If your business wants to accept card payments over the phone, you'll need to invest in a virtual card terminal. But with a wide range of virtual terminals available in the UK, how do you choose the right one for your business? This guide explains.
Compare virtual card terminals
What is a virtual terminal?
A virtual terminal enables businesses to key in a customer’s card information and process a transaction without the need for the customer to be physically present. This means businesses can reach a broader customer base, even if they’re overseas.
Virtual terminals use web-based software to do this, so you won’t need additional equipment, such as a physical point of sale (POS) terminal or a dedicated phone line. All you’ll need is an Internet connection and a web browser.
What is an example of a virtual terminal?
You can turn any desktop PC into a virtual terminal as it’s a web-based application. You can also use laptops, smartphones and tablets. Most virtual terminals accept both credit cards and debit cards.
How do virtual terminals work?
Virtual terminals are designed to take payments over the Internet, by phone, via email or by fax. They do this through an Internet-equipped device, such as a laptop or smartphone. So, if a customer calls you by phone, you simply sign into your account on your device, enter the payment amount and then enter your customer’s name, card details and billing address to process the transaction. You can usually create and send a receipt to your customer at the same time.
Why use a virtual terminal?
Virtual terminals can be useful for small businesses that process debit or credit card payments over the phone or Internet. But they can also be used to take payments in person. Virtual terminals can be a great choice if you need to accept payments from customers overseas, as they often support multiple currencies.
Many terminals offer features such as recurring payments, receipt issuing and other payment tracking tools. Some also include fraud detection features. They are usually very easy to set up and don’t require additional, often costly, equipment.
Virtual terminal costs
Virtual terminal costs depend on the provider and the plan you choose. Some virtual terminals come with a monthly subscription fee of around £15 to £45 a month, while others charge processing fees of around 2.5% to 2.95% per transaction instead. Some might charge both.
This makes it important to compare monthly and processing fees carefully to work out which option offers the best value for your business.
Pros and cons of virtual terminals
- Convenient. Virtual terminals can work on many devices with an Internet browser, including smartphones, tablets and laptops, and are generally easy to set up. As long as you have an Internet connection, payments can be accepted anytime and anywhere.
- Flexible. You can use virtual terminals to take debit and credit card payments over the phone or via email, Internet or fax.
- Save on equipment. There’s no need to fork out for expensive dedicated hardware or physical card terminals.
- Multi-currency. Some virtual terminals also accept payments from overseas in different currencies.
- Range of features. Virtual terminals often come with extra features such as recurring payments and fraud detection.
- Costs. You’ll need to pay a monthly subscription fee and/or processing fees for your virtual terminal.
- Card-not-present risks. Because the cardholder isn’t usually physically present when a transaction is carried out, you can’t check the cardholder’s ID or ask them to enter their PIN. This increases the risk of fraudulent activity compared to face-to-face transactions.
- Risk of error. Virtual terminals usually require someone to manually key in the payment information, which increases the risk of human error and payments being declined.
Who are virtual terminals best for?
Certain types of businesses are likely to need virtual terminals more than others. For example, restaurants that accept customer orders over the phone, online and in person can use a virtual terminal to cover all these transaction types.
Virtual terminals can also work well for businesses that don’t have a physical location as payments can be taken anywhere, as well as online stores and marketplaces and subscription-based businesses. They can also suit freelancers or consultants who rarely see their clients in person.
Essentially, virtual terminals can work for any business that needs to take payments from customers who are not standing in front of them.
What is the best virtual terminal for small businesses?
If you’re a small business that doesn’t process high volumes of transactions, you’ll probably want to look for a virtual terminal that only charges processing fees rather than a monthly subscription fee. As a small business, you might not need a huge array of additional features either.
Instead, you might prefer to opt for a terminal with a user-friendly interface, easy setup and 24/7 customer support. But, as with any product, it’s important to shop around and compare your options carefully, as what suits one business might not be the best choice for another.
How to compare virtual terminals
When comparing virtual terminals, keep the following factors in mind:
- Cost. Some virtual terminals, such as SumUp and Square, only charge processing fees, while others charge a monthly subscription fee. In some cases, you could be charged both, so check what works best for you.
- Flexibility. Check what payments are accepted and whether you’ll be tied into a contract and for how long.
- International payments. If you have customers overseas, check whether the virtual terminal accepts payments in different currencies.
- Customer support. Check how much customer support is provided and if access is 24/7. This is particularly important if you’re a small business without your own IT department.
- Additional features. Compare additional features such as recurring payments, receipt issuing and fraud detection. You might not want them all, but if you do, make sure your chosen provider offers them.
Bottom line: are virtual terminals any good?
Virtual terminals can offer a great solution for businesses that take payments over the phone or online regularly. Virtual terminals are easy to set up, with no need for a physical terminal or machine. All you’ll need is a computer, tablet or smartphone and an Internet connection. This accessibility means you’ll reach a wider customer base and can even take payments from overseas.
Frequently asked questions
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