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When I started selling online just over three years ago, accepting payments online was a long way from ideal. You could either do it the expensive way, or you could do it the cheap way.The expensive way meant get a credit card merchant account and set up a secure website using SSL to process the payments yourself, or use a third party processor to do it for you. Very messy and a lot of work if you’re only going to do a few sales per week.

It also made you a target for hackers interested in your credit card details database.

The cheap way was to use PayPal, NoChex or similar, but that meant anyone that wanted to pay you had to have (or open) an account with that processor which a lot of people just wouldn’t bother doing and so you were losing out on sales.

The middle of the road at the time was a merchant account with WorldPay, but I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. I gave them a call to find out how much it would cost. They wanted a $9000 float, they were going to charge nearly 6%, and they’d keep my money for 28 days before passing it on to me.

Er yeah, right. Thanks, but no thanks.

Seriously though, I consider that an insult to anyone with a brain. Because of that, I’ll never deal with WorldPay even if they now give the best rate.

While I was investigating all this, I came across Protx who act as a third party processor if you have a merchant account. At the time this was the cheapest option.

So I took out a merchant credit card account with my bank, and used Protx to handle the processing of cards. This meant I didn’t have to keep any card details and I didn’t have to secure my site, so it was pretty good while not ideal.

It cost about the same as it would have to set up a secure site, and took away any chances of a security breach, so I was very grateful. Protx are also very responsive, so still a good option even now.

Three years later, things have changed quite nicely for small businesses.

You now have a choice of payment processors depending on your location in the world. PayPal is probably the most used one, and in North America and the UK at least, there is no longer a requirement for your customers to sign up so that’s good.

NoChex works in a similar way but is UK only. There’s now also MoneyBookers which are UK based but international in scope like PayPal and have over 2 million users according to their website. There are other larger processors such as 2CO and Authorize.net.

And there are probably others in your country that I’ve never even heard of.

In fact there are so many third party payment processors now, that there’s really no need to hold a traditional merchant account any more, and unless Mastercard and Visa turn back the clock (a distinct possibility), it will become cheaper as competition increases.

Now there’s one more new one and I’ve left this until last. The brand new, shiny, Google checkout.

Unless I’ve missed something somewhere along the way, I can’t see the point.

In order for you to use it on your website(s), you need to secure every site. That means purchasing an SSL certificate for each and every site every year if you want to use it.

I don’t care how convenient the rest of it is, if it makes me do something additional that I don’t have to do now, then I’m not going to bother.

It may be that they’ve done it this way because of the rumblings in the Mastercard and Visa camps over third party processors. So if things do change all processors may have to insist on SSL. Then it may be worth considering Google.

We’ll see…