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13Apr/1413

Dharma Merchant Services Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (5 out of 5)

Last Updated: April 13th, 2014.

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Overview:

The word dharma has many meanings in eastern cultures and spiritual beliefs. It denotes a sort of universal justice, righteous behavior, or steadfastness on a correct path in life. At first I felt that a merchant services provider appropriating a lotus blossom for their logo (a sacred symbol in Buddhism) and a weighty word like “dharma” for their company name might be disrespecting these essential spiritual elements – soiling them with the grimy muck of the credit card processing industry – like putting a giant arm-flailing inflatable Jesus on the lawn of a used car lot. After learning more about Dharma Merchant Services (DMS), however, the appropriation seems, well… appropriate.

The sacred lotus symbolizes a beauty and purity that, while rooted in pond mud and murky water, rises into the air on a strong stalk and blooms with so many clean, delicate petals. Likewise, Dharma Merchant Services – while sticking to a just, righteous path – transcends the putrid filth of the industry standard to bloom as something uniquely wonderful and enlightened.

Okay, okay, enough of the metaphorical mumbo jumbo. It’s just hard to avoid waxing poetical when faced with reviewing a company as perfect as Dharma, especially when I’m so used to raking through the pond muck, so to speak. Founded in 2007 by Jeff Marcous (former regional manger for Cardservice International, then SVP of Sales and Marketing at Authorize.Net) along with his daughter Alexia Marcous, Dharma flawlessly combines industry know-how with endlessly ethical business practices to cater to small businesses and non-profits. The duo created DMS to bring their philosophical convictions together with their knack for business, proving the two need not be mutually exclusive.

Dharma has, hands down, the absolute best advertising and sales transparency I’ve seen anywhere in the industry. They only use interchange-plus pricing, and they have no early termination fees, no annual fees, no monthly minimums, no application fees, and no added PCI compliance fees. I’m not sure how they manage to make any money, especially considering that they dedicate 50% of their net profits to charity. No one is getting filthy rich here. The people at Dharma make an honest living, and live with respect and integrity. And did I mention that they’re a certified green business and B-corp? I mean, come on. These people simply rock!

I can’t say enough good things about this business. If I were to create my own merchant services establishment, it would look a lot like this. I recommend them to you with absolutely no hesitation. Dharma Merchant Services is at least a 5.5 star business. But our ratings only go up to 5 stars… so we’ll have to stick to that.

Read the full review for more details, or just cut to the chase and sign up with them. You’ll never look back.

Get Started With Dharma Merchant Services

Date Established:

2007.

Location:

San Francisco, California.

Domain Name(s):

Products and Services:

Dharma Merchant Services provides a no-nonsense shopping experience for their merchants. They offer everything you need, and nothing you don’t. Check it out:

  • Merchant accounts: As far as I can tell, Dharma uses Select Bankcard, Priority Payments, and Moneris Merchant Services for their processing. While some of these processors might not give you a great deal if you tried to set up your own account with them, Dharma has negotiated excellent deals, and they all provide outstanding service for Dharma’s merchants in return.
  • Gateway/virtual terminal: You can get any of their three partner gateways (nifty comparison chart): MX Merchant, Authorize.Net, and USAePay. Also note that Dharma offers reduced gateway setup fees for non-profits.
  • Credit card machine sales: Another testament to Dharma’s transparency, they fully disclose the prices and associated costs of the terminals they offer, encouraging you to buy instead of lease. If you can’t afford to buy your terminal outright, they’ll even set you up with a payment plan. (Almost no one else in the industry is doing this.) They’ll also reprogram your existing terminal free of charge.
  • Mobile/low-volume processing: DMS calls this “Dharma Lite,” and markets it toward both those interested in mobile processing as well as to low-volume merchants. (A perfect example of how they go out of their way to save you money.) It’s powered by their partner Flint, who I am also a big fan of. This service utilizes your phone’s camera to scan cards, so no swiper is needed. If you want to process through your full-service Dharma merchant account, they also sell smartphone/tablet swipers.
  • Fundraising services: Dharma specializes in services for non-profit organizations, from everyday donations to online crowd-funding events. They’ll set you up with clean, professional donations pages for web and mobile, as well as event registration services. The costs here are a bit more than regular processing, of course, but they beat the industry standard for sure, offering very reasonable pricing with optional add-ons. Check it out.
  • A warm, fuzzy feeling inside: Free with every account, Dharma offers a distinct tingle of satisfaction and restored faith in humanity. With excellent prices, sustainable business practices, and unbridled generosity, you’ll find yourself slipping into a calm, tranquil, meditative state while reading your processing statement each month.

Fees and Rates:

Dharma Merchant Service provides the ideal fee and rate structure, offering interchange-plus and only interchange-plus. They even feature a page called “Tiered Pricing: Just Say No.” (I almost choked on my coffee when I saw that.) Most processors don’t even disclose that cost-plus pricing exists! And almost all providers will try to set you up with tiered pricing. Furthermore, instead of setting you up with a $2,000 third-party lease for your credit card machine, they encourage you to buy one outright for as little as $230, and disclose all prices and fees front and center. (If you already own one, they’ll reprogram your existing terminal free of charge.)

Dharma Lite

Here’s an excellent example of how Dharma is trying to save you money, not make money for itself. I’ve called dozen of different processors for review purposes, often explaining that I only need to process $1,500 per month (to see how they treat low volume merchants). Sales agents usually pitch me overkill plans that are not at all cost effective for a small merchant. Dharma is different. The first service they’ll reach for is also the one that produces the smallest amount of profits for them – mobile processing through their partner Flint, a service they call Dharma Lite. For merchants processing less than $2,000 per month, with transactions of $1,000 or less, this makes the most financial sense.

  • 1.95% for debit cards
  • 2.95% for credit cards (and keyed in debit)
  • No other fees whatsoever

This is a pay-as-you-go, no commitment service like PayPal Here. The difference is that instead of swiping cards with an attachment, you just use your phone camera to snap a picture of the card. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that. You should note that in this case, you don’t get your own unique merchant account. You share one with thousands of other merchants. This can translate to a greater likelihood for account holds and freezes if you start processing “high risk” transactions (such as high ticket prices or high weekly volumes).

Standard Merchant Accounts

If you need something more robust than Dharma Lite, you can get your own, unique merchant account through Dharma. All accounts come with:

  • No early termination fee
  • No annual fee
  • No application fee
  • No additional PCI compliance fee
  • No monthly minimums

1. Retail

  • $15 monthly fee
  • 0.25% (above actual cost)
  • $0.10 per transaction (above actual cost)

2. eCommerce

  • $15 monthly fee
  • 0.35% (above actual cost)
  • $0.15 per transaction (above actual cost)

3. Non-profit

Non-profit rates and fees for retail accounts are currently the same as for-profit retail accounts. For non-profit ecommerce accounts, however, you will see a discount:

  • 0.30% (above actual cost)
  • $0.15 per transaction (above actual cost)

Other fees:

Dharma discloses a few other incidental fees, all of which you’d have to pay with any provider.

  • Late processing fee
  • Insufficient funds fee
  • Chargeback fee
  • Address Verification fee for some key-entered transactions ($0.05)
  • PCI Non-compliance fee if you don’t complete compliance program.
  • Account closure fee ($25) is to cover the expense of keeping your records on file for six months, which they are required to do.
  • FANF fee, which is paid directly to Visa and is required with all processors. Dharma doesn’t make money on this.

You should also note that if you need a gateway, it comes at an additional cost, including setup fees, monthly fees, and per transaction fees. Dharma put together a very handy comparison chart to help you figure out which makes the most sense for your needs. (Note: For non-profits, gateways come at discounted prices, $75 instead of $99.)

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

Dharma has never charged an early termination fee, making your account with them a month-to-month agreement. Make sure to cancel your account as per the instructions in your contract, though, or else they’ll continue taking monthly fees from your bank account.

While they don’t charge an early termination fee, Dharma does charge a $25 account closure fee, which I consider a fair practice. Basically, their margins are so slim that they will charge you directly for the cost of keeping your account on file for six months after closure, which they are required to do.

We have a $25 account closure fee to help defray our costs (accounts are kept "on file" for six months, incurring fees) but you're free to leave whenever you please.

This is a fee that I actually like. You see, all providers have this cost. The difference is that other providers will make up for it by charging you higher rates and more fees during the life of your contract. As you can imagine, they usually error on the side of caution and get overpaid in the process. Dharma adds transparency to this process by giving it to you straight.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

I love how easy Dharma Merchant Services makes my life. I’m usually faced with hours of sorting through a mess of sales gimmicks and conflicting information for sales agents, along with upset merchants all weighing in with their two cents. Not with Dharma. They provide exhaustive (yet expertly organized) listings of fees, rates and other account considerations. Even if you’re feeling completely lost, they provide a great Get Guidance page to help you get your bearing in the search for merchant service.

I absolutely love their many comparison charts. After a while on their site, it’s easy to forget that they are trying to sell you something. The whole experience feels more like a helping hand than a sales pitch.

My one complaint here would be that they do not disclose their $25 account closure fee in bold print. Yes, it’s there, and their sales agents will almost definitely disclose it to you, but it wouldn’t hurt to put this information in plain sight – for the sake of transparency.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

While I love to see 24/7/365 support offered in-house, I also find that this kind of service rarely lives up to my expectations. Dharma compromises in this case. They’ll provide absolutely superb in-house support from extraordinarily knowledgeable and supportive staff during business hours, 8:00am - 5:00pm Pacific Time. For support that falls outside of this time frame, they will direct you to the appropriate party, depending on the issue and what processor they have you set up with.

They have an absolutely outstanding FAQ (one of the best written I’ve ever seen), along with other excellent article like this one. All of the information they provide is truly useful and accurate, and overall quite impressive to me.

I’m also glad to see that they very clearly explain why funding holds happen, and offer to arbitrate for you directly instead of leaving you to talk to the processor:

Funding holds can be caused for many different reasons, such as processing outside of your account parameters, processing a larger than normal transaction, your Website not being Compliant, or legitimate fraud. By reaching out to Dharma, we can facilitate a conversation with your processing bank to ensure the speediest resolution possible. Funding issues are only resolvable during regular business hours, and we recommend letting Dharma resolve funding issues on your behalf.

Overall, I’m entirely satisfied with Dharma’s support system. I’ll take quality over quantity (value over volume) any day.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

This is a first. I cannot locate a single complaint or even neutral review of Dharma Merchant Services. They have a truly spotless reputation. Congratulations, Dharma!

