A Buyers’ Guide to Merchant Account Credit Card Terminals

Merchant Warehouse |

December 8, 2010

When you’re trying to find the best credit card terminal for your business, perhaps the best way to go about it is to find a buyers’ guide to help you along. Buyers’ guides have all of the important information that merchants need in order to incorporate the right terminal into their business. Let’s take a crack at it right now.

The best way to approach a buyers’ guide for merchant account credit card terminals is to break it down into four categories and price ranges. Within these categories you will find equipment by Verifone, Nurit, Ingenico and Hypercom, all of which are respected manufacturers that manufacture a variety of devices. Price information here is understandably inaccurate, since you have to keep up with deals on a daily basis. There are any number of good Internet destinations for shopping among the various models and makers.

Here is a glimpse of what you will find when you go online, or into a merchant provider’s storefront, for credit card terminals.

  1. Traditional terminals
    Basic terminals include a magnetic stripe reader, a keypad to enter prices and other information, and a small display. The required printer can be built-in or a separate plug-in, add-on unit. When choosing between a built-in printer or separate one, remember that while it may be slightly easier to deal with one piece of equipment than two, the cost impact on your business either way will be minimal.
  2. Virtual terminals (could be free, could cost you)
    If you do business exclusively over the phone or the Internet, you may not need a physical terminal at all. Your merchant account provider should be able to provide software that handles the transaction. You simply type in the credit card number and the software handles the authorization, and even ties in to all the monthly statements and account management functions. If you don’t like the “freeware” that your provider gives you, you can always opt to buy your own software after ensuring it will work with your payment gateway, etc.
  3. Top of the line terminals
    These terminals will include a printer, keypad and internal memory for “store and send later” batch processing. At times, higher-end models will come in two form factors, wired (for normal landline use) and wireless (for short- or long-range mobile use).
  4. Wireless terminals (high-grade performance for in the store or on the road)
    Wireless credit card terminals provide a significant advantage for some businesses. For example, taxi drivers, seasonal businesses with temporary locations, traveling merchants and “big lot” businesses (warehouse, nursery, etc.) can all greatly increase efficiency by accepting credit cards wirelessly. However, for most businesses, wireless terminals are a needless expense. If a terminal is never going to leave the counter, the wires pose no problem. Wireless terminals by necessity often have printers built in. Mobile merchants don’t need or want the hassle of carrying around two or three separate pieces of equipment. Important factors to consider when evaluating wireless terminals include battery life, range, weight and shock-resistance (since any terminal that gets carried around is going to be dropped occasionally).

 

Factors to Consider

 Terminals have different types of displays, and, obviously, larger displays let you see more information at once. Displays are usually measured by lines and columns, so an “8 x 20″ display has eight lines of text, 20 columns (or characters) wide. Getting a backlit display lets you use the terminal even in low-light conditions and is probably a good idea. Backlights are standard on most high-end terminals, in any case.

You also need to consider what accessories and backup supplies you need, and take care to stock a sufficient quantity so as not to be caught short. Especially with wireless and mobile models, you need an extra battery pack (or two) so that one can be charging while the other is being used. In addition, extra printer paper, cables and plugs for any add-ons, a carrying case and other amenities should be considered when selecting a terminal.

Pricing and How to Buy

 Credit card terminals are not unusually expensive. The ongoing costs of a merchant account will be a much more significant expense for your business. Terminals are often used as “loss leaders” (marked down to cost or even below) to influence you to choose a particular merchant account provider, so you may see prices online that are “too good to be true” (and, quite often, they are).

Basic terminals range in price from $150 to $300. Terminals with printers go from $200 to $600, and wireless terminals can be $600 to $1,000. Again, these prices are general ranges, and there are always deals to be had if you shop diligently or drive a hard bargain with your account provider. Many merchants do just fine with the terminals they get from their providers, although it is usually not the best idea to lease them. If you do enough business, many account providers won’t even think of leasing you equipment. They will most likely give you what you want, which they will write off as a cost of doing business.

Regardless of what some merchant account providers might imply, credit card terminals can be used with any merchant account. The terminal must be implemented to connect to the correct provider, but there is no such thing as a terminal that “only” works with one account provider or gateway. If, for any reason, you don’t care for the terminal(s) that your account provider has given you, you can always buy on somewhere else – after reading a good buyers’ guide and hitting the Internet to check current prices, of course!