The Best Retail Credit Card Processing Companies

Having the ability to process credit cards as a retail business is essential. But not all payment processors are equal.

Make sure you partner with one that fits the needs of your retail business.

Our Top Picks for Retail Credit Card Processors

What is Retail Credit Card Processing?

If you want to accept credit card payments, either in person or online, you will need a credit card processor.

Your credit card processing company acts as the middle man between your business and your customer’s credit card company.

There are typically three stages of a transaction that the credit card processor is involved in:

  • Authorization: The cardholder’s information and transaction details are sent to the payment processor, who forwards the request to the appropriate card network, who ultimately communicates with the issuing bank and then authorizes or declines the transaction.
  • Settlement: Usually at the end of each business day, transactions are ‘settled’ and the issuing bank charges the customer’s card, transferring funds minus interchange fees to the payment processor.
  • Funding: After transactions have settled, the payment processor issues funds to the merchant’s bank account minus any processing charges.

Retail credit card processing is a service that allows retail merchants like yourself to accept credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment besides cash.

The service is there to process all payments you receive so that eventually, that money will make its way into your business bank account. But it does have to go through the proper channels first.

In short, once you accept a payment, money is routed into your merchant account, where fees are removed before it is then sent to your business bank account. That is where it becomes accessible to you.

Why Would I Want Retail Credit Card Processing?

Even though cash is still king, credit cards are consistently gaining market share of transactions annually. Businesses want to afford their customers the option of being able to pay with a credit card.

If you own a retail store - whether it is a brick and mortar location or an online store - you need to have the ability to accept payments. Otherwise, you risk losing those customers to similar businesses that do.

Payment processors can give businesses the ability to process:

  • Major credit cards including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover
  • Debit cards
  • eChecks
  • Digital wallets and mobile payments including Google Pay and Apple Pay
  • Bank transfers/Automated Clearing House (ACH)

Payment processors can also add value to your business with their unique technology tools. Hardware and software continue to evolve and diversify, creating custom tools to fit your business.

Today’s systems offer a host of additional features that can help you manage and grow your business. For example, you can track:

  • What items you have sold.
  • Who purchased items from your store.
  • How your customers are paying for what they buy.

Choosing the right credit card processor will also allow you to accept non-credit card payments, such as PIN-entered debit card payments and ACH.

What to Consider Before Choosing a Retail Payment Processor

Depending on the type of store you have and your own personal preferences, you may have a specific method of accepting payments in mind.

Still, it helps to know all of the options that are available to you.

Transaction Patterns

Every business is different and your unique business patterns should be taken into consideration when choosing a payment processor.

Does your business do a high volume of small transactions or a low volume of larger transactions?

A high volume of low transactions may cause you to be more concerned with the fees associated with each purchase. If you do a low volume of sales, but they are of a higher value, your business may be considered high risk.

High risk businesses are considered as such because they pose a higher risk to the processor. If a customer cancels the transaction or requests a refund, the impact on the business is much greater and is also more costly for the processor.

You will also want to take your customers into consideration. How do they complete their transactions? Are they mostly done online or in person?

If in person, does your store need a single, stationary place to process cards, or do you need mobile payment processing capability?

If you have a high volume of in person transactions, you may want to utilize a full freestanding point of sale system set up with powerful software. If not, a simple card reader may be sufficient.

Your customers' habits and personal preferences as an owner will determine what software and hardware might best support your business.

Pricing Models

There are several pricing models that payment processors use. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Interchange-Plus: This model shows interchange fees plus the costs associated with payment processing. This is a percentage plus a small flat fee. However, the complexity of statement details may be difficult to follow for some business owners.
  • Flat Rate: This is exactly as the name suggests. The credit card processor charges a flat rate percentage plus a fee per transaction. The disadvantage is the business owner will miss out on any lowered interchange fees given for certain transactions.
  • Tiered Pricing: This method classifies different methods of payment into qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified categories, depending on the criteria established by the processor. The qualified rate is the normal rate and will increase depending on factors like the card not being present for the transaction. This may be the least transparent and most difficult method of pricing for business owners to understand their true cost of processing.
  • Subscription: This is similar to Interchange Plus, however, the business will pay a monthly membership rate and then only a small fee on each transaction. The percentage is eliminated. This format may be preferable, depending on the monthly membership rate.

