by Karisse Hendrick
A common misconception when preparing to accept credit cards online is that a merchant account is all you will need from an outside vendor to accept payments. While this is necessary for the financial processing, a payment gateway is necessary to provide the technology to securely capture and transfer the credit card information from a website shopping cart to the merchant account. A payment gateway is the online equivalent to a credit card terminal used in a brick and mortar store to communicate card details and verify the card provided is active, and can be authorized for the amount of the purchase in real time.
Choosing a payment gateway is a lot like choosing a car to purchase. While all will get you from point A to point B, several have additional features that may or may not be necessary for your business. These extras can range from fraud identification tools to basic business intelligence and customer management. This is an important process as you will be relying on the consistency of this service to be a secure form of communication for your online sales at all times. To simplify this process, I recommend the following steps:
Do your research: If you have already chosen a merchant account provider, ask your sales rep who they are compatible with, and who they may recommend. Keep in mind, they may be receiving compensation for referrals, but this is a good starting point. In addition, look up online reviews and recommendations of gateways, particularly from companies who may be in the same space that you plan to be.
  • Compare solutions: Choose 3-4 gateways that may work and compare their pricing structures, extra offerings, contract terms and reviews. It’s important to ask where and how the credit card information will be stored, if they are PCI (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard ) Compliant and if they support recurring billing and keep card data on file for the convenience of returning customers (sometimes referred to as tokenization). You also may be interested in asking if they provide access to a virtual terminal function, which would allow you, the merchant, to log into the gateway directly and process a sale or credit without having to go through the user side of the website.
  • Determine what is most important to you: Select the top 2 solutions you think might be the best fit. If you are able to speak with someone who may have an unbiased opinion in the advantages and disadvantages of one solution over another, this could also be a helpful resource.
  • Request to speak with a current client who may be in the same industry you are (retail, SAAS, online gaming, etc.): Because you will be relying on the consistency and strength of the gateway’s technology, it is important to get feedback from a company who has relied on this company already. If the gateway you are considering is one of the larger, well known gateways, this may not be necessary as online reviews are easily found.
Once you are set up with a gateway, you will need to request what is sometimes referred to as a VAR (Variance) setup sheet from your merchant processor to supply to the gateway solution. This is essentially a form that will provide the technical path for the gateway to communicate directly to the processor to pass through the correct information so all sales are routed through your merchant account, and eventually into your merchant bank account.
Once your online shopping cart is connected to your gateway, and the gateway is connected to your Merchant account, you will want to be trained in the basics of managing transactions at the gateway level, using reporting and other functions. Once sales are flowing through, you may not need to access your gateway account more than once a month to obtain statements and fees assessed. Do keep any contact information and account information on hand, in case there is ever an issue with orders not being processed correctly.