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The 7 Best Card Readers For Small Businesses (2024)

the-7-best-card-readers-for-small-businesses-(2024)
The 7 Best Card Readers For Small Businesses (2024)

When you’re out shopping and want to pay with your credit card—you insert, swipe, or tap your card on a small device. That piece of hardware is a credit card reader, and it transmits your information to a payment processor and bank for approval.

Every retailer who wants to accept credit cards as an in-person or on-the-go form of payment needs a card reader.

While it may seem that all credit card readers are created equal, nothing is further from the truth. There are several considerations—including fees, features, connectivity, integrations, and compatibility—to take into account when making your decision.

This article provides an overview of the top seven best card readers for small businesses, highlights which features credit card readers should have, and helps you pick the right one for your store.

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The 7 best card readers for small businesses

  1. Shopify POS: Best for a unified retail experience
  2. Square: Best for basic functionality
  3. Clover Flex: Best for tableside transactions
  4. PayPal Zettle: Best for no contracts
  5. Toast: Best for restaurant transactions
  6. Stripe Terminal: Best for Stripe online users
  7. Lightspeed: Best for inventory management

1. Shopify POS: Best for a unified retail experience

Shopify POS is more than one of the best small business credit card readers on the market. It’s a fully integrated, customizable, omnichannel point-of-sale system that helps you manage transactions smoothly in your store, online, across mobile devices, and on the go. Shopify POS makes everything you need to run your retail business—no matter how big or small—easy to handle from one place.

Shopify POS features:

Pros:

  • Reliable connectivity to support the completion of every transaction
  • Various card reader devices that accommodate every kind of small business
  • Fully integrated with Shopify’s online store for a unified commerce platform
  • Streamlined inventory management for every product across all stores
  • Strict security and full PCI compliance to protect cardholder data
  • 24/7 support from Shopify’s team of dedicated retail specialists

Cons:

  • Shopify POS’s strong e-commerce integration may be excessive for stores with no online presence

Pricing:

2. Square: Best for basic functionality

Square is a flexible and user-friendly platform ideal for new entrepreneurs who don’t initially require a comprehensive POS system. It offers simple solutions for selling anywhere and secure payment options. Square also provides tailored product suites for restaurants, retail, and beauty.

Square POS features:

  • Flexible payments
  • Third-party integrations
  • Customer accounts
  • Inventory management
  • Offline payments
  • Reporting and insights
  • Multi-location management
  • Commerce tool add-ons (additional price)

Pros:

  • Intuitive, user-friendly software
  • Long-term contracts aren’t required
  • Quick and secure payment processing
  • Offers a free card reader that’s good for individual entrepreneurs (Square Reader)
  • Flexible hardware upgrades for when entrepreneurs are ready to scale

Cons:

  • Free card reader doesn’t accept chip or contactless payments
  • Must upgrade from the free reader to new hardware to scale
  • Additional commerce services aren’t included in the price

Pricing:

  • Processing fees start at 2.6% + 10 cents per transaction
  • Hardware prices vary, starting at $10 to $799
  • Additional fees for add-on commerce services
  • No monthly fees for software

3. Clover Flex: Best for tableside transactions

Clover Flex is a handheld and wireless POS system that offers flexible payment options. It’s portable, making it a nice choice for tableside transactions. This small card reader is also great for entrepreneurs who work in dynamic environments, including pop-up shops, farmers markets, and events.

Clover Flex POS features:

  • 100% wireless
  • 6” LCD display
  • Flexible payments
  • Thermal dot printer
  • Digital receipts
  • End-to-end encryption
  • 1D/2D barcode scanner
  • WiFi & LTE connectivity

Pros:

  • Small and portable for on-the-go transactions
  • Ready to go right out of the box
  • Accepts Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay

Cons:

  • 8-hour battery life
  • Only includes basic sales reports
  • Can’t create and categorize items on the basic plan

Pricing:

  • Processing fees start at 2.6% + 10¢ per transaction
  • $35/mo for 36 monthsor $599 flat fee for hardware
  • Upgrades to premium plans available for additional fees
  • No monthly fee for the basic plan
  • Premium plan upgrades start at $14.99/month

4. PayPal Zettle: Best for no contracts

The Zettle Card Reader 2 is a mobile card reader that allows contactless payments by all major credit cards. It is portable and versatile and works for smaller business setups. The biggest draws of Zettle are that it doesn’t require a contract and integrates with many POS systems.

Zettle features:

  • Mobile card reader
  • Contactless payments
  • No monthly fee
  • Major cards accepted
  • Fast setup
  • PCI-certified security
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • POS app integration
  • Secure payment processing
  • Multiple color options

Pros:

  • No contract needed
  • Contactless payments with Tap to Pay
  • Schedule transfers to your bank with no extra fee
  • Funds arrive within minutes of making a sale to your PayPal balance 

Cons:

  • Battery life is only 8 hours
  • No age-verification features
  • Only compatible with iOS and Android compatible
  • Simple card reader that doesn’t work well for larger retail operations

Pricing:

  • Processing fees are 2.29% + 9 cents
  • One-time $29 hardware fee
  • One-time $79 hardware fee for additional readers

5. Toast Go 2: Best for restaurant transactions

Toast Go 2 is a card reader built specifically for restaurants. Its durability and functionality meet the demands of bustling restaurant environments, and it can be used for indoor payments, drive-throughs, and curbside services. Toast supports contactless payments, including NFC and digital wallet transactions. It also integrates with other Toast commerce products and several essential restaurant industry tools.

