management issue though, and provided you have processes in place to ensure devices are charged between uses, it shouldn’t be a problem.

The other potential hurdle is that because the device requires a mobile or WiFi signal, you could encounter connection problems depending on your store’s location.

Again, this can be less of an issue with a reliable broadband connection, with a booster increasing your signal’s coverage if you have a particularly large store.

Mobile card machines

Mobile card machines work much the same as a portable card machine, except they’re typically used by travelling businesses that want to take payments everywhere.

Think mobile food businesses or those who want to take payments at trade shows or other events.

These types of machines are becoming incredibly popular among business owners, and they create a highly flexible way of taking payments from anywhere.

Connectivity is a potential drawback because they rely on a mobile or broadband signal.

But with 5G making connectivity less of a problem, mobile card machines are becoming more reliable.

Android card machines

An Android card machine is a mobile style card machine, that uses the Android operating system to add an array of functionality like point of sale (POS) software.

These larger touch screen devices run more complex systems than a simple card machine, including:

  • Loyalty programmes
  • Accepting gift cards
  • Payments using QR codes
  • Pay-by-Link requests

They can even be used to accept payments using cryptocurrency (although that’s not a widepspread functionality used by customers, yet).

What else you need to consider for your card machine

1 – Does it accept contactless payments

As we’ve mentioned, we haven’t put contactless card machines into their own category because it should be a given that whatever type of card machine you choose, it should have contactless built-in.

Contactless payments account for about 62% of credit card payments and 75% of debit card payments in the UK.

So if you’re going to invest in a card machine, it’s critical it can accept contactless payments.

2 – Can it accept payments from digital wallets?

Consumer use of digital wallets has grown rapidly in the past few years, and more than a third of UK customers now use them regularly.

A digital wallet is an app on a smartphone or smartwatch that lets users connect their payment information (and other information) to their phone, essentially turning it into a mobile payment device.

Instead of using their debit or credit card, users can open their digital wallet and tap against the card machine to complete the purchase.

Although this technology has been in use for a while, it might not be compatible with older card machines. So if you’re investing in a machine, make sure it can accept digital payments.

Making the right decision for your card machine

Investing in a card machine is an essential component of most businesses today.

The key to success is understanding how you want payments to work in your business, what type of payments you want to take, and which card machine will give you the best results.

Whether you choose one type of card machine or use a combination to improve the flexibility of your payment systems, it’s a decision you need to get right.

But if you do, the payoffs can be lucrative.