iZettle
iZettle’s Bluetooth card reader pairs with a smartphone to accept credit and debit card payments

Mobile card readers are changing. It’s becoming increasingly popular for small businesses and sole traders to take advantage of new smartphone peripherals for processing card payments on-the-go.

These chip and PIN readers connect to an iPhone, iPad or Android device, and can process card payments instantly. They offer a fast and cheap alternative to traditional card readers, which can be bulky and expensive. With many of these options there is no need for a merchant account or separate contract with a merchant services provider

Customers are used to paying for things via their smartphone – be it online shopping or in-app payments,  but now smartphones can be used to facilitate face-to-face payments as well.

Verifone mobile PDQ machine
Traditional all-in-one mobile PDQ machines are bulkier than the pocket-sized smartphone options

Mobile Payments With a Smartphone

Traditionally, mobile card readers were expensive, bulky devices. They were provided by the merchant’s payment processing company, and they would use their own mobile data connection.

In recent years, a number of companies have started to provide alternative mobile card readers which pair with a smartphone to authorise the payment.

A small card reading device is connected to the smartphone or tablet – usually via a Bluetooth connection, thus turning the phone into a chip and PIN machine. The phone’s 3G or 4G data connection is used process the data; which is generally fast and hassle free.

From the point of the view of the customer, the payment process is identical to using a counter-top PDQ machine in a shop – the buyer inserts their card and enters their PIN to confirm payment.

market stall
Mobile card machines are perfect for market traders and stall holders

Who Is This Technology For?

This kind of payment processing solution is aimed at sole traders and small businesses that operate outside a typical brick-and-mortar retail environment. Often used by exhibitors, stall traders, home deliveries companies, taxi drivers, and in mobile or popup shops; they are also perfect for tradesmen like plumbers and electricians, who would otherwise have to invoice for work carried out and collect payment later.

This solution is also great for small startups – as it’s quick to get started, setup fees are low and there is minimal hardware investment. For example – PayPal Here is a fully hosted solution (the merchant doesn’t process the customers card details directly) that doesn’t require a merchant account or PCI DSS compliance – funds are also transferred into the merchant’s PayPal account immediately, unlike the usual 2-3 days waiting period with a merchant account.

Smartphone Chip and PIN machines
Smartphone Chip and PIN machines are ultra portable. These examples are from iZettle and PayPal Here

What Are The Pros and Cons of Smartphone Payment Processing?

With low setup costs (in most cases, the merchant will already own a smartphone), it’s easy to see why smartphone card readers are becoming more and more popular. Even though it’s generally simple and quick to get started taking card payments, there are a few potential downsides to this solution that merchants should consider before signing up.

The company that pioneered the technology is San Francisco based Square. Their Square Reader attached directly to the phone’s headphone jack and allowed for swipe and signature transactions. Their product is still only available in the US, Canada and Japan, and there is no word from them about when they might launch their products in Europe.

Square Reader
The small and light Square Reader is built for swipe and signature, but is not available in the United Kingdom

Mobile Network Coverage: All of these devices require a mobile data connection in order to work – which can be a problem in more rural areas on some networks. If you sometimes have a problem with your mobile phone reception, then this could cause an issue when taking payments.

Device Compatibility: Depending on the provider, some devices will not be compatible with the service, this is especially true of Android phones and tablets. See specific providers below for more information.

Support: You may encounter a problem that prevents you from taking payments. While some providers provide 24-hour telephone support, others only provide email support during office hours.

Durability: Traditional PDQ machines are typically rented from the payment processor, and will be replaced free of charge if they were to break down or if new hardware becomes available. They also tend to be of sturdy construction and stand up well to the rigours of daily use. Mobile smartphone card readers are made for portability and a small size, which may not be as durable. They are also purchased from the provider, which means that the merchant (i.e. you) will be liable for any costs of replacement should they fail.

Card Acceptance: While all of these devices accept Visa, Mastercard and Maestro, many don’t accept American Express, V-Pay, JCB or Diners Club.

No Contactless Capabilities: None of the smartphone peripheral devices available currently have the ability to process contactless transactions, unlike many traditional mobile PDQ units, which do. Contactless payments are growing rapidly for transactions up to £30, as the technology that facilitates them continues to roll out.

