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What is a PDQ machine?

6 min read

A PDQ device is another name for an everyday card machine. They’re the sort of devices that any business, from supermarkets to hairdressers, uses to take payments from customers via contactless, chip and PIN or digital wallets. They’ve been prevalent in the UK for around 20 years now, and their ability to adapt and adopt new technological advances means they’re just as important as ever.

If you run a small business, PDQ machines can be beneficial to the operation of your business. They’ll help you keep the sales flowing and the money coming in with smooth, safe and swift card payments.

To get the best from your PDQ terminal, it’s helpful you understand how they work. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know, from their history, to what they do for businesses and customers alike.

What does PDQ stand for?

PDQ stands for ‘process data quickly’, and it refers to the fact that payments can be made in a much more efficient way than in the past. The term first emerged with the release of the earliest payment machines more than two decades ago.

For the first time, businesses had access to payment machines that allowed customers to pay via card, rather than the more traditional cash or cheque. This meant streamlined payments, faster processing and a smoother checkout process.

What can you use a PDQ machine for?

PDQ machines can be used to take a number of different payment types, including:

Chip and PIN. This longstanding card payment method remains the most common. Users insert their card into the PDQ device and enter a four-digit number, a bit like a password. Then, the chip in the card connects directly with the bank to process the payment.

Contactless. The quickest way of paying by card. Customers simply tap or hover their card over the contactless panel of the PDQ device to make a payment. They don’t need to enter a PIN or even let go of their card. The current limit for contactless payments is £100.

Digital wallet/device payments. Customers can also make contactless payments using their phone, smart watch and other devices. They upload their card details and make payments using a passcode. These payment types can sometimes allow customers to pay for higher value items than the contactless card limit if the retailer and bank allows it.

Magnetic stripe/swipe payments. With these payments, customers swipe their cards and then sign a receipt to validate the payment. These are relatively uncommon now, but are still used in some countries.

How do PDQ machines work?

PDQ machines work differently depending on the type of payments you are taking. Here are a few examples of how they work:

Chip and PIN

  1. The customer inserts their card into the PDQ terminal, types in their personal four-digit PIN code and the card machine reads the chip data on the card.
  2. The PDQ machine then sends an authorisation request to the customer’s account.
  3. The PDQ device will then receive a message authorising or declining the transaction.
  4. When the transaction has been authorised, the customer’s bank then transfers the funds from the account to the merchant’s account. Learn more about chip and pin payments.


Contactless devices were introduced in 2007. They allowed customers to make card payments without entering a PIN, through just a few simple steps:

  1. The customer taps a PDQ machine contactless symbol, using wireless technology.
  2. NFC technology uses radio waves to share the details of your contactless card, mobile wallet or bank details with the nearby PDQ device.

Though they had an initial limit of £10, contactless payment limits were later increased to £30, then £45, and are now at £100. The speed and convenience of PDQ machines makes them popular with many businesses and consumers alike. In fact, in 2020, nine out of ten payments were contactless.

The benefits of using PDQ machines

There are many benefits for customers in using PDQ machines. Here are the main ones:

Security: using a payment card in a PDQ machine can reduce fraud, as someone trying to use the card without knowing the PIN is unlikely to be successful. Contactless cards are also protected. Customers will occasionally be asked to enter their PIN when attempting a contactless payment due to SCA (Strong Customer Authentication).

Safety: With less cash in the till and on the premises, your business is safer.

Speed: Contactless payments go through quickly. This means your customers can pay for their goods and get on with their day. As a merchant, you can process more customers quicker.

Easy to use: The best PDQ machines are easy to operate, with lightweight, cordless designs and user-friendly interfaces.

Cost effective: There are PDQ devices to suit every budget.

Versatility: PDQ machines allow you to process transactions from any major credit or debit card, through a range of different payment methods. This makes things easier for you and your customers.

Transparency: Customers can see and understand what funds they have access to, potentially making managing their money simpler, so they may be less likely to overspend or lose track of what they are spending.

Anything that makes spending for customers safer, easier and more efficient could be considered good for retailers too. PDQ machine payments can happen promptly and have the added benefit of helping to reduce fraud, cash-handling and administration.

What types of businesses can benefit from a PDQ machine?

If you take card payments from customers, then you can benefit from a card machine. Types of business that may benefit from using a PDQ machine include:

  • Service industry merchants can take PDQ devices to their customers’ tables or seating areas. This helps create a better experience. What’s more, quick contactless payments make for a far smoother service.
  • Retailers. If you’ve got a retail business, the last thing you need is a queue at the till. A PDQ machine can help you process more transactions, quicker.
  • Mobile businesses. Whether you run a food truck or a festival stall, a cash-only operation can make for fewer sales. Some PDQ devices can run on data coverage to process transactions wherever you are.

Different types of PDQ machine

Modern PDQ devices fall into three categories:

Countertop. These are fixed devices suited to permanent locations, like supermarkets or other retailers.

Mobile. If your business isn’t based in a fixed location, you’ll need a mobile device to take with you. These take payments in any setting, often using a Wi-Fi connection or data.

Portable. Merchants can carry these devices to wherever the customer is on the premises. They’re handy for restaurants, bars and other service industry settings.

Learn more about payment technology

When you’ve chosen which machine is right for you, how can you make the most of it? Check out these articles from Tyl Talks to guide you on your next steps.


This has been prepared by Tyl by NatWest for informational purposes only and should not be treated as advice or a recommendation. There may be other considerations relevant to you and your business so you should undertake your own independent research.

Tyl by NatWest makes no representation, warranty, undertaking or assurance (express or implied) with respect to the adequacy, accuracy, completeness, or reasonableness of the information provided.

Tyl by NatWest accepts no liability for any direct, indirect, or consequential losses (in contract, tort or otherwise) arising from the use of the information contained herein. However, this shall not restrict, exclude, or limit any duty or liability to any person under any applicable laws or regulations of any jurisdiction which may not be lawfully disclaimed.

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