Is Your Website Credit Card Friendly?
In my last column I discussed the process of credit card enabling your brick-and-mortar business. I pointed out that research has shown that accepting credit cards can help increase revenue and enhance cash flow. I also pointed out that you may have to look beyond your local bank for help in getting things set up. This week we will look at setting up an online payment system for your business website. If you think hooking up a brick-and-mortar location with a credit card system stymies most bankers, try asking them how to do it on your website.
If you'll recall, the question that spurred this topic came from a lady who went to her local bank for help in setting up a credit card acceptance system for her business and her banker wasn't very knowledgeable on the subject. I pointed out that her banker's ignorance of the subject probably wasn't a reflection on his skills as a banker, but a reflection on the compartmentalization of the credit card aspect of banking.
The fact is, most banks can provide you with the merchant account needed to accept credit card payments, but beyond that have little to do with the process. Even larger banks may only have a single person on staff who is tasked as the "credit card expert" and if that person ever goes on vacation, you're pretty much out of luck (voice of experience talking here, folks).
I have helped many clients set up online credit card processing systems and more than once I've had to sit down with the bank issuing the merchant account and educate them on how online payment systems work. Don't believe me? This is a direct quote (here's the Bible, here's my hand) from the bank employee who was in charge of processing internet merchant account applications, "When someone pays online how do they swipe the credit card in their computer?"
Much like a brick and mortar credit card processing system, you will need the following to accept credit cards on your website: (1) an electronic shopping cart system that allows the customer to select products and checkout when ready; (2) a payment gateway service to get approval or declination of the credit card; (3) a credit card processor who will process the transaction; and (4) an internet merchant account issued by an acquiring bank in which processed funds are deposited.
We covered most of these elements last week. Here's a quick refresher for those who missed the basics, then we'll talk about a shopping cart system.
Payment Gateway Service: The payment gateway service comes into play when a customer submits their credit card information to the webpage form. Think of the gateway service as the middleman in the process. The website's shopping cart checkout system electronically submits the credit card to the gateway service who then routes the information to the processor for approval. Depending on the reply from the processor, the gateway service will return an approval or declination for the purchase. This entire process takes just seconds to perform.
Credit Card Processor: The credit card processor is an electronic data center that processes the credit card transactions coming from the gateway company, ensures that the charge is valid, then settles the funds in your merchant account.
Internet Merchant Account: An Internet merchant account is a bank or financial institution account in which funds from online sales are deposited. Merchant accounts are usually issued by banks who are associated with the major credit card services like Visa and MasterCard. Be aware that many banks will not grant merchant accounts to Internet merchants as they are often categorized as "high risk ventures." This policy varies widely and in the end, the granting of the merchant account will come down to economics from the bank's point of view. If the bank sees even the smallest iota of risk, you will not be granted the account. Fortunately, the growth of online sales has given rise to an entire industry of merchant service bureaus that will grant you a merchant account and everything else you need to accept online payments. The fees are usually higher, but it's better than not having an online payment system at all.
Shopping Cart System. To accept online payments you must have what's called a "shopping cart system" that allows your customer to choose and purchase products. Adding a shopping cart system to your website can be simple or complex, cheap or very expensive. It depends on the product you're selling and the options you wish to offer your customers. As in everything, you get what you pay for.
A shopping cart system typically consists of three components: a product catalog, the shopping cart, and a checkout/payment system. The product catalog is your inventory component and displays the items you have for sale on the website. The checkout/payment system is the part of the program that allows your customers to "add this to my cart," and the checkout/ payment system is the component that allows the customer to checkout and pay for their purchase.
There is a wide variety of shopping cart software on the market and the price is dependent on the features you want. Shopping cart systems range from simple HTML form insertions to full- blown catalog and inventory systems like those used by Amazon or Dell.
You can spend from zero to tens of thousands of dollars. Some of them you can set up on your site yourself while others should be set up by someone who knows what they're doing.
You can get a free Paypal.com shopping cart system which is the most simplistic in nature, but the easiest to implement. Using Paypal also alleviates the need for a bank merchant account because everything is handled by Paypal, for a fee of course. You insert HTML forms into your website code and when an item is purchased.
There are also numerous online companies who will assist in the setup of your ecommerce / credit card system. These companies charge several hundred to several thousand dollars for their services, so it would be wise for you to have an idea of exactly what you need before calling them into play.
Customer submits credit card. The site sends the transaction to the gateway. The gateway sends the info to the processor. The processor contacts the issuing bank of the customers credit card. The issuing bank returns the result of the processor. The processor routs the result to the gate. The gateway passes the result to the website. The website displays the result.
One thing to remember when setting up an ecommerce system on your site is this: online it's all about security and privacy. Though online credit card processing has been around for years there are still many people who are uncomfortable giving their credit card number online. These are the same folks that do not hesitate to give their credit card number over the phone to a complete stranger or hand their credit card to a waiter who disappears with it for ten minutes. Online credit card processing is much less susceptible to fraud and abuse than either telephone processing or giving it to a waiter.
Eighty-five percent of internet users surveys said that a lack of security made them uncomfortable sending credit card information over the Web.
It's up to you to instill a sense of security and make the customer comfortable shoving their card into their computer.
Here's to your success.
Small Business Q&A is written by veteran entrepreneur and syndicated columnist, Tim Knox. Tim serves as the president and CEO of three successful technology companies and is the founder of DropshipWholesale.net, an online organization dedicated to the success of online and eBay entrepreneurs.
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