Maximise your online business potential by accepting card payments securely and effortlessly. Learn how in our comprehensive guide.
‘Cash is king’ has been the battle cry of the investment world for years, but in retail, it has become increasingly outdated as the 21st century has progressed. The use of cash had been in decline for years before the Covid-19 pandemic, and although it has recovered a little since the lockdowns ended it remains lower than at pre-pandemic levels and it seems unlikely that this will recover again.
This matters for your business. According to Graham Mott, the Director of Strategy at LINK, the UK’s biggest network of cash dispensers, “LINK’s view is that ATM use will never return to pre-pandemic levels and that people who perhaps were using less cash generally are now entirely comfortable using their phones or contactless". Research carried out before the pandemic found that even then, three-quarters of those polled said that they now expect all retailers to accept cash payment alternatives, while 44% had been unable to pay for something because only sterling was accepted.
In other words, having the ability to accept payments by other methods has never been more critical to the viability of your business. You can only lose out if you don’t offer the full range of payment methods that the 21st-century customer expects.
“The Cashless Effect” is real. Research has shown that “We pay more when we can't actually see the money”, and this sort of spending habit can increase your sales and revenue.
Research by Linnworks has thrown light upon the spending habits of the modern consumer, and it found that rather than cash being king, convenience now wears that particular crown, with “76% [saying] convenience is their key priority in selecting a retailer” and “Nearly nine in ten saying seamless and flexible payment options speed up their decision-making and prompt them to spend more.”
The ability to take payments online also increases your flexibility as a business. For example, setting up recurring payments which require either cash or in-person card payments requires a lot of very careful thought. Comparatively, setting up, say, recurring monthly payments by online card payment is an absolute breeze.
Businesses in the retail sector no longer have customer bases limited by who can get to them and make payments in person. The facility to take payments online has opened up a vast new global marketplace in which your business could be competing.
Payment processing is a multi-layered process which takes time and resources to administer, and this comes at a cost. The figures will vary, but it is commonly estimated that you should expect around 3% of each transaction to be lost in fees.
Taking card payments online is also a big responsibility for a business, which you cannot afford to ignore. A security or data breach of confidential information could be ruinous for your business and could even land you in legal trouble, so you must focus as much on keeping this information highly secure as well as taking those payments in the first place.
Having the ability to take card payments online is about having both the hardware–the physical computer systems–and the software–-the programs which make that hardware run–to do so. Maintaining that software is critical because out-of-date software is highly vulnerable to data theft.
A payment gateway is the front-end technology used by merchants to accept debit or credit card purchases from customers, acting as an intermediary between the merchant's website or point-of-sale system and a payment processor. The term includes not only the physical card-reading devices found in brick-and-mortar retail stores but also the payment processing portals found in online stores.
Payment Gateways offer significant benefits to users. They allow customers to make payments anytime, anywhere, and from any device, quickly, and with stringent security measures in place. Many payment gateways also support multiple currencies, enabling businesses to cater to customers in various countries.
The most obvious drawback of using a payment gateway is that it costs money. Fees are usually charged for each transaction and additional monthly fees may also apply. In addition to this, gateways may require merchants to organise their own PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance for all devices which accept, process, store, or transmit card information, while integration with certain online stores or website platforms may not be possible due to compatibility issues and customer support will likely be limited to email, rather than phone or live chat.
A payment facilitator is a merchant services business that sets up electronic payment and processing services for business owners, so they can accept electronic payments online or in person. Popular payment facilitators include Stripe and PayPal.
Payment facilitators offer a streamlined payment processing solution that integrates seamlessly with a range of payment gateways and online store platforms, competitive pricing options with lower transaction fees than payment gateways, and a wider range of payment options, including bank transfers, direct debits and a range of e-wallets. They also provide merchants with features such as fraud detection and prevention tools, chargeback management and recurring payment options and will usually take care of PCI compliance, as well as offering customer support via phone and/or live chat.
There are also drawbacks to using a payment facilitator. They may not offer customisable branding options, potentially affecting your brand’s identity during the payment process, and they can be more complex to integrate than payment gateways. They do not usually offer a standalone payment processing solution.
