Biz Ladies: What to Look for When Accepting Payments on Your Website

Today’s Biz Ladies post is from Jennifer Dunn, owner of Social Street Media and freelance business and finance writer for sites like WePay. In this post, Jennifer shares her tips for making online payments easy, safe and effective. Thanks, Jennifer, for such a helpful post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

When setting up your store, you have to consider how you’re going to accept payments. After creating and testing a product, branding your store and building a website, accepting payments may seem like the simple part, but it’s not! There’s a lot to look out for when picking the best payment option for your online business. It could affect your entire relationship with your customers. Here are some criteria to consider when you’re looking to accept payments on your site (or change payment providers):

Ease of Use

This is without a doubt one of the two top questions to consider when choosing a payment option for your website. If your system is incredibly complicated, customers simply won’t buy from you. If they do once, they won’t be back. Make sure it’s simple to figure out — not just for Bill Gates, but also for your grandma! (In fact, we recommend sitting your grandma down in front of your website and making sure she can navigate it. Go on, try it! You may find that your “simple” site isn’t so simple after all.)

Security

Along with ease of use, it’s important for customers to see a security badge on your site or during the checkout process. There’s no getting around it — if your payment option doesn’t feel secure to your customers, they absolutely won’t buy from you. There are so many scams on the Internet; if a user gets even a whiff of one through your business, you’re done.

Customer Support

When times get tough and you can’t figure out anything on your own, will your payments company be dependable and available when you have a question? If you can never seem to get them on the phone and emails bounce, it may be time to reconsider your options.

Fees

Whatever company you use to accept payments will take a percentage of your sales. Some also charge monthly fees, application fees, termination fees and breathing fees. (Sadly, only that last one is made up.) What you want here is clarity: How much money will come out with each transaction? Will there be hidden surprises? The last thing you want is to suddenly find that you’ve been bleeding money through hidden charges and loopholes.

Hint: Watch out for “qualified” credit card fees. This is a sign that you’ll be charged higher fees for “non-qualified” cards.

Account Issues

Is there a chance that your customers’ accounts (or yours) could be frozen, locking them out for an extended period of time? It’s been known to happen and could cause huge issues down the road. Look for signs that this could be a problem. PayPal, for example, is notorious for this.

Getting paid online should be easy. So the next time you’re evaluating a payments processor, go through this list to make sure you’ve made the right choice.

Calley

Hi Jennifer,
Thank you for writing this post. I was wondering if you have any advice or suggestions on how to make sales and payments seamless for biz ladies who sell items at shows/in-person sales, online and send invoices?
Thank you, Calley

Amanda

Hey. I’d like to hop in here and help out a bit. As some background, I actually was a product manager for one of the larger e-commerce services out there for a while (one not mentioned below). While I think the advice above is very helpful, e-commerce is SUCH a pain in the ass and hard to understand that naming names and being specific is probably going to be more helpful.

So first: understand that taking payment on your website requires a few things: 1. a website capable of selling things. The easiest path to this is to use a service like shopify or bigcommerce, but come with limitations. If you have a complicated pricing scheme or odd shipping, etc you might run into problems with these services. A good solution in those cases is to go with WordPress, which a large portion of you already are, and then use an e-commerce plugin. There are many, and all do things differently, but at the moment for physically shipped goods, I’d recommend WooCommerce, which is free. You pay for add ons. ZenCart, though around for years, is regarded as a joke by developers. Magento, the gold standard and in use by stores like Walmart, is expensive to develop, hard to host, but allows a lot of customization. Use Magento as a last resort.

2. Now you’ll need a payment processor. Following all the above advice, the #1 mistake vendors make is this: every single bank out there offers a merchant gateway and says the same things: “its very easy to connect to, we have great rates, and great customer support”. This is a bold faced lie in 90% of cases. The faster you abandon the idea of using your bank and going to a company like authorize.net, the faster you’ll be online. Authorize.net charges higher fees, but they integrate seamlessly with every gateway out there and have amazing support. You will ultimately spend a lot of money getting your web person to integrate your gateway service, or you can just go with epay or authorize.net or another similar service. I also HIGHLY recommend Stripe.

3. If you have a “bricks & mortar” presence (you sell in person, such as at a show or store) as well as online, you have 2 considerations: how you control inventory and how you process payments. For instance, if you sell something at a show, how does it affect inventory online? Does it need to? Can you handle this manually or does it need to happen automatically. If it must happen automatically, you’re talking about needing an online cart that has a POS inventory system as well. Manually, you can use anything. For the processing, I recommend Square. Its a free gadget that attaches to your phone or tablet (apple or android) that allows you to zip credit cards with reasonable rates. It provides receipts, etc as well. If you do enough VOLUME of sales, then you may consider a POS system where you’ll get a processing unit for shows. It requires a connection, either phone or internet and will come with monthly fees and transaction fees as well. Its why square is so ideal.

I’d love sometime to do a “how to get a store up” post on here for bizladies.

Becca

Thanks Amanda for those extra bits of advice! I have done a lot of research on the website end of it but hadn’t thought yet about selling at an event. SO helpful!

