Picking a card reader and POS (point of sale) provider can be a hassle for any business. Searching through all the different options can be a daunting task as there are so many companies offering payment processing services. In addition to comparing all the different card payment providers, we also cover the POS (point of sale) systems these companies offer as part of their packages.
Gone are the days of cash-only corner shops, or burger vans at music festivals. Airlines are now even accepting contactless payments while flying at 30,000 feet.
The British public has used less cash every year since credit cards became widely used in the late 80s and early 90s. Since contactless cards became available in 2007 and phone-based payment apps like Apple and Google pay arrived in 2015, cash has become even less relevant. In addition, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has forced contactless transactions to become the norm.
As Brits rely more and more on card payments, businesses have no choice but to find ways to accept card payments, regardless of their business model.
There's a wide range of card payment providers, each with benefits and drawbacks that fall into two categories:
Since the early 2000s, several companies have sprung up worldwide, challenging traditional card payment providers like Barclaycard and Worldpay that have dominated the market for decades.
Companies like Square, Zettle, Shopify and SumUp give new businesses an easy way to get their brick and mortar stores up and running in no time by providing integrated card payment machines and POS software. All four companies offer a wide array of different products and services, and each has its speciality, which we cover in detail below.
Square, Zettle and SumUp all offer relatively similar services, whereas Shopify is a little different. Shopify includes card payment services as part of a broader offering - mainly for their eCommerce platform.
Unlike traditional card payment providers, all four companies charge a percentage of every transaction, which works out cheaper for smaller businesses and startups with low earnings, but far more expensive for established businesses with high profits.
For this reason, we don't recommend any business with more significant profits move over to any of these payment providers. However, small businesses and startups could greatly benefit from using these companies' services.
Bearing this in mind, we’ve pulled together a comparison of the most popular, well-equipped card payment readers and providers, perfect for small to medium UK businesses.
SumUp is a London based company founded in 2012 that offers payment processing and POS systems worldwide. The company charges customers a flat rate on every transaction, and there are no monthly minimum sales required to use either card reader, nor is there a cancellation fee if you decide to use another company.
+ Predictable flat-rate pricing
+ Great for smaller businesses
+ No monthly minimum
- No e-commerce
- Limited features
The SumUp Air card reader makes card payments easy and flexible, allowing you to accept all major debit and credit cards, as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay with one device that fits in your pocket.
There is no paperwork, no fixed contract and no monthly fees. SumUp provides peace of mind for security as it is compliant with the highest security standards (EMV and PCI certified).
The Air accepts contactless payments, chip and pin, Google and Apple pay, and requires a smartphone or tablet to connect to the internet and works with WiFi and mobile data.
SumUp Solo is pretty special! A square-shaped, standalone card reader without a physical PIN pad. It’s operated exclusively using the front-facing touchscreen. This payment solution is also very small making it portable and letting you stay connected and in control of business wherever you go.
The Solo Card Reader allows you to accept payments using a 3G network, mobile networks and Wi-Fi. You don't need to connect the Solo to a smartphone or tablet in order to make transactions. Solo accepts a wide selection of chip and PIN and contactless cards, such as chip and pin, Google and Apple.
The 3G Card Reader is SumUp's premium card machine. It has all the Air's utilities in addition to extra roaming capabilities. The 3G doesn't need a smartphone or tablet to work, like the Air, as it uses a built-in SIM card with free unlimited data.
To take card payments from anywhere with mobile data is incredibly useful, if not a necessity, for many businesses like mobile food trucks or restaurants with large outdoor areas (no more asking people to come in and pay at the bar).
Zettle is a Swedish company founded in 2010 that provides payment processing for small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, Europe, Mexico and Brazil.
Zettle currently offers one card reader, called the Zettle Card Reader 2, which comes with either the standard or sustainable design, called the Ocean model. The sustainably designed Ocean model is identical in every way except material to the standard model.
+ Predictable flat-rate pricing
+ Great reporting tools
+ Remote payment options
- Slightly higher transaction fee than competitors
Zettle's Card Reader 2 is a straightforward, well-designed card reader that comes in either back or white.
Like SumUp's Air reader, the Zettle Card Reader 2 needs a connection to a tablet or smartphone with the company's app installed to make payments. Most businesses will find it easiest to use a tablet, as the bigger screen shows far more items per page.
Both Zettle's Card Readers accept all major card brands, including Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, JCB, American Express and Union Pay.
Zettle also sells an accompanying charging dock for the reader at £39 and additional hardware like receipt printers, cash drawers, and barcode scanners.
The Ocean model is identical in every way to the Zettle Card Reader 2, except look and source material. Zettle produces the Ocean model using entirely recycled plastic fishing nets.
The Ocean model helps businesses demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and is a great talking point with new and existing customers while processing payments.
Zettle has publicly stated their commitment to donate 20% of the Ocean model proceeds to charities working to rid the oceans of plastic.
Square is a US-based POS and payment service provider founded by Jack Dorsey of Twitter in 2009. Like Zettle and Sumup, Square only charges a preset percentage fee on every transaction, currently 1.75%.
Square does not require any minimum time commitment from businesses wanting to use their services. You can order a card reader, set up the app and start taking payments in less than a week.
Square has two card readers: its iconic Square Reader, from which the company takes its name, and the Square Terminal, a more advanced model with additional utility.