Some processors may offer volume discounts on rates if your business qualifies.

Please read over your contract carefully to determine what charges to expect. You will also want to find out if there are fees for canceling the processor’s services before the contract term ends.

POS Systems and Credit Card Terminals

Many merchants prefer standard POS systems and credit card terminals because they are what they’re used to.

These systems have been in use for a long time, and today, they offer a lot more functionality than they did in the past. In addition to processing payments, today’s POS systems can be used to:

  • Track and manage inventory
  • Clock employees in and/or out
  • Manage payroll

POS systems can be as basic or technologically advanced as you want them to be. But it’s best to find a merchant services provider that will tailor your hardware to meet your needs.

Online Shopping Cart Integration

If you have an ecommerce store, you may be in need of shopping cart integration. This can also be done by a retail credit card processing company.

As you can probably imagine, there are all kinds of options available for shopping carts as well, such as:

  • Checkout buttons that can be added to your website with just a few lines of code.
  • Hosted checkout pages.
  • White label checkout pages.

There are even companies that have the ability to help you build your own ecommerce website that comes with an integrated shopping cart. It will be ready to go, and all you have to do is send your customers there.

Virtual Terminals

Some retailers prefer to use a virtual terminal because it is easy and it allows them to process many different types of payments.

A virtual terminal is a web-based app that allows you to process payments. Any desktop computer, phone, laptop, or tablet can be made into an instant POS system when you choose this method of accepting payments.

Mobile Card Readers and Apps

If your retail store is mostly mobile, it may be more feasible for you to have mobile payment processing capabilities.

In this case, you might want to opt for a mobile card reader, or an app-based system. Both will allow you to accept payments no matter where you are.

Choosing the Best Retail Payment Processor for your Business

When you choose a payment processor, you want to have confidence that you’re receiving the best tools for the job at the best price.

Software with Benefits

Using a Point of Sale (POS) system can upgrade your capabilities in retail. In short, a POS is a place where your customer will conduct their transactions and it includes the behind-the-scenes software system.

Why would you want or need advanced software? The days of doing inventory will become a thing of the past.

Inventory can become a beast to manage; especially in retail with many products and a constant change in inventory.

Employees can quickly access product or service availability and communicate it to the customer. Keeping a digital inventory reduces the likelihood of human errors and increases accuracy.

Advanced software also makes it possible to analyze your customers’ data to look at trends and patterns in their sales history.

This can inform your business decisions. Managing this type of data by hand would be very time-consuming.

Some systems even allow you to collect and store data like birthdays and emails so you can use this information to market to your customers.

Softwares are highly customized according to industry and there are many to choose from in the retail space.

Hardware that Fits Your Business

There are several options for system configurations. A typical setup may include these items:

  • Digital Register Screen: This is the visual representation of the POS system and can give your employees information such as inventory or customer data.
  • Barcode Scanner: A handheld or stationary device that scans the code on a product, identifies pricing information, and updates inventory in your system after transactions are completed.
  • Receipt Printer: Produces a paper receipt for your customer that contains their transaction details such as cost, time, location, and your company contact information. You may give customers the option to decline a receipt or receive one digitally, but many customers still prefer a paper copy.
  • Cash Drawer: A secure place to store cash and coins that open when a transaction is completed.
  • A Card Reader: If you are going to accept credit card payments, you must have a card reader. These can vary between those that are traditional magstripe readers versus those that accept chip and tap-to-pay technologies. The latter is more secure and preferable.