Toast features:

  • Mobile handheld POS
  • Contactless payments
  • Restaurant-grade durability
  • Fully integrated system
  • Spill, drop, and dustproof
  • 24-hour battery
  • Lightning-fast processing
  • Comfortable for long shifts
  • Palm-sized POS
  • Multi-payment options
  • Unified platform integration

Pros:

  • Free starter kit (1-2 terminals)
  • Long-lasting 24-hour battery life
  • Durable build, spill, dust, and drop-resistant
  • Easy-to-view touchscreen suitable for various lighting conditions

Cons:

  • Higher transaction fees
  • Only works for food services
  • Must upgrade to a paid plan for tools beyond basic credit card processing

Pricing:

  • 2.49% plus 15¢ per in-person transaction. 3.50% plus 15¢ per online transaction
  • Monthly fees start at $0

6. Stripe Terminal: Best for Stripe online users

Stripe Terminal is a mobile card reader built for Stripe online users who also want to accept payments in person. Stripe Terminal is highly customizable, but it’s also built with developers in mind. In other words, to get the full benefit of Stripe Terminal, you either need to know how to code or need to hire a developer. Stripe Terminal is good for enterprises with large operations that are already using Stripe’s ecommerce payments.

Stripe Terminal features:

  • Tap to Pay
  • Unified commerce
  • Customizable checkout
  • Customer personalization
  • Device-management tools
  • Multiple card reader options
  • Third-party integrations
  • API-integration
  • POS partners (including Shopify)
  • Stripe Payments and Connect integrations

Pros:

  • Unified online and in-person payments for Stripe users
  • Supports contactless and NFC payments
  • Global scalability for business expansion
  • Compatible with multiple devices

Cons:

  • Overkill for small businesses
  • Requires developer skills to access full benefits
  • Processing fees are higher than many of its competitors

Pricing:

  • Processing fees start at 2.9% + 30 cents per successful charge for domestic cards
  • No monthly fees for the Standard package
  • Additional fees for add-on services

7. Lightspeed: Best for inventory management

Lightspeed offers full POS hardware for retail, restaurant, and golf pro shops. While Lightspeed offers one of the most compact card readers on the market at 40 grams, it’s more well-known for its complete POS system and inventory management features. Lightspeed is a notable option for large enterprises looking to accept payments and keep close tabs on inventory.

Lightspeed features:

  • Omnichannel selling
  • Key-in card payments
  • Intelligent inventory management
  • Multi-channel inventory
  • Marketing programs
  • Purchase order management
  • Hardware integration
  • Loyalty programs
  • Flexible hardware
  • Ecommerce integrations
  • NuORDER integration

Pros:

  • Special POS for golf pros
  • One-on-one onboarding
  • Dedicated account manager
  • Detailed inventory management tools

Cons:

  • Too robust and expensive for small businesses
  • Must upgrade to access advanced reporting
  • Deposits take two days after a sale
  • Hardware prices lack transparency

Pricing:

  • Processing fees are 2.6% + 10 cents for card-present transactions
  • Processing fees are 2.6% + 30 cents per keyed transaction
  • POS plans start at $79 per month and $29 for each additional register
  • Hardware prices vary

How to choose a card reader for your small business

As you research your business’s credit card processing needs, here is everything to consider.

1. Reliability and uptime

The last thing you want is to have a customer in line ready to buy your products and for your credit card reader to stop working. 

A piece of hardware with an unreliable network, low battery life, or that’s notorious for breaking can mean the difference in thousands of dollars in sales a month.

When picking a card reader, choose one with high uptime percentages—ideally above 99%. Also, look for reviews, testimonials, and case studies about the hardware’s reliability

2. Check security features

80% of consumers say they pick a credit card based on its security features. And it’s a merchant’s duty to provide the same level of security and protection when reading and processing a credit card.

Opt for a card reader that adheres to the latest PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) requirements. Look for features like EMV compliance for chip cards, contactless payment encryption, and tokenization of payment data.

3. Evaluate pricing

Some card readers are free. Others cost thousands of dollars. 

The first step in evaluating pricing is to examine your monthly revenue, count how many stores and employees will need a card reader, and determine what features you’ll need.

Once you have settled on these numbers, you can start comparing prices across card readers and providers. Look for:

  • Contract requirements. Is there a long-term commitment or a more flexible month-to-month option? What will this cost you in the long run?
  • Card reader hardware fees. How many card readers do you need? What kind? Do you need to buy the hardware outright, or is there a rental option?
  • Processing fees. Look at the cost per transaction, including the percentage and the additional fee for each transaction. These can vary widely.
  • Monthly fees. Is there a recurring charge for using the service or system? What does the monthly fee cover? 
  • Hidden fees. Are there any fees that you don’t know about? Will you need to pay additional money for features you thought were included?

