This post walks you through what a payment gateway is and how it works before looking at some of your options and eight questions you can ask to work out which payment gateway option is the right for you.
The main job of a payment gateway is to validate your customer’s credit card details securely, make sure the funds are available for the payment and get you paid.
A payment gateway is the service that authorizes credit card payments for online and offline businesses. It is the equivalent of a physical point of sale terminal in a shop or restaurant. It lets your customer submit their credit card details and then securely passes this sensitive financial information from the customer to the vendor and then between the vendor and the bank. The payment gateway then tells you whether the charge has been approved by the cardholder’s bank and submits your charges for settlement. Settlement is where the payment amount is deducted from your customer’s credit card account and deposited into your vendor account.
Payment gateways are often confused with Vendor accounts. To take payments online you need both a payment gateway and a Vendor account. A vendor account is where funds are held before being deposited into your bank account. The role of the payment gateway is simply to decline or approve a transaction.
Payment Service Providers (or PSPs) act as both a vendor account and the payment gateway, helping businesses to collect and manage their payments. Payments go to the PSP and are then transferred on to you.
There are four simple steps in the payment gateway process:
Your customer chooses the product or service they want to purchase and then enters their credit card details onto your payment page. This information is then directed to your payment gateway.
Your payment gateway then takes this information, and sending it via a shielded link to your bank account.
At this point you will know that the sale has been approved and you can deliver the ordered products or services.
At last, the transaction data is verified by your bank and the money from the sale is deposited into your account. When the actual payment will arrive in your account will depend on your payment gateway – it can be as little as real-time or as long as 15 working days.
Choosing a payment gateway (or a full service payment provider) can be difficult. We have come up with a list of 10 quick questions to help you choose the right payment gateway for you.
Setting up a merchant account and payment gateway will usually take around 3 – 4 weeks. However, some payment gateway providers like PayPal and Stripe let you sign up without a merchant account and get started straight away.
While most payment gateways offer help setting up a merchant account, obtaining one can still be a long and complex process - particularly if you’re a new or small business going through the process for the first time.
Cost is obviously a concern for every business. Before committing to any payment gateway provider make sure you are aware of their fee structure. The most important thing to think about is fully-loaded costs: set-up costs + transaction costs + admin costs.
A payment gateway and merchant account will typically cost around £600 – 900 in set-up costs, 15p + 2% per transaction and a £50-100 monthly fee. You will usually also be charged extra fees for any chargebacks.
If you only take a relatively low volume of online payments, then you should try to avoid monthly fees and a high setup cost. You may want to look at a full service provider like Stripe which is quick and free to set up. You might also want to consider Direct Debit which is typically cheaper than card payments.
While you will usually know that a payment has been approved straight away it typically takes a few days for a payment to be settled. Payment timings vary significantly from provider to provider.
Some gateway providers hold onto your funds (or a certain % of your funds) for up to 30 days while others can settle your funds as quickly as the next day. Some providers may also only pay out funds on set days. Ideally you should look for a provider that pays out every day.
If you need to take international payments – or may want to in the future – you should check whether the payment gateway offers international and multi-currency payments or an interface with multiple languages.
You should also check whether there are any additional fees for accepting multi-currency payments or payments from other countries and whether you will need to have a merchant account in a specific country.
Security is obviously a key concern when taking payments. You should make sure you only use a provider which is level 1 compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and that offers built in security capabilities (such as tokenization).
You should also consider the fraud protection and screening tools offered. Most payment gateways offer a number of tools to help you guard against fraud, such as filters to define who or where you receive payments from. These tools are particularly important if you will be accepting payments from people who you don't have an existing relationship with.
Customer experience is one of those under-valued areas which can really hurt your business down the line and as such is worth taking seriously from the off.
You should look for a payment gateway which offers support when you need it and in a way you can get it. Questions you might want to ask are:
A good place to start is contacting them to see how the initial experience goes as well as doing a research online into other customers’ experiences.
Payment gateways typically accept VISA, Mastercard and most accept American Express. If you’re collecting international payments you may want to check that the gateway supports local credit card types (e.g beyond Visa, Amex, MasterCard and Discover).
You will want to consider whether the payment gateway integrates with your current billing, shopping cart, accounting solutions you are using. Ideally the payment gateway you choose will be integrated with software you already have. If not, you should still look for a service that is integrated with software providers, both because it increases convenience and saves you time (e.g. a WPCintegration) and because it signals that the provider has an API that is easy to integrate against, saving you development time down the road.
If, after asking all of these questions, you still haven't found a payment gateway which meets your requirements there are some other options you can consider. Our guide to recurring payments compares each of the main online payment options on costs, ease of access, international reach, timings, support etc. helping you to find the right option for you.
If you think World Payments Corp might be the right option for you, sign up now for free and start taking payments today.