Accept card payments in the UK for a business

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In this article we’ll cover:

  • Accepting card payments for small and growing businesses

  • How taking credit card payments (should not) differ

  • What happens in the background of a payment process by card

  • How to take card payments in-store

  • Why security is at the forefront of taking credit and debit card payments

  • Opening an online store and accepting card payments online as part of an ecosystem

  • Looking beyond payments with a digital ecosystem to grow your business at your own pace


As technology evolves and consumer behaviours change, there are winners and losers. Card payments are clear winners as of recently (and we can say cash and cheques are on the opposite team). According to the UK Payment Markets Summary 2021, 52% of all payments in 2020 were made by credit or debit cards, and in the first half of 2021, this number is creeping towards 60%. Now more than ever, accepting card payments (be it credit or debit) is a no-brainer, and companies like SumUp are making it easier than ever! 

How to accept card payments

Taking card payments in-person, be it in-store, at a convention, a market or on the road, is now more straight-forward than ever. Previously, business owners needed to sign-up to subscription model contracts with a number of extra payments and barriers to entry that made them question if accepting card payments was worth it. Today, small businesses can turn to industry leading payment specialists such as SumUp and start accepting card payments with a few clicks.

Card payments can be made with either debit or credit cards in the UK, with the card type changing nothing for a business who uses SumUp’s payment devices, as they can accept both card types with no extra steps or fees. According to the UK Finance organisation, 44% of all payments in the UK in 2020 were with debit cards, whereas credit card use declined by 18%, as consumers preferred to pay back debt and use money they had available rather than take risks during the pandemic.

Card payment process: what happens in the background?

In the handful of seconds that it takes for a payment to go through after using the Chip + PIN or Tap and Pay techniques with a card, information has followed a predetermined path in order to obtain payment authorisation.

Each time a payment is attempted, the payment terminal will contact the card issuer and the card holder's bank in order to verify that funds are available. The round trip takes seconds, but this process is crucial, and allows businesses to take card payments without worrying about the payment "bouncing" link a cheque can.

Accepting card payments in-store (and on the road) with a simple device

Thanks to the reliability of WiFi and mobile network connectivity, accepting card payments in the UK is a straightforward process with minimal set-up. First things first, you need a payment terminal or PDQ machine. These devices are equipped with the necessary tech to communicate with a debit or credit card, allowing them to accept card payments (or decline them if the customer does not have sufficient funds).

SumUp offers a range of payment terminals, allowing businesses to choose the right device for their needs. All devices accept a wide range of cards, along with contactless payments. Accepting card payments made via a phone is no longer an outlier, as more and more apps such as Google Pay and Apple Pay are gaining traction with younger audiences.

The SumUp Air allows businesses to take a small device with them anywhere they go, that connects to an app on their smartphone. This device uses the smartphone's mobile network to receive payment authorisations. Choosing the SumUp Air empowers your smartphone, and your business, to accept payments on the go, and meet your customers’ expectations.

You probably can’t remember the last time you stepped into a business and were told that you could not pay by card. Customers’ expectations have evolved, and technology is now required to make their purchasing experience as seamless as possible. As there are a number of card issuers out there, such as Visa, Mastercard and American Express, it is important to accept your customers card of choice. SumUp accepts all major cards, with no extra requirements or cost for your business.

Security at the forefront of taking card payments

The ease of card payments, along with their digital nature, makes many customers and businesses weary of the potential security issues they can experience. People are reassured by something they can touch, hold, and own, like cash or a cheque. The funny thing is, cheques are more open to fraud than any other payment method, and receiving fake notes is a potential disaster for your bottom line.

As a business, you want to know that once you receive a payment, the money is yours (unless the customer wants a refund of course, but that is a different problem altogether and can be handled with the SumUp app in a few clicks!). Card payments are only accepted if the customer has enough funds, or a high enough credit limit, on the account to make the purchase. No more bouncing cheques, which is a good start. 

For the card holder, the risks are mainly linked to NFC technology and having your card stolen. Even in this situation, there are limits in place, such as a £100 limit per purchase for contactless, and the requirement to enter the PIN code after a few contactless payments to verify user identity.

Card payment security with SumUp - how does it work?

Just because it is easier to accept card payments with us, doesn’t mean it’s any less secure. If you want to accept card payments using an internet-enabled mobile system, customers may want to understand the security implications.

All of their private data is encrypted when it passes between your mobile device and the service provider, meaning it cannot be obtained by a third party fraudulently. Furthermore, traditional security measures, such as Chip and PIN, are also incorporated into SumUp’s card readers.

SumUp’s devices remain secure wherever they are being used, as the encryption is location agnostic, allowing you to provide your customers with secure payment options at the local farmers’ market, or from an aisle in your boutique.

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Accepting online payments is no longer unnecessarily difficult

Online sales peaked at around 37% of all retail sales during the christmas period of 2020/2021 according to the Office for National Statistics. More and more small businesses are building an online presence through a number of tools including eCommerce stores and social media.

Taking online payments used to be complicated, requiring the business to set-up multiple accounts with payment portal providers and gateways, not to mention the cost with subscription fees and upfront payments.

SumUp looked at the problem of taking card payments, and realised that small businesses were being unnecessarily penalised due to their size and sales volumes, so we went ahead and built online payments into our business ecosystem at no extra cost. Now businesses across the UK can accept payments online, whatever their sales numbers.

Payment links allow businesses to send a link directly from the SumUp app via email, Instagram, WhatsApp or SMS. Customers simply click the link, enter their card information, and pay using the secure website (no need to download any software or to create an account). Taking card payments online has never been easier, with inbuilt functionality allowing you to track and chase any bad payers with a couple of clicks!

Payments as part of a larger ecosystem that works for you: digitise your business and grow

Taking payments by card or other payment methods is a key part of your business that should not be overlooked, but it is important to remember that it is just one part of what will lead to your future growth. We understand that the hardware available in the UK is reaching levels that are leading business owners across the country to expect to get more out of their payment terminal provider.

SumUp is an industry leader in the payment terminals space, and we understand the importance of flexibility for our customers to not only survive, but to also thrive in business. Our payment terminals are all mobile, allowing you to accept card payments wherever and whenever you need. If you’re busy showing your products at a regional trade show, your device can simply connect to the local mobile network (3G/4G), or to a stable WiFi connection and take card payments as if you were in-store. The mobility offered by devices such as the SumUp Air allows restaurant and café owners to offer at the table or outdoor payment to their customers, streamlining their experience and avoiding those nasty till queues.

Our vision goes beyond payment terminals, as does your need for services and support to grow your business. We’ve built, and continue adding amazing functionality to, an ecosystem that allows you to run and grow your business at your own pace, whilst only paying for what you use (no nasty upfront costs or lock-in subscription contracts). You can manage invoicing and provide gift cards to increase customer loyalty, whilst benefiting from the free online business account and contactless mastercard that we offer. When you’re ready to expand geographically, our eCommerce suite is there for you to build the perfect online store that suits your needs

With SumUp’s ecosystem, your business has the freedom it needs to expand and grow without financial constraints or subscriptions, as and when you want.

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Have questions? We’ve got you covered

Each time you take a payment should not feel like a “what can go wrong?” moment. We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions to help you understand why accepting card payments is 100% worthwhile and how risks are minimised.

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With SumUp, you can quickly and easily accept credit and debit card payments with your smartphone or tablet.