A Merchant’s Guide to Smart Terminals: How to Select the Right One for Your Business

A Merchant’s Guide to Smart Terminals: How to Select the Right One for Your Business

Payment technology is constantly evolving to keep up with consumer preferences and financial institutions as they introduce newer payment solutions and methods. 

The basic credit card reader, while valuable, isn’t powerful enough to be your main source for payment processing. 

This is where smart payment terminals come into play. Smart terminals have been introduced to not only keep up with the latest trends in payment technology but also to help merchants run their entire business. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what smart terminals are and how to go about selecting the right one for your business. 

Let’s get started.

What are smart terminals?

A smart terminal is essentially a modernized and upgraded credit card terminal that can process EMV chip card transactions. So while a “regular” credit card terminal accepts swipe and keyed-in credit and debit card payments, a smart terminal can accept EMV chip card payments as well. 

Many definitions of smart terminals also characterize them as having touchscreens. 

Smart terminals also often include some sort of business management features that allow merchants to connect payments with other aspects of their business. Smart terminals can act as small business command centers in many ways. 

You might feel that smart terminals sound quite similar to point-of-sale or POS systems, and they are. The key difference, however, is that a smart terminal still has keys to enter a PIN. A smart POS terminal doesn’t necessarily have those keys and may have just a touchscreen. 

How do smart terminals work?

To understand how smart terminals work, it’s helpful to first get a grasp on how credit card processing works and who’s involved:

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There are three steps involved in credit card processing, and the smart terminal plays an important role in the first two: 

  1. Authorization
  2. Authentication
  3. Settlement

First, the merchant uses the smart terminal to read the credit or debit card at checkout. This may be done via swipe, manual key-in, EMV chip card, and in some cases, via mobile or contactless payments too. 

Once the terminal reads the card information, it sends the information to the merchant services provider which transmits it to the acquiring bank. This is the authorization step. 

Next, the information is either confirmed and validated or kicked back for another attempt. For successful payments, the cardholder’s bank disburses the funds to the merchant. This authentication step completes the sale. 

Settlement happens when the funds clear and hit the merchant’s account, and this is not done by the smart terminal. 

Smart terminals use the internet to transmit information. You can use a smart terminal via a hardwired or wireless connection. 

Characteristics of smart terminals

Smart terminals can do a lot of things, and each is equipped with different features. However, there are a few things all smart terminals have in common. 

1. Touchscreens

Every smart terminal has some form of a touchscreen device. These touchscreens are often meant for employees, though some also offer customer-facing touchscreens.

As far as employee-facing touch screens go, smart terminals offer the ability to process payments, including manually keying in credit and debit card numbers and other associated information. The touchscreen adapts to whatever function the user is engaging with. 

Smart terminals with customer-facing touchscreens are often seen in the foodservice industry – quick-service restaurants in particular. Customers can use touchscreen devices to view the menu, customize their order, and submit payments. Some touchscreens eliminate the need for an associate altogether. 

2. Multiple payment types

Smart terminals should accept a variety of payment methods – not just EMV chip cards. You’ll want to look for compatibility with the following: 

  • Swipe: Swipe payments happen with your traditional magstripe credit card reader. 
  • Chip: EMV chip card payments are what technically set smart terminals apart.
  • Keyed-in: You may need to manually key in credit card information if you frequently take orders over the phone
  • Contactless: Given that 27% of US-based small businesses have reported a rise in contactless or tap-to-pay purchases, your smart terminal definitely needs to accept contactless payments.
  • Mobile wallet: The volume of transactions via mobile payments like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Zelle keep growing every year. So, make sure to select a smart terminal that supports NFC payments.   
Infographic Smart Terminal

3. Mobility

Smart terminals should also increase a merchant’s mobility – you should have the option to use them for countertop transactions or on the go if needed. Either option may require additional hardware, depending on what you’re using. 

Typically, smart terminals have the following features which fuel mobility: 

  • Barcode scanning so you can process payments on the sales floor or on the go.
  • Compatibility with WiFi so you don’t need a hardwired connection.
  • Mobile app or the ability to connect to your smartphone or tablet to transact sales anywhere.

If you’re looking for a smart terminal, you’ll want to find one that offers this flexibility. 

The best smart terminals for your business

Now that you have a better understanding of how smart terminals work and why they’re important for your business, you can make an informed decision on which is best suited for your needs. 

1. Poynt

Price: $599

The Poynt Smart Terminal has a 7-inch touchscreen display for employees and a 4.3-inch one for customers. With a strong QuickBooks integration, it’s an ideal choice for countertop and in-store transactions. 

Other hardware functionalities include QR code reading, barcode scanning, and thermal printing. You can also use it to collect customer information and feedback. 

The Poynt 5 is a smaller device with 8-hour battery life and dual touchscreens, ideal for accepting payments at the table or on the move.

Poynt also offers a user-friendly control panel called the Poynt HQ so you can view your settlements and transactions in real-time. You can access it on the web, on your phone, or even from your Poynt terminal. Poynt is also fully PCI PTS and PCI DSS certified.

2. Clover Flex

Price: $499

Clover (merged into First Data Corporation, a registered ISO of MetaBank and Wells Fargo) is the largest cloud-based POS firm in the US. It offers Clover Flex – another powerful smart terminal that’s also small and mobile. 

You can accept a wide range of payments with Clover – credit, debit, and even NFC payments including Google Pay, Apple Pay, Alipay, WeChat Pay, and more. 

Some of its most notable features include security via end-to-end encryption, fingerprint logins, and employee profiles with permission-based roles. 

Other tools include inventory management, customer loyalty programs, and analytics reporting. You can also issue and accept branded gift cards with Clover Flex. 

3. Vital Plus

Price: $449

A bit smaller than the Poynt, the 5-inch Vital Plus smart terminal accepts chip, swipe, and contactless payments. 

It comes equipped with a bi-directional barcode scanner and a thermal receipt printer, besides having WiFi compatibility. 

Vital Plus also offers the ability to create dedicated employee logins and user permissions. Other features include inventory management, tax reporting, and pricing discounts. 

4. PAX E500 SmartPOS

Price: Available on request

PAX has a line of basic and smart credit card terminals, including its PAX E500 SmartPOS. The smart terminal comes with two bright touchscreen displays, 8 inches for merchants and 4.3 inches for customers. 

The E500 has a thermal printer, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and dual cameras. You can also use the Android app to check in via a mobile device. 

Moving forward with your smart terminal

Costco Of Credit Card Processing

Regardless of which smart terminal is right for you, you need an equally suitable payment processor. 

Payment Depot’s subscription-style model gives you access to interchange credit card processing rates, minus the markup. So, instead of taking a cut from your sales, you pay a monthly membership fee and get lower processing costs.

With our wholesale processing rates, you can save up to $800+ in credit card processing fees every month. To learn more, contact our award-winning support staff today.

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