Fees: Transaction fees will vary between providers and transaction volume, but they are typically higher than those from merchant account providers. This may or may not be offset by the lack of monthly fees and setup fees – depending on your transaction volume. Unless you expecting a very low number of monthly transactions, it’s definitely worth comparing quotes from different merchant account providers before you choose.

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No Customer Receipts: These devices do not include a thermal printer to produce customer receipts on the fly. You can buy a separate wireless printer that’s compatible with the smartphone, or send an email receipt to the customer, which will of course require them to supply their email address.

iPad Chip and PIN reader
iZettle’s Chip and PIN reader together with their iPad app

Mobile Card Processing for iPhone and iPad

There are a number of providers of iPhone and iPad card processing devices to choose from in the UK, in spite of the fact that three of the largest players in the US market: Square, Amazon Local Register, and PayAnywhere are not available here yet. We outline some options below.

Paypal Here

PayPal’s easily recognisable brand will reassure customers who haven’t seen the technology before, and cash from transactions gets credited to your PayPal account immediately. There are no monthly fees or hidden costs, and the mobile app is free – the Chip and PIN reader costs £69.95, including VAT and free delivery to the mainland UK.

It is compatible with Visa, Mastercard and Maestro, and there is a flat 2.75% transaction fee for payments using Chip and PIN cards. If the payer’s card or PayPal account is from outside the UK then cross border fees are added on. Transaction fees are also higher for swiped cards and payments made by keying in the card details – 3.40% + 20p per transaction. PayPal offer custom pricing for ‘large volume’ sales, although they do not say what constitutes large volumes.

The app works with iPhones (3GS and newer) and iPad 2 or newer. The iPad app also features a barcode scanner for pricing up items. It works on most Android phones (detailed list below) but does not yet work with Android tablets.

Intuit Pay

US financial software company Intuit set up GoPayment in the States in May 2009, launching in the UK as Intuit Pay in November 2012. Like PayPal Here, it’s free to sign up to the service and there are no monthly fees, which means that there is no commitment. The reader needs to be purchased for £79 + VAT and transaction fees are 2.75% per transaction – which is the same as PayPal Here. There are no cross-border fees or higher transaction rates for swipe and signature. Also compatible with Visa, Mastercard and Maesto. The package includes a virtual terminal for processing cardholder not present payments over the phone.

If you’re not VAT registered, reader will cost you £82.80 – which is £12.85 more than Paypal Here.
Funds usually take around five to seven working days to arrive in your bank account.

iPhone Chip and PIN readers
Intuit Pay, iZettle and PayPal Here card readers are similar in size and form, but PayPal’s reader lacks a screen

iZettle

iZettle, hailing from Sweden, has been available in the UK since November 2012, and it supports MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Maestro, V pay, Electron and JCB cards via Chip and PIN.

For swipe and signature transactions, there is an ongoing issue between iZettle and Visa which means that Visa transactions are completed on the customers smartphone after they follow a link to an online checkout page.

Like their competitors, there are no monthly fees or rental charges, monthly minimums, or other fixed costs – and merchants are charged only for completed transactions.

The reader costs £59 inclusive of VAT, and at time of writing iZettle are offering a 30-day money back guarantee.

iZettle’s transaction rates start at 2.75% for the first £2,000 worth of monthly revenue, then drop on a sliding scale so that when monthly income exceeds £13,000 the charge is only 1.5%. iZettle’s website has a useful tool for calculating the charges.

iZettle has wide support for most iPhone and Android devices, including some Android tablets. The full list of supported devices is here.

Payleven

Payleven Cip and PIN readerThe Payleven Chip and PIN device has been available to UK businesses since 2013. The offering is in many ways very, very similar to iZettle – the reader is the same apart from the branding and it accepts the same cards – Visa, V-Pay, MasterCard, Maestro and American Express.

The price of the unit is £49 excluding VAT (£58.80 with VAT if you’re not VAT registered) – again very similar to iZettle.

Their pricing system is tiered – starting at 2.75% for monthly transactions up to £2,500, 2.25% on transactions from £2,500 to £5,000, 1.75% on transactions between £5,000 and £7,500, and 1.5% after that. There is a fixed transaction fee of 2.75% on all American Express transactions.