+ Predictable flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees
+ Great for businesses who want to scale up
- High fees for large businesses
The Square reader is unlike any other card machine on the market. It's small, white, square, and has no built-in screen.
Despite lacking a pin pad, the Reader lets customers use chips and PIN by inputting their pin on a smartphone or tablet linked to the reader.
The reader's battery usually lasts for an entire day, even with heavy use. Similar to the Zettle reader, Square's reader doesn't accept card swipes without additional hardware.
The Square reader is currently priced at £19, making it the cheapest card reader on today's market. While some may find it irritating to need two connected devices to accept card payments, it's an acceptable sacrifice considering the incredibly low startup cost it allows.
Square's Reader accepts all the usual card providers like Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Apple and Google pay.
The Square Terminal is the company's premium card payment offering.
The unit is stylish, looks similar to a modern smartphone, and comes in a mixed black and white design. The Terminal includes a large touch screen on which your customers can input their PIN.
As the Terminal is larger than the Reader and lets you print receipts, it's more suitable for shops and cafes with a fixed payment location, although you can move it around wirelessly.
Shopify is the premier website creator for companies looking to set up an eCommerce website that integrates with their physical stores.
We can only partially compare Shopify's prices to SumUp, Square and Zettle, as Shopify includes a range of extra features like website creation and their POS system as part of their card payment packages.
Shopify's prices for payment processing are noticeably higher than its competitors.
Whether Shopify is right for you and your business really depends on whether you need an online store that fully integrates with your physical stores. If not, other companies like SumUp or Square would likely be a better fit.
+ A full and scalable e-commerce solution for businesses of all sizes
+ Marketing, order management and eBay/Amazon integrations top a broad set of e-commerce feature
+ Themes are well built and designed to maximise web sales
- Website designing functionality is limited - the number of templates on offer is small in comparison to other online store builders like Squarespace or Wix
Although the WisePad 3 is undeniably functional, it does look quite basic and dull compared to those sold by Square and SumUp. Unfortunately, this isn't reflected in the price as the WisePad 3 is among the more expensive card readers, currently priced at £ 49.
Despite its appearance, the WisePad 3 is every bit as functional as any other card reader on the market. It accepts chip and PIN, contactless, as well as Google and Apple pay.
The three companies described below are known as the more traditional payment processing providers. All three give varying rates in exchange for services depending on your business' average number of card transactions and sales volume.
Worldpay is one of the oldest card machine providers worldwide, operating in 146 countries and supporting more than 400,000 businesses. The company offers a range of card machines for either countertop, portable or mobile use, manufactured by Ingenico and PAX.
All Worldpay card terminals have built-in receipt printers and come with charging cables or a charging dock, depending on the model. All units accept chip and PIN, contactless as well as Apple and Google Play. The card machines all integrate with most POS software, letting you combine all different payment types into one system.
Worldpay offers three different payment plans: Custom, Simplicity and Pay As You Go. Both Custom and Simplicity plans lock you in for a minimum of 18 months but have no setup fee, whereas the Pay As You Go plan requires no minimum time commitment.
How much you pay per card transaction depends on your plan. Worldpay offers custom rates to businesses with high earnings, which can be much lower than any of the new fintech companies like Square or Zettle.
It's unlikely any new business will be best suited to Worldpay, as you need to negotiate the fees when setting up, so if you have little or no sales figures, the company is unlikely to give you a favourable rate.
Take Payments is a UK based payment solution company that, until 2019, traded as Payzone. Similar to Worldpay, the company offers a wide range of card machines covering any possible use. Take Payments offers shorter contracts than Worldpay and other traditional payment solution providers (a 12-month minimum) compared to others that can require up to 60 months minimum commitment.
Also similar to Worldpay, Take Payments charges businesses varying rates depending on sales. They request those interested in their services fill out a form online to speak to one of the company's representatives.
Take Payments likely won't give you a favourable rate if you're a new or small business, in which case you would be better off working with one of the new fintech companies compared above.
Barclaycard is the merchant services division of Barclays bank, one of the world's oldest banks. The company sells a vast array of card machines, including countertop readers, portable card readers, mobile card readers and Barclaycard mobile - a fully mobile card reader ideal for events like festivals or trade shows.
Barclaycard does give some fees and rental charges upfront on the website. Still, the exact fees charged per transaction depends on your business' sales volume and average transaction size, similar to Take Payment and Worldpay.
Similar to Worldpay and Take Payments, Barclaycard's services are best suited to established businesses.
There is a range of excellent choices in the payment solutions market. No matter what type of business you currently operate or are starting up, one of the providers we've looked at in this article will be suitable.
The company's two-card machines and additional hardware are easily affordable for any new business, highly functional and easy to set up.
SumUp also offers the lowest percentage transaction charge of any new generation payment provider. Plus for businesses requiring greater POS functionality the higher-end software, Goodtill, is a good option.
This is due to Square’s POS system designed specifically for restaurants that includes various useful innovations that would benefit hospitality businesses.
Square also has some of the best looking and most functional payment processing hardware available. While the square reader does need a smartphone connected, Square's Terminal and Register are excellent standalone devices that give any business the tools they need to get their businesses running.
Shopify is best known as the premier eCommerce website builder, and for good reasons.
The company provides businesses with the easiest possible way to build an online store that perfectly integrates with any number of physical stores. No other POS systems offer this level of integration, which is why Shopify is one of our favourites.
Read our full Shopify POS review
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