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What is a PDQ Machine? A guide for small businesses

What is meant by the term ‘PDQ machine’, and how does a PDQ machine work?

A PDQ machine authorises card transactions. It only allows a transaction to go ahead when the pin entered on the PDQ pin pad matches the number stored on the chip of a credit or debit card. PDQ machines also facilitate contactless card payments for transactions under £45. 

PDQ machines were introduced back in 2006 to reduce card fraud. This is because the swipe and sign payment method was wide open for crooks to try their hand at signing receipts with fraudulent signatures. 

The term ‘PDQ machine’ is used pretty interchangeably with ‘card machine’ and ‘chip and pin’ machine. The PDQ stands for ‘Process Data Quickly’, and refers to the way in which the machine processes the transaction data and sends it to your merchant account

With card payment now being the most popular payment method (card payments accounted for 51% of transactions in 2019, according to a report published by UK Finance), a PDQ machine is an essential device for any bricks and mortar business that sells goods and services.

In this article, you can find out more about countertop and mobile PDQ machines. We’ve also made a handy video that’ll tell you how PDQ machines work. Our guide on the best PDQ machines for small businesses, will tell you more about the options that are available to you. 



What is a PDQ machine and how does it work?

A PDQ machine (or Process Data Quickly machine, to call it by its full name) is a device that facilitates secure card payments. 

For payments up to £45, customers can choose to pay by contactless payment method. This means hovering a card or a device with an enabled e-wallet over the designated spot on the PDQ machine. For payments exceeding £45, customers will need to use the PDQ machine’s pin pad to verify the transaction. 

Watch the video below for a brief explanation of how a PDQ machine works.


When a customer slots their credit or debit card into the PDQ machine, the machine reads the pin number stored on the chip. When the pin number typed into the keypad matches the number stored on the chip, the PDQ machine authorises the transaction to take place. 

The PDQ machine sends the transaction to your business’s merchant account, where it is held while the funds are received from the card-issuing bank. The transaction usually clears in one to three business days, depending on your merchant account provider.


Countertop PDQ machines vs Mobile PDQ machines

The term ‘PDQ machine’ has become a bit archaic over the years, so when people think about a PDQ machine, they’re probably thinking about the traditional device featured right. PDQ machine

A traditional (countertop) PDQ machine connects to a base station that in turn is connected to the local area network (internet) and mains electricity. These types of PDQ machines are typically supplied by dedicated merchant account providers – in other words, acquiring banks. 

The majority of mobile PDQ machines are lite devices; they’re pretty simple, and work in tandem with payment software to give businesses a sophisticated payment solution. 

Instead of communicating with your merchant account via wifi, mobile card readers use a 3G or 4G connection, making them ideal for businesses that attend events and festivals. And because you’re only charged per transaction, mobile PDQ machines are better for seasonal businesses, and those that process a lower volume of sales. 

Square PDQ machine

These types of PDQ machines are typically supplied by payment facilitators. This means they communicate with an aggregate merchant account, more commonly known as a shared merchant account. 

The Square PDQ machine is one of the most popular mobile PDQ machines for small businesses. Featured on the left, you can see how it works in conjunction with a mobile device to enable customers to verify their pin number. 

Mobile and countertop PDQ machines are suitable for different types of businesses. We’ve outlined the main differences in the table below, so you can see which one may suit your needs best. 

Countertop PDQ machineMobile PDQ machine
Often provided by dedicated merchant account providers (acquiring banks)Often provided by aggregated merchant account providers (payment facilitators)
Set monthly fee
Charged per transaction
Plugs into broadband router or phone lineUses 3G, 4G, or wifi connection
Can come with built-in receipt printerA lite device that tends to come with payment software – used alongside a mobile phone or tablet
Suitable for shops, salons, and businesses with fixed sales countersGreat for food trucks, market stalls, and travelling businesses

How to find the right PDQ machine

Finding the right PDQ machine for your business can be a lengthy and confusing process – but it doesn’t have to be. 

The team at startups.co.uk has put together a quick questionnaire that’ll guide you to the best providers for your business. In fact, you don’t have to lift a finger: once you’ve answered the questions, you'll be automatically paired with the right providers

If you’d still rather find the right PDQ machine yourself, we have some good pointers for you:

  1. Countertop PDQ machines are typically provided by banks, or big financial bodies like WorldPay. The transaction rates are often more favourable towards large businesses that process large volumes of sales
  2. Mobile PDQ machines are typically provided by payment facilitators, like Square and Zettle by PayPal. The transaction rates offered by payment facilitators are more favourable to smaller businesses, or businesses that rely on seasonal trade

If you’d like to read more about different PDQ suppliers, head over to our card readers for small businesses page, where you’ll find lots more information.


Aimee Bradshaw
Aimee Bradshaw

Senior Writer and Researcher

Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.

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