Mobile card payment providers: A guide

Mobile card payments have never been cheaper or easier for small businesses. Is it time you started cashing in? Compare your options and get quotes

From market stalls and craft fairs to small shops and service providers, taking payment via your mobile device has never been more accessible to small businesses in the UK.

Mobile card payment devices are simple: they connect to an app on your smartphone or tablet over the internet, and are now one of the easiest and cheapest ways to process card or contactless payments.

Ever since 2012 when Starbucks invested $25m (£16m) in Square, the first mobile card machine founded by Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey, the market has gone mainstream.

Now, iZettle, SumUp, PayPal and Worldpay have all designed card payment systems for the UK’s small business and start-up scene.

The good news is there has never been a better set of mobile card payment providers on offer for small businesses. The issue is just in deciding which one is right for you.

This guide breaks down the busy maze of mobile payment solutions, giving you everything you need to know to choose the ideal mobile card payment provider for your business.

In this article, we cover:

  1. Why take mobile card payments?
  2. Which mobile card payment provider is right for me?
  3. How to choose a mobile card payment provider
  4. Mobile card payment apps
  5. Compare mobile card reader quotes

Read on now to work it all out. Or, if you are ready to compare quotes straight away, just complete the quote-finder at the top of this page, and get to know your best matches.

Why take mobile card payments?

Card payments – or cashless transactions – are on the rise in Europe, and have been for some time.

1. Customers want to pay by card

A recent report by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) found that in 2016, for the first time, debit cards had overtaken cash to become the UK’s most popular payment option.

Plus, research from the PPRO Group found that:

  • One in three people never use cash anymore
  • A quarter find having to pay by cash irritating
  • More than a half of retail shops today are paid for by card

2. Mobile card payments have never been cheaper

Clearly, cash is on its way out the door. Of course, small business owners want to open their doors to as many customers as possible.

But many worry about complex sign-ups as well as pricey set-up fees, monthly costs and minimum spend charges that were once a staple of traditional point of sale systems or PDQ machines.

Yet our investigation into the cheapest mobile card readers found that many of these complicated costs no longer apply, thanks to the rise of fintech former start-ups that are now giving the big banks a run for their money.

Today, leading companies like Square, iZettle, and SumUp have already taken over the payment processing giants to become the most popular option for the UK’s small businesses, and they all tend to have no lock-ins and no monthly or set-up costs.

You just pick up a card machine for as little as £30 today, then just pay a flat fee (1.75% on average) per transaction.

3. Card machines can grow sales

What’s more, the small business owners and entrepreneurs we spoke to – from Hilda Valerie florists to Maxwell Scott luxury leather goods – saw a boost in sales and ROI well beyond any costs involved.

Taking care of your business often means giving your customers what they want, and with mobile card payments now cheap and easy, there’s little reason not to.

Top mobile card payment solutions for small businesses

With the UK a global hotspot for start-ups and small businesses, perhaps it’s no wonder so many of the world’s leading card payment providers have made it so easy and affordable to get on board here.

Here are the four most popular and cheapest card machines:

Card Reader Best for… Device Cost
(excl. VAT)
Transaction Fee
sumup Cheapest transaction fees £59 1.69%
izettle Best all-rounder £59
£19 on offer here
square Best card machine app £39 1.75%
paypal Instant transfer times £65
£45 on offer here
1% – 2.75%

1. SumUp: UK’s cheapest transaction fees

SumUp mobile card payment machine

Since launching in 2012, London based SumUp has taken the UK small business market by storm. Its SumUp Air card reader offers the lowest flat rate transaction fees, as well as no hidden costs.