Recurring payment is a model in which funds are automatically deducted from a customer's account at scheduled intervals to cover the customer's subscription fees for products or services. The payments are pre-scheduled, and the customer is always aware of when they are being taken out. Recurring billing is the software used to facilitate these payments. Examples of providers include Chargebee, Wave and Chargify.
Recurring billing can bring significant benefits to both you and your customers. With recurring billing, businesses don't have to chase late payments or send out reminders to customers with each billing cycle. The process is automated, which saves the company both time and effort, while the customer will have the security of a level of predictability concerning when and how much they need to pay.
The biggest issue that businesses that deal with recurring billing have to deal with is the ‘churn rate’, the percentage of your customers that leave your service over a given period. It’s easy for your customers to simply cancel their payment, and winning them back over can be difficult. Of course, having great customer service can help mitigate this damage, but recurring billing can also be susceptible to cyber-attacks, fraud and identity theft.
A mobile payment is a money payment made for a product or service through a portable electronic device such as a tablet or mobile phone. Mobile payment services include Paypal and Venmo, as well as digital ‘wallets’ such as Google Wallet, payment by SMS (text) message or by QR code. It has been estimated that there are around 2.8 billion payment wallets in use worldwide.
The biggest benefit of mobile payments is convenience for the customer, who can pay conveniently by tapping a phone or credit card at a point of sale, or make online transactions using their credit card or other payment apps. They are also extremely quick, will simplify your bookkeeping, and can even easily integrate loyalty programmes for returning customers.
It’s not all good news, of course. Mobile payments depend on mobile phone technology, and not all mobile phones offer the biometrics that allow for the installation of digital wallets, so they’re not even an option for a proportion of your customer base. In addition to this, the mobile wallet services compete with each other and you will find their various terms and conditions to be something of a dense read. And of course, there’s the small matter of cost; mobile payments tend to attract higher fees than those made through more traditional payment methods.
The terms 'bills' and 'invoices' are often used synonymously, and this can lead to confusion. An invoice is a document that a buyer sends to a seller to outline the details of a sale and usually follows a specific invoice template. An invoice serves two important functions, as both a sales document that requests payment from a client for services or products that have been rendered and can be legally enforced to collect outstanding payments, and as a business record of what products and services have been sold and therefore supports internal accounting and VAT procedures. Invoices are important documents for financial reporting, taxation, and accounting purposes.
A bill also outlines how much money a customer owes a business, but whereas an invoice refers to a very specific type of document that contains set pieces of information, a bill is more of a generic term that could apply to several different documents, including invoices. Unlike an invoice that can be recurring, a bill has a one-time use. It’s generally given when goods and services are received immediately and paid for instantly. A bill and an invoice can refer to the same document, but the language used can be subtle.
Put briefly, bills provide limited details such as prices and VAT while invoices provide detailed information and are therefore legally binding. Bills are commonly used to pay for goods and services received instantaneously. Invoices can be used for immediate transactions, but are also used to request payment before a pre-approved date.
The biggest benefits of invoicing and billing online are speed and efficiency. Being able to invoice or bill immediately should allow for the faster receipt of payment while being cheaper and easier than manual invoice billing.
The biggest drawback of invoicing and billing for online payments is that all this automation does carry some risks. Technology isn’t infallible, and downtime for online services could cost money, while automation can go wrong. There are, for example, many more productive ways in which you could spend your work day than by manually remarrying payments to your invoices because your automated system has fallen over.
Many business bank accounts such as Mettle also include the facility to be able to invoice from within their app, but other software solutions include Invoice2GO, Xero, Invoicely and Intuit’s Quickbooks.
A payment link is a URL, button, or QR code that takes customers directly to a unique checkout page to complete a purchase. Payment links can be set up to accept credit and debit cards, automated clearing house (ACH) payments, and digital wallet payments. Once this is done, they can be used any time a merchant needs to collect payments remotely from a customer.
Payment links offer merchants features that provide the convenience of a relatively straightforward set-up and help them to minimise the cost of accepting payments both in-person and online. They eliminate the need for websites and customer accounts on mobile apps to send payments, simplifying and streamlining the payment process, and the fees tend to be lower.
