Any business looking to attract customers will need to accept card payments. In order to do this, however, a PDQ machine is required.
What are these mysterious technological marvels – and what on earth does, “PDQ” actually mean? These questions, and many more, will be answered below.
What is PDQ and what does it stand for?
PDQ machines go by many names in the 21st Century. You may see them referred to as a Point of Sale (POS) terminal, an EFTPOS terminal, or even the more informal moniker of, “credit card machine.” The acronym PDQ stands for, “Process Data Quickly”, which was colloquially switched to, “Pretty Damn Quick” by shopkeepers upon the dawn of the technology.
A brief history of PDQ machines
The earliest credit cards were made of cardboard. Anybody paying by card would show this to a shopkeeper, who would write down the relevant data on paper and submit it to the credit card company so they could receive the funds. If that all sounds like a tiresome and lengthy process, it was.
American Express changed the game in 1959 with the first plastic credit card. This would be placed in an imprinting device, which was the very first form of PDQ. A heavy handle swiped over the card and created a carbon imprint of the data. A paper copy was handed to the customer for signing and returned. This allowed the merchant to record the sale without writing information down by hand. Hence, the PDQ machine Processed Data Quickly.
Over time, PDQ machine technology evolved along with credit cards. IBM invented a magnetic stripe for credit cards in 1973, which meant the cards could be swiped rather than pressed. In 1979, electronic PDQ machines were introduced.
Rather than the old-fashioned carbon printing technique, this enabled customers to swipe a card down the side of the machine to provide data. A receipt would then be signed by the customer and returned to the merchant, who would check that the signature matched that on the credit card and approve the transaction.
This approach was replaced by the advent of chip-and-pin in 2006. Essentially, the old-fashioned swiping method was comparatively unsafe. Anybody capable of forging an approximation of a signature could steal a credit card and use it to make purchases. With the onset of chip-and-pin, credit card fraud immediately dropped by 13%.
In the intervening years, PDQ machines have evolved even further. Now, a PDQ machine can fit into the palm of your hand. The technology has come a long way since the days of yore, where the machines were comparable in size to a laptop computer. One thing has not changed, though. If your business wishes to accept card payments, you’ll need a PDQ machine in some way, shape or form.
PDQ machine cost – rental vs buying
For your business to accept card payments, you’ll need a PDQ machine. However, this does not mean that you need to own a PDQ machine. Some businesses opt to rent these devices instead. In many cases, this is more financially sound than purchasing a PDQ machine outright.
To accept card payments for your business, you’ll need to open an online merchant bank account. Once you have done this, the provider will likely offer you a PDQ as part of your account bundle. This will come with a monthly rental fee – usually up to £25 – and you will need to return the PDQ if you cease trading or change bank. However, you’ll be covered if anything goes wrong with the machine and can upgrade it without fuss when the next inevitable leap in financial technology arises.
Equally, you can obtain a wireless or countertop PDQ through rental. These are the credit card machines that you’ll see in shops, bars and restaurants. Merchants can carry the PDQ around, making it easy for customers to make payments without leaving their seat. These machines are very difficult to purchase, and often restrictively expensive even if you do source one. Expect to pay at least £500, often more, and to pay another substantial installation fee from a professional.
These reasons mean that renting PDQ machines is much more common than buying them outright. However, you may be interested in buying a PDQ to avoid these ongoing monthly rental charges. You could go small here and buy a mobile card reader. This could be as cheap as £20 if you shop around.
A mobile card reader will sync with an app on a smartphone or tablet and process payments for you. They do not look as impressive and professional as countertop PDQs, but they’re a great option for a startup, SME or mobile business. Taxi drivers, for example, often use mobile card readers.
Just be aware – regardless of whether you rent or buy a PDQ, you’ll still need to pay a transaction fee for every purchase a customer makes. That’s the nature of the beast and the price of convenience. No PDQ supplier will waive these fees, so don’t waste your time trying to negotiate a freebie.
So, in summary, renting a PDQ will cost up to £25 per month. In doing so, however, you will receive customer support, the option of upgrades over time, free repairs or replacements in the event of a technical or hardware fault, and the use of a countertop or portable PDQ.
If you purchase a PDQ outright, you can swallow this cost once and not pay any further monthly fees. However, if anything goes wrong you’ll be on your own – you’ll need to fix or replace the PDQ yourself. Also, you are very unlikely to get your hands on a traditional PDQ and will likely need to make do with a mobile card reader. Consider the impression this will give your customers.
Short term vs long term PDQ hire
The rental agreements outlined above are written with long-term PDQ rental in mind. This is the ideal option for an evergreen business that needs to accept card payments all year round. This may not apply to your business model, though.