Merchants will receive finds from 4-7 business days after the transaction – again, the same as iZettle.

SumUp

SumUp chip and PIN readerSumUp provide their chip and PIN reader for £79, and their transaction fees are relatively low at 1.95% per transaction. There is support for Visa, V-Pay, Mastercard, Maestro and American Express.

Their reader does not process transactions via swiping a card’s magnetic strip, so if you have customers from the USA, this could cause a problem. Strangely, the card slot is on the right side of the device, which means that customers trying to use their right thumb to press the keypad will find it awkward.

They promise that you will be paid within 3-6 business days – slightly faster than iZettle and Payleven.

WorldPay Zinc

WorldPay Zinc Chip and PIN readerWorldPay are an established player in the payments market, so it’s no surprise that their WorldPay Zinc offering for smartphone Chip and PIN payments is competitive.

The Chip and PIN reader costs £79.99 – which one of the most expensive in the market, but it looks solidly made. It’s similar in style to the readers from Payleven and iZettle, except it doesn’t feature a cutout in the top left corner where the card swiping slot is, and the display screen is slightly larger.

There are two pricing plans to choose from – one is a 2.75% flat rate per transaction with no monthly fee, and the other is a 1.95% transaction fee plus a monthly charge of £5.99. If you expect your monthly transaction value to exceed £480, then it becomes cheaper to opt for the monthly fee option.

Like Intuit pay, they also offer a free virtual terminal for taking cardholder not present transactions over the phone.

WorldPay promise to pay funds into the merchant’s account within 3-4 business days – a speed only beaten by PayPal.

Mobile Card Processing for Android

All of the services listed above are available for Android, although due to the number of Android phones available, each has their own specific list of compatible Android devices. Check whether your device is compatible with each service using the links below.

PayPal Here works on most Android phones, with the exception of the following: Samsung Galaxy Ace/Ace VE/Ace 2, Samsung Galaxy/Galaxy S Advance/Galaxy Nexus, HTC Wildfire S/Desire HD, Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc/Arc S) but doesn’t support Android tablets. The full compatibility list is here.

Intuit Pay also doesn’t support Android tablets, and only supports the following Android phones: Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy S II, Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S III Mini, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy Note, LG Nexus 4, Sony Xperia (V, Z, ZL, TX, SP, A, T).

iZettle supports most Android Devices, including some tablets. The full list of supported devices is here.

Payleven claim to support “most Android smartphones and tablets running version 4.0 or higher”. They suggest that the best way to determine if your device is compatible is to attempt to download the free Payleven app from the Play Store – the app will detect if your device is not supported and notify you.

SumUp claims to supporr all Android devices with Bluetooth 4.0, but they also provide a compatibility checker here.

Worldpay Zinc is compatible with any Android phone running OS 2.3.x or 4.x, with GPS, and with a screen size of 480px by 640px or greater, they publish a list of popular compatible devices on their website, although another way of testing compatibility is to try to download the fee app.

What Are The Alternatives?

Verifone PAYware
The Verifone PAYware card readers are only slightly larger than smartphone Chip and PIN readers, but can also accept contactless payments

Mobile point of sale devices that pair with smartphones and tablets are a very practical and cost effective option for mobile tradesmen, stall holders, and any other small business that operates on the move.

These payment solutions allow businesses and sole traders to get set up taking card payments quickly and cheaply, and without the need to enter into a binding agreement with a merchant account provider.

However, they are less suitable for businesses who have high monthly turnovers; there are better deals to be had with traditional merchant account providers, who will offer better transaction rates and will typically get the money into your business account faster, which helps with cashflow.

These portable Chip and PIN readers are also available through merchant account providers. The Verifone PayWare series is of a similar size to the card machines listed on this page that pair with smartphones and tablets. They can also process contactless payments, and are available from most merchant accounts providers.

If you think that you might be better off with a merchant account, it’s advisable to get some tailored quotes so that you can compare fees from a number of different providers.

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Author - Nigel Vaughan

Nigel has over 10 years experience in digital marketing, and loves tech and all kinds of electronics. A keen cyclist and cycle-tourist, he has cycled through 25 countries worldwide.