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What is a PDQ machine?

PDQ machines help small businesses take payments quickly and easily. Find out more, and compare quotes

PDQ machines – or more commonly card machines – are the cornerstone of any successful small businesses today. As fewer and fewer shoppers carry cash, retailers and service providers are increasingly expected to accept card payments.

Whereas just over a decade ago retail transactions with cards meant a tedious back and forth of receipt signing, today’s PDQ card machines can process payments in a matter of seconds.

But what is a PDQ machine? How do you choose between a mobile card machine and a portable or countertop device? And which are the best PDQ machines for small businesses?

These are some of the key questions you’re likely to have about PDQ machines. We aim to provide you with the information you need to answer these questions, and more.

In this article, you will learn:


What is a PDQ machine?

This is the card machine you use to tap or insert your credit or debit card at check-out.


A PDQ machine is just a card machine or chip and pin machine, and the chances are you used one the last time you bought something.

PDQ stands for “Process Data Quickly” – and that’s exactly what they do. Most of us aren’t keen to hang around paying, and card machines help you and your customers breeze through the check-out.

PDQ machines approve card payments quickly and securely by reading information from a chip that is embedded in the card, and can work both in person or over the phone.

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How does a PDQ machine work?

It’s easy: you just hook up the PDQ machine with the customer's card, and the payment terminal, the customer’s card issuer and your merchant account (or holding account) will do the legwork.


PDQ machines vary a little from device to device, and some will have slightly different features, but they all boil down to four simple steps:

    1. Chip and pin – The customer enters their credit or debit card and PIN into the machine.


    1. Authorisation requested – This triggers a request for payment approval from the card issuer (e.g. HSBC).


    1. Authorisation granted

– Once the card terminal gets the all clear, the credit card processor (e.g. Worldpay) receives the funds from the card issuer into your merchant account (or current account) – this can take anything from a few hours to a few days.

  1. Funds transferred – As soon as the money reaches the merchant account, it’s moved (often automatically) into your business account (minus any credit card processing fees).

Hard to get your head around? Here's an example of a PDQ machine in action to help clear things up:

How does a PDQ machine work

How to get a chip and pin machine

PDQ machines are sometimes supplied to business owners as part of a package when they set up a merchant account. A merchant account is just the holding account you need to accept credit and debit card payments, and links to your main or business bank account.

But many small businesses hire or buy PDQ machines when they kit out their workspace with an Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system, or as a stand-alone mobile device for businesses on the go.

Your PDQ machine will either connect directly to your EPOS system, and work with your staff barely lifting a finger, or it’ll be hooked up via wireless or mobile connection, so transaction details can be entered and amended as needed.

PDQ machines for small businesses

PDQ terminals provide a host of benefits for small businesses: more sales, less admin and better protection.


Since first entering the UK retail scene in 2004, card machines have been helping business owners of all sizes up their sales, and process payments more pain-free and securely than ever before.

More sales

As well as boosting your sales from the growing number of customers who don’t have cash, those who do pay by credit card may spend more.

Less admin

Taking digital payments also reduces the need for, and hassle of, handling large amounts of cash. That means you can save on trips to the bank.

Better protection

The main purpose of PDQ machines is to cut down the fraud risk for cardholders (i.e. your customers) and account holders (you).

Before this, credit and debit cards used magnetic swipe technology, which was far less secure than chip and PIN payments today, where the customer enters their secret digits to authorise the transaction.

Types of PDQ machine

PDQ machines come in three major types: mobile PDQ machines, portable PDQ machines (sometimes known as wireless chip and pin machines), and countertop PDQ machines.


Picking the right card machine for you will depend on the size, type and location of your business.

Here is a breakdown of the different types of PDQ machines to give you an idea of your options:




Most PDQ machines now accept chip and pin, contactless and swipe payments, but mobile and portable terminals give you much more flexibility.

