With just 15% of payments now made in cash, it’s more important than ever for businesses to accept card payments. To do this, you’ll need a PDQ machine, also known as a card machine in modern vernacular.

In this article, I’ll explain what these are, the benefits of having one, and where you can get one.

PDQ Machines

What is a PDQ Machine?

A PDQ machine, also known as a card machine, chip and pin machine, or card reader, is a device businesses use to accept customer payments using credit cards, debit cards, or contactless methods.

PDQ machines can come in various forms, including countertop models, portable devices, and mobile readers, catering to different business environments.

What does PDQ stand for?

In the world of payments, the acronym PDQ stands for Process Data Quickly.

As electronic payment methods became more prevalent, the ability to process transactions rapidly became a key feature for businesses, leading to the informal adoption of the term PDQ in this context.

How Does a PDQ Machine Work?

To use a PDQ machine, you start by inserting your card into the machine’s slot or tapping it on the contactless symbol, depending on your card and the machine’s features. The machine reads your card’s information, such as the card number, expiration date, and security code. For contactless payments, it uses near-field communication (NFC) technology.

The machine then securely sends your data to the payment processor or acquiring bank, which facilitates the transaction between your bank and the merchant’s bank. An authorisation request is sent to your bank to check if you have enough funds and for any security concerns.

Your bank responds by either approving or declining the transaction. If approved, an authorisation code is sent back to the PDQ machine, indicating the transaction can proceed. If declined, you’re prompted for an alternative payment method.

Once approval is received, the PDQ machine confirms the transaction’s success through a message on its screen or by printing a receipt. The funds are then transferred from your bank account to the merchant’s bank account within a few days.

Pros & Cons of Using a PDQ Machine

Pros

✅ Accept payments from customers using credit cards, debit cards and contactless methods like Apple Pay and Google Pay

✅ Streamlines payment process for faster transactions and reduced waiting times

✅ Improved cash flow with faster access to funds than cash transactions that must be deposited and processed manually. 

✅ Gives a professional image, increasing customer confidence and loyalty

✅ Improves bookkeeping with automatically generated receipts and electronic records

✅ Wide range of devices available, including portable and mobile PDQ machines for events

✅ Some PDQ machines have additional features such as analytics, gift card sales and loyalty programmes

Cons

❌ Need to pay transaction fees for each card payment processed, impacting profitability

❌ Upfront cost of purchasing or leasing a machine, plus potential ongoing costs for maintenance, software updates and equipment replacement.

❌ Technical issues, software glitches and network outages can disrupt payment processing

❌ Handling chargebacks can be time-consuming and may result in financial loss if you can’t prove the validity of the transaction

❌ Potential for user errors such as incorrect amounts charged or declined payments

❌ Greater security risk for unauthorised access, data theft and other threats to customer data

The Different Types of PDQ Machines

Several types of PDQ machines are available depending on your business’s needs.

PDQ Machine TypeDescription
Countertop PDQ MachinesThe most common type of device found in fixed locations like retail stores, restaurants, and service businesses. They sit on a countertop or checkout desk and connect to a power source, telephone line, or internet for transaction processing.
Integrated PDQ SystemsPart of a larger point-of-sale (POS) system combining payment processing with other business functions like inventory management and customer relationship management (CRM).
All-in-One PDQ SystemsCombines the functionality of a PDQ machine with additional features such as cash registers, receipt printers, and barcode scanners. Popular in retail environments with limited space, providing an efficient solution for managing transactions and inventory.
Contactless-only PDQ MachinesSpecifically designed to accept payments via contactless methods like near-field communication (NFC) technology. Ideal for businesses aiming to offer customers a fast and convenient payment experience through tap-and-go transactions.
Portable PDQ MachinesGreat for businesses needing to accept payments anywhere within their premises, like restaurants with table service or businesses with multiple checkout points. Lightweight and battery-powered, staff can bring them to the customer’s location to process payments.
Mobile PDQ MachinesDesigned for businesses operating on the go or at remote locations, such as food trucks, market stalls, and delivery services. They connect wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and use the device’s data connection to process transactions.
Wireless PDQ MachinesSimilar to mobile PDQ machines, but use cellular networks instead of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections. Offers flexibility and reliability in areas where Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals may be weak or unavailable.
Virtual PDQ SolutionsAllow businesses to accept card payments without physical hardware. Transactions are processed online or through software applications installed on computers, tablets, or smartphones. Commonly used for e-commerce websites, mail order/telephone order (MOTO) businesses, and subscription-based services.

