If you want to sell goods or services on your website, you need to be able to accept credit cards online. To get started, you need to make a few choices.
- Decide whether you want to go with an e-wallet processor (like PayPal) or apply for your own merchant account. PayPal and other e-wallet providers can be a good option for online merchants just starting out, or those who don't intend to process high volumes of sales. The upside of using an e-wallet provider is that initial set-up may be easier. The downside is that your customers will be taken away from your site to enter their payment information, and they'll need to register an account with the e-wallet provider. The registration process can be daunting for some customers, and you may lose sales.
- Apply for a merchant account. If you decide you're ready to get your own account to allow you to accept credit cards on your website, you'll need to apply for a merchant account. Don't worry--even if you've never processed credit cards before, this isn't as difficult as it sounds. You can apply directly with a bank that offers merchant accounts--this is a good option for merchants in low-risk industries, especially those who have previous processing history or an established relationship with a bank. Or, you can find an Internet Payment Service Provider (IPSP) to help match you with a bank. An IPSP can help you apply for multiple accounts to increase your chances of success. They'll also help you gather the documents you need to apply for a merchant account.
- Set up a shopping cart. One of the common mistakes made by online merchants is picking a shopping cart for their website before getting a merchant account. Because your merchant account has to work seamlessly with your shopping cart, it'll save you a lot of headaches later to wait until your payment processor is ready, and pick a shopping cart based on their specifications. A shopping cart doesn't have to be a big expense--there are many great open source options out there, and your payment processor will be able to help you choose the right shopping cart for your business.
- Integrate your payment gateway. A payment gateway is a piece of software that runs online and communicates between your shopping cart and your merchant bank. It works like a virtual version of a point-of-sale (POS) terminal--the swipe machines you see in stores. When customers enter their card information, the payment gateway performs the magic of taking that information and turning it into money credited to your merchant account. There's a lot of technical wizardry that goes into a payment gateway--your web developer and/or your payment processor's tech support team will be able to help you figure it all out.
- Provide security with an SSL certificate. The internet is ripe with opportunities for credit card theft and fraud. It's important to make sure your customers are safe when they enter their card information into your website. There are a number of security steps you can take, but one of the most important is getting an SSL certificate for your website. SSL stands for "Secure Sockets Layer," and an SSL certificate adds a "secret code" of encrypted information to your website that proves to your customers that you are who you say you are. Customers know they're on an SSL-secure site when they see a padlock icon in the URL bar.
Getting a merchant account to process credit cards online may not be as easy as 1-2-3, but it's worth taking the time to find a solution that will allow your business to thrive and grow.
Instabill is an online payment processor specializing in high risk merchant accounts.