Many small business owners spend a lot of time trying to determine which credit card processing company to work with, but spend very little time deciding on the best credit card processing machines. While the former is very important to ensure that you are getting the lowest fees on your card processing, the latter is equally important to ensure smooth operations in your store.
Any retail business that conducts face-to-face transactions, whether with consumers or business-to-business transactions, should have the ability to process credit or debit cards through physical credit card processing machines. In fact, if you currently do not accept debit or credit cards, you could be losing out on a significant portion of revenue. Studies by the Federal Reserve of Boston indicate that as many as 80 percent of all consumers today carry a credit or debit card, and the average size of each transaction increases when your customers use a credit card.
There are a wide variety of different credit card processing machines today, including standalone units, units integrated with your back-end system, wireless units, and more. The one you choose ultimately depends on what you need your system to accomplish.
For many large businesses, finding point of sale machines that integrate the transaction process makes sense. These all-in-one retail machines are often customizable, and come with the latest in computer processing technology, a sleek display, touchscreen, and integration with your inventory, credit card processing, and other back-end functions. The high cost of these credit card processing machines often makes them better suited for larger retail stores.
Standard Credit Card Terminal
A standard card terminal is a small machine that includes a keypad, small display, and swipe strip for the card. These units are popular with many smaller retail stores because they are less expensive, and can easily be connected to any store’s current cash register system. Some units also come with the ability to hook in accessories, such as a pinpad (for debit card transactions) or printer. These units must be plugged in to an electrical outlet and have a wired connection to your phone line.
Wireless terminals are similar to standard credit card terminals, except they are designed to operate on batteries (no electrical outlet required), and they connect to your credit card processor wirelessly rather than through a phone line. Generally these units include the same basic features as the standard terminal—a strip to swipe the card, keypad, small display, and in some cases they also come with a small printer. They may include the ability to connect to peripheral items such as a pinpad, but keep in mind that peripherals may require an electrical outlet in order to work properly.
Virtual Credit Card Terminal
For businesses that do the majority of transactions over the internet, a virtual card terminal is essential. It allows you to contact your card processing company online, and can often be set up for recurring payments, or to calculate taxes and other fees.
Many businesses today have moved away from accepting checks, but if you still prefer to do so, a check terminal is essential. The terminals are designed to scan checks and curb fraud. Good units include check authorization, verification, guarantee, and electronic check processing.
Deciding Which Unit to Purchase
There are several factors that can influence which terminal you ultimately choose, and the cost of purchasing the best credit card processing machines can vary significantly, from as little as $100 up to $1,000 or more. Some of the questions you should ask in order to choose the correct one include:
• Where will I do the majority of my business? For example, if you know that you process all your credit card transactions in one physical location at your place of business, you probably do not need a unit with wireless capabilities. If you have a retail store, but do most of your business online, a virtual solution that accommodates rare in-person card transactions may suffice. Generally any business with more than half of its transactions as “card present” situations (the card is there at the time of the sale) should have a terminal.
• Do I need other devices in addition to the credit card processing machines? Some card processing companies may require a customer to enter a PIN (personal identification number) for debit card transactions. It may be awkward to ask customers to tell you their PIN, so having a pinpad is useful in these cases. Not all credit card processing machines have the ability to attach peripheral devices, so check this carefully before purchase.
• Do I have the ability to connect this device to my network? Some units may require a phone line (analog or digital), others may require a high-speed internet connection. In either case, check to make sure you have the ability to connect the device before you purchase it. This is especially true if you plan to purchase a unit on the secondary market (such as through online auction sites), because some older card processing terminals may require that you plug in to an analog phone line. If you have a digital phone line, or no phone line at all, your unit will not work.
• How much do I want to spend? The price for card processing units can range from about $100 to $1,000 or more, depending on what features are included, what software comes with the unit, and whether it includes built-in printers and other capabilities.
• Do I have more than one merchant account? If you own several businesses and plan to use the same card processing terminal for more than one business, check to find out if the unit will support more than one merchant account.
• How does the system update? As with any electronic equipment, your card machine may require software updates, patches, or new versions. Find out how the machine downloads these updates to ensure it will not interfere with your business, and can be done quickly and efficiently whenever necessary. Systems with flash memory make it very easy to stay up-to-date on the latest versions and patches.
• Do I need the ability to accept proprietary cards? These cards, such as gift cards or private-label cards, require a special type of unit that is programmed to accept them. If you want to offer gift cards, or have other specialized card scanning needs, be sure your unit will support it.
Where to Shop
Once you know what kind of machine you need, the next step is getting it. You may be able to purchase a unit through your merchant services company when you sign up—in some cases, they may even off it to you for free or for a discounted price as part of a package deal. Be sure to compare several different units before deciding which one to buy; you don’t want to settle for a unit that doesn’t include the features you need simply because you’re in a hurry to get set up. There are also several online retailers that sell new and used units if your merchant services company doesn’t have credit card processing machines available.
If you are trying to keep the price low, you can also try to purchase secondhand units from other businesses, or from online auction sites and other deal websites. In these cases, be cautious and ask a lot of questions throughout the buying process to ensure you get the best credit card processing machines that have exactly what you need.