Merchant Equipment

    What is merchant equipment?

    Merchant equipment are the things businesses need to take credit card payments from their customers. Generally, equipment means a device to swipe or insert credit cards. We’ll go through the pieces of merchant equipment and help you figure out what you need.

    Credit Card Machine

    Credit Card Machine

    Retail Point of Sale Equipment Summary

    This equipment you will use to swipe a customer’s credit card. Generally this is a small device that sits on your countertop and connects to your cash register. The main providers of this equipment are Verifone and Ingenico. You cannot buy directly from these suppliers but you can buy from your merchant account provider or at an online store. Your merchant account provider will generally want to lease this equipment to you because they make more money. Our suggestion is that you buy the equipment online and ask your merchant account provider to program the equipment. The merchant account provider will give you software that gets loaded into the memory of the credit card machine.

    Retail Store Merchant Equipment

    If you’re a business with a fixed location, your merchant equipment will likely be a cash register with a credit card terminal. You can of course use a mobile payments system and all the Square payments gear that we explain below. But generally if you’re in one or several fixed locations you’ll want credit card terminals and cash registers that bolt or fasten down strongly to your counter top. To get an idea of the types of merchant equipment available you can ask some of the retail or commercial businesses that you frequent. Ask them how they like their credit card terminals and equipment. You’ll want to explain that you’re shopping around yourself for equipment and a payment processor. Otherwise if you suddenly start asking questions you might sound a little creepy and like you’re up to something no good. But hey! It’s a great way to learn what’s going on in the retail business! Let’s get started learning about merchant equipment. We’ll start with credit card terminals.

    Credit Card Terminals

    You might think getting a credit card terminal is easy. It is. But there are some complicating factors. Terminals have undergone a lot of change in just the last few years. And there’s more change underway. So you’ll want to get the latest credit card terminal. But you may or may not want to purchase the terminal. You’ll likely want to lease the terminal from your payment processor. This is so that you’ll get the latest technology and not be stuck with something that becomes obsolete. What is the latest tech? So glad you asked.


    EMV is a chip card. A chip in embedded in your customer’s credit card encrypts the information from the card. This information travels through all the way to the credit card network, the cusotmer’s bank and back to you. Previously you only had to swipe the customers credit card. Now with EMV the customer inserts their card, waits for the encryption to happen, and removes their card when the transaction is complete. This takes much more time than the simple swipe. But the good news is that EMV is more secure. It’s been a standard requirement in Europe for a while and now it has come to the United States. Your terminal must be EMV enabled.


    NFC or near field communications has been around for a little while. This how Apple iPay works. Google Pay works in a similar manner. And there are also other payment systems that work in a similar fashion. You’ll have people want to pay you with their iPhone. It just makes sense and more sense than whipping out a credit card. So you need to make sure that your terminal is NFC enabled.


    Despite that EMV and NFC are rolled out into the hands of consumers, there are still swipe credit cards hanging on. You’ll need to get a terminal that handles swipe credit cards as well.

    Wireless or Fixed Terminals

    After making sure that you’re getting EMV, NFC and swipe all in one terminal, your next decision is wireless or fixed terminals. Wireless terminals are great if you’re at a restaurant in Canada. The waiter or waitress brings a wireless terminal to your table and lets you pay. This is called pay at table. You’ll also see it on airplanes in the US and other places when you order and pay for an in-flight meal. Most of us don’t run a restaurant or an airline so in general you won’t need a wireless terminal.

    A fixed terminal bolts onto your counter and it is hard wired into your cash register and into a data line that connects to your payment processor. You’ll see this arrangement at any major retailer that you go to such as Walmart, Starbucks and etc. The good thing about this configuration is that the terminals are secure. You won’t need to be concerned with losing a terminal or having one of them walk away without your knowledge. You will need to install the terminals or have them installed for you. Typically your payment processor will take care of this for you. If the payment processor does not do the installation themselves then they will send an experienced installer to do it for you.

    Mobile Payments Equipment

    If you’re a business at a farmers market, at a kiosk in a mall, in a tourist location or a concert, you’ll want to consider mobile payments equipment. Mobile payments are payment services like Square Payments, PayPal mobile payments and other providers. Your customer hands you their credit card and you insert it or swipe it on your smartphone or iPad. Sometimes you’ll also hand your iPad to your customer and they will swipe their card for you. Mobile payments are easy. There’s some equipment you’ll want to consider to make mobile payments even easier.

    • What is mobile payments equipment?
    • Why do I need it?
    • What does it do for me?

    Credit Card Readers

    You’ll need several credit card readers. Credit card readers are small devices that plug into your iPad or smartphone. They’ve very small and very cheap. Thank goodness! You’ll pay under $20 for each one. The dongles work with your payment processor. So you can’t buy just any credit card reader. You’ll need to get the ones that are approved or certified by your payment processor.
    Generally it’s a good idea to have several of them in case you lose one or one of them fails. Here is a picture of what they look like.

    • What is a credit card reader? It allows you to take credit card payments from your customers when you have contracted with a payment processor.
    • Why do I need it? You can swipe credit cards on your smartphone.
    • What does it do for me? When you swipe the customer’s credit card on the credit card reader a secure purchase transaction is sent from your phone to a payment gateway and back to you. You’ll know that you’ve made a complete sale and you can give your customer their purchase.

    iPad Tablets

    If you’re doing mobile payments you’ll want an iPad or a tablet computer of some sort. iPad is what is typically used by a lot of small businesses. The iPad accepts the credit credit card reader one of its slots on the side of the computer. You’ll swipe or insert the credit card into the reader. What’s great about using an iPad for mobile payments is that it offers a nice big screen to show to your customer. This is much better than pulling a smartphone out of your pocket.