  • Device cost – £59
  • Transaction fees – 1.69% flat fee, Virtual Terminal transactions cost 2.95%
  • Minimum spend – £1
  • Cards supported – Any credit or debit card with a Visa, V PAY, MasterCard, Maestro or American Express logo, including contactless cards, Apple Pay and Android Pay
  • Compatible devices – iOS 8.0 and higher, most Android devices with at least a 4.4 operating system
  • Settlement time – Payouts are processed daily, but can take two to three business days to reach you, depending on your bank. With your online account, you can also customise the frequency to receive weekly or monthly payouts
  • Refunds? – Yes, through the app or on your online account
  • Receipts? – Yes, there is the option to send a receipt using an email address or mobile phone number, or print a copy

To use SumUp, you just fire up the app and enter the amount owed. Your customer can then pay with a contactless or chip and pin card.

2. iZettle: Top marks across the board

iZettle mobile card payment

Swedish company iZettle first graced our UK shores in 2012, and the nifty iZettle card machine is now one of our most popular mobile card payment solutions.

iZettle gets the crown for innovation: it created the world’s first mini chip card reader, and has recently been helping London buskers accept card payments.

  • Device cost – £59, but you can get it on offer for £19 here
  • Transaction fees – 1.75% flat fee
  • Minimum spend – £1
  • Cards supported – One of the widest selections: Visa, MasterCard, UnionPay, American Express, JCB and Diners Club cards, as well as contactless cards, Google Pay (formerly Android Pay), Apple Pay and Samsung Pay
  • Compatible devices – iOS 9.0 and higher, Android 4.4 and up
  • Settlement time – This depends on the account type and payment method used, but you can see your money as soon as the next day (or at a time set by you)
  • Refunds? – Yes, you can refund your customers fully or partially through the app or on your online account
  • Receipts? – Yes, a window will ask if your customer would like a receipt via email, text or print out

The iZettle app is one of the most intuitive out there, and easy even for first timers. You simply key in the sales amount in the app, take the card or contactless payment from your customers, and let the phone securely authorise and process the transaction.

iZettle claim their app is 25% faster than rivals, and even lets you track cash payments and see all your transactions in one place.

3. Square: For all-you-can-eat features

square card machine

Square was one of the first to invent cheap and easy mobile card readers over in the US, and the UK is now the fifth largest market for the Square card machine.

  • Device cost – £39
  • Transaction fees – 1.75% flat fee for in-person transactions, 2.5% for other types
  • Minimum spend – £0
  • Cards supported – Contactless and chip and PIN cards, including American Express, Mastercard, Visa credit or debit cards; Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay
  • Compatible devices – iOS 9.3.5 and higher, Android 5.0 minimum
  • Settlement time – With the standard deposit schedule, funds are processed the next working day, and should arrive in your bank account in one to two business days. There is also a custom option, which gets you your funds within 20 minutes, for an additional fee of 1% of the sale
  • Refunds? – Yes, you can print, email or text receipts for successful payments
  • Receipts? – Yes, refunds are easy (over the app or online)

Square works just like most other mobile card payment devices, but has a PIN on glass function, where your customers enter their digits onto your smartphone or tablet.

The well-rated Square app has more features than any other, and can even be used to keep a record of cash and cheque payments.

4. PayPal: For instant transfers

PayPal Here

Most of us know PayPal as a global e-commerce provider.

The company first launched its PayPal Here card reader here in 2013 to target small businesses such as taxi firms and market traders that traditionally rely on cash payments.

Since 2013, PayPal Check in has been helping customers ‘log in’ to businesses, and make payments using just their mobile phones through the PayPal app.

  • Device cost – £65 or £45 on offer here
  • Transaction fees – 1% – 2.75%, depending on your monthly sales
  • Minimum spend – £0
  • Cards supported – Visa, MasterCard, Maestro and American Express, contactless cards as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay. PayPal Here is also compatible with the PayPal Check in app
  • Compatible devices – iOS 8.1 and later, select Android smartphones
  • Settlement time
  • Refunds? – Yes, refunds are easy using the ‘sales history’ feature on the PayPal Here app
  • Receipts? – Yes, by email or text

PayPal has the cheapest transaction fees for businesses with high sales volumes, but if not (and the instant settlement times don’t do it for you) you can get a better rate with one of the others.

