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Whatever your industry, it’s important to be aware of changing consumer behaviours, and how they can affect your business. Cash payments have been decreasing over the last 10 years, while debit card payments in particular have seen consistent growth during the same period, accounting for 50% of all payments in the UK in 2022. 

Offering a choice of different payment options is vital to make sure you continue to meet your customers’ needs. As the UK heads closer to becoming a cash-free society, payment providers have made it easier and more affordable for even small businesses to start accepting card payments both in store, online and face to face. 

In this article, we’re going to explain how to start accepting card payments, what you need to set them up, the benefits to your business and customers, and any security considerations. 

What are the benefits of taking card payments?

First of all, let’s take a look at the benefits of taking card payments for businesses and their customers. 

More convenience for customers  

Accepting card payments provides businesses and organisations with a convenient payment option that aligns with customer preferences. With the decline in cash usage in recent years, cards are more convenient, especially for larger transactions.  

There are lots of different ways to accept card payments, allowing businesses to offer transactions across multiple channels. For example, online and phone card payments provide convenient solutions for people to make payments without needing to be physically present. This is particularly beneficial for businesses in the public sector that support citizens with a wide range of services. 

Improved cash flow 

Card payments offer numerous advantages, including the elimination of the need to physically deposit cash or deal with bounced cheques. Instead, the funds are typically deposited directly into the business's bank account within 3–5 business days, improving cash flow. 

By processing card payments electronically, businesses can streamline their operations. This eliminates the time-consuming task of handling and depositing cash payments, reducing administrative burden. Additionally, it eliminates the risk of theft or loss associated with managing large amounts of cash, providing enhanced security and peace of mind. 

Faster transactions and reduced administrative burden 

Accepting card payments can speed up the overall payment process and reduce the administrative burden on businesses and organisations. For face-to-face transactions, card payments remove the need to manually count and reconcile cash, issue receipts, or handle change, which has the added benefit of reducing wait times for customers. 

For remote payments, such as those taking place online or over the phone, card transactions are processed automatically in a matter of seconds. Virtual terminals offer convenient automated processes, further streamlining the payment process and allowing staff to focus on other important tasks. 

Enhanced security  

Card payments offer enhanced security and are protected by encryption and other security measures. For card-not-present transactions online or over the phone, the requirement for merchants to adhere to PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) ensures that businesses and consumers are adequately protected from fraud. 

Access to data and analytics 

Accepting card payments allows businesses to gather valuable data and analytics on customer spending patterns. This information can be used to gain insights into customer behaviours, preferences, and trends, which can inform business decisions and strategies. Access PaySuite’s income management platform can also help public sector organisations to better understand their customer base and tailor their services to meet their needs. 

How to accept card payments 

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to start accepting card payments: 

  • Choose a payment gateway: If you do business online or over the phone, you'll need a payment gateway that allows customers to securely enter their card information from anywhere. Access PaySuite offers an online payment gateway and acquiring solution, which can be adapted to suit any business. 
  • Select a payment processor: Regardless of whether your business accepts credit card payments in-person, online, or both, you'll need to find the right payment processor. Payment processors facilitate transactions between your business and financial institutions. When choosing a payment processor for your business, there are several key considerations to keep in mind:
    • Which credit and debit cards they accept  
    • Which channels are supported (e.g. online payments, phone payments or face-to-face card payments)  
    • Whether they offer the types of payments your business requires (one-off or recurring payments)  
    • Per-transaction fees  
    • Contract length and terms  
    • The type of card terminals they offer  
    • Compatibility with your existing hardware and software 
  • Consider service fees: Depending on the provider you opt for, you may need to pay a monthly or annual subscription fee to use their services.  
  • Ensure data security: When accepting card payments, it's crucial to prioritise data security and fraud protection. Look for payment processors that offer strong data security measures and fraud prevention tools. Access PaySuite has PCI compliant status across all payment channels, and a fraud and risk management tool.  
  • Integrate with POS software: If your business accepts payments both online and in-store, consider using the same point-of-sale (POS) software to track sales from both channels. This can help you compare numbers across sales channels and centralise your data  
  • Consider cash flow benefits: Accepting card payments can improve your cash flow by allowing you to get paid faster. This can be especially beneficial for small businesses  
  • Explore alternative payment methods: In addition to credit cards, consider accepting payments through platforms, such as contactless payment options.  

Remember, each business is unique, so it's important to consider your specific needs and preferences when choosing a payment gateway and processor. Conducting thorough research and comparing different options can help you make an informed decision. 

