Choosing a Merchant Service Provider – Part One

In the market for a merchant service? If so, you may find the following useful. What should be a relatively straightforward process of selection based on fees and features instead is a nightmarish walk through a minefield of hidden fees, deceptive sales practices, and poor customer service. Hopefully, this article will help mitigate some of the pain in researching, and maintaining a merchant service.

For all its ills,┬áthere are significant benefits too. The most attractive ones are the ease and speed of getting paid, and the larger transaction sizes. These two factors are critical to running a profitable business. Credit cards also offer rewards, and delayed payment options that make them attractive payment choices for your customers.┬áThese reasons are also why the fees for payment processing are so high. There are cheaper payment methods such as ACH payments, or debit card payments, but they don’t offer the same advantages, and have not seen the same level of traction for typical B2C or smaller B2B transactions. Most B2B and even some larger B2C transactions that are fee sensitive tend to favor ACH or checks, so if that describes your customers, you should consider options that include these payment types.

So, your customers want to pay with a credit card, and you want to get paid. What do you look for? There are 7 factors that you should consider that I cover in this seven part article. Here’s the first one –

Factor One: Features

This is probably a good place to start with. You want to make sure the service provider offers the features that you’re looking for your type of business. You want to be able to bill people, and accept payments in the most natural form relative to your type of business. For example, if you sell monthly subscriptions, you want your service to allow you to take payments out of your customers’ accounts on a set schedule. Here are some of the common features:

  • Subscription billing – Will you be billing your customers on a recurring basis? If so, subscription payment option is important so you don’t have to ask for your customer’s credit card. You will want to ensure that the service offers options that you will need e.g., ability to store a payment instrument, link it to a customer, bill on a varying schedule (daily/ weekly/ monthly/ etc.), allow fixed and variable payments, and handle the pricing plans you’ve set for your products and services.
  • In person payment – Do you run a kiosk, food truck, or retail store where the customers pay in person? If so, you will need an ability to swipe the card, handle chip cards, or NFC payments such as Apple Pay. These may be attended payments such as where there is a cashier involved or unattended such as for a cash register. If you run a restaurant, you may need the flexibility to take the payment device to the dining table.
  • eCommerce payments – If you have an eCommerce site, you will want a service that includes a payment gateway. Your choice will be restricted by the gateways that are already integrated into the eCommerce package that you’re using. When you’re deciding on your eCommerce provider, review the supported gateway list, and the supported payment features to ensure that you can sell into the regions where you do business, and accept payment methods most likely to get you paid with the lowest risk.
  • Fraud control – With eCommerce payments, comes the risk of chargebacks due to unauthorized payments. These can occur due to stolen payment instruments or malicious first party attacks. Many payment gateways come with sophisticated fraud management features that allow you to review orders, assign risk to transactions, and selectively block payments from certain regions or IP addresses.
  • Invoice payments – Similar to eCommerce, invoice payments allow your customers to click on a pay button on the invoice to pay. Again, your choice will be limited to payment services integrated into your invoicing solution.
  • Phone payments – If you give your customers the ability to call in with payment details, you will need the ability to key in the payment details either on your computer, or into your point of sale system.
  • Mobile payments – If you run a business on the go, you may need to look into mobile payments such as Square. In most cases these are offered as an app on your smartphone with or without attachment to swipe the card or accept a chip insertion.

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