They have an A rating with the BBB, and have had ZERO complaints in the past three years (which is the entire time they’ve had a BBB profile). Ironically, the BBB rates businesses with high volumes of resolved complaints as A+ businesses, but will only give DMS an “A” despite their immaculate reputation. Thanks BBB…

If I had to come up with a qualm myself, it would be the expense of gateway setup and gateway monthly fees. While I think that Dharma charges completely fair rates for these services (they charge exactly the recommended amount for an Authorize.Net gateway), you can find much less expensive options elsewhere. For instance, CDGcommerce (5 stars) offers a free Quantum gateway with no setup fees and no monthly fees.

So that's something to consider if you're an ecommerce business on a very tight budget, but it in no way sways my overall opinion of DMS.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

Here, we have the absolute opposite of the complaints section. I don’t even know where to start with showing you all of the praise Dharma garners. Just look at our own comments section. Literally every comment is positive. Here are a few excerpts from our authenticated reviews, coming from merchants we have verified as actual customers of Dharma Merchant Services:

I’d have to say, being in the customer service business all of my career, that I can recognize and appreciate good service when I see it. Dharma went above and beyond to get us started and we are extremely happy with the products and services they offer.

(Link)

I have used dozens upon dozens of various merchant services and Dharma is by far (by a long, long far and wide far) the best company of its kind I have ever worked with.

(Link)

My company has worked with Dharma for two years. I can’t say enough about their rates, customer service and business model. They always answer the phone and reply to emails quickly. If I had my way all of my vendors would be as easy to work with as Dharma.

(Link)

Their rates are really good too. I had an account through another provider and no one had been able to beat the rates I was paying, until Jeff looked at my account. So I switched too and since then, I continue to be very happy with the services I’ve been receiving. I can’t recommend them more highly. I know the scale only goes up to five, but I’d give them a six.

(Link)

…And that's just on our site. Look around and you’ll find even more. Even Yelp users, who are notoriously harsh in my experience, have given DMS a perfect score. Feel free to check out Dharma’s fully-disclosed (first/last name plus business name) testimonials from businesses and non-profits while you’re at it.

Final Verdict:

What else can I say? Dharma Merchant Services is simply among the best of the best when it comes to honesty and integrity. They provide quality service and excellent prices. With such amazing services and sales practices, it’s no wonder that Dharma comes in as an absolute favorite merchant account provider. While they don’t do the actual processing or gateway services in-house, they have excellent connections in the industry and seem to get the most out of their partnerships.

A breath of fresh air in a smoggy industry, DMS does a great job of saving merchant money and providing a headache-free processing experience. Six years is plenty of time to cultivate a reputation, and Dharma Merchant Services has performed flawlessly during that time. I have every reason to believe that they will continue to do so for many years to come. The fact that they also care about community, social responsibility and the environment – and put their money where their mouth is – well, that’s just the icing on the cake, isn’t it? So go ahead and sign up with them already! You’ll get a great deal – and can even brag to your friends about being socially and environmentally conscious.

Congratulations Dharma, you’re a 5 star establishment.

13Apr/1458

CDGcommerce Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (5 out of 5)
five-stars

Last Updated: April 13th, 2014.

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Overview:

We don’t give out perfect scores lightly. Only truly exceptional providers can hope to get a five-star review, and even those who make it to that elite level have to keep up the good work, since we constantly reevaluate our ratings to make sure last year’s perfect providers are still the best of the best today. As a reviewer, I’m always looking for things to complain about and will downgrade ratings without any hesitation when I can no longer stand behind an earlier rating (lest they make me look bad!). So let me tell you, CDGcommerce is the real deal. They’ve been among our favorite payment processors for a while now, and have never faltered.

Formed in 1998, CDGcommerce has had plenty of time to cultivate a reputation - and they have. Across the board, independent reviewers have praised this company for years. Customer complaints are nearly non-existent, and absolutely never habitual. The internet has a very good memory, so even good companies tend to rack up a bunch of reviews on popular complaint sites. CDGcommerce, on the other hand, has a fairly spotless reputation, with absolutely no damning complaints to be found in 15 years!

This is no accident. CDG simply provides excellent service and clear, honest marketing. To that end, they have:

  • No set up fee
  • No monthly minimum
  • No early termination fee
  • No PCI compliance fee
  • Free use of Quantum gateway

Finding all of these features in one place for as little as $10 per month in base fees is exceptionally rare. Beyond that initial $10, you can pick and choose additional services to pay for. This way you aren’t paying for things you don’t want or need. Want to use an Authorize.Net gateway instead? Only $15 per month, no set up fee. Want $100K in data breach insurance and other security upgrades? $15 extra (and $15 very well spent, in my opinion). Want a terminal? Well, you only have to pay $79 annually for insurance, nothing more. Don’t want any of those things? That’s fine too. You won’t be charged for them.

CDGcommerce might not have the name recognition of a big processor, but that doesn’t stop them from providing some of the best, most flexible service around. They make a great option for those who just want to process sporadically, or even those interested in mobile processing (they’ll even give you a free card reader). While I'd really like to see CDG advertise an interchange-plus program, you can get it if you ask for it, or through this offer. (I’m pretty sure that clock never runs down, FYI…)

All said, I’m glad to recommend CDGcommerce to any and all businesses, especially ecommerce businesses. Whether you’re looking for barebones service or a fully equipped account, CDG will set you up with an affordable plan and honest, high-quality service. They’ve earned their 5-star rating, and I have a feeling they’ll be holding on to it for many more years.

Check out the full review below for more details on this stand-out processor.

Get Started with CGDCommerce

Date Established:

1998.

Location:

San Pedro, California and Chesapeake, Virginia.

Domain Name(s):

Products and Services:

CDG’s line of products and services covers all the bases, with a focus on ecommerce and small to mid-sized businesses. Their one-step PCI compliance program and robust optional CDG360 security features come in handy for ecommerce and beyond, and their free additional account tools will help you get the most out of your processing experience. CDG offerings include:

  • Merchant accounts
  • Virtual terminal/gateway: You can use a Quantum gateway for free, or pay $15 per month for an Authorize.Net gateway. Virtual terminal is free, and allows you to process from any internet-connected computer instead of a traditional credit card terminal.
  • Terminal leases: While I’m normally not crazy about terminal leases, CDG does a pretty god job of keeping it affordable. While other companies will set you up with a non-cancellable third-party lease amounting to thousands of dollars in fees or cancellation penalties, CDG offers truly free terminal leases. You’ll just have to pay a $79 annual insurance fee and, of course, return the machine when you wish to cancel service. Wireless terminals (not the same as mobile) carry different fees, however.
  • Mobile readers and USB readers: These terminal alternatives allow you to process swiped transactions from any computer or smartphone, and are available for free with your account - you won’t even have to pay the insurance fee. Good deal!
  • Online reporting and tools: I usually consider online reporting and some additional tools a given, but CDG really goes above and beyond the industry standard here. Features include detailed account information, chargeback/fraud warnings, automated alerts, real time reporting, historic trends and graphs, Quick Books integration, and a bunch of other useful tools.
  • Security service: Called CDG360, this $15 optional add-on includes $100K breach/data theft protection, PCI/DSS vulnerability scans, customized security alerts, staff awareness training, and a Merchant Trust seal for your website. For $15 a month, the $100K insurance alone could be worth it.

Fees and Rates:

While I found this portion of the CDG site a little difficult to navigate, that’s really only because they provide so much information. Right off the bat, they won’t charge you for the usual money pits:

  • No set up fee
  • No monthly minimum
  • No early termination fee
  • No PCI compliance fee
  • Free use of gateway and virtual terminal

BAM! That’s great news. Generally, you would expect to pay $8 per month for PCI, up to $25 for monthly minimum, $100+ in set up fees, and $300 in early termination fees. Gateway fees are usually around $10-15, and many companies charge for virtual terminal use on top of that. (Great job CDG!)

Okay, so what will you have to pay then?

  • Statement fee: $10

…that’s it. You are not obligated to pay any more than that for your baseline cost. Of course you’ll also pay processing fees, but even those rates are competitive. If you want to use an Authorize.Net gateway instead of Quantum, then you will need to tack on $15 per month. If you want their CDG360 security package (including $100K of data breach insurance), then you’ll have to add on an additional $15. These services are entirely optional, though.

You can get an interchange-plus plan if you ask for it, or through this offer created specially for our readers. (I know it looks gimmicky, but trust me – it’s real.)

Ten bucks for base fees is about as low as it gets in this industry. Even mobile processors like Inner Fence are charging $25 monthly just to maintain your account.

You can also get free use of a credit card terminal, provided you pay a $79 insurance fee annually. Mobile phone-based swipers come completely free of charge. For merchants interested in wireless terminals (NOT mobile card readers), you have to pay:

  • $35 set up fee
  • $19.95 monthly wireless fee
  • $79 insurance fee

But you will get to lease the wireless terminal at no additional cost, which is nice.

You can find CDG’s standard processing rates here, but I’m not going to include them in this review. In all likelihood, your actual quote will not be exactly the same as what you see on their site. If you want a quick quote without calling them up, you can use their online application process to get a no-commitment rate quote.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

No early termination fees means that, for all intensive purposes, you will have a month-to-month contract with CDG. You should note, however, that you will need to complete the necessary steps for cancellation outlined in your merchant agreement in order to stop your monthly fees from being billed.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

CDG Commerce does an outstanding job disclosing all account fees and major contract stipulations to potential customers. You will see a couple of offers that I might call “gimmicks,” but none are deceptive. For instance, they offer free terminal leases, but fully disclose the mandatory $79 annual insurance fee.

I also like that they don’t depend on sales-driven independent agents, a practice that can lead to a poorly trained and inconsistent salesforce encouraged to sell expensive accounts for higher commissions. The CDG salespeople I spoke with on the phone and via chat were very helpful, honest, intelligent, and offered me very fair and consistent pricing information.

Their Resources page offers a few useful documents. It’s nothing too impressive, but nice to see nonetheless. I would like to see more information about interchange-plus pricing, but I’m glad that they at least offer it.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

We've personally experienced CDG's customer service, in addition to the responses that we've heard from references and other friends. Their staff is very helpful, knowledgeable, and operates with a great deal of integrity. They offer live chat, email, and phone support 24/7.

As a reviewer, it's difficult for me to ascertain the quality of customer service when it comes to complex, account-specific issues. But that's where you come in! Have you worked with CDGcommerce? Please leave us your comments! Don't forget to read the user review and comment policy.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

While CDG has virtually no complaints on the web after 15 years in business, you can find a few if you try. Of these, however, I’ve actually seen the company CEO personally respond on occasion and offer to help the complainant directly. That’s pretty awesome in my book. Try getting the CEO of First Data to respond to your complaint…

At the BBB, you’ll find five complaints over the past three years, with two of those occurring in the past twelve months, along with an A+ rating. For a business dealing with so many merchants over such a long period of time, this kind of web reputation is almost unheard of in the processing industry.

