The ability to process credit and debit cards is a requirement for any modern store, but Point of Sale (POS) terminals are usually tied to an internet connection. What happens if you want to sell at a trade fair, or set up a market stall, or any other kind of pop-up shop?
This is where mobile card readers come into their own, allowing you to process card payments wirelessly and on the go. You don't need a checkout till, you just need a smartphone or tablet that can run apps to connect with a mobile card reader.
They can even be great for small mom-and-pop shops that are looking to keep their initial costs down, and a tablet running apps on a stand can work in lieu of a till.
Most merchant services providing a mobile card reader offer rates similar to online payment systems. Many charge no monthly fee, just transaction fees in the range of 2.5-3.5%. However, there are options to pay a monthly fee in order to reduce transaction fees down to interchange fees only, ie, the pennies the bank will charge for movement of funds between accounts.
Where mobile readers really come into their own is their sheer flexibility. Using nothing more than your own smartphone, a downloaded app, and a cheap card reader costing around $25-$50, you can be ready to start taking payments anywhere there is a cellular network signal. Even then, some merchants offer an offline option.
Even better, it's not just the ability to take payments from credit/debit cards with an EMV aka chip-and-pin, but contactless payments can now also be taken, including Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay.
Here we look at some of the merchant service providers who can provide the best in mobile card readers for taking payments on the go, into 2020.
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Best mobile card readers - at a glance
- Paypal Here
- Quickbooks Payments
The innovative PoS system
Square provides a range of innovative PoS solutions, and their mobile card reader continues this policy. As with Square's products in general, your mobile device can serve as a checkout and sales center for your retail business, and the card reader remains an integral part of that.
The card reader itself is just a small device that clicks onto your smartphone via a Lightning USB connection for iPhones and iPads, or phone jack connection for Android phones. The attachment can then have cards simply swiped through it to be processed.
The swiping process is easy, but it's also secure with no card or customer data being stored in your phone. Instead it's sent over an encrypted connection for processing, and then that's the processing done.
The basic card reader itself is free, and transation fees are a flat-rate 2.6% + 10c for Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. Even better is that there are no monthly fees, either.
However, there is a different device required for contactless payments, which allows not just for chip and pin cards to be read, but also use Apple Pay for payments. These cost $49 per device as required.
Altogether, Square make taking transactions a painless process, and the card reader is both easy to use and simple to work with. The charges are very reasonable, too.
A cost-effective mobile card reader
SumUp is mobile card reader that is available in 31 countries, although it is a more recent entry to the US market. Notably, it supports cards with EMV, popularly known as the newer ‘chip cards,’ and is powered via a micro-USB port, and has a lithium ion battery.
This mobile card reader solution is well suited to lower volume users as it offers a fixed 2.65% transaction cost, with no monthly fee, or minimum usage level. The card reader is currently available for just $19, and connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone with a downloadable app.
There is also support for a wide variety of credit cards, including MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover Card, as well as the newer services Apple Pay and Google Pay. Payouts to your bank account take an efficient one to two days. Unfortunately, the card reader is required for any transaction to occur, as transactions cannot be manually entered.
The mobile card reader from the online transaction juggernaut
PayPal Here currently offers a free card reader with transaction rates of 2.7% and no monthly fees, making it a particularly accessible and affordable way to take card payments. Howevere, there are a couple of caveats.
One is that this is only a starter card-reader intended for a transaction volume of up to $500 a month. While this is limiting for general bricks and mortar stores, it could prove useful for small transactions at trade fairs and other mobile events. Another is that swiped payments with this are subject to a 30 day reserve to protect against fradulent use.
If that sounds too limiting, Paypal do offer a general use Chip + Swipe card reader https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/credit-card-reader-how-to/chip-and-swipe-reader for $24.99, which also works with Paypal Here, or an additional Chip and Tap + Charging Stand for $79.99.
The small business accounting software mobile card reader
The GoPayment smartphone app is notable, and this has a companion card reader, both of which come for no additional charge. Unlike free card readers from competing services, this one from Quickbooks Payments can handle both mag-stripe and chip methods of entry, and connects to the smartphone wirelessly via Bluetooth.
Another benefit of this service is that there is no setup fee, or any minimum usage level, making QuickBooks Payments more attractive for the lower volume user.
Transaction fees are 2.4% plus $0.25 for each swipe, and for a keyed entry this rises to 3.4% plus $0.25 for each transaction. Overall, if you're already a QuickBooks user, QuickBooks Payments could be your priority choice.
Taking your business anywhere
Shopify offers an entire suite of merchant services. Here we are focusing on its mobile POS system, that targets selling at “fairs, markets, pop-ups, and everywhere in‑between,” making this an attractive solution for an existing Shopify business on the move with a pocket-sized card reader The chip and swipe reader is also free, sweetening this deal even further.
In addition to the mobile card reader offering, this also integrates into Shopify solutions including the Shopify POS smartphone app. However, do note that the mobile reader comes as an extension to existing Shopify services, and isn't provided as a standalone.
Shopify offers three plans, with the starting tier being the Basic Shopify Plan costing $29 per month – it also has transaction fees of 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction. Merchants can opt to pay a higher monthly fee to reduce transaction costs.