How to choose the right online payment gateway

One of the first decisions you have to make as a new business owner is how you will get paid. If you plan on marketing services or selling products through a website, you will obviously need an online payment system, known as a payment gateway. Even if your business is primarily offline, consider offering your customers the ability to pay online. You will benefit from speedier payments and more satisfied customers.

Because payment gateways range from the simple and free to the complex and expensive, you’ll have to do some research to choose one that’s right for your business. Factors such as cost, ease of use for you and your customers and flexibility must all be taken into account. It’s important that you don’t end up paying for services you don’t need, or be limited by a gateway that doesn’t fully meet your needs. You can determine the right payment gateway for you by answering some questions about your business and about potential gateways.

The first question you need to answer is, how many transactions do you expect to make per month? For fewer than 15 transactions a month, there is no need to choose a more sophisticated gateway with a dedicated merchant account. Instead, pick one of the free options, like PayPal or Google Checkout, which doesn’t require a separate merchant account. For more than 15 transactions a month, it is more cost-effective to sign up with a professional gateway and a dedicated merchant account. These services charge for setup and have a monthly fee, but you will save money in the long run with them. (But pay attention to the fine print to find out exactly how much they are charging you.)

What are you selling? Some payment gateways have restrictions on what you can be paid for. Some only accept payments for physical products, others are focused on services and others will accept both. Don’t forget to think ahead. For example, if you only sell products now, consider whether you may want to charge for services too at some point in the future.

Do you need auto-billing? If you have customers or clients who pay a fixed amount every month, auto-billing can save you a lot of time. Set it up once and your clients will be billed automatically until you cancel the order. Not all payment gateways offer this service, and most of those that do are premium gateways which require merchant accounts.

How international is your business? If you are based outside the U.S. or have customers from around the world, choose a gateway that offers more currencies, languages and integration with foreign merchant accounts.

Do you want onsite payment? Many online payment gateways, especially the free platforms, take customers off your website in order to complete the transaction. This may not matter for most small to medium-sized businesses, but larger brands will want to keep the customer on their website throughout the whole process, for a consistent online experience.

How easy is it for customers to use the gateway? Customers who have decided to make a purchase may be put off if the payment process is clumsy or lengthy. Choose a gateway with a seamless payment process, including registering for an account. The larger, more popular gateways have the advantage of a large number of customers who are already have accounts. When consumers see that they can pay with a service they are already signed up for, the decision to purchase is instantly made easier.

What are people saying about the gateways you are considering? You want to choose a payment gateway with a good reputation. A reliable gateway is important both for you and for your customers’ trust in making purchases on your website. Search Google and Twitter to see what people are saying about each service. Remember that there will never be only positive reviews, but you can get a feel for overall customer satisfaction. If there is a recurring complaint, determine whether that issue will bother you.

What kind of customer support is offered? Check whether support is offered via email or also by phone. Try out their support by contacting them with your questions and see how quickly and helpfully they respond. Browse their social media channels to see whether they respond to customers on social networks, and see what Google has to say about this company’s customer support.

Does the payment gateway integrate with services you already use or plan on adding? Some gateways integrate with services such as shopping carts, eCommerce, point-of-sales (POS) and billing solutions. If you are already using specific services, check which gateways integrate with them. If you are still considering integration, choose a gateway which doesn’t limit your options too much. On the other hand, don’t waste your money on options you will never have a use for. As an example, if you don’t have a physical store, there is no need to shell out for a point-of-sale solution.

Once you have answered all these questions, it is time to choose a payment gateway. Since you can’t start earning money until your gateway is set up, don’t spend too much time researching and deliberating. If you aren’t sure about a free vs. a paid version, choose a gateway which will allow you to upgrade in the future if necessary.