While a few complaints have come up, none have with any real regularity. Any processor might have isolated problems. As long as no patterns of poor service emerge and the processor addresses complaints, I can’t hold it against them. Here are some things you should know, though:

  • You need to be a US-based merchant doing business mostly in the US. While CDG puts this info all over their site and applications, it still catches a few merchants by surprise. CDG has taken these complaints to heart, though, and now even direct such merchants elsewhere.

Our services require a U.S. business, U.S. bank account and a U.S. signer with a valid SSN #. If your business does not meet these criteria, please consider our international & high risk affiliate option.

  • Account freezes and cancellations: Since a processor is essentially extending you a line of credit with your merchant account, they have to cover their own butts. This sometimes means holding funds or freezing your account if suspicious activity comes up. From what I’ve seen, CDG does a good job of avoiding these practices as much as possible. They do happen, though, and can occur with literally any account provider. Check out our article to learn how you can prevent freezes and holds.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

On their site, you’ll find a long list of customer testimonials. We have personally contacted a number of them, and found these merchants were extremely happy with their accounts. They also assured us that they weren't paid or incentivized in any way by CDGcommerce to write their testimonials.

You’ll find a number of positive reviews in our comments section, as well as on other independent review sites. It’s fairly uncommon for satisfied customers to go through the trouble of writing a review. In my experience, customers are exactly 1,000,000 times more likely to complain than to praise, especially in this industry. Given this, even a few positive customer experience can mean a lot!

Final Verdict:

In the end, we still love CDGcommerce. They are about as close to an all-around perfect payment processor as you’re likely to find anywhere. They have fully-disclosed base fees as low as $10 per month, making CDG a great option for low-volume or sporadic processing. On the other hand, they also have all the resources a larger business would need, including optional breach insurance and security upgrades for an extra $15 per month. With no PCI compliance fees, no early termination fees, free gateway/virtual terminal, and no monthly minimums alongside fair rates and abundant features, I couldn’t ask for more.

If I had to come up with some complaints, my first one would be that they don’t advertise interchange-plus, which is by and large the most transparent and fair pricing model out there. That said, they do offer interchange-plus pricing with no monthly minimum for most businesses, but you’ll have to ask for it and your sales rep will probably have to get approval from a manager. You can also get it through this unadvertised offer. (I know the countdown clock is sort of gimmicky… please forgive them.) Aside from that, I’m not crazy about the look and design of their website. It’s a little clunky and not very clean, and it gave me a feeling of hesitance when I first saw it. But hey, we’re not a website review service…

Overall, I’m more than happy to recommend CDGcommerce to any and all businesses, friends and family included. Whether you’re looking for barebones service or an account with all the bells and whistles, CDG will set you up with an affordable plan and honest, high-quality service. They’ve earned every point in their 5-star rating!

16Apr/1429

ShopKeep Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4.5 out of 5)
four-and-one-half-stars

Last Updated: April 16, 2014.

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Overview:

Thanks goodness for Shopkeep. This statement isn't intended as an endorsement of the software, though there's a lot to recommend it. More to the point, if I had to read one more POS origin story about some wunderkind software developer with a passion for retail operations, I might have gone full Marxist, rejecting all information as capitalist propaganda while wearing maroon turtlenecks under my corduroy blazer. But Shopkeep has offered me a reprieve from such inanity, refreshingly turning this iconic story on its head. The software developer turned retail savior story has been replaced by the retailer turned software developer story. Shopkeep, you see, is the brainchild of Jason Richelson, a retailer with a passion for not getting hosed by the software he runs his business on. As he tells it, his pivotal eureka moment happened in 2008. He'd taken his family on vacation, only to have his Windows-based POS crash in his absence and force his stores to temporarily close. "Essentially closed," is how Richelson describes it, which is closer to meaning "not closed" than "actually closed," but now I'm nitpicking. The real point here is that Microsoft makes terrible products, and no one should ever try and run a business that relies on a Windows system (unless your business is fixing Windows systems). I'm not alone in this opinion. Marking the end of Windows XP on the company blog a few weeks back, Richelson wrote not to praise Windows but to bury it:

Windows based point of sale was the bane of my existence as a retailer...The fundamental lack of efficiency and security in our Windows POS system cost me countless hours in my store and a no small amount of money.

The experience left Richelson bruised and ready to take matters into his own hands. An alternative solution was needed. Working with a developer, Richelson came up with ShopKeep in a few months, enlisted the help of friends and colleagues to test it, finally releasing a PC version in May of 2010. An iPad compatible version followed soon after and was released in January 2011. With Richelson conceiving of Shopkeep as a response to the very real issues he faced as a small scale retailer, it's no surprise that his POS took a quick hold with that segment of the market. In the wake of its release, the company won an RSPA/VSR Innovative Solution award for 2011, and raised $2.2 million in Series A financing in January of 2012. A second round of funding 11 months later raised another $10 million. More recently ShopKeep won the Red Herring Top 100 North America award and Technology Innovation of the Year Award from Electronic Transactions Association. ShopKeep also racked up a bronze Stevie Award for Best Customer Service in 2013, and then a gold one in 2014.

This year is looking to be another big one for ShopKeep; it started with 10,000 customers and a new office in Belfast, Northern Ireland to accommodate its growing European footprint. And early last week, Shopkeep released version 2.0 of its app, with a new design that claims to sport an easier ease-of-use, faster code, and all around improved efficiency. The new version was released while my trial was still active, so I got to have a nice before-and-after experience. And while version 2 definitely performs as advertised--it's super quick and responsive, and Shopkeep has made a few things easier to do--there are still a couple of basic features that I'm surprised Shopkeep didn't see fit to include. If you're looking for a new POS, or already on Shopkeep and wondering if v2.0 is worth it, read on.

Date Established:

2010.

Location:

New York, New York and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Domain Name(s):

www.shopkeep.com.

Price:

You can try a free trial of the ShopKeep software for 30 days at no charge, no credit card required. ShopKeep is a no-contract, pay-as-you-go, monthly subscription service. There are no extra fees for maintenance and service and all tech support is included in the monthly charge. Shopkeep's pricing is simple:

  • $49 per month, per register

Web-Based or Locally-Installed:

Hybrid.  The app runs locally from an iPad and syncs data back to the cloud as long as there is an active internet connection.  In the event of an outage, the app continues to run, with all features (save integrated credit card transactions) available.  Shopkeep was among the first to approach cloud based POS this way (maybe the first, but I'm too lazy to look that up), and its implementation is seamless.

Specific Industry:

ShopKeep is ideal for small, specialty vendors such as: wine shops, specialty food, gift shops, toy stores, concession stands, bakeries, cafeterias, and mall kiosks.  It also has potential for use in foodservice applications, like small cafes, ice cream shops, coffee shops, and food trucks.  Full service restaurants would do well to look elsewhere--the system lacks the ability to suspend sales (crucial for managing several tables' orders at once).

Specific Size of Business:

ShopKeep is ideal for small to medium sized businesses, and though it can handle multiple locations it isn't for the large retailer of box store.  This is by design, and Shopkeep has done well to stay in this niche.  The total inventory Shopkeep can handle has increased to 10,000 items, but the interface and back office functions aren't trying to be an EPR replacement.  The iPad register can only host up to 270 item buttons--for quick access--the rest of your inventory, if it goes that high, can be rung up by barcode scanner or manual search.

Ease of Use/User Friendly:

To say that Shopkeep is user-friendly is an understatement. To say that Shopkeep is user-philic, that it loves you and wants very much for you to have a glass of lemonade and set for a spell while it plays soft music and nurtures your very soul, is an overstatement. Somewhere in between these two scenarios lies the truth, and it's not far off to say that Shopkeep goes beyond just being easy to use. The visual design of the iPad app is sleek and modern, with fluid animated flourishes. I could do without the sound effects, which are actually too jarring to be pleasing, but that's what the mute button is for. The point is that using the software is almost enjoyable (I say "almost" because, really, we are still talking about POS here), and never a hassle. And whether you're ringing up sales in the front end, or doing more admin-type things in the Back Office, if you're not able to wrap your brain around using this software, I feel confident recommending you get an MRI and further neurological testing, because the problem must be with you. Please note that all medical information provided here is for entertainment purposes only, and you should always consult your physician if you're having trouble using software.

When you first log in to your BackOffice, you're taken step-by-step through the main tasks required to get your store up and running. You're guided through defining your store's settings--like your address and phone number--which is then incorporated into customized receipts. Then on to inventory creation--either by adding items one at a time, or doing a mass import from a CSV file--and laying out the buttons on your iPad register, and you're off. Simply poking through all the menus in the BackOffice is enough to get you acclimated to the system and its features. Once you're all set up, the web console will be the place you do all your reporting, employee time tracking, and inventory receiving. Beyond that, most of your interactions will be with the iPad app.

In addition to the register functions, there are a handful of managerial actions that can be accomplished from the iPad. One of the bigger improvements Shopkeep made in version 2 is how the app handles managerial access. All users are created with certain levels of permissions--this is primarily to ensure cashiers can't access all the app's capabilities. But previously, a manager with the right permission still needed to enter separate codes to access the register and managerial tasks. For example, she'd have to sign on with her four digit manager's code to open the shift and specify the money in the till, then log out and log back in with a different three digit PIN to access the register. This clunky set up is gone--now a manager only needs to enter one code to access the register and other features. Using the register and adding customers to sales (or even creating them on the spot) have also benefitted from the improved interface--tapping your way through a sale has a more natural, intuitive flow to it than before. It's not like the previous version was a chore to use, which makes the improved setup even more impressive.

Hardware/Operating System Required:

Shopkeep version 2 was built for--and only runs on--iOS 7 on the iPad 2 or newer, and the iPad mini.  As for peripherals, ShopKeep has an online shop with all the hardware peripherals that work with the software. You don't need to purchase your hardware through Shopkeep, but keep in mind that you do need to purchase the brands and models they support.  Peripheral compatibility with the iPad can get very specific, so best to stick with what has been proven to work.  Shopkeep does offer a few hardware bundles, from a starter kit--with iPad stand, cash drawer, receipt printer, and card swiper--to ones geared specifically for retail or quick serve establishments.

