If you have a physical store presence or meet with customers in person to accept payments, then you will need the necessary hardware required to process those transactions.
We've certainly come a long way since taking impressions of credit cards on carbon paper with the old "knuckle-buster" machines that were ubiquitous in retail stores in the '80s and '90s. Remember those? They seem almost ancient when compared to using a lightweight mobile reader that's connected to a smartphone.
As payment methods and hardware technology all continue to evolve, new payment devices continue to be introduced to the marketplace to allow you to accept payments in person, even while on the go. Each piece of hardware is unique and will vary depending on which payment methods they support. These methods include magstripe swipe, Chip, Chip & PIN, and tap (NFC). Their available connectivity also varies, such as Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, audio jack, and 3G, among others. As a merchant, you are not short on hardware options, and each component needs to be carefully selected based on your business needs.
Credit and Debit Terminals
If you are accepting payments in person, then you will need to decide which terminal is right for your business. This is the traditional way of accepting cards in person and is likely the most familiar method to merchants and customers alike. There are a variety of wired and wireless terminals available to choose from that will allow you to quickly and easily accept payments in person.
What makes a terminal different from mobile readers is that they don't need to be connected to a computer or paired with a device such as a phone or a tablet. These terminals can operate in a stand-alone environment as long as they have internet or phone-line connectivity. This means that a merchant can easily add a terminal to their store's countertop and simply accept payments without needing to integrate it with any software or systems.
The frequent downside of terminals is their lack of software and functionality, they typically only offer basic payment functionality and lack any "smarts" that a true Point-of-Sale system would include.
Card readers, unlike terminals, typically rely on another device to pair with for connectivity and to be able to initialize transactions. These devices can include phones, tablets, Macs, PCs, and other workstations. While this dependency may be seen as a disadvantage, there are also numerous benefits to using a card reader.
While card readers were initially introduced as a cost-effective mobile option to accept swipe transactions, they have evolved to be able to compete with even the most robust terminals while offering several unique benefits to businesses. The original card readers had limited connectivity options and were only able to connect with mobile phone audio jacks in order to accept magstripe transactions. However, new card readers continue to be introduced with more connectivity and payment method options. Using a card reader gives business owners added mobility to accept payments outside of traditional retail locations. You simply need to pair the reader to a phone or tablet to be able to accept easy on-the-go payments.
Card readers are also more cost-effective than terminals because they rely on another device to provide some of their functionality. The hardware in the reader is relatively less complex compared with other equipment options making card readers a low-cost alternative to traditional terminals. If your business has multiple locations or large teams of people spread out over different areas who all need to be able to accept payments, then providing them with card readers instead of individual terminals can be both easier and a more cost-effective way to give everyone the ability to accept payments.
Using a card reader with a smartphone or computer means your payments can flow through more sophisticated apps and point-of-sale systems compared to typical stand-alone terminals which only have the straight transaction data. By centralizing your data using a card reader, you can have access to valuable sales insights and business analytics that you wouldn't otherwise be privy to.
In-Store Point-of-Sale System
If you are interacting directly with customers, then you will most likely need a Point-of-Sale (POS) system for your business. The traditional POS option is essentially just the standard cash register that you grew up with, however, new technologies in software and data collection mean that business owners have a wide variety of modern options to choose from today that do more than just initiate payments. Cloud-based POS software has made POS systems accessible for small businesses and they are able to completely replace the functionality of a cash register while increasing efficiency, lowering costs, and saving space. To use a mobile POS, you just need to download the application on your mobile device and you can begin processing immediately.
These hardware options should give you a good understanding to get started with taking payments in person. The most important thing to remember is to select hardware that works for your business and that accepts the payment types that your customers are comfortable using.