Small business: the best card readers to use for accepting digital payments

Big Issue magazine seller © Alamy
The Big Issue will soon be offering contactless payment

As cash falls out of favour, small businesses need to be able to accept digital payments. Updating your payment systems is key.

The direction of travel is clear. Small businesses are going to have to get to grips with the shift towards a cashless society. Even the Big Issue has just announced that its sellers will soon be using contactless payments devices; many potential buyers of the magazine no longer carry cash. However, many small enterprises – around half, according to one estimate – aren’t prepared to take non-cash payments.

The good news is that going cashless has never been so easy. Thanks to new technologies and fierce competition between new entrants to the financial services market, small firms for which electronic-payments systems would once have been economically unviable now have lots of options.

The best card readers

The simplest of these is to choose one of the growing number of card readers that enable you to take payments by debit or credit card. These typically link to the banking system via your phone, using either Wi-Fi or mobile data, so you can use them whether you work from a single location or on the move. The cheapest option will depend on the profile of your business. Normally, you pay a fee upfront for the card reader plus transaction fees charged as a percentage of each customer’s payments. Some companies operate flat-rate percentage charges, while others offer rates that decrease as your sales volumes rise; these may be more effective for larger businesses or those that are growing quickly.

At the cheapest end of the market, SumUp’s card reader costs £29; you then pay 1.69% of each transaction. Square and iZettle also both charge £29 for their devices, with transaction fees of 1.75%.

Alternatively, Worldpay and PayPal have a range of different transaction charges, but may be more cost-effective if your business is making electronic sales of several thousand pounds a month. Nevertheless, cost should not be your only consideration. You also need a solution that reflects the way you trade. If you want to take orders over the phone, you’ll need a device that offers the “card-not-present” option. In that case, SumUp’s bargain-basement deal might not be the right one for you. If you’re also making sales online or through a mobile platform, look for an all-encompassing solution.

Some companies may want to consider more sophisticated options. Several electronic-payments companies offer data-analysis tools that you can use to look at how your business is trading – to identify your most valuable customers, for example. This could help you maximise profitability as well as ensure customers can pay the way they want.