Product Specialties/Features:

You can get the full skinny on Shopkeep's features here. The register does everything you'd want your register to do, and it does it all very well: ringing up items, adding modifiers, taking payments, splitting tenders, quick discounting (item and order level), easy returns and refunds--you name it and Shopkeep's register does it. That it does it so easily and intuitively for the user is what's most worth mentioning here. I frequently see the remark made about POS software that's "so easy a child could use it." This doesn't impress me. Children can use anything you stick in their sponge-like little hands. No, Shopkeep is so easy your grandfather can use it.

But what's truly impressive is the wealth of features included in the BackOffice web console. Again, large businesses may find it falling short of their needs, but a small business that operates one register will be paying $49 a month for some really fancy tools. The same goes for places with more than one register, but you get what I'm saying here: that's a low cost of entry to get you a system that manages your inventory, your customers, your employees' time, keeps a record of all your transactions, offers a variety of reporting options for analyzing all this data, and gets you unlimited technical support by phone and email.

The inventory functionality in particular deserves to be highlighted, because it goes above and beyond what you'd expect for a product aimed at meeting the needs of small businesses. Beyond just keeping track of how much you've got of each item, you can also set reorder points and quantities, and use the reporting function to generate a clear report detailing what, how much, and from which vendor to order any low stock item. Most impressively, though, Shopkeep is able to inventory items as raw goods, and then create assemblies based on it. This could be useful for a retail setting that bundles items together, but its greatest value is for a foodservice place that needs to manage inventory at the ingredient level. If you're making burgers, say, you're not keeping track of how many Patty Melts you have on hand; you need to know the quantities of each ingredient: the patty, the rye bread, the cheese, the onions. I just wrote myself into a Patty Melt for dinner, you should know. Shopkeep is able to handle all this--for the most part. It's not as advanced as other implementations of this that I've seen: there's no defining the unit of measure for each raw ingredient, so it's up to you to know that you're tracking potatoes by the pound and cheese by the slice. And oddly, though you can define the cost of each raw ingredient, when you create an item composed of those ingredients, Shopkeep doesn't total them up and auto-define the cost of the item. In the case of our Patty Melt, we've got to add up the costs and enter them in manually. I've seen stronger implementations of this feature (think POS Lavu), but they've come at a much steeper cost (think $900 license fee up front). It's fair to say that these minor drawbacks are more than justified by the pricing of the product.

Rather than spending more time detailing all the features Shopkeep has--they've probably got that one you're looking for--it might be more useful to discuss a few that are curiously missing. The first, as I've mentioned, is the lack of open tabs. It seems counterintuitive to have gone through all the trouble of creating features of immense use to foodservice--ingredient level tracking and remote kitchen printing--and then automatically exclude a large segment of that market (table service cafes and such) by preventing them from being able to manage multiple open orders. This is like developing a new gaming console capable of rendering the Pixar-style levels of detail in the graphics, but only making games that feature the Teletubbies.

Another missing detail is the ability to define multiple tax rates. Again, this hits the foodservice market harder, as they're more likely to be dealing with various tax rates (food vs. alcohol, say), but retailers with local tax obligations (separate from state tax) will find themselves having to bake the additional tax into the price and doing some extra math to figure out how much they owe. Given how much the software does, and how well it does it, the exclusion of this seemingly basic feature that adds one more X times Y math calculation to the process is odd. The fact that customers have been asking for it for quite some time--search through their community forums to see the requests and discussions--makes it downright weird.

Finally, even with the release of version 2.0, Shopkeep still doesn't have proper gift card functionality. Shopkeep's answer to this is what they're disingenuously referring to as a "hardware integration" with eCard Systems's gift card app. Here, the integration means that both apps use the same hardware (i.e. the Magtek swiper), but that's as far as them working together goes. It's like claiming spaghetti integrates with meatballs because you eat it with the same fork. The eCard app handles the creation, crediting, debiting of the card, and at no point is Shopkeep aware of how much is on the card, who bought the card, what transactions were paid for with the card, or really that there's even a gift card in the works here.

Integrations/Add-Ons:

ShopKeep integrates with a few third party providers:

  • LevelUp - LevelUp is a mobile payment-processing app that also offers customers rewards whenever they shop with a LevelUp affiliate. The app is designed to encourage customer retention and repeat visits.
  • PayPal - ShopKeep also integrates with PayPal. If your business uses the PayPal integration option, anybody that has the PayPal app on their phone will be able to use it to pay for purchases in your store using their smart phone.
  • Retail Intel - Retail Intel is a third party cloud service that can take all your sales data from Shopkeep and automatically book it into Quickbooks for a true accounting integration. The service also also offers a variety of reporting to complement what you get with Shopkeep.

Compatible Credit Card Processors:

Shopkeep offers a number of different ways to integrate card payments, and you'll almost certainly be able to keep the processor you're using, or find one that better meets your needs. The software uses Bridgepay's network as a payment gateway, which is compatible with a large number of processors. Their support documents list Payment Revolution as their preferred processor, though the PayPal integration mentioned above also gets you the ability to take credit card payments.

If you need help selecting the best credit card processor for your business, then let us know. It's what we're good at.

Customer Service/Technical Support:

Given the origins of this company--stressed out shop owner constantly frustrated by terrible software and hardware and a lack of support causing him to have to temporarily shut down his operations--it makes sense that the continuing story of Shopkeep's success revolves around being a customer-centric operation. Unlimited support--by email, live chat, or phone--is included in the monthly price. Their support microsite offers clear and comprehensive articles and video tutorials on every aspect of the software. The microsite also hosts community forums that are frequented by members of the support team and an active user base. Of course, there are the obligatory Facebook and Twitter feeds--Marketing 2.0--but the content is relevant and engaging, mostly because it provides links back to the Shopkeep blog, which goes far above and beyond the standard corporate blogorrhea. Sure, there are the press releases and standard patting-of-their-own-backs posts, but there are two other sections which are regularly updated with good content. There's Counter Culture, which features success stories and strategies of Shopkeep's customers, and which as often as not has nothing to with the POS. Additionally, the blog is the point of entry to Shopkeep's Small Business 101, a collection of business advice to the small time entrepreneur, with information on zoning, permits, licenses, a small business guide to social media, and tons of other material that I didn't really look at, but seemed so boring I assume it's totally legit.

Also, in case you've forgotten about this from the beginning of this review, Shopkeep's won some awards for their customer service.

Negative Reviews/Complaints:

Reviews of the Shopkeep app at the iTunes store and elsewhere are overwhelmingly positive. I took a look at the negative reviews at the app store, and noticed two trends. The first is that many of the negative reviews seem to have been written by--and I'm speculating here, based on the quality of writing--people who were frozen in blocks of ice some time during the early Pleistocene epoch, thawed out and awarded low interest loans during the Greenspan Era, and are now running hipster clothing boutiques in Brooklyn, selling t-shirts that say "I walked upright before it was cool." These aren't terrible bright people, is my point. The other trend I noticed was that several of the complaints involved the lack of features that are now part of the app: onscreen tipping for credit transactions, no split checks, and no kitchen printing.

There are still a number of people quite vocally unhappy about the limitation of a single sales tax, and several others complain about not having true gift card functionality. Shopkeep offers workarounds for both of these issues, but neither is satisfactory in my opinion. All of these features, it should be noted, are now in active development, with open tabs and gift cards topping the priority list.

Positive Reviews/Testimonials:

Even people that find fault with ShopKeep are quick to point out how happy they are with the overall product--especially when it comes to customer service. The software is currently being used by many satisfied small businesses across the U.S. You can check out some testimonials on the ShopKeep website or visit the Apple App store to see what other users have said (the app has a 4 out 5 rating based on 416 ratings).

  • Positive Highlights - Most positive reviews highlight the worry-free offsite data storage, easy-to-use interface, great tech support, and easy tracking of sales.

Final Verdict:

The last time we reviewed Shopkeep, we gave it a 5 star rating. I'm using the royal "we" here, because the review was posted before my time.  And I wouldn't have given it that high a rating back then because of the lack of more than a few features. Based on what Shopkeep was lacking in version 1, I'd have given it 4 stars. I only mention this so that the new 4.5 star rating has more context: Shopkeep version 2 is an improvement and deserves an improved rating, not a drop. But a 5-out-of-5 star rating implies perfection and the last time I checked, perfection included multiple sales tax rates and gift cards. So 4.5, it is, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

The bottom line is that Shopkeep is too compelling to be overlooked if you're a small business. It's lean, fast, and affordable--tailor made to fit right in to your operation. And with development continuing on the heels of the app's bona fide success story, it's only a matter of time before Shopkeep gets to the last of these little features it missed--and tacks on a few others. For any retailer or quick serve cafe owner doing her research out there right now, Shopkeep deserves a look and a try.

16Apr/140

What is a Monthly Minimum and How Does it Work?

So you’ve got the best credit card processing rates in town, you’ve purchased your terminal instead of leasing, and you’re ready to start saving big on your monthly bill as a responsible, well-informed merchant. BUT, before you get too excited, let me show you how a monthly minimum fee could double your credit card processing expenses.

Most merchants think that low rates are the most important attribute to look for in a processor when trying to reduce cost. And for those processing a high volume of cards every month, this can be true. For lower volume or sporadic processing, however, nothing will mean more to you than a monthly minimum. Unfortunately this remains one of the most confusing and misunderstood numbers for beginning merchants, and something that many sales agents will mislead you about.

To start, here’s what the monthly minimum is not:

  • The minimum amount of money you must process each month
  • The minimum amount you will have to pay your processor

The second guess is close, though. Here’s what it is:

  • A monthly minimum is the minimum amount you must pay in processing fees to the provider.

If you do not reach this minimum number, you will be charged the difference as a fine. Only your processing fees count toward this, NOT your statement fee, gateway fee, PCI compliance fee, chargeback fees and so on. These will be paid on top of the monthly minimum.

Think of it like a phone plan with monthly minutes. By accepting a monthly minimum of $25 (the industry standard), you are prepaying for, say, $10,000 in processing minutes. Whether you use them or not, you’ve paid for them. And guess what? They do not roll over. Use it or lose it. Does this sound like a fair deal to you? Me neither. Especially not when you can find plenty of providers offering interchange-plus with no monthly minimum required.

Monthly Minimums and Interchange-Plus

99.9% of the time, interchange-plus rocks and will save you money. Let me show you the missing 0.1%.

If you don’t know what interchange-plus pricing is you should read this article, but here’s the gist: With interchange-plus, you only pay a markup percentage over the actual cost to run a transaction through the card networks (called interchange). So your fees will only be about 0.10 to 0.30% with a transaction fee of $0.00 to $0.10. The remainder of the processing cost (averaging at about 1.8%) goes directly to the card networks.