Countertop PDQ machines

Countertop PDQ machines are the most widely used PDQ terminal. They sit next to the till, and are ideal for businesses with a fixed sales point, such as retail businesses and supermarkets.As their name suggests, countertop card readers are not as portable as the other types of PDQ machines, but they make up for it by being faster and generally more reliable.Plus, they stay plugged in, so you don't need to worry about the battery dying on you.Portable PDQ machinesPortable PDQ machines are sometimes known as wireless chip and pin machines. They work in much the same way as countertop card readers, but instead of a physical connection to your till system, they use wifi or Bluetooth to complete the credit card processing.They are a dream come true for restaurants, cafes and bars, as you are free to take the device to the customer, and you can run multiple card readers at once, as you get busier.As with countertop card machines, portable terminals are secure and durable, but you are able to use them within a range (usually about 100 metres) that covers most small businesses.Mobile PDQ machinesAgain, mobile PDQ machines have very similar functions to their countertop and portable cousins, but they work through GPS or a mobile signal to process the card payment.This flexibility means mobile PDQ machines can be used off-site, without the need for any fixed till. That makes them perfect for small businesses needing to take payment in many different locations, such as events, market stalls or in the customer's home.That said, you'll see more and more mobile card machines popping up in fixed retail environments that don't want to set up a till for cash payments. Instead, mobile PDQ machines can connect directly to an app on your smartphone or tablet.They are also great for when you take your business on the road, such as an event or pop-up, even if you're mostly using a countertop payment system back in your main shop.
how much hr outsourcingPDQ machine cost

How much is a PDQ machine? Of course, it depends on which one you go for and your monthly sales, but average all-in costs vary from £30 to £300.

As well as the initial outlay for the PDQ machine, there are a few ongoing costs that you can expect when taking card payments:

  • Transaction fees
  • Monthly fees (not all card payment processors offer these)
  • Topping up your stock of till roll (for receipts)

Depending on cashflow, some small businesses opt to hire PDQ machines instead of buying them outright. We’ve created a page to help our readers understand which option would work out best.

Best PDQ machines

How to choose the best PDQ machine for your business? There's more to it than costs.

If you want to be able to accept whatever card your customer throws at you, you’ll want to check your card machine supports chip and pin, contactless as well as swipe payments – fortunately most do these days.Hopefully, you’ll get regular use out of your PDQ machine (as the sales come rolling in), so it also needs to be reliable and hard-wearing: you don’t want it to give in right as you’re making a sale, or turn off your customers with something they wouldn't trust with their card.The biggest machines aren’t always the most robust, so it’s worth checking out our list of the best PDQ machines.

Read: What are the best credit card machines for small businesses?

PDQ machines: In a nutshell

PDQ machines are a quick, easy and safe way to take payments.

Customers today expect convenience, and small businesses often need to go the extra mile to win them over. The easier you make taking payments, the more likely you are to make a sale – as well as a loyal customer.And it would appear cash is no longer king when it comes to transactions between small businesses and their customers. After all, who wants to spend their day counting change, making bank runs, and carrying heavy purses and wallets?Not taking a variety of payment methods leaves you vulnerable to missing out on sales, and few customers will return if they can’t pay how they like.According to the British Retail Consortium, debit card payments finally overtook cash in 2017 – with cards representing more than half of all customer transactions in the UK, and a third are now contactless.With plenty of ultra-cheap and flexible card machines now available (such as iZettle, Square and SumUp), there’s never been a better time to get on board with a PDQ machine that best matches your business' requirements.
compare quotes twitter businessCompare PDQ machine quotes: The next steps

To receive quotes from the UK’s best PDQ machine suppliers, just complete the easy quote-finder at the top of the page.

From reading this article, you’ve learned more about what a PDQ machine is and how they work, as well as what the benefits are and which types of machine may be best for your small business. If you’re keen to find the best PDQ machine for your small business, the next step is to speak directly to suppliers, and Startups can help set up this conversation.It’s completely free: you just plug in a few details about what you’re looking for, and your card machine matches will tell you what their best offers are for you to compare all your options.

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countertop_card_machine Countertop card machines: For shops, retailers✅ Sturdy and durable
✅ Top security
✅ Fastest device
✅ Battery taken care of❌ Not portable (needs a till)
portable_card_machine Portable card machines: For restaurants, pubs✅ Sturdy and durable
✅ High security
✅ Portable❌ Keep an eye on the battery
mobile_card_machine Mobile card machines: For events, market stalls✅ Sturdy and durable
✅ High security
✅ Extra mobile
✅ Often pocket-sized
✅ No till needed❌ Remember to charge

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