The fastest growing and most common web application over the past decade has been e-commerce websites. The most common method of payment on ecommerce sites has been credit cards. However, many small business owners wanting to the plunge into the online ecommerce word don’t have a clue where to start or what is needed. I’ll try to break down the requirements and give a short description of why each is needed.
The method I am proposing is to have the entire transaction process remain on your site. You can save a few dollars by sending your customers to third party sites for payment processing. However this is considered unprofessional and some customers may question the security of their credit card if they are sent somewhere else to enter a payment. Also, there are no major companies using this practice. A quick check to your favorite online store will allow you to verify they most likely take care of all transactions directly from their own site.
First, a merchant account is needed and this can be set up at just about any bank. The merchant account is what actually processes the credit card. Most people use their current bank, however this is not required. If you are only going to accept credit cards in person, this would be the only account needed. However, since you will be accepting credit cards online a gateway account is required. The website cannot talk directly to a merchant account so the gateway is used to handle communications between the website and the merchant account.
On the more technical side, an SSL certificate must be purchased. This is attached to your website and used on pages where sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, are entered. When this data is submitted, all information is encrypted keeping your data safe from snooping eyes.
Finally a hosting account is required which is where the website resides. Depending on what technology is used will determine what type of hosting account is needed. For example, if PHP is used a Linux account is best and if the site is developed in .NET then a windows server will be required.
Anyone wishing to accept credit cards on their site will incur these expenses in addition to any website development needed to create the ecommerce application. Bank charges and processing fees will be incurred but may vary based on the bank and type of business. A good estimate is to expect a small setup fee, about $25/ month in bank fees and approximately 2% – 3% for transaction fees.