If you have a monthly minimum on an interchange-plus account, you better be processing a substantial amount of money. Remember that only the processing fees paid to your provider count toward the monthly minimum. So lets say you have an interchange-plus plan at 0.25% and $0.00 per transaction. You will have to process over $10,000 each month to avoid paying a monthly minimum fine if you have a $25 monthly minimum.

How to Figure Out Your Minimum Processing Cost

So now consider this. Your average retail merchant account has the following scheduled fees:

  • Statement fee: $10
  • PCI compliance fee: $8 (assuming $96 annually)
  • IRS reporting fee: $2 (assuming $24 annually)

This is what a generally affordable retail merchant account will require in monthly fees, equaling about $20 altogether. This is what you’ll pay even if you don’t process a single transaction. Well, if you have a $25 monthly minimum, this shoots up to $45 per month as your minimum monthly charge, more than doubling your cost for just keeping the account open.

Even if you process $2,500, you’ve still thrown away $13.75. This would increase your rate by 0.55% per dollar!

Stay Away From Monthly Minimums

My advice to you: stay away from monthly minimum charges. A lot of sales agents will claim that you need to have this charge in order to qualify for cost-plus (pass-through) pricing. Do not accept this. The monthly minimum is even harder to reach with interchange-plus pricing since only the markup counts toward the minimum (unlike tiered plans, which are in general more expensive).

Here’s a brief list of providers that offer interchange-plus without a monthly minimum:

13Apr/1413

Gotmerchant.com Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (5 out of 5)

Last Updated: April 13th, 2014.

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Overview:

When you first visit Gotmerchant.com, you may feel a little underwhelmed by the website. It looks a little outdated, lacking the slick design or contemporary charm you'll find in the new wave of payment processing providers (Square, for instance). But don’t let that scare you away. Gotmerchant is a diamond in the rough, providing real value where other companies fail to deliver.

A play on the Got Milk? campaign, Got Merchant came into being during the late ‘90s in Denton, Texas. (What does a Merchant Mustache look like, I wonder? A dollar bill folded on the upper lip?) Since then, this company has grown without outgrowing its resources. That is to say, they still treat every customer like it’s their first. The main man behind the operation, Curtis Stevens, deals to some degree with every aspect of his business, from consultations to sales to support. If you’re not talking to him directly, you’re never far off from the owner when you deal with Gotmerchant. This translates to an absolutely optimal experience for merchants (and a busy schedule for Mr. Stevens).

First and foremost, I’d recommend Gotmerchant to those in need of retail or restaurant POS hardware and software. They’ll set you up with a fantastic system for a highly competitive price, essentially free aside from hardware insurance costs. The main system they advertise is Harbortouch (which looks great to me, although we haven’t formally reviewed it yet), but just ask and your rep will gladly walk you through other options.

In terms of rates and fees, Gotmerchant will give it to you straight. They disclose all costs publicly, and explain why they charge PCI compliance fees and early termination fees. I completely respect this, although I prefer to see PCI fees simply added to the monthly fee for the sake or transparency and prorating based on use. And while I’d prefer to see no early termination fee at all, I also appreciate that it remains negotiable and that many merchants can qualify for month-to-month contracts with 90 days notice of cancellation. And although I’d like to see interchange-plus pricing front and center for all merchants, I’m glad to see that they at least offer it to high-volume merchants ($25K+ per month).

Gotmerchant offers competitive rates and all of the services most merchants would need from their payments provider. They’re beating the industry standard for sure, although you can probably get the same rates or better elsewhere. But that’s not what makes this company great. What makes this company great is their unending commitment to customer satisfaction, their extremely ethical business practices, and their overall support and expertise in the industry. If you want to be treated like you matter, Gotmerchant is a great provider. In my mind, that’s simply priceless, and it helped them earn a solid 5-star review!

Read on for more, or get started with Gotmerchant.com!

Date Established:

1998.

Location:

Denton, Texas.

Domain Name(s):

www.Gotmerchant.com.

Products and Services:

More or less sticking to the basics, Gotmerchant delivers quality over quantity when it comes to products and services. Offerings include:

  • Merchant accounts: Gotmerchant will set you up with a merchant account from one of their processors (Global Payments, First Data, Chase Paymentech or TSYS). If you opt to use the Harbortouch POS (more below), you will process through United Bank Card.
  • POS Systems: At the head of Gotmerchant’s sales and marketing, you’ll find the Harbortouch POS systems for both restaurant and retail. These systems include low-cost hardware leases and excellent software.
  • Equipment leases: Including electronic cash registers, wireless terminals, mobile readers, etc.
  • Touch-tone processing: This service is quickly becoming archaic, with smart phones and mobile readers as ubiquitous as they are. Still, it’s here if you need it – for $10, that is…
  • Quickbooks integration
  • Cash advances

Fees and Rates:

Interchange-plus is offered, but you do have to be a merchant that processes a minimum of $25K per month according to the Gotmerchant website. If you are insistent, though, I’m sure you can negotiate this pricing model for lower volumes. But be aware, low-volume merchants will always have to contend with higher rates and/or higher monthly minimums when it comes to interchange-plus. But for transparency’s sake, it’s often worth it.

Gotmerchant provides extensive information about pricing structures for retail and Internet businesses. While their rates feature a tiered pricing structure (not my favorite) and run a little high overall (in my opinion), they remain competitive, especially when you consider the added value of their customer service and POS offerings. I love that they have a debit rate separate from their qualified rate, which could lead to substantial savings depending on your normal debit traffic.

I’m not going to recount all of their rates here, but please do check them out.

As for fees, take note of the following:

  • Monthly minimum: $25 (the lowest amount you pay in a given month)
  • Monthly fee: $10 (doesn't count toward the monthly minimum.

This means you'll pay $35 as a base fee per month, at the very least.

You're also likely to contend with $80+ for PCI compliance, but this fee is negotiable/variable with Gotmerchant.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

Gotmerchant uses three different contract lengths, depending on which services you sign up for and what kind of business you run.

  • 90 days: If you don’t need any equipment or are an otherwise low-cost merchant, Gotmerchant will likely have no problem setting you up with a 90-day notice contract term. This means that as long as you give 90 days of notice, you won’t be responsible for an early termination fee. I’d recommend you ask for this option.
  • Two years: For most merchants, this will be your contract term. It’s better than the industry standard (which is three years), but I’d recommend you get the auto-renewal clause removed from your contract if possible, for your own protection.
  • Five years: If you choose to take Gotmerchant up on their POS offer, you’ll need to enter a 5-year contract. This makes sense, since the provider will need more time to recoup the investment.

The early termination fee is variable, but probably averages at $250.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

First and foremost, Gotmerchant doesn’t use a team of independent agents to resell their services. When you deal with this company, you deal with them directly. This leads to a more standardized, controlled, and reliable sales experience than you could hope for with a traveling salesman coming to your door (or harassing you on the phone), as is common with many other independent sales offices (ISOs).

On the Gotmerchant.com site, you’ll find disclosures of rates, fees, and business practices that go far beyond the industry standard. Not only does Gotmerchant disclose their standard rates and fees, they also offer rationales to explain what you’re paying for and why you’re paying for it. For fees that remain negotiable (PCI and early termination, for instance), they disclose that variability.

You simply couldn't ask for a better sales experience than what you'll find at Gotmerchant.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

It’s hard to beat the level of service and attention you’ll get at Gotmerchant, and it’s equally difficult to put a price tag on that. After all, what good are unbelievable rates if you’re getting abused by customer service every time you call?

How do I know that Gotmerchant has got the goods in this category? Well, for starters, we’ve personally put in calls and received excellent service. Even on weekends, inquiries were returned. But, perhaps more importantly, dozens of Gotmerchant’s clients have chimed in on our comments section and elsewhere to attest to their customer service in practice. Such an outpouring of support is notably quite rare.

From your first sales call through every technical difficulty, Gotmerchant will go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that you’re treated fairly. I give them major bonus points for that.

Some kind words from our readers:

We were having issues getting set up with our new POS software for Mac (Lightspeed) and Authorize.net, and we couldn’t have asked for quicker response time from the friendly staff at Gotmerchant.com. Even though the problem wasn’t on their end, they helped us communicate the problem to Authorize.net and the situation was resolved very quickly.

(Amanda Moody)

VERY happy that I can deal with the same person (Curtis) every time I have a question. I’m sure I have some pretty stupid questions, but having used two other providers I have learned to ask.

(Matt Waller)

Curtis is always answering my many questions, and is patient and kind. He ALWAYS gets back to me within hours and usually the same day. He offers assistance, tips and guidance.

(Kathy Lightcap)

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Gotmerchant has absolutely no textual complaints on the web, an undeniable testament to their exquisite customer service and overall quality. You just can’t fake a track record like this.  The company has an "A+" rating as of this review, with only 1 complaint in the last 36 months, and that one was from back in 2011. That complaint was resolved to the satisfaction of the customer, but no further details are given.

Very few merchant service providers have a record this clean, especially ones that have been around for as long as Gotmerchant.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

While you’ll have a hard time digging up complaints for Gotmerchant.com, they’ve got merchant praise coming out their ears. Just take a look at their extraordinary testimonials section. Not only does each review contain a full disclosure (first and last name/company name), many also feature headshots for the reviewers, offering further proof of authenticity.

You’ll find even more positive appraisal in our own comments section, although some of these merchants are also featured in the official Gotmerchant testimonial page. Of all the praise this company has received over the years, these remarks come up most often:

  • Excellent customer service
  • Excellent sales experience
  • Reliable and high-quality processing service

These three things are the backbone of any merchant services company. Yes, rates and contract terms are extremely important as well, of course, but great rates are nothing without honesty, integrity, and quality service.

Final Verdict:

You’ll find a lot of direct processors telling you to save money by cutting out the middleman. What they don’t tell you, though, is that there’s no guarantee you’ll save money, and that the middleman can save you a lot of time and headache. What’s your time and mental health worth to you?

Gotmerchant has well over a decade of experience and industry connections. They know how to solve problems quickly and efficiently for merchants. Where other providers will pass the buck, Gotmerchant will help you find solutions above and beyond their immediate responsibilities to you. Where you’re stuck with the luck of the draw when you call customer service for most account providers, Gotmerchant will give you a grade-A service experience every single time.

Gotmerchant may not have the most suave or tech-inspired marketing and service, and they may not have the lowest rates in the industry. But they do have integrity and will always offer competitive value and industry-leading service/support. For that, they get 5 stars from me. I highly recommend you consider them.

Get Started With Gotmerchant.com

13Apr/1458

Merchant Warehouse Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4.5 out of 5)
four-and-one-half-stars

Last Updated: April 13th, 2014.

