By Martin O’Leary, Head of Marketing at Realex Payments

Nowadays, e-commerce is more accessible for businesses than ever before. Case in point, last year alone, an astonishing 34.8 billion e-commerce transactions were processed. If you are not selling your products online, you are missing out on a potentially huge market.

So what is the best method of accepting payment from your customers by credit or debit card? The answer is simple: one of the most popular online payment gateway services on offer today.

What is a Payment Gateway?

Put simply, a payment gateway is an engine that enables customers to make online payments by credit or debit card. Such gateways are sometimes confused with merchant accounts, but the two are very different.

A merchant account, which is provided by an acquiring bank (or acquirer), enables you to hold customer payments before they are deposited into your bank account.

A payment gateway provides the infrastructure to connect your site into the banking networks so that you can seek authorisation for card transactions. It will also submit authorised transactions to your acquirer for settlement. Payment gateway providers will generally supply additional products and services like reporting and reconciliation, fraud management tools and access to alternative payment methods.

Hosted or Non-Hosted?

Payment solutions that are provided by a payment gateway can be hosted or non-hosted. Hosted solutions allow your customers to enter their card details on a secure payment page that may be customised with a website design template.

Hosted solutions are suitable for small and medium-sized businesses because they offer a fast and cost-effective method of accepting card payments online. They can also help you to meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) by allowing you to process payments without accessing your customers’ sensitive card data.

Non-hosted solutions are often used by larger companies that want complete control over the payment process. With a non-hosted solution, your client will enter their card details directly on your website. You will have the flexibility to ensure that the payment page looks exactly as you want it to look and to keep your customers on your own website throughout the transaction, but you will be entirely responsible for PCI DSS compliance.

All online merchants must adhere with PCI DSS regulations.

Integrating a Shopping Cart

Your online store may require a shopping cart as well as a payment gateway. Shopping cart software allows customers to add multiple items to their order and, at checkout, will calculate the total the customer must pay, including postage and packaging charges. If you have a preferred shopping cart provider for your website, make sure that they can integrate with your payment gateway.

Flexible Fee Structures

Take time to find out about payment gateways’ fee structures. Some charge per transaction, while most offer a flat monthly fee for a fixed number of transactions. When choosing the option that is best for you, take into account the volume of transactions you are likely to have, both now and in the future.

Currency Solutions

Be aware that, due to the global nature of online shopping, customers from all over the world may be visiting your website. Payment gateways that offer currency conversion or multi-currency can make the shopping experience easier for your international customers.

Payment Data Security

The security of your customers’ payment data is of paramount importance to you as a merchant. Always choose a PCI DSS Level 1 compliant payment gateway. If possible, choose a gateway with the latest PCI DSS Version 3 compliance. Ask your gateway provider about how they can help you to achieve PCI DSS compliance too. For example, if you need to store sensitive card data for repeat payments, they might offer a tokenisation solution that would allow you to replace sensitive customer card data with a unique ID on your own business systems.

Support When You Need It

Look for payment gateway providers who offer support when you most need it. What sort of support does the gateway provider offer? Is it only email support, or is telephone support also offered?

You might find that the level of support is dependent upon the volume of transactions your site generates. If this is the case, what level will you receive? Is the support team based locally? These are all questions to keep in mind when you are selecting the payment gateway that is best suited to you.

Mobile Friendly Payments

The mobile sector is larger than ever and will continue to grow. Your payment gateway provider should allow payments to be made easily on mobile phones and tablets as well as on laptops and PCs, because your customers need to be able to make payments as simply and smoothly as possible, no matter what device they are using.