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Getting Paid: How to Accept Payments Online

How to accept payments online

If you want your online business to make money, you’ve got to be able to take money.

Back in ye olden days, most businesses could make do by asking their customers to give their credit card details over the phone, or to download and print off a form (which they’d probably have to fax back!) That process was long, laborious (on both sides of the transaction), and obviously not very secure. Also: do people even have faxes anymore?

Diehard fax-lovers aside, that’s not how it is nowadays. Customers want to give you money right now. They want to know that their purchase, registration, membership renewal or what-have-you is squared away, ticked off, and confirmed. You probably want that too, right?

So, how do you make it happen? Well, you need to do 3 things:

  • Make a decision about how to accept payment,
  • Make sure your site is safe and secure, and
  • Work out a new (and easier! And faster!) workflow to process your transactions.

1. How will you accept payments?

There are a whole host of companies that will process your payments online. You’ve probably heard of the market leaders: Paypal. eWay. Stripe. We often call these systems “payment gateways” (because your payment “goes through them”, see?), and they are the ones that do the heavy lifting when it comes to handling your clients’ private information.

In fact, a long time ago we at Technology Matters decided to never keep credit card information of any sort on our clients’ sites. It’s just too dangerous. Even if we have locked down your site as tightly as possible (see #2, below!), it presents too tempting a target for hackers and other no-goodnicks. And if they do manage to get in, we’d all have a catastrophe on our hands.

That’s why these external payment gateways are such a great resource – they allow you to sleep soundly knowing that you will never, ever be responsible for credit card fraud against your clients. No one can ever say you’ve stolen their credit card information, either – you’ve never ever seen it!

But which one is best?

Honestly, there isn’t a single “best” payment gateway. Paypal is very fast and easy for customers – but they take a pretty hefty percentage of all transactions. eWay is based here in Australia, comparatively cheap, and offers pretty great support, but doesn’t have Paypal’s ubiquitous brand recognition. Stripe, founded in 2011, is quickly gaining ground internationally, but doesn’t have the others’ range of integration options (yet).

So like so many things in life, it is less a question of “which is best” than “which is best for me?” Take a look at their payment plans. Talk to us about what software your site is using and which payment system best integrates with it. Or better yet, read this post – which payment gateway is right for you?

The Set-up

Be aware: it can take some time to set up your account. Different services require different checks and balances, and the whole process can take between a day (Paypal) to a week (eWay). If Technology Matters is your web developer, we’ll step in here and take a lot of the load off your shoulders – one of the checks, in fact, leads us straight into #2…

2. Secure your site

If you’re going to take payments online, you need a safe, locked-down, hacker-resistent website – even if you use a payment gateway, and even if you don’t keep credit card information on your site (which, as I said above, you should never do). If your site isn’t properly secured, sensitive data can be intercepted and stolen before it even makes it to Paypal’s secure server.

Enter the Secure Server.

The Secure Server

Ordinarily, information passed from a website to your computer (and vice versa) goes unencrypted. After all, most information on most pages of a site are meant for public consumption. If your website is going to deal with more private information (credit cards, address information, etc.), then that information is going to have to go through a different channel: a secure server connection. The technical term is “Secure Socket Layer”, or SSL, but you don’t really need to know that stuff. What’s important is that it encrypts any information that goes through it, meaning that only the intended recipient can read it.

It’s easy to tell at a glance whether or not the page you’re currently visiting is secure. If it is, then a lock icon will appear near your URL bar. Different browsers display it in different ways, as demonstrated below:

 

Where's the lock?

Sometimes, whole websites will run entirely on a secure server setup. Other times, only specific pages will be encrypted. It generally depends on server setup, developer preference and some other factors. What is most important, though, is that it’s secure where it counts – whenever sensitive information is being transmitted.

 

What do *I* need to do?

Not much, happily. But your web developer (presumably: us!) will arrange a Secure Certificate for your site. This is an independently-verified certification that your site runs through a properly secured and vetted server, and most payment gateways (Paypal, eWay and Stripe included) require it.

It can take a little while to request, verify and then install the certificate (which can hold up #1, above, if you’re not careful), but Technology Matters is happy to take care of this whole process for you. Also note that Secure Certificates do attract a charge (payable to the issuer, not us), and do require periodic renewal. Again, though, that’s why you’ve got us.

So, with that taken care of, you’re ready to start taking payments online! Which leads us to the last – and perhaps most important – step.

3. Managing Your Payments

The whole point of taking payment online is to speed everything up – both for your customers and for you. Perhaps we should spend a moment, then, thinking about some tricks to take advantage of near-instantaneous payment processing?

Here are some suggestions (and remember: they’re just suggestions!) for how you may speed up your processes:

  1. Process Orders in Bulk

    You don’t need to get to each order (or membership renewal, or event registration, etc.) as soon as it’s lodged, especially if there’s nothing for you to confirm or approve. If you’re running an online shop, consider actioning pending orders at a certain time (or times) each day. If you’re running an event registration system, consider only viewing registrations when it actually matters – not wasting time perusing each registration as it comes.

  2. Embrace Reporting

    Transaction reporting becomes even more important when you’re not manually looking over every order. Much of the software that Technology Matters offers contains basic reporting functionality, but we also offer an in-depth, fully-customised reporting system that can pull together information from all transactional systems on your site. Talk to us if that is something you’re interested in.

  3. Be ready for anything

    Occasionally an issue may arise – a user trying to use stolen credit cards, an irate customer complaining to Paypal, or even a technical issue that removes secure functionality. If that happens, contact our support team and we’ll be right on it. In our experience, most issues come down to a) user error / a problem with a customer’s bank account or computer setup, or b) Paypal being a little over-zealous about potential issues.

    Paypal takes security very seriously (as well they should!), but that occasionally means that they will suspend a seller’s account without very little grounds. As long as everything is above board, though (which it will be, of course), it will all get sorted out quickly. That is, unfortunately, the price of doing business with a trusted gateway like Paypal.

  4. Start growing your business

    So, your payment process is easier and more user-friendly than ever before. Your admin duties are streamlined and less labour-intensive. That gives you some breathing room, doesn’t it? Or more likely, a chance to start working on growing!

What next, then? Maybe work on bringing more customers to your site through marketing and search engine optimisation? Maybe it’s time to think about your social media presence? Or maybe you’ll want to set aside some of your new income for a site revamp or some new functionality? The sky’s the limit when the money’s rolling in.

Nathan Dorey
Nathan Dorey
Nathan has been involved in nearly every aspect of web development for 12 years – from scoping to design, and coding to copywriting. He oversees Technology Matters' Association Suite, bringing together a range of services catered to professional associations.

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