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Overview:

We’ve had good things to say about Merchant Warehouse (MW) for years, and we’re not the only ones. MW has a great reputation, with many independent reviewers offering praise alongside industry awards. They even received the Electronic Transaction Association’s ISO of the Year award in 2009, which is a big deal in the merchant services industry. They've been in business since 1998, maintaining corporate headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, and have kept up a positive buzz since the beginning.

The lack of an early termination fee (ETF) remains one of the major selling points for Merchant Warehouse services. The industry standard is a three-year contract with early termination fees averaging at about $400, but sometimes exceeding $1,000. I always encourage merchants to negotiate the ETF out of their contracts, so it’s really a huge relief to see that you won’t have to worry about it here.

You also don’t have to worry about expensive third-party leases being shoved down your throat here (as they are with so many other providers). Merchant Warehouse is literally one of the only providers to list prices alongside their terminal selection (believe it or not). Furthermore, their prices are extremely reasonable. I know this sounds so simple, but trust me – it’s essentially unheard of in this industry.

(If you’re interested in new and alternative payment technology, check out my detailed summary of Merchant Warehouse’s new Genius Customer Engagement Platform below.)

You’ll find a number of negative reviews and complaints for Merchant Warehouse online. They sign up thousands of merchants each month, so even though you can find a couple hundred complaints online, it’s not a big percentage of MW’s overall volume. More importantly, though, I was thrilled to see how well this company handles complaints in the public forum. Responses are not at all robotic, and representatives almost always acknowledge that Merchant Warehouse shares the blame. In most cases, MW is willing to negotiate a satisfactory refund or agreement.

Merchant Warehouse remains at 4.5 out of 5 stars, a highly commendable rating. They provide high-quality products and services, conducting business ethically and respectfully. They don’t get a perfect score for a few reasons. For one, their complaint volume is a little high. I know it’s only a small percentage of their business overall, but it’s more than I like to see for a business of this size. Ideally, these complaints should be handled in-house before the merchant feels the need to go to a third party site. Second, MW doesn’t provide any information about interchange-plus pricing on their site, which we consider to be the fairest, most transparent pricing model for the majority of merchants. (They do offer it, though.) I’d also like to see a better disclosure of PCI compliance fees, and to have this fee charged monthly (prorated) instead of annually.

Overall, Merchant Warehouse gets my seal of approval. I’d be happy to recommend them to all small and mid-sized businesses, especially those interested in new and alternative payment technology. Keep up the good work over there!

Check out the full review below for more info, and don’t forget to comment!

Date Established:

1998.

Location:

Boston, Massachusetts.

Domain Name(s):

Products and Services:

With an impressive collection of products and services, all neatly and transparently cataloged on their site, Merchant Warehouse stands out in this category. I like that they keep the focus on processing and marketing rather than delving into payroll solutions and other business services. This allows MW to provide a solid line of products that remains navigable and focused. Their offerings include:

  • Merchant accounts
  • Check processing
  • Terminal sales: Merchant Warehouse earns major points with me in this category. Most providers will set you up with expensive, non-cancellable leases that rack up thousands of dollars in fees for you. Merchant Warehouse does the exact opposite. They take care of their own terminal sales and provide extremely fair prices for their products. Almost no merchant service providers will disclose affordable terminal prices on their websites. Good work MW!
  • Gateway/virtual terminal: You get free use of a gateway and virtual terminal with your account.
  • Mobile processing: Using the free MerchantWARE Mobile app, you can process credit cards from your smartphone. If you want to swipe cards, you’ll have to get a swiper as well (not free).
  • Processing software
  • Gift card program
  • Cash advances

Genius Payments Platform:

We should take a minute to talk about Merchant Warehouse’s newest product, a customer engagement platform called Genius. (Also note that Customer Engagement Platform and Genius are both registered trademarks.)

I was pretty skeptical of this service because a term as vague as “customer engagement platform” can lead to pretty disappointing results in my experience. It’s also a little difficult to figure out exactly what this service entails at first. Is it hardware, software, POS? No pictures or images of these products in action exist in the main ads for Genius. Even the “Demo” video doesn’t exactly demonstrate real-world use.

This is not to say I dislike these products. I actually think the Genius line has some cool offerings that could prove useful to merchants interested in getting ahead of the curve on processing technology.

Let’s ditch the term customer engagement platform for a minute though. Really, for merchants, it’s more of an alternative payment platform with mobile marketing features, including both hardware and software. Genius also features unified reporting, automatic software updates, and a so-called “out of scope” PCI solution (more on these below). Let me break down the Genius components for you:

1. Standard Payments

  • Standard credit and debit payments
  • Loyalty, reward and gift programs

2. Mobile Processing

  • Mobile app and card reader
  • Virtual terminal

3. New and Alternative Payment Technology

  • Near field communication (NFC): This technology allows customers to pay simply by placing their phone in front of the reader to access their mobile wallet (such as Isis). iPhone don't currently support NFC, though, and Apple doesn't have plans to, so that removes a big demographic from the pool.
  • QR code payments: You know those little black and white square things? They’re called QR codes. Some services allow you to use a unique QR code to make payments. For instance, LevelUp (4.5 stars) offers a QR-based payment service. PayPal will also be releasing this type of service in early 2014 to allow customers to pay in-store with a QR code. Many loyalty programs also work based on QR codes, such as SpotOn.
  • EMV chips: EMV cards are already beginning to hit the market, adding security with an embedded circuit chip. This so-called “smart card” technology will be standard security in the US starting in 2015, making terminals without EMV readers obsolete.

4. Mobile Marketing

  • Digital rewards, coupons, and offers via SMS: This services allows you to send SMS messages to subscribing customers, and can even target customers who are in the vicinity of your store. I know I'd be more tempted to stop at the local coffee shop on my way to the bank if I got a coupon sent to me as I passed by. So I'm intrigued by this service. You can find similar services elsewhere, such as at Tatango, so if all you want is SMS coupons it might make sense to shop around.

Other Features:

  • Cloud-based software updates for new capabilities (I really like this)
  • Unified security through tokenization and encryption, offering an “out of scope solution,” meaning PCI compliance is not an issue (I really like this, too)
  • Omni-channel extension, which basically amounts to a unified reporting system that allows merchants to view all transactions across all payment systems (mobile, in-store, and ecommerce) in one place and via one login.

Okay, so now let me give you a breakdown of the Genius family of products:

  1. Genius ITX: This is the flagship product, a fully integrated countertop POS system. Includes all of the above (standard payments, new payments, mobile marketing) except not mobile processing (see Genius EX below).
  2. Genius STX: Exactly like Genius ITX, except it comes as a standalone device for merchants that don’t need a full POS.
  3. Genius TX: Includes standard payments, mobile marketing, and QR scanning (via integrated LevelUp). EMV and NFC are optional add-ons.
  4. Genius EX: This is really just mobile processing and a virtual terminal. It’s not a novel service, and doesn’t seem to add any benefits beyond these two fairly ubiquitous services. Calling it “customer engagement” might not be the most accurate marketing. For me, this doesn’t really fit with the rest of the Genius line, but it might offer some advantages over MW’s MerchantWARE mobile processing app and virtual terminal given the “other features” discussed above.

Do you see how these different packages and their cryptic names could be confusing? I’d like to see this all marketed more clearly. I don’t actually think that MW is trying to be deceptive here, though.

Fees and Rates:

Like so many processors, Merchant Warehouse doesn’t advertise any rates or fees on its website. This makes sense in some ways, because rates and fees will vary widely from one merchant to the next based on a number of variables. I do think, however, that they could disclose at least some standardized fees along side descriptions of the pricing models they offer and the factors that affect rates.

They do offer cost-plus pricing for all merchants, although you’ll still likely have to contend with their industry standard $25 monthly minimum. If you have a higher volume, this won’t matter to you. If you have a lower volume, try to negotiate this down to an acceptable level (I’ve seen low-volume merchants get the minimum down to $5 with MW.)

They charge a $7.95 statement fee, which is pretty low and generally fair in my opinion.

The $99 PCI compliance fee seems to raise the most eyebrows among merchants. It’s a little steep, since the industry standard is closer to $80, but an extra dollar per month isn’t a huge deal. The real annoying thing is that they charge it in one shot instead of divided monthly, and they don’t prorate it or offer partial refunds from what I’ve seen. If you decide to switch providers the month after they charge for PCI, you’re stuck paying for the whole year.

In some cases, you’ll have to pay a 35% restocking fee on a returned terminal if you’ve removed its protective film or stickers. From what I’ve seen, though, Merchant Warehouse is willing to make exceptions to this, especially if you simply can’t get the terminal to work.

Some fees you won’t see:

  • No application fee
  • No set up fee
  • No annual fee
  • No early cancellation fee

That’s what I like to see!

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

Merchant Warehouse offers the best of the best in this category. They have no cancellation fees, making your account ostensibly month-to-month! You’ll still have to go through the cancellation procedures in order to stop them from billing you when you decide to stop using your account, but there is absolutely no penalty for doing so. Good job Merchant Warehouse!

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

Looking at the Merchant Warehouse site, I’m really impressed. They have one of the most comprehensive and professional looking sites I’ve seen in the industry, without being overwhelming or confusing. It’s also incredibly accommodating and not at all pushy. You’ll find few sales gimmicks, and no bold claims or misleading information anywhere. Their salespeople – in my experience – live up to the friendly and helpful air of the website. I spoke with a sales agent on the phone and via live chat. Both exchanges were pleasant and not at all deceptive.

I would have liked to see some articles or even pages devoted to rate models such as interchange-plus or tiered systems. While I trust Merchant Warehouse to make ethical decisions and set merchants up with the best pricing for their unique needs, disclosing some of this information in plain sight would increase transparency. As of now, information about cost-plus pricing is conspicuously absent from the extensive articles and resources offered at MW.

While I don’t usually like to see “price match guarantee” style sales gimmicks, the MW $100 Guarantee seems somehow more plausible because of the low payout. Other providers promise $500 or $1,000, or even a full year of free processing – promises that smell a little fishy to me. I also have more faith in this promise because I’ve read actual reviews from people who have received a $100 check from Merchant Warehouse.

Overall, I love all of their resources and I believe Merchant Warehouse makes an admirable effort to market in a fair and honest manner. It’s also nice to see their public presence via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

The support offered by Merchant Warehouse looks stellar. With live chat from 9AM to midnight on weekdays, email support 9AM to 6PM (EST) on weekdays, and phone-based support 24/7, they’re outdoing a lot of the competition here. Furthermore:

We pride ourselves on providing World-Class Service to our customers. Our large in-house support staff undergoes weeks of training to ensure that we provide honest, clear-cut answers to your questions. We never outsource this service, which means you'll be talking to a Merchant Warehouse employee who knows your account and understands your business.

