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It is increasingly common for people to pay for things in shops, restaurants and other business premises by using their credit or debit cards. There are also growing numbers of ways to complete a transaction using a mobile phone too.
If customers come to your retail, hospitality or professional services business and ask to pay by card, it can cause big problems if you ask for cash only. It could well lose you individual transactions or stop customers from returning to your business.
Clearly, if you have any kind of e-commerce business, your online payment system is vital to your enterprise and will be integrated into your website.
If you are starting up a new business – or looking to replace or update your existing system – then you need to know about merchant accounts and credit card payment devices.
What Is A Merchant Account?
If you are a retailer or any other business that takes payments, you need to set up and run a merchant account. This is a form of business bank account to process the money you receive and to manage all the transactions.
This means choosing an organisation that offers retail merchant services – sometimes referred to as a payment processor.
Using an established merchant account provider gives both you and your customers the assurance that transactions are secure.
The merchant services provider you choose will charge a fee to process the credit and debit card payments you receive into your business. The amount – and how it is calculated – varies from one provider to another, so shopping around makes sense.
Word to the wise. Choose with care as your merchant account provider will expect you to sign a contract with them, that is legally binding. Read the terms and conditions carefully. Take special notice of any timescales, as you may find yourself locked into using that merchant account provider for some time in order to simply provide a credit card payment option for your consumers.
Watch out for “teaser rates” too. These are lower-than-average fees that draw you into a contract, only to find after the qualifying period that you are paying for merchant services at a much higher rate with no potential exit clause.
Card Machines For Small Businesses
Clearly, to get the money from your customers’ debit or credit accounts into your merchant services “till” you need a payment gateway.
The gateway also needs to provide other valuable retail merchant services, such as showing if a card has been reported as stolen, or letting you know if the customer has insufficient funds in their own account.
E-commerce businesses can integrate payment gateway systems into their website. The customer enters their card details into fields on a secure digital gateway as a debit or credit card payment. Funds then go directly into your merchant account.
If you have a physical shop or some other premises, you will need a way to conveniently and professionally accept non-cash payments. This means technology to take credit and debit card payments securely.
The solution can range from a small handheld card machine that can scan the data strip on a card, to devices that could also take contactless card payments, to card payment technology integrated into a full electronic Point of Sale system.
Where To Start When Choosing Small Business Payment Systems
All of this is designed to help smaller businesses to run more efficient, offer better customer service and account for money coming in from purchases.
However, the range of technology available can be overwhelming, particularly if you need new business card payment support.
Transaction management for sole traders or small businesses needs to make life easier, not give you extra sources of headaches, so this guide should help make choosing merchant services and card payment systems stress-free.
The starting point of researching the retail merchant services that best suit your business is to develop a clear idea of what you need now – and also what functions you are likely to need in the near future.
You should also have a budget in mind, what you can afford with your business projections, to find payment systems at the right start up price and ongoing fees.
Therefore, you’ll need merchant services and card payment systems that don’t break the bank.
Balancing what you want to pay, against what card payment systems you need to grow your retail business, makes setting up merchant services a great deal more straightforward. You won’t end up with something more advanced than you actually need, or card payment services at too high a cost.
Checklist Of What To Look For In Card Payment Technology
Once you are clear on the type of merchant account you want, you need to give some thought to the technology to physically accept card payments. It helps if you have a checklist of essential features for your retail business card machine and some ideas on what would be desirable.
That way, you can find something that ticks all the mandatory boxes and get the best possible combination of additional features within the budget you have set.
Do you need contactless payment facilities or just a lower cost machine that swipes cards? The more sophisticated – and therefore more costly – card terminals also accept mobile technology payments.
Once you have some competitive prices by using our search function, you can then compare features and services to find the right package for your retail business, at the right price.
How Does Small Business Card Payment Technology Work?
Once you have chosen your merchant services and the type of card machine for small business that is best for you, the technology will arrive at your premises. The payment processor should give you technical support on how to set up card payments technology for your particular business operation. It is usually quick and easy to set up your card machine for small business.
There are wireless devices that connect to your smartphone or laptop via WiFi. There are others which need to be physically connected to your phone line or mobile technology.
You will then need to go through a procedure with your merchant services provider to verify the terminal. Once this is done, you are ready to go and you can accept card payments in your business.
Is It Easy To Run Merchant Accounts And Card Payment Systems?
Your customers are going to want to know that any electronic or online payment systems you use, as a sole trader, shop or other small business, are 100% secure.
Which is one of the reasons carefully choosing the merchant services company and the equipment you use is so important.
However, you also need to be aware that payment processors will want to be sure that your business is authentic and that your payment systems are well managed too. Their reputation and future income rest on providing merchant services for small business that are ethical and long term.
So, be ready to fill out an application process to secure your merchant account.
The merchant services provider may also provide stringent guidelines on how closely you have to adhere to consumer regulations and codes of practice.
To be honest, the qualities and controls they impose are a source of reassurance to small businesses, as they add extra support in running payment systems and services. If you are offered merchant accounts from providers that have lax or no terms and conditions, it could well be a big alarm bell.
Study the merchant contract closely. As mentioned you need to be sure the terms are acceptable to you, but you also need to know that your payment processor is going to look after you and has credible and secure business practices of their own.
Next Step To Choosing A Small Business Card Payment System
Armed with your budget and your checklist of what you need – and want – it is time to start shopping around. You need to find merchant services that have the price structure and terms that suit your enterprise. Then you need to decide which technology you want to use to accept card payments with your card machine for small business.
Our handy price comparison search makes the whole process of finding the best card machine for small business far easier. Get the right price, for the right support and equipment, to put your business on the right track.