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Choosing card payment machines: What’s the difference between a card terminal and a card reader?

Home » blog » Choosing card payment machines: What’s the difference between a card terminal and a card reader?

When you start out in retail or hospitality, one of the first things to research is your customer card payment machines. Most business owners would start with the bank for advice and sourcing the hardware and merchant services, meaning you may not be offered as wide a choice as you could by other means. There is a choice to be made between card terminals and card readers, often confused as one and the same thing. Here we explore how they differ and help you make the right choice for your business’ needs.

Card terminals

These are very commonly in use in shops, restaurants, pubs and many other retail and hospitality outlets. Traditionally they are black, can be ‘tapped’ by the customer’s payment card or Apple Pay by mobile phone or watch. There are plenty of benefits to adopting a card terminal machine for your business.

  • Robust machinery means it can withstand heavier use and being carried around in equipment bags or vans, even spillages
  • Roaming chips mean it is GPRS enabled and scans through all available networks to ensure a strong connection for mobile use when out and about
  • Monthly contract leases bring flexible and competitive rates
  • 24/7 support for failure or replacement and can upgrade easily
  • Lower cost per transaction rate, thanks to the monthly lease agreement
  • Receipts can be printed and/or sent by email to your customer
  • Instantly recognisable as a professional bit of kit, a card terminal gives your business credibility and instils trust.

Card readers

Smaller and more lightweight than the sturdy card terminals, these machines resemble the PINsentry type machines you may have at home for online banking. These payment machines require a mobile phone or tablet app in order to function and a good, reliable phone signal.

  • Working only from Bluetooth means you may lose signal when conducting mobile operations
  • Relatively cheap to buy means you can get one quickly and easily
  • No monthly contract means you miss out on reliable access to support when things go wrong, or alternative options to get it replaced quickly
  • Cost per transaction rates are higher as you own the machine
  • You cannot offer receipts to your customers
  • Lightweight machinery means whilst you can easily carry it about, it may not be as robust as a card terminal
  • Customer transactions are stored on the app, so are easily downloadable, but not linked to any form of stock control
  • Some business owners may find this option a good temporary measure, but be aware that it may make your business appear less professional.

Generally speaking, both types of card payment machine are worth investigating and your merchant services provider should help you decide which one is best for your business. Some questions to consider when making your choice include how high your turnover is each month, whether you have a strong reliable phone signal where you intend to trade, do your customers require receipts and the impression you want to give your customers.

For impartial advice on choosing a card payment machine and merchant services providers, get in touch with us. All advice is without obligation and completely free of charge.

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