FEATURE GUEST ARTICLE
5 Ways To Make It Easy For Online Buyers
By Corey Rudl, of the Internet Marketing Center
It still amazes me how many bright online business owners will spend countless hours working on their web sites and developing their offer only to neglect one of the key elements of closing the sale -- making it EASY for customers to buy.
The most popular online payment method, by far, is paying by credit card and thats why, in this article, I am going to show you how you can quickly get set up to automatically accept credit card purchases right on your web site. In addition, in response to the many questions I have received from readers wanting to know about additional payment options, you will be learning about the benefits of accepting:
As you read this information, think of choosing those payment options that will be just the right fit for your online business. Offering one or more of these extra choices (in addition to accepting payment by credit card) could become your secret weapon, a competitive service advantage that you offer and your competitors dont. Neglect these potential buyers, the ones who never pay by credit card online, and its the same as taking a 10% cut in pay!
So lets begin by looking at...
Payment Option #1 -- Accepting Credit Card Payments
Since 90% of all Internet payments are made by credit card, your first priority should be to get yourself set up with this payment option as quickly as possible. Weve seen businesses increase their sales by as much as 400% right after they gave their buyers this convenient way to pay.
Lets face it; the entire mentality of the Internet is instant access to information, products, and services. If your potential buyers have to stop surfing and free up their phone lines, call in their orders or, even more time-consuming, hunt around for their checkbooks, envelopes, and stamps... your order process will discourage all but the most hardy shoppers.
For you, the merchant, accepting credit card payments builds credibility in the minds of potential buyers (since you look like a real business), makes it easy for buyers to make impulse purchases, and provides you with a fully-automated payment collection and tracking system. And this means no more trips to the bank, bounced checks to deal with, or hours spent manually processing orders and accompanying paperwork.
The first step to being able to accept credit cards on your web site is to become an authorized Credit Card Merchant. You can apply by contacting a Merchant Account Provider (also known as an Independent Service Organization), which provides the hardware and software you need to accept credit card payments right on your web site.
Merchant Account Providers fall into three main categories:
1) Direct Processors
Direct processors, such as banks, offer direct access to the credit card processing centers. The completed order form is transmitted from your site through a Payment Gateway, which is a secure server that captures the credit card information, and then passes it along to the bank.
Banks, in general, are cautious about granting Credit Card Merchant status to any business that does not have the large majority of transaction slips personally signed by the cardholders. Thats why many banks will charge a hefty deposit of several thousand dollars in addition to a minimum monthly fee, whether you have any sales that month or not.
A broker acts as an intermediary between you and the direct processors. I recommend using a broker to match your needs and situation to the right supplier. I have found one who has a 98% approval rate for online businesses, even for applicants who have been bankrupt or reside outside the United States and wish to get US merchant accounts. You should be able to get a discount rate between 2% - 3%.
QUICK NOTE: The Discount Rate is the amount of each sale that you will be charged by the supplier for providing a payment service. In other words, a 5% discount rate means that if your product sells for $100, the merchant account provider will keep $5 of every sale and you will receive $95.
If you would like more information about the broker I use, you can click here now and fill out a special form Ive set up to make sure my subscribers get the best rates.
3) Third Party Processors
Third party processors send the credit card payments through from your web sites order page to a direct processor. They often provide extra services (such as the ones listed below) beyond those offered by direct processors and can be divided into two categories:
netrepreneurs start out doing all of the work themselves and then, once their business is
thriving and reaches a point where their time is better spent focusing on the promotions
rather than the chores, the order processing is offloaded to a fulfillment house.
Fulfillment houses charge around a 5% discount rate.
These services are popular with small online businesses, especially those just starting out. Yes, the transaction fees are usually higher than dealing with a direct processor, but there is often no minimum monthly service charge and no hefty deposit requirement so you are only charged on those sales you make.
Since these services offer different packages, they may or may not include:
Service providers such as iBill can get you set up to accept not just credit card payments, but also online checks and payments by phone.
Choosing whether to go with a direct processor or a third party processor primarily depends on your monthly sales volume. Since rates and services are constantly changing, it will be a wise investment of your time to compare current discount rates, monthly charges, and other fees.
As a very general guideline, if your monthly sales are under $750 to $1,000, and you don't want to pay for a merchant account, then a third party processor will probably best suit your needs.
Once you've reached $750 - $1,000 a month in sales, you may want to look at switching to a direct processor that offers a lower discount rate, reduced processing costs, and shortens the time delay for receiving payments. One final cautionary note: Before you sign any long-term lease, I suggest you wait until the profits from your business are in your hand and you can accurately forecast future earnings.
Payment Option #2 -- Accepting Checks Online
Its interesting to note that traditional checks are used for 11% of all online purchases. Since these online shoppers are willing to go through the hassle of mailing checks, offering them an option of paying by online check through your web site should be an instant profit booster for you, provided you have a special section on your site explaining how online check payments work and that buyers personal information is secure.
Online Checks (also called e-checks) are virtual checks that allow consumers to pay by check through the Internet. The buyer fills out a form (that looks like a check on the screen) with his or her banking information, date, and amount, and then clicks the "send" button. That information will then either go to your computer or to a transaction service, depending on which of the following two ways you choose to accept check payments:
a) The Print & Pay Method
This method is called Print & Pay because you need to buy software that allows you to print the checks (such as that offered by CheckMan) and deposit the checks at your bank to receive your "pay." The checks are processed just like regular checks, so you have to wait until each check clears to be sure that it is good for funds, etc.