This table breaks down the PayPal’s transaction fees, based on your monthly sales volumes:

Monthly Sales Transaction Fees
Under £1,500 2.75%
£1,500.01 – £6,000 1.75%
£6,000.01 – £15,000 1.50%
£15,000.01 – £25,000 1%
Over £25,000 Custom rates

Once you pair your phone or tablet with the PayPal Here card machine via Bluetooth, you’ll be able to start taking card payments right away.

And don’t worry – your customers don’t need a PayPal account to use this mobile card machine – it works just like any other.

The PayPal Here app has all the features you need, but the most useful ones are letting you check the status of a payment, and check in on your sales.

The card reader can also log cash and cheques, as well as send e-receipts and invoices.

How to choose a mobile card payment provider

The rise of mobile payment devices means that it’s never been easier – or cheaper – for small businesses to accept card payments – whether you run a shop, market stall or face-to-face service. But that doesn’t make picking the right one for you a simple task.

Here are the three top tips to help you pick a good’un:

  • Watch the transaction fees – These days, set-up costs are rare and card machines are cheap. It’s the transaction fees you really want to compare
  • Compare payment delay times – Transfer times aren’t always instant, as card payments are processed and authorised securely through a merchant account. PayPal settlements often have no delay, but others can take between one to three business days
  • Check for card encryption – There are a number of real-time checks in place to make taking card payments air-tight for you and your customers

For peace of mind, we made sure all the mobile card payment solutions we recommend adhere to the golden standard of the global Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to keep you secure.

That way, taking cashless payments can be as pain-free as getting cash in the hand.

Card payment apps

All the mobile card machines on this page come with an easy-to-use and well-rated app on Google Play or the App Store.

These apps are the brains that allow you to process card transactions quickly and simply with a user-friendly interface for your smartphone or tablet.

In most cases, your device will connect to the card reader wirelessly, although wired options are also available.

A card payment app is a lifesaver for modern businesses in need of intuitive software. These apps offer a range of features that will help streamline and speed up not only taking payments but also tracking them.

Here are the main reasons small business owners turn to mobile card payment apps:

  • Easy-to-use – Card payment apps are built to make your life easier, and iZettle and PayPal have two of the top rated apps for design
  • Quick – Sending money with mobile devices is quicker than having your customers fumble through their bags for cash, and replaces cash drop offs at the bank
  • Secure – Just like your mobile banking, card payment apps are designed to be secure, both for you and for your customers
  • Flexible – By nature, card payment apps are the most flexible payment option – you can process payments anywhere there’s internet, any time

Smart payments are on the up year on year, and Forrester Research estimates that over £26bn of in-store purchases happen using mobile devices.

In the same way you use mobile banking apps to check your personal funds and accounts, most card payment apps provide live sales updates, and will do the legwork of the accounting for you.

Mobile card payments: In a nutshell

Thanks to cheap and easy mobile card payment solutions, even the smallest of businesses can start cashing in on the rising demand for card transactions.

Here are our three top questions to see if you’re ready:

  1. Do you have internet? – Mobile card readers need two things: Bluetooth to connect the device to your phone or tablet, and internet (Wi-Fi or mobile data) to process the transaction on an app
  2. Are you tight on time? – Taking card payments not only save on bank runs, mobile payment apps give you live updates of your sales, so you can win back time on manually balancing your books
  3. Would you like to grow your business? – Mobile card machines are proven to help you process more sales by giving your customers what they want

Compare UK mobile card payment providers

Hopefully, this page has given you a better idea of what’s out there, and how to choose the best mobile card payment solution for your small business.

The next step is to get some quotes under your belt, and talk to the card machine providers themselves. At Startups, we’re keen to make this process as easy and effective as possible.

Here’s all there is to it:

  1. Fill in our form to tell us what your needs are
  2. Save time by talking directly to the best matches for your business
  3. Save money by comparing quotes

Get quotes: Click below to compare the UK’s leading card machines

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