That’s what I like to hear. US-based support is a plus, but in-house support is the best. The downside here is that you might be met with longer wait times.

I used their live chat support feature midday on a weekday, and the responses were a little slow. I tried again after hours on a Friday and service was VERY slow. In fact, after over 20 minutes of waiting I just gave up.

On the bright side, the responses I did get were much more professional and intelligent than I’ve received elsewhere. I’d say it’s worth a little bit of a wait for better responses, but of course I’d rather have the best of both worlds.

I’m also a fan of MW’s Resources portal and their Support page.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Merchant Warehouse has an A+ rating at the BBB, with 148 complaints over the last three years. When we last updated this a year ago, they had 97 complaints filed, so the volume has increased in the past year (66 filed in the last 12 months alone). Additionally, 37 BBB users left detailed reviews, 24 of which are negative.

One of the truly remarkable things about Merchant Warehouse has been and continues to be their dedication toward making things right with customers who have complaints. You’ll find dozens of well-considered, kind, sincerely apologetic and understanding responses from MW representatives. They take responsibility for preventable errors, and seem to genuinely care about the reputation of the company and the customer’s experience. You can see evidence of this in our comments section, as well as on the BBB reviews and Ripoff Reports. Unfortunately, they offered no responses via Yelp, where MW has 25 predominately negative reviews.

Of the complaints I browsed, these came up most often:

  • Withholding of funds: This can happen for a number of reasons. Chargebacks and/or suspicious charges can easily raise a red flag that will either get you suspended or shut down. Merchant Warehouse uses First Data (FD) for their processing. If Merchant Warehouse is boarding merchants using the First Data platform, it's also possible that FD is underwriting those same accounts. If that's the case, then FD has the authority to shut down an account without authorization from Merchant Warehouse. The same goes for any acquiring banks that Merchant Warehouse is associated with. They have the last word. With that said, a good ISO/MSP will have their own risk department that monitors their merchants' accounts to catch any security issues before they get out of hand. Because once that red flag goes up with First Data, it's shoot first, ask questions later. To learn what you can do to prevent this, check out this article.
  • Undisclosed PCI compliance fee: After reading a ton of complaints about this, it’s clear to me that Merchant Warehouse really needs to do a better job when it comes to disclosing this $99 fee. The fee itself is justifiable - failure to disclose it is not. I’d like to see this information on their site. I’d also like to see it split into monthly payments, so that if I signed up in April (when they assess the PCI fee) and decide to cancel in May, I’m not stuck paying for a whole year to offset their PCI costs. Based on many reviews I read, MW is not generally willing to prorate this charge.
  • Difficulty cancelling: This complaint comes up a lot with MW, but I’m not sure why. Their cancellation process is actually a lot easier than many other providers. (Here’s a link to their page explaining the process.) Basically, you have to call Customer Service to submit a cancellation request, and then they will send you an email with a link for an online cancellation form. Having the process that includes a phone confirmation protects merchants from an unauthorized party cancelling the account. Having the digital step helps provide a record of the cancellation. I actually like this process quite a bit, much more than the standard “written request” that most providers ask for. My only concern is that some merchants report having trouble getting through to the cancellation department.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

There are plenty of testimonials on the MW website. Feel free to check them out. They aren’t dated, but I’m glad to see full names and business names attached to the reviews. You’ll also find some positive reviews in our comments section below.

Final Verdict:

Merchant Warehouse offers some solid services, far exceeding the industry standard across the board. With fair payment terminal sales, quality products, good support, ethical sales practices, and no early termination fee – what’s not to like? Their new Genius “Customer Engagement Platform” is an interesting solution for merchants looking for new and alternative payment technologies and/or mobile marketing.

One of my favorite things about Merchant Warehouse is seeing how company representative respond to public complaints. They seem to genuinely take note of MW’s shortcomings, and hopefully report the need for fixes to their managers. If they continue to take complaints and feedback to heart, Merchant Warehouse could easily be a perfect five star processor in the near future. For now, 4.5 stars isn’t too shabby! They’ve earned my seal of approval.

Leave your comments below to share your experience!

13Apr/1462

Flagship Merchant Services Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4 out of 5)
four-stars

Last Updated: April 13th, 2014.

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Overview:

I’ve had a complicated relationship with Flagship Merchant Services (aka, CardServ Inc.) in recent months. I go back and forth between hitting myself on the forehead with frustration and grinning with delight. They’re still hanging on and providing good bang for your buck, but I’m not completely satisfied with their services in 2013.

I like Flagship well enough overall. They take care of most of my essential concerns, with no setup fees and no early termination fees and a ton of other great discounts. They’ll also waive your Authorize.Net gateway setup fees (usually about $100), which is really nice for ecommerce businesses along with their free shopping cart setup. A free mobile swiper and app could also come in handy. You can definitely find good value with Flagship’s value-added services. Unfortunately I’m not entirely convinced that their basic (and essential) processing services live up to this value.

When visiting the Flagship homepage, you’ll be impressed to see that they were rated the number one merchant account provider in the industry for seven straight years by Top Ten Reviews. That’s a pretty big deal, you might think. While I certainly see it as a commendable achievement, I can also tell you that Top Ten doesn’t take many important factors into consideration. For instance, they completely ignore the $99 annual PCI compliance fee charged by Flagship, as well as the $20 monthly non-compliance fee. They also ignore important considerations like customer satisfaction and sales/advertising transparency. Interchange-plus pricing? I don’t think that Top Ten even knows what that is.

Still, all said and done, Flagship makes the grade as a 4-star provider at the moment. I love that they have no early termination fee, and that they do their best to add value to your processing account. They’re doing better than average.

To raise their rating, Flagship could:

  • Publically and personally address more complaints, including those in our comments section
  • Disclose commonly misunderstood fees more clearly during sales consultations, as well as on their website
  • Advertise an interchange-plus option, and provide information about this transparency-enhancing pricing model
  • Keep better tabs on inactive accounts, and follow up with non-seasonal merchants when they have not been processing for extended periods of time
  • Make the cancellation process simpler, more reliable, and easier to track
  • Include PCI compliance fees as part of the advertised monthly cost, and actively work (or work harder) to ensure merchants avoid PCI non-compliance fees
  • Stop advertising deceptively low rates (“Rates start at 0.38% + $0.19”)

Check out the full review below  for more details.

Date Established:

2001.

Location:

Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Domain Name(s):

Products and Services:

Flagship Merchant Services offers a pretty limited number of products and service, which is actually a good sign in my mind. I like to see a provider add value to your account without trying to shove the kitchen sink down your throat. While I’m not particularly impressed here – and I had a hard time locating much useful information – they offer everything you’d need to get started. Offerings include:

  • Merchant accounts: Flagship Merchant Services is not a direct processor. They use a third-party for processing services. These seem to come mostly through iPayment, but have also come through First Data in the past.
  • Gateway/virtual terminal: Gateways come from Authorize.Net, with no set up fee. This could save you about $100 in some cases.
  • Mobile processing: Offered through iPayment’s MobilePay. They’ll even hook you up with a free swiper.
  • Terminal sales
  • Online reporting
  • Simple checkout
  • Shopping cart setup

Fees and Rates:

While they may set you up with interchange-plus pricing if you ask for it, by default they’ll set you up with a tiered system. Other fees include:

  • PCI compliance fee: $99 annually
  • PCI non-compliance fee: Additional $20 monthly
  • Statement fee: $7.95
  • Gateway fee: $8-10
  • Their monthly minimum varies and is negotiable, but it seems like the industry standard $25 monthly minimum is used most commonly. Please note that your other fees do not count toward your monthly minimum – only your processing fees do.

So if you do not process any transactions on a given month, you will be responsible for about $33 in fees, not including PCI compliance fees. If we prorate the PCI compliance fee and include it (as we should), then your baseline monthly payment for a retail account, just for having the service (even if you don't use it) is about $42 per month minimum. That’s pretty steep when you compare it to Dharma Merchant Services, who charges only $15 as a baseline monthly payment for retail. CDGcommerce charges only $10 per month in baseline fees for a retail account.

For low-volume or sporadic processing, this makes a huge difference. But if you’re processing enough to exceed your monthly minimum every month, then it won’t make any difference to your bottom line whatsoever.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

Flagship Merchant Services has no early termination fee, making your account with them a month-to-month agreement (which is awesome). Make sure to cancel your account as per the instructions in your contract, though, or else they’ll continue taking monthly fees from your bank account.

You should note that some merchant have reported difficulty closing their accounts, a problem that Flagship blames the processor for. The good news is that if this occurs and you are charged monthly fees when your account should have already been cancelled, Flagship will generally reimburse you that fee.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

Flagship makes very few fee disclosures on their website, offering visitors little initial guidance or education material. I was disappointed to see them using the oldest deceptive gimmick in the book, quoting the lowest possible rate as a representation of their fees. It is, in fact, one of the only hard numbers that Flagship provides:

Rates start at 0.38% + $0.19 per transaction with Free Account Set up!

They don’t even offer a footnote explaining that this rate will only apply to some debit transaction, nor do they go on to explain how rates are decided anywhere on the Flagship site. I would rather they didn’t provide any rate quote than a single deceptively low number that is likely to cause at least some confusion.

Furthermore, although they advertise their credit card terminals with some vigor, Flagship fails to disclose any pricing information. While most providers don’t disclose any pricing information, the best ones do (Merchant Warehouse and Dharma Merchant Service, to name a couple).

While I’m thrilled to see that Flagship Merchant Services uses an in-house sales team for most of their accounts, but that fact makes many merchant complaints I’ve read even more disappointing. Independent sales reps are known for unregulated activities and overall poor training. When in-house reps are failing to make important disclosure – that is a bit worrisome.

While I don’t have evidence that this problem is systemic at Flagship, you should proceed with some caution (as always).

Customer Service and Technical Support:

While Flagship Merchant Services advertises 24/7 customer support (thumbs up), many merchants have reported a lack of overall quality. During business hours you are likely to get in touch with an in-house representative to help you (which is ideal!), but outside of regular business hours you may see a decline in the quality of service.

I really love that Flagship makes the person who sold you their services your continuing point of contact as a dedicated account manager. Unfortunately, this means that if you get an unresponsive account rep, you could be in for a bumpy ride. While I have every reason to believe that most Flagship reps do a great job, it’s obvious to me that some are missing the mark. If this happens, I’d encourage you to escalate the matter to his or her manager, and even ask to have your account transferred to a different representative if you simply can’t make it work. At the end of the day, Flagship wants you to be happy. Sometimes you just need to be aggressive to make that happen.