This method is less expensive but more labor-intensive and time-consuming than...
b) A Transaction Service
Using a transaction service is similar to using the print & pay method for the buyer in that they enter all of their check information on an online form. That information is encrypted and transmitted directly to a clearing house and generally settled within 48 hours. The funds are then withdrawn from the purchasers account and deposited into the merchants account with a receipt e-mailed to the buyer and an online report available for the merchant.
Using a transaction service is faster than the print & pay method since they confirm that all the required information is input online by the customer right at the time of purchase and, for a fee, will guarantee that the check is good for funds. Most services such as XpressChexOnline deal with US checks only and there is a set-up fee and a per-check charge.
Both the print & pay method and transaction services allow you to accept payments online, by phone, or by fax, since you can take the buyers checking information and manually input it yourself.
QUICK NOTE: Before you decide to go the print & pay route, make sure your bank will accept these checks and find out if you need to purchase any special paper for printing the checks on.
Payment Option #3 -- Accepting Debit Cards
When a payment is made through a Debit Card, the funds are immediately withdrawn from the purchasers bank account. The advantage to you, the merchant, is that you know the buyer has the funds to make the purchase and that it will not be charged back to you (like a check with insufficient funds). The advantage to consumers is that purchases are paid for right away, so there is no credit card shock when the statement arrives in the mail.
Contact your merchant account provider and ask them if you are able to accept debit card payments as part of their service. While debit cards are still not widely used by online shoppers, who prefer to protect themselves with the $50 liability limit offered by most credit cards, this payment method IS gaining popularity, so it's worth at least being aware of.
Payment Option #4 -- e-Wallets (Digital Wallets)
now, there is disagreement on what exactly an e-Wallet is. Many companies are
calling their products e-Wallets, yet, since there is no standard, their interpretations
vary widely. e-Wallets can be placed into two broad categories based on their
The easiest way to think of an e-Wallet is as a virtual wallet that can store credit card and debit card information, passwords, membership cards, health information, and all the numbers of cards that currently get stuffed into a real wallet. Software such as Iliums e-Wallet can be installed on a Palm Handheld, Pocket PC or Windows PC.
Some e-Wallets make it easier for consumers to buy from you since credit card numbers, for example, can be copied from the e-Wallet and pasted onto the online order form. To accept payments from this type of digital wallet you do not need to add any additional software or change your order form.
Other e-Wallets, such as Microsoft's Passport, automatically fill out the order forms with the consumers credit card and contact information so that future purchases dont require resubmitting the same information on the online order form. As a merchant, you can visit Microsofts web site and download a version of their Passport software so that you can accept payments from their subscribers.
b) e-Wallets That Store Card Numbers And Cash
The second concept of a digital wallet has been around for several years but has not really taken off with either merchants or consumers. In this version, consumers store digital cash, which has been transferred from a credit card, debit card, or virtual check inside their e-Wallets.
Digital cash is like having a virtual savings account where charges are made for ongoing purchases, particularly micropayments -- small payments from 1¢ to $10 that can be used to pay for access to digital information such as newspaper articles or software.
e-Wallets that store digital cash require both the merchant and consumer to download and use the same software. As a result, acceptance has been poor and so there is no need for you to be concerned about accepting digital cash at this time; but I wanted you to be aware of this payment method since it could become more widely accepted in the future.
Payment Option #5 -- Person-to-Person E-mail Payments
Person-to-person (P2P) e-mail payments allow individuals to use their credit cards or bank accounts to pay through e-mail. This process is similar to sending a greeting card over the Net.
For example, when you send a greeting card, you select a card, add a personal message, and then e-mail the link to the recipient to let him or her know where the card can be viewed. You don't actually send the card through e-mail. Likewise, with P2P, you don't send the payment through e-mail; rather you send the link where the recipient can redirect the funds to his or her bank account or credit card.
To transfer money by e-mail, from a bank, for example, the sender: (1) logs onto his or her financial institutions online account; (2) clicks the e-mail payment feature; (3) inserts the recipients name, e-mail address, the amount, and the credit card number or account where the funds are to be taken from; and (4) has the option of adding a personal note for the recipient.
The recipient then: (1) receives notification that the funds have been sent; (2) is given a hyperlink to accept the funds and then; (3) decides whether the funds should go on his or her credit card or into an account. Heres the big advantage of P2P...
If you sell a service where your clients may wish to maintain their privacy (such as for investment counseling for offshore banking), or if you sell a service where the client pays after the work has been completed (such as freelance web design), then this payment method might be especially attractive to your clients since it is less expensive than wiring funds bank-to-bank. Person-to-person e-mail payments are offered through Yahoo!, the US Postal Service, and Citibank. For Canadian readers, this service is currently available through CertaPay.
MasterCard offers P2P payments using a digital wallet (e-wallet) to make payments from a MasterCard credit or debit account to any person in the world, in their local currency, directly into their bank account or as a check mailed to that person.
With 90% of all online purchases made with credit cards, you literally cannot afford not to add this payment option to your web site. If you have been hesitating to accept credit card payments online, the good news is that, as soon as you give your customers this option, you should see a noticeable jump in sales.
However, that still leaves over 12 million U.S. households that do not have a credit card and the many other potential buyers (approximately 10% of online purchasers) who prefer an alternative payment method.
Making it easy for your potential customers to do business with you is an essential ingredient to your online success. You dont need to offer all the payment options mentioned in this article, but its a good idea to match the payment choices you offer to your type of online business and customers. You will close more online sales and gain a real advantage over your competitors by offering your buyers easy, simple, secure options for giving you their money!
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