Sending out digital invoices isn’t something companies can do from one day to the next. European businesses are legally bound by GDPR. This means that you need to acquire a customer’s explicit permission before sending them a paylink via email or SMS. It is also true to say that emailed links can get ‘lost’ in the blizzard of emails that companies receive every single day, and that to send them requires a certain degree of infrastructural robustness. To ensure deliverability of transactional emails, SMTP servers and IP addresses need to be whitelisted and list maintenance needs to be carried out regularly.
There are a couple of ways you can approach creating a secure online payment gateway. You can hire an outside developer or use your website development team to create a bespoke gateway. Or, you can use third-party software. Setting up a secure gateway is essential. You're also putting automated processes in place, which will save time on manual processing, especially as you scale your business and handle more transactions. The more payment methods you make available within your payment portal, the wider the audience, and the easier it'll be for your customers to send you money. Factors to consider include:
What are you going to be charged in fees for taking payments through a payment gateway? Remember that this may (most likely ‘will’) include standing charges as well as per-transaction charges.
How secure is this gateway? A data breach or another form of cybercrime could be extremely costly to your business, both in terms of lost sales and damaged reputation.
User Experience (often shortened to ‘UX’) is one of the most important aspects of all web design. If customers don’t feel comfortable using the gateway you’ve built they won’t use it, and that will cost you money. Make sure that the platform that you choose integrates properly with all types of payment that you wish to offer as options for your customers.
A merchant account is a type of business bank account specifically concerned with accepting credit cards, debit cards, as well as other forms of payment from customers. When a customer submits a payment through your website or one of your card terminals, the payment is transmitted from the customer’s bank account through your secured payment gateway and into your merchant account.
An online merchant account differs from a regular business account in that a merchant account allows you to manage credit card transactions while a business bank account allows you to manage all of your funds. The big difference between the two is the speed of payment transfer. Merchant accounts tend to have special relationships with the major credit card providers and can advance the funds even as online transactions remain pending.
The merchant provider can bear the risk because they have carefully vetted the merchant and are equipped to absorb a certain degree of loss if a fraudulent transaction occurs or the merchant fails to live up to their end of the bargain. Standard banks, on the other hand, aren’t interested in advancing funds and absorbing that risk. They’re not set up for it. To set up an online merchant account, follow these steps:
Not all online merchant accounts are the same, and the best place to start with all of this is by combing through your records to identify which services are essential, which are optional, and which you’d be able to carry on trading without.
Different online merchant accounts will have different cost schedules, and you should match theirs to the one that will benefit your company the most. Most providers take a cut out of each sale plus a small transaction fee. This pricing model is known as flat-rate pricing, and the transaction fee percentage is based on your sales volume. This structure works well for businesses with low credit card transaction volumes, it can all get a little expensive for high-volume merchants, and other options are available.
Since you can accept credit and debit card payments in several ways, it is essential to choose an acquiring bank or account provider that supports all your needs. For instance, if you need a way to accept credit cards in the form of traditional, mobile, and online payment methods, then your selected payment processor must offer services that allow you to support them all.
Remember that the bar for being approved for an online merchant account is higher than being approved for a standard business account, so you’ll need to have your ducks in a row for the application process. When you’ve sent this off, you’ll go through what’s called the underwriting process, at which point your application will be approved or declined. This could take a few minutes or it could take a few days.
All approved? Great! Now it’s time to order your equipment and set up your software until you can start using the required merchant services. Upon approval, you may need to make payments for equipment costs and service fees. Most online merchant service providers offer extensive onboarding support.
An SSL certificate secures your website to protect important customer data. If you collect personal information from customers, whether it's credit card numbers or something as simple as an email address, your website needs an SSL certificate, even if you don't sell anything. Having an SSL licence is critical to your ability to deal with any confidential data, and the good news is that you may already have one. If your web domain name starts with “https://” (where the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’), you do, though do bear in mind that these have to be periodically renewed.
There are also other security measures that you can take to add a further level of peace of mind to anybody seeking to make online payments to your company:
3D Secure (commonly contracted to ‘3DS’) requires customers to complete an additional verification step with the card issuer when paying. Typically, you direct the customer to an authentication page on their bank’s website, and they enter a password associated with the card or a code sent to their phone.