Sophie

Hmmm, this article was a little short on specifics. However the comment by the user Amanda was more what I had in mind when I opened this piece.
So, biz ladies I hope you take Amanda up on her offer.

sara

Please, please amanda can you get a’ store up’ post/article together – you really are helping!

Amanda

Hey guys, I’ve contacted Grace to offer to do a post or even better, a webinar on the topic. Glad to help.

Amanda

@aimee, here’s a good roundup of the top ecommerce solutions including those I named and Big Cartel. i don’t agree with absolutely all their assessments, but its not a bad roundup. http://www.ecommerce-platforms.com/articles/top-6-ecommerce-platform-reviews-2012-shopify-volusion-bigcommerce-magento-bigcartel-3dcart/ .

The MOST important thing is to start by figuring out what your cart needs to do as it pertains to pricing, discounting and shipping of your products. Not all solutions have the same features.

crystal

wish I had this post and comments when shopping around for an e-comm solution. we started with a wordpress plugin and then ended up with shopify and have loved it! also want to point out that while square has lots of advantages, the one thing it didn’t do for us was help us track our inventory seamlessly. we went with another company because it integrated with our inventory solution and let us track purchases from our site, shows, etc. all at once. looking forward to more posts on the topic!

liz@lifedreaming

I think a longer post by Amanda would be hugely useful. I’m launching my Life Dreaming Expedition online in a month and her initial comment has already been helpful.

My stuff is relatively easy – modules that can be downloaded but there are still payment options to explore and Amanda’s details really helped.

Thanks Amanda

Liz

Decorator's Notebook

Thanks Amanda for your insight and tips – the main part of the post is a little vague so it is useful to have some solid recommendations and actionable points. D*S team – I’d love to hear more from Amanda so hope you can take her up on her offer!

Renayle Fink

I agree with all the other commenters, Amanda has given such great and valuable information. It would be great if she did a post. I have been trying to figure out selling on my website and her tips were wonderful!

mims

WOW! Tanks Amanda, lookig forward to your next post on startign a shop. I am in theprocess myself, and no picnic.

LRW

Amanda thank you this is great! I’m in the process of downgrading my online and trying to figure out where I can cut to save costs. I have a brick’ n’ mortar that recently went on line using a big expensive company and was told we needed to use a second merchant service (chase) to link with authorize.net. Having a physical location I already had a merchant service & a square account and wanted to use either of them to save but I was told I couldn’t. Sales online have not been exactly what I expected and I have all these fees from different companies 1. hosting company 2. authorize.net 3. merchant service. My question is can authorize be used without a merchant service? if not, then do you recommend another company to use for security? I actually really like authorize they have helped with several overseas scams.

Amanda

Authorize actually HAS a merchant service you can use, but yes, you do need a merchant service. I think a better question is, do you require Authorize or can you use stripe?

Here’s how you answer the question.
-how much sales do you do monthly?
-what is the average $$ per sale?
-is this consistent throughout the year?

Authorize.net and other services charge a setup fee, monthly charge, and then a per transaction charge and a percentage of the charge itself. They’ll almost always waive the setup fee. Either way, you then have this idea of what each transaction costs and whether you do enough in sales every month, and enough PER sale to warrant it. If you don’t… well, there’s a use case for Stripe, Paypal, Square, etc.

The reality is that everything in this world is time or money:) You have more of one of them. If you manually control your inventory (time), you can use Stripe. If you need to save time, you spend more.

Another question you might want to look at is “why are sales not as expected”. Are you pushing people to the site, getting the most out of your SEO, pricing competitively with other online stores, building your contact database, etc? What were these initial expectations based on?

Julie

Thanks for the info, Amanda! Apprecite the details. Would love to see your “How to Get a Store Up” post.

Angela

I am the operator of a flea market and was wondering if anyone knew the best way to accept booth reservations prior to the event. I was just about to make a Paypal account, and direct people to pay into it. Its a small operation so I dont want to be sunk by large fees but its necessary to get reservations ahead of time.
Thanks!

Amanda

@angela,

again, this is simply a matter of how complicated you want to get. The EASIEST way? Set up an eventbrite event (eventbrite.com), make it recurring for each week (or day, whatever) and make ticket prices based on the different booth sizes. Only allow as many tickets as you have booths. This allows vendors to plan far into the future, it allows you to have a paper trail for them (they’ll have a paper ticket they can bring, but also eventbrite has AMAZING free iphone/android apps to let you scan tickets or just check them in).

Eventbrite is free. There is a per ticket charge that either you assume or pass along to your customers. They have easy to use widgets that allow you to embed the ticket buying experience into your own website.

LRW

thanks so much Amanda, all good things to think about.
I too look forward to seeing your “How to Get a Store Up” post.

Christy

Thank you for the post, and the responses, everyone!
I am based in Canada — I currently use PayPal and have great success for the last 18 months, but I did have one instance where a payment was not accepted and there was no reason for it. I’m concerned about PayPal freezing out potential clients — can I use Authorize.net or other providers in Canada?

What’s the best option for the “Great White North”?

Amanda

You can use authorize.net for Canadian businesses, I believe they limit which merchant gateways they’ll work with.

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