Payment Methods Handled by a PDQ Terminal

A PDQ machine can handle various electronic payments, including

  • Chip and PIN Transactions: Many PDQ terminals support chip and PIN transactions using credit, debit and prepaid cards. This method enhances security and helps prevent fraudulent transactions.
  • Contactless Payments: Some PDQ terminals let customers simply tap their card or mobile device (e.g., smartphone or smartwatch) on the terminal to pay.
  • Mobile Wallets: PDQ terminals can also handle NFC payments through mobile wallet apps like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. 
  • Magnetic Stripe Cards: While less common, some PDQ terminals still support swipe cards. Customers swipe their card’s magnetic stripe through the terminal to initiate payment.

How Much Does a PDQ Machine Cost?

 PDQ machines typically cost anywhere between £15 to £70 per month to rent, and £19 to £800 + VAT to buy.

Several fees are associated with a PDQ machine, and I’ll look at each one individually below. 

Hardware Purchase or Lease Fees

If purchasing a PDQ machine outright, businesses pay the full cost of the device upfront, which can range from £19 to £800+, depending on the model and features. 

Alternatively, businesses may lease a PDQ machine from a provider, paying a monthly fee over a specified lease term. Leasing can offer flexibility regarding upfront costs but may increase overall expenses over time.

Transaction Fees

Payment processors charge fees for each card transaction processed through the PDQ machine.

These fees typically consist of a percentage of the transaction amount (usually between 1-3%) plus a fixed fee per transaction (around 10 to 30p). 

Depending on your provider, you may have a fixed or variable rate that lets you negotiate more favourable rates based on your transaction volume and business type. 

Monthly Service Fees

PDQ machine providers may charge monthly service fees to cover ongoing support, maintenance, and access to payment processing services. 

These fees can range from £10 to £50+ per month, depending on the provider and the level of service offered.

Equipment Maintenance Costs

Businesses may need to budget for maintenance and repair costs to keep the PDQ machine operational. 

Maintenance services may include software updates, hardware repairs, and technical support. 

Some providers offer maintenance plans or service contracts for an additional fee to cover these costs.

Chargeback Fees

If a disputed transaction results in a chargeback, businesses may incur chargeback fees imposed by the payment processor. 

Chargeback fees typically range from £10 to £25 per disputed transaction and are charged to cover the administrative costs of resolving the dispute.

PCI Compliance Fees

Businesses processing card payments through PDQ machines must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to ensure cardholder data security. 

Compliance may involve annual assessment fees ranging from £50 to £1000, depending on the business’s transaction volume and level of compliance validation required.

How to Choose the Right PDQ Machine

Choosing the right PDQ machine for your business might seem daunting given the variety available, but with careful consideration of a few key factors, you can make a decision that best fits your needs. Here’s how to choose:

Work Out the Costs: The cost of PDQ machines varies, so it’s important to consider not just the initial purchase or lease price but also ongoing expenses. These can include transaction fees, monthly service fees, and any costs associated with maintenance or updates. Finding a balance between affordability and the features you need is crucial.

Prioritise Security: Opt for machines that offer robust encryption to protect card data and are compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This not only secures your transactions but also builds trust with your customers.

Assess Functionality Requirements: Think about what you need the machine to do beyond processing payments. Do you need it to integrate seamlessly with your existing POS system? Are features like inventory management, reporting, and analytics, or the ability to handle transactions in multiple currencies important to you?

Consider Portability and Location Needs: The physical setup of your business and how you interact with customers can greatly influence the type of PDQ machine you need. If your operations are fixed to one spot, a countertop PDQ machine might be the best fit, offering stability and a constant power supply. For businesses that require flexibility, such as restaurants or cafes where payments are taken at the table, a portable PDQ machine is ideal. It allows you to bring the payment process directly to the customer, enhancing convenience. Additionally, for businesses that operate on the move, such as market stalls, pop-up shops, or those attending trade shows and events, a mobile PDQ machine is essential. These devices can operate over mobile networks, allowing you to accept payments anywhere you can get a signal.

Make Sure the Company You Choose Has Great Customer Service and Support: The level of customer service and technical support provided by the PDQ machine supplier is crucial. Research their reputation and read reviews to gauge the reliability of their service. Good customer support can make a significant difference, especially if you encounter technical issues or need assistance with your machine.

Look for Scalability: As your business grows, your needs may change. Consider whether the PDQ machine and its provider can accommodate future growth. This could mean the ability to upgrade your machine, add new features, or increase your transaction capacity without significant disruption or additional excessive costs.

FAQs

What is the difference between a PDQ and a POS machine?

What is the lifespan of a typical PDQ machine?

Can PDQ machines handle transactions in different currencies?

How secure are PDQ transactions?

Are there any limitations on the number of transactions or transaction amounts processed by PDQ machines?

How long does it take for funds from PDQ transactions to reach my business account?

Can PDQ machines integrate with existing POS systems?

Can PDQ machines be used for online or e-commerce transactions?