Card machine vs. POS. Which one is right for your small business?

Friday, April 26, 2024 6 minute read
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6 minute read

Running a business brings unique challenges. Taking payments shouldn’t be one of them. Whether you’re starting a new business, expanding or looking to switch payment providers, we’ll help you identify the right payment solution for your business.

Which payment solution is right for your business?

As you research payment solutions, a good starting point is to determine if you need a simple card machine or a point-of-sale (POS) system. Here, we explain the differences between the two and help you decide which is right for your business.

Card machine and POS system defined

  • Card machine: A card machine, also known as a card reader, is the hardware or terminal you use to take in-person payments. It can be plugged into an ethernet connection for use at the counter or configured to use Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity for mobility. A card machine is an easy and simple way to accept payments from your customers.
  • POS system: A POS system is used to process sales transactions and efficiently run your business. It includes hardware like a card machine or cash register, along with cloud-based software for payment processing, inventory and employee management, reporting and analytics, and more.


Card machine vs. POS system (table): Customer Payments - Card machine and POS system; Payment reporting - Card machine and POS system; Inventory management - POS system only; Pricing and discounts - POS system only; Employee management - POS system only; Business reporting and analytics - POS system only;

Card machines: Accept customer payments

Building on the definition provided above, a card machine is a physical device that lets you accept credit and debit card payments, including contactless and chip & PIN. Card machines can be stationary (connected to a countertop) or portable (used wirelessly).

Here’s what you typically get with a card machine:

Transaction processing: The card machine connects to your payment processor through Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular networks (3G/4G). When you take a customer’s payment, the card machine securely processes the transaction, verifying the card details and communicating with the payment processor to authorise and complete the transaction.

Receipt printing: Most card machines let you print customer receipts, providing a record of the transaction. Some machines also offer the option of sending receipts via email or text message.

Basic terminal reporting: A card machine typically provides only basic information such as how much you sold and your percentage of sales by card type, like Visa vs. Mastercard. While you get no inventory or SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) data, you do get all the information you need to reconcile and understand your payment performance.

POS systems: Run your business, better

A POS system, sometimes called an electronic point-of-sale (ePOS) system, helps you manage sales, staffing, inventory and more. It records each sales transaction, including items sold, quantities, prices and total amounts. A POS system typically includes hardware components, such as a card machine or payment terminal, as well as software that facilitates transaction processing and inventory management. Simply put, a POS system can help you run your business more efficiently and effectively.

Here's what you typically get with a POS system:

Stock management: Never lose a sale because an item is out of stock. Inventory management delivers real-time data that helps you stay on top of stock by tracking inventory in and out—even across locations. Plus, inventory management can help you improve cash flow by helping you avoid purchasing too much, too soon.

Pricing and discounts: Easily set up and manage price points and discounts across locations and sales channels, including Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and more. A POS system also lets you adjust price points and offer special discounts by location or channel to help maximise your revenue—whenever, wherever.

Employee management: A POS system delivers insights that can help you understand not just what is sold and when it’s sold, but also by whom. These insights help you plan staffing levels and know who your best sellers are. A POS system also lets you track and manage timesheets and attendance.

Business reporting and analytics: A POS system allows you to access a deeper level of reporting and insights—in real time. You can analyse sales trends, understand customer purchasing patterns and buying behaviours, and so much more. Know how and when your customers are spending so you can create marketing campaigns that drive more sales.

Customer payments: A POS system provides a card machine for processing customer payments—and so much more. (See above for a detailed overview of what you get with a card machine.)

When making your decision, it’s important to note that while card machines typically have lower upfront costs, a POS system has many more features and can help you better manage your business. And a POS system may cost only a few pounds more per month. In fact, a POS system delivers the capabilities of big-name businesses, without the hefty price tag you may expect.

The right payment solution for your business

Choosing the right payment solution for your UK small business is crucial, and it depends on various factors. Here's a guide to help you decide between a card machine and a POS system:

Card machine: Best for businesses with low transaction volumes and a single (or no) physical location. Ideal if you don't need inventory tracking, employee management, or advanced sales reporting.

At Global Payments, we offer a range of compact terminals designed to make every payment easy and secure. Whether you're behind the counter, on the floor or on the go, our terminals are flexible, portable and powerful solutions with connectivity that allows you to do business anywhere.

POS system: Suitable for businesses that need inventory tracking, employee management and advanced sales reporting.

At Global Payments, we offer payment and POS solutions to suit the unique needs of small businesses in the UK.

  • In store. If you run your business in a physical location like a store or restaurant, a POS solution like Global Payments POS is ideal. It offers inventory management, pricing and discounts, reporting and analytics, customer payments and more. And it’s cloud-based so you can manage your business from anywhere.
  • On the move. If you manage your business on the move, consider an all-in-one mobile POS (mPOS) solution like Mobile Pay. It allows you to run your business and take payments directly from your mobile device, making it perfect for food trucks, farmer’s market stands, or any business needing a portable option.
  • Online only. If you only take online payments through your ecommerce website, we offer flexible checkout options to keep you in front of your customers everywhere they are online. You can also create and share payment links so customers can pay online in your store, on your website, through email, or on social media—wherever they are.

Whether you need a card machine or a more robust POS system, we’re the only payment partner you need. Get in touch here, or call us on 0345 6000 642.* Together, we can explore how to help your business do business—and thrive.

*Lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, except public holidays. Standard call rates apply. If you have a speech or hearing impairment, you can call us using the Relay Service by dialing 18001 followed by the number you wish to dial. To help us continually improve on our service and in the interests of security, we may monitor and/or record your telephone calls with us. Any recordings remain our sole property.