Short-term rental of PDQ machines is ideal for any business that only needs to take card payments on occasion. Alternatively, a short rental of a portable PDQ or mobile card reader may be preferable for a business that is leaving their traditional trading location for a short period.
Examples of where a short-term rental of a PDQ machine may come in helpful include:
- Selling goods at an event, such as a festival or trade show
- Seasonal businesses that only trade during set times of the year, such as pop-up shops
- Cash-only businesses that wish to experiment with card payments
- Businesses heading out on the road for a while
Short-term rentals of PDQ machines are usually offered without a contract and can be as short as a few days or run for a few months.
Naturally, the costs of hiring a PDQ for a short period will be higher than the usual rental agreements. You will not be playing these fees while the PDQ lies dormant and unused, though. This makes a short-term rental much more cost-effective than taking out an unnecessarily lengthy contract agreement.
PDQ machine types and who they are suitable for
We touched upon the different types of PDQ machine earlier in this guide. The table below summarises the different types of PDQ, and which businesses would benefit most from using them.
|PDQ machine type||Most suited to …|
|Countertop PDQ Machines||Shops and businesses that keep their PDQ in one location|
|Portable PDQ Machines||Restaurants that need to easily move a PDQ from table to table|
|Mobile Card Readers||Businesses that use a PDQ on the go, i.e. taxi drivers or tradespeople|
|Mobile PDQ Readers||As above, but with a PIN pad to enable chip-and-PIN transactions|
Review this information and make a judgment call as to which type of PDQ meets the needs your business best. This choice may also impact on whether you decide to rent or buy your PDQ machine.
The best PDQ machines for small businesses
If your business would benefit from the use of a PDQ, give some consideration as to which model would serve you best. Let’s take a look at what we consider the five best PDQ machines available to small businesses in 2020.
- Ingenico iWL251
- SumUp Air
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
The Ingenico iWL251 will look familiar to many readers of this article. Unlike the other PDQs we’ll discuss, it is a traditional countertop machine. This means you’ll likely need to rent this particular card reader rather than buy. All the same, it is still small enough to fit into a pocket. More importantly, it’s considerably faster than any of the mobile readers that we are about to discuss. If you’re expecting long lines of customers and need to process payments rapidly, this is the model to choose.
This is considered the market leader for PDQ machines in the UK. Available in black or white and reasonably priced for upfront purchase, this mobile card reader can accept contactless or chip-and-PIN payments as well as being synced to a website that accepts card payments for goods. If you are looking for your first card reader and want something tried and trusted, the iZettle is the most popular option on the market for a reason.
The Square reader – designed by the creators of Twitter – is the first PDQ without any buttons. If your customer wishes to pay by chip-and-PIN, they need to enter their PIN into the app on a phone or tablet. It’s cheap to buy though, with no hidden fees. There are limitations to Square – it only works with the most popular credit cards, and customer service is sometimes lacking. This reader is a great and cost-effective introduction to accepting card payments for a small business, though.
If you’re looking to move your business overseas and accept payments, the SumUp Air is the way to go. Unlike many competitors, this card reader can be used abroad. Don’t worry, it’s tiny and will not add any weight to your baggage! It’s a little slower to settle sums of money owed, though. It can take around three working days for funds to reach you when a customer pays by SumUp. The others on our list will often release money the next day.
The WorldPay reader among the most expensive PDQs to buy. That’s the cost of doing business with an industry powerhouse like Worldpay. You can rent it on a contract of 18 months at a time, though. The Worldpay reader is most suited to small businesses that conduct limited business by card. This is because transaction fees are based on turnover. If you don’t make many sales by card, you won’t be stung with excessive fees.
PDQ machine FAQ
PDQ machines accept customer payments through contactless or chip-and-PIN. The payment will be processed through an app on a smartphone or tablet, so you’ll need an active internet connection to use a PDQ.
PDQ stands for, “Process Data Quickly.” Before the onset of PDQ machines, shopkeepers and merchants would need to write down credit card information – including the name and address of the cardholder – by hand. A PDQ machine managed to capture this information in moments, hence the name.
Refunds via a PDQ machine are not as rapid as payments. While funds leave an account immediately upon purchasing with a PDQ, refunds often take between 3 and 5 working days to reach the customer.
Yes, short-term hires of PDQ machines are a popular choice for event organisers. If you’ll only need to accept card payments for a few days out of every year, a quick hire is considerably more cost-effective than purchasing a PDQ and paying monthly fees while it gathers dust.