Integration

If you already have an established business you may want to upgrade your capabilities by adding or changing payment processors. In this case, you will want to take your data with you.

Many systems can either integrate with existing systems like QuickBooks or can import data from other sources so you aren’t starting from scratch.

You do not want to lose customer sales information if you have collected it for an extended period.

Another thing to consider is the complexity of the system and how long it will take to get it up and running. Look for a processor that will be able to seamlessly integrate with your system with little downtime to your business.

Most retail businesses will not be able to sacrifice large swaths of time to train staff on new systems. Many are user-friendly and require minimal training.

If training is necessary, some processors offer training at no charge and offer support post-implementation as well.

There are many POS systems available now, so make a wish list of features you would like to have before starting your search for a payment processor.

Contracts

No one goes into a business relationship planning to leave it, but you want to be informed about the obligations of your contract.

Are there termination fees? Are you obligated for a certain time?

Some processors offer month-to-month contracts while others are contract-free.

Be sure to read through any contract carefully to look for hidden fees that weren’t previously disclosed.

Additional Tips & Considerations

Security

Credit card fraud grew 44% from 2019 to 2020 so choose a company that is PCI compliant.

The Payment Card Industry Standards are constantly updated and payment processors must follow a minimum set of guidelines.

Of course, a company can go above and beyond the suggestions set by these standards, but they are the minimum best practices. Ask your payment processor what forms of security they employ.

Customer Service

You want to choose a company that will act as a partner in helping your business to thrive. If you run into problems, your processor should be an ally to help troubleshoot any issues.

Find out what type of assistance they offer. Do they have 24/7 live help available?

There should be more than one way to contact them if needed. Some processors may have a chat feature, a help form, or a dedicated service email.

If your system stops working or isn’t functioning properly, should resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Reputation

You want a company that has already established a good reputation. The easiest way is to look for reviews by other merchants.

Keep in mind that people are more motivated to leave a negative review than a positive one. If you see positive reviews, it means the company is going above and beyond the average company!

You can also check the Better Business Bureau’s online directory to see if that company is a member or if they have any complaints filed against them. Even if the company is not a member, they often have a profile.

This profile can also give insight into how long that company has been in business. If it is a new company, you may be hesitant to sign up with them if you’re concerned that they may go out of business.

What’s the Difference Between a POS System and a Virtual Terminal?

POS systems and virtual terminals are similar in that both are methods of entering and accepting payments.

But with a POS system, the hardware is static. You might have a tablet that is connected to a cash register, a printer, and other equipment. A virtual terminal can be called up on any device that has a WiFi or data connection.

What Should be Included in Your Retail Payment System?

You’ll want to take some time and think about the types of features you want your credit card processing hardware and software to include.

There are a lot of add-ons to consider, and any of the following can be beneficial to your business.

A Gift Card Program

Most retail stores offer some type of gift card program for their customers. Gift cards are widely popular when people want to make a purchase from a store as a gift, but they’re not quite sure what to buy.

When you work with a retail merchant services provider, they may be able to offer you white label gift cards with your branding.

A Loyalty Card Program

You can encourage customer loyalty when you adopt a loyalty card program for your store.

Loyalty cards allow you to reward your customers for doing business with you, and can be set up according to your specifications.

For example, you may have a program that offers a 20% discount to customers who make ten purchases within a 12-month period of time.

The Ability to Accept SNAP/EBT Payments

If your retail store sells food, you may want to consider accepting SNAP/EBT payments.

These payments are made through government-issued cards that function a lot like credit cards. The only difference is that the money is pulled from a government account instead of an individual bank account.

It is a good idea to talk with your merchant account provider to discuss whether adding this capability is a good idea for your store.

Mobile Wallet Payment Capabilities

In today’s world, people have a lot more payment options available to them than just credit or debit cards. There are many other methods that are still relatively new, such as mobile wallet payments.