4. Review essential features and integrations

When picking a card reader for your small business, the most important questions to answer are:

  • What can this card reader do? Does it have the essential features I need?
  • Does it integrate well into my full business management tool suite?

To help you out with your research, here are the top features a credit card reader should have:

  • Contactless payments. Tap to pay for quick transactions.
  • Mobile integration. Syncs with phones and tablets for mobile sales.
  • Multi-payment support. Accepts different card types and payment methods.
  • User-friendly interface. Easy for all your employees to navigate and use (including returns).
  • Uptime. Reliable performance with over 99% uptime.
  • Durable hardware. Resistant to wear and damage.
  • EMV compliance. Secure chip card processing.
  • NFC capability. Enables near-field communication transactions.
  • PCI compliance. Adheres to industry data security standards.
  • Battery life. Long-lasting power for continuous use.
  • Receipts. Provides physical and digital transaction receipts.
  • Customizable options. Tailorable features to fit business needs.

And here are the recommended integrations the best card readers should have:

  • POS. Compatible with your preferred POS.
  • Accounting software. Syncs with your accounting tools.
  • Ecommerce platforms. Integrates with your online Shopify store.
  • Inventory management. Connects with inventory systems to track sales and stock levels.
  • Employee management. Ties in with staff scheduling and management tools.
  • CRM systems. Links to customer relationship management software for better customer insights.
  • Payment gateways. Compatible with various online payment processing platforms.
  • Marketing tools. Integrates with marketing software for targeted promotions and campaigns.
  • Data analytics. Connects to data analysis tools for insightful business reporting.
  • Security software. Works with security solutions for enhanced transaction protection.

5. Evaluate payment methods

Have you ever abandoned an online transaction because you couldn’t use your favorite one-click payment method? Or have you ever wanted to buy something at a brick-and-mortar location but only had your phone with you?

As a retailer, the best way to account for this is to pick a card reader that accepts all forms of payment. This includes cash, all major credit cards, and digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

6. Hardware needs

What it means to be a small business varies widely. At one end of the scale, a small business could be a sole proprietorship run by one person. On the other, it could be a handful of retail stores with several employees in each store.

As such, it makes sense that credit card reader hardware needs would vary widely from one business to another. 

If you’re a large operation with multiple brick-and-mortar stores and a complementary ecommerce store, you’ll need a full POS system and a robust hardware setup. For example, you may look into POS Terminal Countertop Kits for your sales counters. 

But if you only sell your products online and at your local market, a POS plus a small and portable credit card reader (like a pin-and-chip machine) would be a better—and more affordable—fit.

How much does a card reader cost?

We’ve looked at the top 7 card readers for small businesses and discussed what you should consider when picking one, but how much will it set you back?

Again, it depends on how big your business is, your monthly revenues, and what features you need. But here is where you can plan on spending your money when setting up payments at your business:

Hardware

Your hardware costs will depend on the number of stores you have and the number of people at each store who need a card reader. You can plan on spending anywhere from $0 for something like a Tap to Pay on iPhone card reader to hundreds for more robust hardware like an EPOS.

POS software

Card readers aren’t typically stand-alone devices. The best readers integrate with POS software so you can manage your payments across all channels and stores. For fully integrated POS software, you’ll likely pay a monthly fee. At Shopify, POS fees start at $5.

Payment processing fees

Finally, you’ll want to account for payment processing fees. You’ll pay a processing fee every time you complete a transaction with a card reader. These fees vary between credit card reader providers. At Shopify, processing fees start at 2.6% + 10¢ USD in person.

Find the best card reader for your small business

If you’re starting your first retail store, expanding your online store to brick-and-mortar locations, or looking for a better way to accept payments, you’ll need a new credit card reader.

And, no matter how big or small your credit card processing needs are, Shopify has a card reader for you to process payments. The best part? Every Shopify card reader integrates with Shopify’s POS, so you can keep everything from your sales to your inventory organized in one system as you scale.

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Best card reader for small business FAQ

What is the best card machine for small businesses?

Choosing the best card machine for a small business depends on your retail store’s size, specific needs, and budget. When deciding, compare features, calculate total fees, and assess whether you require a comprehensive POS system, like Shopify, which offers a more integrated solution for managing sales, inventory, and customer data.

How much does it cost to get a card reader?

The cost of a credit card reader will vary depending on the brand you choose. Some have an initial hardware fee, and some are free. Free card readers typically come with limited functionality and processing fees for each transaction.

How can small businesses take card payments?

Small businesses have several options for accepting credit card payments. Get a card reader with flexible payment and quick options. Also, consider one that allows payment from Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay. When picking a card reader, make sure it integrates into your POS system.

Who pays the transaction fee on a card reader?

The business using the card reader pays the transaction fee, which is usually a small percentage of the transaction amount, sometimes with an additional fixed charge per transaction.

What is the cheapest way of taking card payments?

The cheapest way to take credit card payments is to get a mobile card reader. The $49 Tap & Chip Card Reader from Shopify and the free Tap to Pay on iPhone are both excellent options.

This article originally appeared on Shopify Retail Blog and is available here for further discovery.
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