Once you’ve chosen your payment provider, you’ll need to set up your account with them, as well as configuring any hardware or software you’ve purchased to process card payments. This could be a phone-powered standalone device, a card machine with a built-in receipt printer, or a complete (POS) set-up. 

If you’re transitioning to a different system, you may need to input the details of your products and services, such as prices, barcode information and stock levels. Your payment provider will be able to guide you through the onboarding process for your particular set-up, and offer training for you and your employees to make sure you’re confident about taking card payments. 

An overview of the card payment process 

Although fast and straightforward from an outside perspective, the card payment process actually involves five different parties: 

  • The customer 
  • Your payment provider (the acquirer) 
  • The customer’s card scheme (e.g. VISA) 
  • The customer’s bank 
  • Your business (the merchant) 

Let’s look at how these parties interact throughout the process. The following steps all happen within a few seconds: 

  • The customer uses their credit or debit card to pay your business. 
  • Your payment provider (the acquirer) then sends a payment request to the customer’s card scheme. 
  • The card scheme checks with the issuing bank that the customer has enough funds to complete the transaction, and that the card or account isn’t blocked 
  • If the payment request is accepted, the acquirer takes the money from the customer’s bank account. 
  • The acquirer deposits the funds into the merchant’s bank account. 

Depending on the acquirer, they may hold all purchase funds until the end of the day before sending them to the merchant’s bank account. Funds usually take 2–3 business days to clear. The acquirer then adds service fees for each sale to the merchant’s monthly statement. These are usually billed at the end of the month and paid by Direct Debit. 

Security considerations for accepting card payments 

Card payments are more secure for businesses, as they require authorisation from the customer’s bank to ensure that they have enough funds to make the purchase. Unlike cheques, which may bounce, and cash, which could be counterfeit, card payments ensure that you get the funds you’re owed. 

For customers, the risk of fraud is low, but not non-existent. Secure card machines use encryption to protect private details from third parties, while additional security measures such as Chip and PIN and contactless payment limits help to ensure that payment is being made by the authorised cardholder. 

Businesses are also required to comply with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) rules, which are particularly relevant for card-not-present transactions where sensitive data is shared online or over the phone. Some of the major steps towards PCI compliance include implementing firewalls, adequate password protection (such as two-factor authentication), encryption of transmitted cardholder data, and restricting physical access to data storage. 

Accepting card payments 'on the move’ 

Taking card payments is now simpler and more accessible than ever, so even small businesses, nonprofits and public sector organisations can benefit from the improved convenience.  

You can also easily take payments on the go, which is perfect for those who travel to different locations, including market stallholders, charities and tradespeople. 

Many payment providers offer mobile payment solutions, such as portable card terminals that use a wireless signal to process transactions. They often connect to a mobile phone or tablet, and can even include an integrated receipt printer for added convenience. 

FAQs about accepting card payments

Should I start accepting card payments?

Whether you’re a sole trader, charitable organisation or national brand, accepting card payments offers lots of benefits to your business, as well as to your customers. Like any business decision, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of accepting card payments, and to consider the ongoing costs associated with it. However, the added convenience for customers, increased sales and time-saving benefits make offering card payments an attractive option for businesses of all sizes and types. 

How can I take card payments?

Once you choose a payment provider, they will get you started with the necessary software and hardware to start taking card payments. From portable contactless devices to Chip and PIN card machines and complete POS set-ups, there are lots of options available to suit your business needs. 

Are card payments secure?

Card payments are more secure for businesses, as they require authorisation from the customer’s bank to ensure that they have enough funds to make the purchase. For consumers, secure card machines use encryption to protect their private details from third parties, while additional security measures such as Chip and PIN, contactless payment limits and two-factor authentication help to ensure that payment is being made by the authorised cardholder. Merchants are also required to comply with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) to ensure that they are accepting payments as securely as possible, further protecting all parties. 


How else can I take card payments?

As well as face-to-face payments, there are lots of ways to take payments to offer great benefits to your business and customers, including: 

Should I buy or rent a card machine?

It used to be the case that card machines were leased to businesses by the payment provider as part of a subscription package. This meant expensive ongoing costs for as long as the business was accepting card payments. However, most payment providers now allow businesses to purchase a card machine at the start of their contract, so they own it outright. 

What fees do I need to pay to accept card payments?

Most providers charge a fixed fee per transaction for card payments. However, some charge a percentage-based fee, usually ranging from 1.5% to 3.5%. When choosing a payment provider, it’s important to weigh up the fees to make sure you’re getting the best deal to suit your business needs. 

Ready to start accepting card payments?

Get in touch to find out more about our face-to-face payment solutions. No matter the size of your organisation, our range of card payment machines, Chip and PIN terminals and kiosks has something to suit everyone.