Tokenization is the process of replacing and anonymising sensitive data with unique identification symbols that retain all the essential information about the data without compromising its security.
128-bit encryption is a type of encryption algorithm that uses a 128-bit key to encrypt and decrypt data. It is one of the strongest encryption methods available today, providing a high level of security for sensitive data.
A digital signature is a mathematical technique used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a digital document, message or software. It's the digital equivalent of a handwritten signature or stamped seal, but it offers far greater inherent security.
Any agency that stores, processes or transmits card data must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. A full list of the requirements can be found on the PCI Security Council Standards website.
The best e-commerce platforms make it easy and affordable to build a successful online presence for your business. But with so many options on the market, choosing the right system for your needs can be a challenge. Platforms should include all the features you need to launch your website, increase your traffic and boost your sales. Among the best-known and most widely trusted are Wix, Shopify, Squarespace, Weebly and WooCommerce. For a smooth integration process:
There are a number available, and they will have slightly different features from each other, so make sure that the platform you choose does everything that you want it to.
These platforms will come with ‘themes’, which control the look and feel of your eCommerce area. Pick a theme that fits with the category of merchandise that you’re selling.
Product pages are your showroom, so be deliberate and thorough about how you format them. Think about the questions—and assumptions—buyers may have when they’re not able to physically see or touch your products.
Your eCommerce platform should include prompts for setting up your online payment gateway when you first open it. It is recommended that you offer as many payment options to customers as possible; increasingly, this is a serious consumer consideration when deciding where to shop.
An efficient payment experience will help convert new customers, but an outstanding shipping and delivery experience will help convince them to come back.
To get your eCommerce site up and running, you’ll need to either connect an existing domain or create a new one. Your domain name is the name that users will type into their browser to get to your site. Choosing the right name is important for both your branding and SEO strategy, with the latter focused on having a trustworthy and easy-to-search domain name.
Mobile wallets have exploded in popularity in recent years, and it’s important to remember that mobile devices render web pages differently from desktop computers. For this, you’ll need to employ responsive design, which addresses the range of devices and device sizes, enabling automatic adaption to the screen, whether the content is viewed on a tablet, phone, television, or even a watch.
You must test transactions on your platform before you release it into the wilds of the marketplace. Software testing saves money, and skipping it is a dangerous false economy. You could easily lose valuable sales or even face accusations of fraud, should anything go seriously wrong. And the internet, as we all know, never forgets.
The world of online payment is a rapidly shifting one, and it’s important to continue to monitor it to optimise the value that you can take from it. Streamlining the payment process and minimising friction will ensure a positive customer experience that encourages repeat business. From intuitive checkout processes to transparent pricing, focusing on the customer experience is critical to optimising your payment processing and driving business growth.
It’s important to bear in mind that different trades and industries have different requirements when it comes to paying or receiving money. Some of the features that you should consider when asking yourself which online payment methods are most suitable for your business:
Ensure the payment gateway that you choose features the latest security features, to give your customers complete peace of mind that they can deal with your company securely.
Hosted payment gateways are highly secure, simpler, and customisable whereas non-hosted payment gateways are more versatile and may provide a better customer experience. Which one you choose will be specific to your requirements.
Your customer’s journey from deciding which product to purchase to completing the sale and taking possession of the items they’ve bought should be as seamless and convenient as it’s possible to be. Repeat custom is often driven by having had previous good experiences, so make sure that every experience that your customers have is a positive one!
Different payment gateways and different payment types can have very different fees and fee structures. Make sure that the gateway and payment methods that you choose match the needs of your business and your customers.
It is a fact of life that sometimes things just go wrong. Make sure that there is excellent customer support for such scenarios. It will build confidence with your customers, which will benefit your business in the long term.
If you’re not especially familiar with much of the above it can certainly appear daunting, but being able to take payments online has the potential to be able to transform your revenues and profits. And if it is looking like a bit too much, SwitchPal can help! Even without the pandemic and the effects that had on the way we do business, the days of cash being king had already been in decline for some years. So, what are you still waiting for? The future of business transactions is online, and you can be a part of it too.
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