    • What is a iPad Tablet? This is a computer about the size of a phone book but very thin and portable.
    • Why do I need it? It’s a great way to take a credit card payment from your customer using a credit card reader and show your your customer their purchase transaction. You can do the same with a smartphone but the iPad’s bigger screen is easier for your customer to see.
    • What does it do for me? It make you look more professional.

    iPad Stands

    ipadstand2An iPad Stand holds your iPad in an upright position. You’ll be able to sit your iPad on a counter or flat area. This makes the iPad appear like a cash register. The iPad stands are typically white in color and look very clean and professional. They cost anywhere from $100 to $300. You’ll want to check prices and shop around a little to get the best price.

    • What is a iPad Stand? It is a stand that holds your iPad and makes your iPad look more like a professional cash register.
    • Why do I need it? It gives you a more professional image. It’s also easier than picking up an iPad and holding it for your customer to see.
    • What does it do for me? It holds your iPad so that your customer’s can see their purchase transaction.
    • What is the cost? iPad stands can run anywhere from $100 to $300. You’ll want to check prices.

    iPad Covers

    ipad payments coverIf you’re not planning to use an iPad stand then you may want an iPad cover. A cover will protect your iPad so that you can handle it and pass it around to customers. There is a slot or a hole for the card reader to be inserted into the cover. The cover is useful if you have a very portable retail operation. If you’re selling from a hot dog stand, for example, you won’t have a room to put an iPad stand on a counter. You’ll keep your iPad in it’s cover behind the hot dog cart. You may also be selling at farmers market from your truck or car. You won’t have space for an iPad stand. But you’ll want to protect your iPad. The iPad cover does the trick nicely. It’s around $50 or so but be sure to check prices.

    • What is a iPad cover? It protects your iPad while keeping a slot open to attach your credit card reader.
    • Why do I need it? It protects your iPad and makes it easy to hand to a customer.
    • What does it do for me? The cover encloses your iPad in a solid plastic case and give your iPad or tablet some protection.
    • What is the cost? iPad covers can run anywhere from $50 and up. You’ll want to check prices.


    Paper Receipt Printers

    Paper receipt printers automatically print our a receipt for your customer when you swipe or insert their credit card into the credit card reader. Once the purchase transaction has been approved the printer prints out a receipt. The receipt is on thermal paper. This means it uses heat to print the receipt and not ink. The paper receipt printer gives a more professional image. More importantly, it gives your customer a receipt that they can use to get a refund. Sometimes when you’ve been selling all day at a busy farmers market or other event you won’t be able to remember who you sold to. If someone asks for a refund you can ask them for a receipt to confirm their purchase. The receipt is also advertising of a sort for you. Some paper receipt printers allow you to put customized logos, coupons and such on the receipt. You can also show your telephone number and website. The paper receipt printers are not big. They are easy to setup with either a bluetooth wireless connection or a USB connection to your iPad or smartphone. They can be a little expensive. You’ll want to check prices but we see them for around $200 to $400.

    • What is a Paper Receipt Printer? It prints our a receipt automatically when you swipe your customer’s credit card through a card reader.
    • Why do I need it? It automatically provides a receipt so you don’t have to write one.
    • What does it do for me? It gives you a more professional image. You save time as you won’t write a paper receipt. You can ask for a receipt if your customer requests a refund later.
    • What is the cost? It’s not cheap. You’ll spend around $100 to $400. Be sure to check prices.

    Bar Code Readers

    Bar code readers are useful when you have many products that you’re selling. You’ll scan your product and the amount will automatically be entered into your smartphone or iPad. If you only have a few items where you can remember the price you won’t need a bar code reader. Or if you don’t get many customers you won’t need a bar code reader. But if you have 20 products or more you’ll want to consider a bar code reader. Bar code readers are a few hundred dollars and you’ll want to shop around. Setting them up is easy. You’ll apply bar codes to your products and program in the prices. The bar code reader attaches to your iPad with a USB cable or bluetooth wireless. Make sure that the bar code reader works with the payment processor that you’re using: Square Payments or an alternative to Square such as PayPal.

    • What is a Bar Code Reader? A bar code reader scans a bar code or UPC label on your products. When you scan the price of the item is automatically entered into your iPad for Square Payments or some other mobile payments processor.
    • Why do I need it? You don’t need it if you have few products or few customers. If you have a long line of customers it speeds up the sales process. If you have 20 or more products and you cannot remember the prices, the bar code reader is very helpful. You program the bar code reader one time and use it many times.
    • What does it do for me?You will be able to input your prices simply by scanning your product.
    • What is the cost?These can get expensive. Expect to pay $200 to $400 dollars more. You will want to shop around online and in office supply stores.

    Cash Drawers

    One of the last pieces of merchant equipment to consider is a cash drawer. If you use Square Payment or some other alternative to Square you’ll mainly be taking a credit card payment. But sometimes customers will want to pay you in cash or pay part cash and part credit card payment. So for these times a cash drawer comes in handy. You’ll need to get a cash drawer that works with your paper receipt printer and your payment provider. Setting this up can get a little tricky and we’ll write a more detailed guide on how to set this up.

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