Mobile wallets like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay offer a lot of fraud protection to their customers. To make a payment with a mobile wallet account, the user simply has to tap their phone on an NFC reader, which can be built into a POS system or credit card terminal.

Things to Know Before Choosing Your Retail Payment Processing Company

Once you’ve thought about your options, there are a few other things you should know before you make a choice for retail credit card processing.

  • The more payment options you can offer to your customers, the better. For instance, you may also want to consider ACH, checks and electronic checks, and alternative credit cards that many people use, such as Diners Club.
  • Your payment processor may be able to help you develop a store credit card. This is something to think about that can also encourage greater customer loyalty.
  • If you own a brick and mortar store, you’ll want to think about what could happen in the future. For example, what if you want to expand or grow your store? Should you also operate online?
  • Younger customers prefer mobile wallet payments over just about any other method. It’s a good idea to make sure your equipment includes this capability.

Once you’re ready to do some research, here’s some advice that can help:

  • Read reviews - like this one, and others too. Find out what other merchants are saying about the companies they’ve worked with in the past.
  • Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Any company that is interested in earning your business will be willing to answer your questions.
  • Make sure the companies you’re considering offer top-notch customer service. It’s always a plus to have a dedicated sales professional and/or tech pro that you can turn to when you need help. Will that be available to you? Or do they offer 24/7 customer support?

Beware of Lengthy Contracts

It is very likely that you will have some type of contract when you are ready to get started with processing payments.

But it is also possible that you could be entering into two contracts, not just one.

Your payment processor will probably have a contract for you to sign that includes what you can expect from their services. The contract might include:

  • Any setup and ongoing fees
  • PCI Compliance fees and information
  • A term length

You should avoid getting into any long-term contracts. Some payment processors require a 3-5 year commitment, and if you cancel early, you could be forced to pay a lot of money in early termination fees.

Also, if you lease your payment processing equipment, this could be another contract altogether.

Please read the fine print and know exactly what you are agreeing to before you sign on the dotted line. Your equipment lease could stretch out for up to five years, which could result in purchasing equipment for thousands of dollars when it only costs a few hundred to buy it outright.

The best contracts are month-to-month with no early termination fees.

Shop Around to Find the Best Prices and Rates

Some credit card processing companies may try to convince you that the rates they offer are basically what they are everywhere. That might be partially true, depending on the types of pricing they offer.

But every merchant account provider is different.

Some offer interchange-plus pricing, which is the most transparent model, and those rates are set by the credit card companies twice a year. But tiered pricing and flat-rate pricing are two other options that you might see.

Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be fooled by promises of lower than normal transaction fees. There are even some companies that are based on surcharge and cash discount programs, but they only pass the bulk of the transaction fees off to your customers.

Avoid Working with Payment Aggregators

We get it. It can be hard to sift through all of your options for retail credit card processing when there are companies like PayPal and Stripe that are eagerly awaiting your business.

On the outside, payment aggregators may seem like a good choice. They’re easy to get started with and they don’t require a lengthy underwriting process.

But these companies are a real risk for small business owners and retailers because, in the event of too many chargebacks (disputes or returns), there is a real risk of having your account closed.

That could end up freezing your funds for an undetermined amount of time.

No retailer can afford that, and choosing a merchant account provider instead of a company like Stripe or PayPal can help you avoid it.

Final Thoughts

When setting up a retail merchant payment processing account there are many factors to consider.

You want to choose a processor that offers features and pricing that fit your business while still being customer-friendly. It should also have a good reputation for service and security.

Go with a processor that can add value to your business with both the hardware and software that is appropriate for your needs. With so many choices, it can be overwhelming, but having a good understanding of your needs before you start your search will be helpful.

Take the time to carefully compare payment processors, and remember, your business will rely on this company daily. It’s a worthy investment for your business to avoid changing processors down the line.

Be sure to check out our top picks for retail payment processing: