How To Accept Apple Pay For Small Businesses: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started
Even just a few years ago, paying for a purchase with a smartphone app like Apple Pay was somewhat of a novelty. These days, though, some people–generally the young or the tech savvy–don’t think twice about paying with a mobile wallet. If you’re a small business owner who has not started to take mobile payments like Apple Pay, you might be wondering whether now is the time to start.
The quick answer is yes. You should take Apple Pay, if only because — other than the fact that you might have to upgrade your card terminal or reader –, there’s nothing extra you have to pay to process the payment. Your customers might be happier, and you’re likely to benefit from higher sales too.
If you still hesitate, some statistics might help. Apple doesn’t seem to separately disclose the number of users for Apple Pay, and, in fact, in its official SEC filings, Apple Pay is categorized as Other Services, along with Apple Arcade, Apple Card, and Apple News+. However, it is estimated by other sources that, as of December 2019, Apple Pay might have as many as 441 million users worldwide, with about 12% (53 million) of those being in the U.S.
That’s a lot of users. As the owner of a small business where every customer counts, it could even be argued that you can’t afford to not take Apple Pay. So, what do you need to do to set up Apple Pay? Who do you have to talk to, what equipment do you need, and what extras would you have to pay?
We’re here to answer these questions and more. This article walks you through the technology basics of Apple Pay and points you to credit card processors that can help you accept Apple Pay.
Other Featured Options:
- Clover POS: Equipment maker that offers robust POS software and is owned by Fiserv (formerly First Data).
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
How Does Apple Pay Work?
In this section, we’ll quickly go over some technical aspects of how Apple Pay works. If you’re not interested in the technical details, please feel free to skip to the subheading How Much Does Apple Pay Cost? below, but we hope you stay and read on because we think a better understanding of the technology can help you get a better feel for the service itself.
Strictly speaking, Apple Pay is a mobile wallet rather than a digital wallet because all the payment card information is stored on a mobile device (the iPhone, the Apple Watch, the iPad, and certain laptops). However, you actually can use Apple Pay through the browser of a computer, and it does offer additional services, such as Apple Cash, to compete with person-to-person digital wallets like Venmo (service is US only).
Installing The App & Entering Payment Card Information
From a user’s standpoint, to use Apple Pay, you must first download the app to your iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. You won’t have to download anything with MacBook models that have Touch ID (currently the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro).
Once the app is downloaded (or while you’re setting up your MacBook with Touch ID), you’ll have to enter your credit card information into your device by scanning the card with your camera or entering it manually. Follow the app’s instructions.
Note that Apple Pay for Apple Watch is set up through the iPhone, but generally speaking, in order to use Apple Pay for a specific device, you have to enter your credit card information on that specific device, even if you’ve entered the same information on another device already.
Next, what happens gets a bit technical, and we’ll cover the truly specific details in our Is Apple Pay Secure? section below. Basically, though, your credit card information is sent to its credit card association (i.e. Visa, Mastercard, Discover, etc.), and the card association returns a token to you, to be stored on your device. Note each device that can use Apple Pay will get a different token, for security.
You’re now ready to use Apple Pay.
Using Apple Pay
To make in-store purchases, first make sure that the store has a credit card terminal activated to read NFC signals. Then, you can bring up Apple Pay on the iPhone by either double-tapping your side button to activate the camera for Face ID or by simply holding your finger to the fingerprint scanner. Either method will automatically bring up the Apple Pay app. You can also open the app manually and enter your passcode. Then you merely hold the phone to the terminal; the NFC chip in the phone will transmit the token to the card terminal for processing, just like any dip or swipe of an actual card.
To pay at a store with the Apple Watch, bring up your default card by double-pressing the button below the Digital Crown. Then, hold your watch close to the credit card payment terminal until the watch beeps or vibrates to signal the completion of the transaction. You might need to enter your PIN or provide a signature, but this isn’t always required. You won’t need your iPhone anywhere near your watch because the watch has its own token to use for the transaction. Note that your Apple Watch locks as soon as you take it off, so if you wish to use Apple Pay again, you’ll need to enter your passcode first.
To use Apple Pay on a browser, you can either have an Apple laptop enabled with Touch ID or an older Apple computer paired to an iPhone. To Pay, on the laptops with Touch ID, simply approve the payment with your fingerprint using Touch ID or, if you have an older Mac, approve payment through your iPhone or Apple Watch linked to the laptop.
To use Apple Pay in an app, find and tap on the Apple Pay button and approve payment the normal way.
Once payment is approved, the purchase proceeds like any swiped, dipped, or manually-entered transaction. This means if you’re paying in person, your credit card token is transmitted from your Apple device through NFC technology to an NFC enabled credit card terminal or reader. Then, the payment information is sent to your processor through the normal method.
If you’re paying through a browser or an app, the card token and other payment information are transmitted first to the Apple proprietary Apple Pay Server and then to the merchant in the same way a typical card-not-present transaction is transmitted. When the token gets to the credit card associations, it’s matched with your actual credit card number and the process once again proceeds as normal, and the merchant gets paid in the same way and in the same time frame as any other credit card purchase.
Lastly, if you’re in the US, you can also use Apple Pay to send cash from your iMessage app (you can do this as an individual or as a business). To do so, you must either have money in your Apple Cash account or have linked a debit card to Apple Pay. Both the sender and receiver must have Apple Pay and the Wallet app enabled on their device. To send, simply select the Apple Pay button from the iMessage app and confirm with fingerprint or Face ID. The recipient can find the money in the Wallet app.
Now that you understand how Apple Pay works from a consumer’s standpoint, let’s get into some specifics of accepting Apple Pay for merchants.
How Much Does Apple Pay Cost?
For a merchant, assuming you already have all the necessary hardware, the ability to accept Apple Pay costs nothing extra. For purchases made in person, your card-present rate will apply, and for purchases made online, the card-not-present rate will be used.
If you do not already own an NFC-capable reader or terminal, then you’ll have to invest some money to upgrade. We have several articles that can help you select your next terminal. If you like to use Apple products as much as your customers who use Apple Pay, we even have an article on the best credit card readers for an iPhone or iPad. There are also articles to help you finance your new purchases if necessary. We hope these articles will help you make a decision.
Is Apple Pay Secure?
If you ask a hacker, nothing is ever secure. Having said this, however, Apple seems to have done everything reasonable to make the Apple Pay service secure. What follows is a detailed and somewhat technical description of how the security features of Apple Pay works.
According to Apple, Apple Pay has the following security components:
- Secure Element (SE): The SE is a highly encrypted part of the NFC chip. It’s used to store any information that needs high security. The financial industry has certified the SE to be compliant with their security standards for electronic payments, so the SE is where Apple Pay stores tokenized credit card information. In fact, Apple uses an SE to store the token even when the device is not advertised as having NFC capabilities. Through teardown reports, we know that there’s an NFC chip on the newer iPads and MacBook Air (see Step 7) and Pros, where only the Secure Element is used but other functions like NFC transmission capabilities are disabled. This explains why every time you add even the same card to an additional Apple device, you have to enter the card information and get a new token–so the token can be stored in the SE of that new device.
- NFC Controller: The NFC Controller manages and transmits tokenized card information. If the payment is made via a browser or through an app, then the NFC Controller manages the communication between the SE and the app or browser. If the payment is made in person, then the NFC Controller manages the communication between the SE and the credit card terminal/reader.
- Apple Wallet: This is the software used to add, view, and otherwise manage credit, debit, and some ID cards to the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and some Macs. Note some payment information can be stored by and viewed from this app, but the credit card tokens are not stored in this app. Instead, they are stored in the SE.
- Secure Enclave: This is an Apple proprietary processor running separately and isolated from the rest of the device. It handles all the encryption/decryption of data inside the device, when the hardware and software systems inside the device talk to each other. The Secure Enclave is involved in verifying your identity whenever Face ID or Touch ID is used. When applied specifically to Apple Pay, the Secure Enclave authenticates the transaction and allows the transaction to proceed.
- Apple Pay Server: The Apple Pay Server is a secure server that manages the setup process when a card is added to Apple Wallet. When a credit card number is sent from an Apple device to the Apple Pay Server, the Apple device uses an encryption method that only Apple knows. The server receives this encrypted information, decrypts it, and then encrypts it again, but this time using an encryption scheme that the credit card associations can decode. Then it sends the newly encrypted information to the credit card association. The credit card association tokenizes the card number and sends the token back to the Apple Pay Server, which then sends it back to the Apple device to be stored in the SE. The Apple Pay Server also manages the web-based and in-app purchasing process by encrypting and decrypting various information before sending the information (e.g. payment credentials) from the device.
If you’re interested in learning the details, Apple has a recent article that explains its security process for Apple Pay. Note they use the term Device Account Number instead of token.
Putting all the information above together, here’s how the security aspects of Apple Pay works.
When a user first enters credit card information into the Apple Wallet app, the information is encrypted and then transmitted to the Apple Pay Server. The server changes the encryption to a type of encryption that the credit card association can read and sends the information to the credit card’s card association. The card association tokenizes the actual credit card number and returns a token to the Apple Pay server, which, in turn, sends it back to the device. The device stores the token in the Secure Element of the NFC chip on the device until it is needed for making a payment.
When a user wants to make a payment using Apple Pay, the user’s identity is first verified through Face ID, Touch ID, or password. This process is managed and cleared by the Secure Enclave. Then, the payment token is retrieved from the Secure Element and other payment information (e.g. amount) is encrypted by the Secure Enclave, so that the information is ready to send from the device.
If the purchase is in-store, then the encrypted payment information is sent via the NFC communication protocol to the credit card terminal of the merchant. The process then follows that of any other card-present transaction, which means all the security procedures are the same and, more importantly from Apple’s perspective, out of Apple’s hands.
If the purchase is made online or through an app, then Apple Pay involves the Secure Enclave to encrypt additional payment information (e.g. payment amount) before sending the payment information via the Apple Pay Server to the merchant as a card-not-present transaction. Note that if the payment is made through the web and the merchant has enabled Apple Pay as a payment option, Apple makes sure the domain is verified by the website owner every time they offer Apple Pay as a payment option. After everything has been verified and payment information transmitted, security issues are out of Apple’s hands and the usual security protocols between a merchant and its processor for any card-not-present transaction takes over.
How To Accept Apple Pay
From a merchant’s standpoint, accepting Apple Pay is fairly easy if you operate a physical store, but might require some coding if you run a website. For a physical store, depending on your existing equipment, you might have to upgrade by purchasing new equipment. For webstores, you might have to hire a programmer to add additional code to your check-out page to enable the Apple Pay button, though sometimes plugins are available for easier integration.
Apple Pay works with Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, Interac, eftpos, China Union Pay, JCB, Suica, the iD and QUICPay networks, and most card issuers and payment providers. Double-check with your processor to verify.
How To Accept Apple Pay In Stores
To accept Apple Pay in stores, you must have a terminal or reader that can read NFC signals (sometimes the term contactless payments is used). If you do not have one, it’s relatively easy to upgrade and buy one through your existing processor. You should have plenty to choose from and, just in case you’d like a little help, we have articles on terminals, readers, and point of sale systems to help you decide.
Assuming you already have the necessary equipment, all you have to do to initiate Apple Pay (and Google Pay and Samsung Pay) is to contact your payment card processor. They may have to install or activate some software on your machines, but, after that, you should be good to go taking the payments. Note that Apple Pay includes a cash service called Apple Cash. If you can already accept Discover debit contactless transactions, then you should be able to take Apple Cash without issues. If you’re not set up for Discover debit contactless payments, then speak to your processor so they can set everything up for you, including installing firmware if necessary.
How To Accept Apple Pay On The Web
To accept Apple Pay on the Web (or in an app), you might be able to use some ready-made eCommerce plugins or you might have to do some coding or hire someone who can. Note, though, that when we say “accept Apple Pay,” we mean have an Apple Pay button displayed on your website so a customer can pay by just hitting the button. If you do not wish to invest in the coding, your customers can still conveniently use the Safari browser’s auto-fill feature to insert a lot of the payment information into the payment card fields at the checkout screen, but this feature is not a part of Apple Pay.
On its website, Apple offers a list of payment platforms that offer easy plugins and a list of processors that they have confirmed can integrate with Apple Pay. However, this does not appear to be a complete list–for one, under processors, they only list the larger processors that often act as backend processors for the smaller resellers/processors that will actually help you with the bulk of your customer and technical service needs. So, the best way to confirm whether or not a processor or platform will work with Apple Pay is either to ask or to look through the processor’s website.
Once Apple Pay is integrated into the website or app, an Apple Pay button can be displayed on the website to allow easy payment. Your customers can skip the shopping cart and pay for a specific item with Apple Pay, or they can pay with a button (along with Face ID or Touch ID confirmation) when checking out. All relevant information, such as a shipping address, would be automatically populated in their appropriate fields.
The Best Places To Get An Apple Pay Reader Or Terminal
There is, of course, no credit card reader or terminal specifically designed for Apple Pay. Any NFC-capable reader can take Apple Pay, along with other mobile wallets like Google Pay and Samsung Pay, assuming your processor has correctly installed the necessary software for the processing backend. This is why, if you need to upgrade your terminal or reader, your best bet is to ask your current processor for your available choices/models. However, if you’re looking to change processors for other reasons, we recommend that you take a closer look at the following providers.
1. Dharma Merchant Services
Dharma Merchant Services
We can’t say enough good things about Dharma Merchant Services, and that’s why it often appears in our various Best Of lists. For this reason, we recommend them here. As already mentioned above, because NFC capable terminals are widely available, you should look at other aspects of any processor before making a change.
Dharma is a five-star-rated processor at Merchant Maverick. This means that they provide transparent pricing, great products and services, excellent customer and technical support, and a variety of terminals, readers, and POS hardware for you to pick from. Merchants are happy with their services, and there are little to no customer complaints on the internet. The only types of businesses we would steer away from Dharma would be merchants in high-risk industries and startup/micro-businesses that process less than $10,000 per month.
On its website, Dharma prominently discloses that its hardware can accept Apple Pay, so you can rest easy that you’ll have no problems if you switch to Dharma. They offer the following NFC capable hardware:
- VeriFone Vx520 (also available with NFC capable PIN pad)
- FirstData FD-130 (note Fiserv bought FirstData so this machine might be rebranded in the future) (also available with NFC capable PIN pad)
- Clover Mini
- Clover Flex
- Clover Station (NFC is optional)
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2. Payment Depot
Payment Depot is yet another merchant that frequents our Best Of lists. They offer a slightly different business model than Dharma. To process payments with Payment Depot, you are charged a monthly membership fee plus a fixed per-transaction charge. Note that Payment Depot is for US-based merchants only and they do not work with high-risk merchants.
Payment Depot offers a larger selection of hardware than Dharma. Though the information is not always on Payment Depot’s website, we did a little digging and found that the following Payment Depot hardware has NFC capabilities:
- Vital Select POS Station
- Swipe Simple Terminal
- Vital Plus
- Poynt Smart Terminal
- Pax A80
- First Data FD-130
- VeriFone Fx520
- Dejavoo Z11 Tricomm
- Clover Station (NFC optional)
- Clover Flex
- Clover Mini
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Square is yet another one of our favorites here at Merchant Maverick. We like Square for many reasons, but among the top are its variety of services and its easy-to-understand pricing structure. Square is good for low volume/startup merchants who need to start processing credit cards right away.
As far as credit card machines are concerned, Square offers its ubiquitous free swiper that can be inserted into a headphone or power connector of a smartphone. Unfortunately, this swiper can’t read NFC signals, so it can’t be used for Apple Pay. You can, however, pay a little extra to get an upgraded reader or terminal to take NFC contactless payments. We recommend that you go with a terminal, but if mobility is important to you, then Square’s contactless reader will do an excellent job too.
Square’s credit card machines are proprietary. The ones that will take contactless payments are:
- Square Register
- Square Terminal
- Square Stand (you supply your own iPad)
- Square Reader for Contactless and Chip (this is their mobile system)
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4. National Processing
National Processing is yet another processor highly rated by Merchant Maverick. As highlighted in our full review of National Processing, please note that it has an evil twin named National Processing Company. So, if you decide to investigate National Processing, please don’t confuse the two.
Our good twin National Processing is a traditional merchant account provider that provides interchange-plus pricing with month-to-month billing without an early termination fee. If you want a free credit card machine from them, though, you’ll have to commit to a long term contract with maybe an early termination fee. Otherwise, National Processing provides excellent customer service to its merchants and has little to no complaints online.
National Processing carries a full suite of Clover products, all of which are NFC capable and can take Apple Pay. These machines are:
- Clover Go
- Clover Flex
- Clover Mini
- Clover Station
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Fattmerchant offers a business model that’s one step beyond its fellow competitor’s membership pricing. If you process with Fattmerchant, you purchase a membership and you only pay interchange fees for each transaction you process. Your benefit doesn’t stop there, though. Fattmerchant also only charges you a single monthly fee for all other account fees, thereby giving you more control and predictability over your month-to-month processing costs. This is good value, and Fattmerchant’s customer reviews reflect this. The company offers excellent customer support as well.
Fattmerchant offers a variety of equipment from Dejavoo and BBPOS. It’s a bit unclear which model of Dejavoo terminals they offer, but they do say that the terminal can take tapped payments. This means that the terminal should be able to take Apple Pay. With the BBPOS mobile card reader, the Chipper 2XBT will take contactless payments, including Apple Pay.
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If you’ve looked through our recommendations above, then you probably already suspect that Clover is not a payment card processor. In actuality, it is, and it isn’t.
Clover is owned by the direct processor Fiserv, which means you can sign up for processing directly with them, or you can go to one of the front end processors that connects its computer system to Fiserv’s system. Typically, these front end processors don’t disclose the identity of their backend processors, but if they offer Fiserv’s proprietary Clover equipment, then, by necessity, they will connect to Fiserv.
In addition to buying Clover equipment from the processor, you can also buy Clover equipment from Clover’s own website. A quick internet search also reveals other sites that seem to sell just the Clover equipment. Because the equipment has to be connected to a processor to work, however, these sites might offer a little bit of a bait and switch. Sure, buy the equipment from them…and conveniently(!) they can help you set up a merchant account so you can take credit card payments right away, possibly at fairly high rates.
The bottom line is that if you want the fairly good Clover hardware and software, you’ll have to work with Fiserv. Fiserv has a checkered reputation if you sign up directly with them, so be careful. We recommend any one of the processors we listed earlier for a better processing experience because they offer great rates and can act as a very good go-between if you ever have processing issues with Fiserv.
The complete line of Clover hardware include:
- Clover Flex (available with software optimized for restaurants)
- Clover Mini (available with software optimized for restaurants)
- Clover Station
- Clover Go
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The Wisest Choice? Stick With Your Current Processor
Yes. The above payment processors will help you accept Apple Pay and provide good rates and services. But our last and most important recommendation is to simply stay with your current processor, even if it doesn’t take Apple Pay. The fact is, while Apple Pay and other mobile wallets are nice and are likely to give your customers a moment of warm fuzziness if they can use them, they are not very likely to walk away from a purchase if they can’t.
Yes, we’ve read the statistics about abandoned online shopping carts because, apparently, people are unwilling to perform more than one click to check out, but the counter-argument is that the auto-populate feature in many of the modern browsers already streamlines your checkout process. And if your customer is paying in person, enough stores exist that still don’t take NFC payments (or have proprietary apps like Walmart Pay that uses QR codes) that it really shouldn’t phase the customer to pull out a charge card and swipe or dip the card.
Leaving your current processor and signing up with a new one is a big deal. It’s time-consuming to find the right processor, to negotiate a satisfactory contract (even if it’s a short term contract with no early termination penalties), to install new equipment, and to train your staff to use the new hardware and software. If you switch processors only to enable NFC payments, the disruption to your business likely is not worth the benefits of letting your customers pay with a smartphone.
Our recommendation here, again, is that you should consider staying with your current processor unless you have quite a few other reasons to leave them. If and when that time comes, simply make sure your new processor can process Apple Pay and other mobile wallets, and you can make a switch that can be justified in many other ways.
Why You Need To Let Your Customers Know Your Business Accepts Apple Pay
If your processor can take Apple Pay, you have the proper terminals that take contactless payments, and you’ve enabled the service with your processor, then you should let your customers know that you can accept Apple Pay. As already mentioned earlier, it doesn’t cost extra to process payments made with Apple Pay, and the slightly faster approval time for card-present payments can move your customers through the queue faster. It benefits you to advertise that this payment choice is available.
To let your customers know you take Apple Pay, you can download Apple Pay marks and get free decals from Apple. You can use these in your stores, on the web, or even as a part of email advertising campaigns. Note Apple is quite strict with its marketing guidelines, so be sure to read and understand the rules before you display the marks. For instance, you may not alter the mark with words like “We accept Apple Pay,” unless it’s at a specified distance away from the mark.
Apple has on its website a nonexclusive list of companies that accept Apple Pay. However, this marketing page seems to be under the sole control of Apple, and ordinary businesses cannot get on this list. The best information we have, if you’re an app developer, is that you might be able to submit an application for the App Store to feature your app, and the fact that you take Apple Pay might sway Apple to pick your app. Note, though, that this is just one of many other factors Apple takes into consideration, so if your app is not competitive from other standpoints, Apple is unlikely to feature you despite your use of Apple Pay.
Is It Time For Your Business To Accept Apple Pay?
The world is constantly changing, along with the way people do everyday things. More and more, we are moving away from cash or even physical credit cards to pay with our phones instead.
This is why Apple Pay, along with other digital wallets, is becoming widely adopted. Apple users are notoriously brand loyal, so once they start to use Apple Pay, they tend to stick to this particular digital wallet. If you don’t yet take digital wallet payments, is it time to provide that convenience to your customers and start taking them?
If you already have the proper equipment–an NFC-capable reader or terminal–then, yes, you should start taking Apple Pay. Contact your current processor, see if they can process NFC payments, and have them turn this feature on for your terminal if it’s not on already. It costs you nothing extra to process NFC payments, and you can start taking Apple Pay right away.
If you don’t have the proper equipment or your processor can’t process Apple Pay, then don’t panic. While digital payments are becoming more and more popular, it’s unlikely that your inability to accept Apple Pay will be a purchasing deal-breaker for your customers. Wait until the next cycle to replace equipment or until you have other reasons to switch processors. Then, get the right equipment and connect up. This way, you’ll be able to take Apple Pay with minimum disruption to your business.
If you currently take Apple Pay, we’d love to hear about your experience with the service. Did you have trouble connecting up to the service? Horror stories? Funny ones? Leave us a note below.
A Last Look At Our Top Picks
- Dharma Merchant Services
Summary - An all-around excellent processor with great pricing, great products, and excellent customer support.
- Payment Depot
Summary - An excellent processor with an innovative business model that combines membership benefits plus interchange-plus pricing.
Summary - Great processor for those just starting out or for lower-volume businesses that want to start taking credit cards right away.
- National Processing
Summary - Traditional merchant account provider with interchange-plus pricing and no early termination fee.
Summary - Traditional merchant account provider with cost-plus pricing, which, out of all the credit card processing business models, gives you the most control and predictability over your processing costs.
- Clover POS
Summary - Equipment maker that offers robust POS software and is owned by Fiserv (formerly First Data).