One merchant on the BBB review page says that:

Although customer service was great the billing was not, nor was the contract discussed in full.

Another puts it more bluntly:

They are helpful at first but when you don’t receive the funds in your account it’s like talking to a brick wall.

And this one more colorfully:

The customer service department was like a box of chocolates….you never know what you’re gonna get.

Furthermore, the Flagship FAQ leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s the only self-service customer support available.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Flagship’s internet reputation had a rough year in 2013. You can currently find 40 complaints on RipoffReports, as well as almost 60 complaints in our own comments section. They have an unfavorable C+ rating with the BBB, with 92 complaints in the past three years. 54 of those complaints came in over the past 12 months, demonstrating a rapid rise in complaint volume. In addition to the 92 complaints, Flagship has been reviewed 31 times on the BBB, with 28 of those being negative, three neutral, and zero positive. You can find an additional 42 complaints on ConsumerAffairs.com.

Some of the most common complaints with Flagship Merchant Services include:

  • Non-disclosure of important contract terms: For instance, a number of merchants complained that they filled out an the application and signed the Merchant Agreement believing that it was part of the application process and not actually signing up for service to begin. Many merchants also complain that various fees (such as monthly minimums).

One commenter says:

After signing an application online, my next email was with instructions on how to reprogram the terminal. I’m like, wait a minute, where’s the MPA?? They forwarded me a copy of the agreement, which had my digital signature placed on pages I’d never seen. Seems to be in order, but I’m not happy about that. How hard is it for me to review each page online and place the signature myself? We’ll see when I get the first statement.

  • PCI non-compliance fee: While I don’t really like to see this fee at all, especially when you’re already paying a PCI compliance fee of $99 with Flagship – the fee itself is not my problem here. The problem is that account representatives fail to clearly disclose this fee in many cases. The cost is an additional $19.95 per month for non-compliance.
  • Difficulty cancelling service: This comes up over and over and over again, so I know something is up over there. Having no early termination fee starts to lose its meaning when you’re paying $50+ per month for a service you’re not using and that you wanted to get rid of.

To quote one reviewer on the BBB site:

Oh, what anguish to get my account cancelled. 3 times! I sent a written statement to the company to cancel our account with them and they do nothing. Don't respond to my emails or phone calls just continue to charge me the minimum amount every month which was like $75 this past month. I hope to get this resolved soon but it looks pretty bleak.

  • Poor customer service after signing: Having your salesperson as a continuing point of contact can make for an overall excellent support experience. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. When your account representative becomes unresponsive, it can be a nightmare.
  • Billing issues: In these instances, Flagships points the finger at their processor iPayment (and perhaps rightfully so). After all, these mistakes often do come directly from the processor. In my opinion, though, Flagship had ought to provide intensive arbitration and mediation on the merchant’s behalf. This includes account holds/freezes, which you can do your part to avoid by reading this article.

The good news here: Flagship is generally willing to provide at least partial refunds and make things right.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

You can find a couple of merchant testimonials on the Flagship homepage, as well as a small list of logos for companies they provide services for.

The most substantial recommendation for Flagship Merchant Services comes from the popular review site Top Ten Reviews, which reviews everything from consumer products to career choices. While Top Ten may honestly and unbiasedly believe that Flagship is the best merchant account provider out there, I have to firmly disagree with them.

Unlike Top Ten Reviews, we only review merchant services and software here. It seems to me that Top Ten misses some very important aspects of the review process. They completely ignore the $99 annual PCI compliance fee charged by Flagship, as well as the $20 monthly non-compliance fee. They also ignore important considerations like customer satisfaction and sales/advertising transparency. Interchange-plus pricing doesn’t seem to be a phrase in their vocabulary. To be frank, I think that the merchant account reviews from Top Ten are driven by arbitrary data and superficial appearances. So while Flagship has indeed won their top spot seven years running, I question the meaningfulness of this award – and so should you.

Final Verdict:

There’s a lot to love about Flagship, to be sure. They generally provide good value, deal with almost all sales in-house as far as I know, and let you leave at any time without penalty (in theory). I love the freebies they offer, even if they’re presented in a gimmicky way. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news.

Without a doubt, some complaints that come in under the Flagship name are actually criticisms of their processors, namely iPayment. In my mind, however, it’s Flagship’s responsibility to provide excellent arbitration, mediation, and prevention when it comes to processing issue. It seems like they fall short here in many cases. Their advertising transparency needs work, and their online reputation isn’t fairing well. Flagship has to make some serious changes – more than the facelift they gave their homepage recently – to keep up in this industry.

They get 4 out of 5 stars for the moment. They perform better than the industry standard, but I don’t know how much longer this will be true. More and more providers are dropping their early termination fees and disclosing incidental fees more clearly. I’m still comfortable recommending Flagship to you, but you should proceed with some level of caution. I’m hoping to revisit this review with good news in 2014. Time will tell…

13Apr/1422

Chase Paymentech Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4.5 out of 5)
four-and-one-half-stars

Last Updated: April 13th, 2014.

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Overview:

Headquartered in Dallas, Chase Paymentech is a serious contender in the processing industry. As an acquirer, they’re a bank that handles both the establishment of merchant relationships and the actual payment processing. All processors work through an acquiring bank, but not all processors are acquiring banks. Cutting out this middleman can, in some case, translate to really high-quality services.

To give you an idea of how big they are, Chase Paymentech processed over $655 billion with more than 29 billion transactions in 2012. That is simply huge.

Chase Paymentech was originally Chase Merchant Services, which then merged with Paymentech, Inc. I guess they decided to try to get the best of both worlds in terms of brand recognition and simply pasted the two together. I don't really think it has a ring to it, but hey - that's why they make the big bucks.

For a company that has processed over a trillion dollars in the past two years alone, I was surprised to find very few complaints, and an overall downward trend in complaints. Paymentech has hundreds of thousands of customers, yet their complaint numbers are lower than companies half their size. And since people are more likely to complain than praise, that's really remarkable news. This tells me that they have a well-trained sales force and that independent agents are well-regulated.

The upside to going with Paymentech is that you're going direct to the source. There will be no middlemen, which means you'll be able to negotiate better rates with them. Remember to always ask about interchange-plus pricing and, for the best results, always make sure you’re dealing with Chase Paymentech directly, and not through a sub-ISO who’s reselling their services. While it looks like their resellers are doing a good job, you risk not getting the terms the parent company commits to.

Attention Canadian Merchants: I've heard a lot of good things about the Paymentech Canadian branch. There are only a handful of Canadian merchant account providers (including Pivotal Payments, Moneris and Beanstream [eCommerce only]) and Paymentech is definitely a contender for the number one spot. So if you're a Canadian merchant, check them out.

In general, I really like Chase Paymentech. They have a solid reputation and overall decent business practices. While I don’t think they could possibly give you the level of attention you’d get from a smaller processor, the lower rates and state-of-the-art technology might be enough to make up for it depending on your business and your ideals. I give them 4.5 out of 5 stars for their excellent terms, solid business practices and their overall straightforward and fair approach.

If excellent customer service is what you're looking for, check out our comparison chart for the best processors in each category.

Date Established:

Paymentech, Inc. goes back to 1985. The creation of Chase Paymentech dates to 2005.

Location:

Dallas, Texas.

Domain Name(s):

Products and Services:

  • Merchant accounts
  • Gateway/virtual terminal
  • Terminal sales/leases: Terminal leases are not usually in your best interest. And make sure to shop around before you buy. You don’t have to buy a terminal through your processor if it’s not a good deal!
  • “Future proof” terminal: Chase is at the cutting edge of payment technology, as demonstrated by their terminal that reads EMV chip cards. This is the first terminal certified in the U.S. to accept both contact and contactless EMV transactions for Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Go here for more info. If it sounds like something you're interested, you might be able to get one for free from them with a two-year agreement.
  • Online reporting: This is pretty basic, but it looks like Chase executes it well. Check it out here.
  • Mobile processing: Use the Chase Mobile Checkout POS app and card reader for processing and reporting with your phone. Find more info here, but be sure to read that fine print at the bottom of the page when it comes to the "free" reader.
  • Touchtone processing: When all else fails, Chase offers the capability to enter credit card info from any touchtone phone, no internet required.
  • PayPal processing: You can process payments from PayPal or Bill Me Later directly through your Paymentech merchant account.
  • Level II/III business processing: See here for more info. Basically it's a way to get reduced rates for business-to-business credit transactions.
  • Gift card programs
  • Recurring payments/account updating
  • International payments

Fees and Rates:

Chase Paymentech doesn’t disclose any rates or fees on their website, but at least they offer some solid logic behind this choice, communicated on the site:

At Chase Paymentech, we want you to be clear and confident about what you get and what you pay for. We do not offer fixed fees as we believe this is misleading and there are no hidden fees.

A little bit of a cop-out, but it has some truth in it. Still, I would have liked to see interchange-plus explained and advertised as a potential option.

Paymentech does not charge any PCI compliance fees, and they do offer interchange-plus plans and seasonal downtime to most merchants. I’m also a fan of their comprehensive how-to guide for reading Chase statements.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

If you have an existing contract with Chase Paymentech, you probably have a three-year agreement with a $350 early cancellation fee. You’ll find this arrangement from most processors. Recently Chase decided to start offering month-to-month agreements, which mean no cancellation fees! You’ll still sign a three-year agreement, but nothing is stopping you from terminating it.

Higher volume merchants may still be asked to agree to an early termination fee to ensure they get the best rates, but that’s always negotiable. Still – be sure to ask about it and to review your contract carefully. Resellers of Chase's merchant accounts may tack on their own early termination fees.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

Looking at Chase Paymentech’s site, you’ll see a clean-cut style without any flashy gimmicks or sales pitches. Their advertising is contemporary, but sensible and pleasant in a way you don’t often see in this industry.

I’m impressed by the usefulness of Chase’s educational materials and resources. They seem to really want you to know what you’re getting into with card processing, and I seriously commend their efforts here. Check out their Five Things to Consider When Choosing a Credit Card Processor for a great example of the kind of material I’m talking about.

The one semi-questionable ploy they have is a “free” terminal. Nothing is really free, so make sure to get a full disclosure of terms associated with this offer. If you read some of the fine print, you’ll see:

Receipt of free terminal is contingent upon the execution of a Merchant Application and Agreement with Chase Paymentech. Free terminal operates exclusively with Chase Paymentech's processing services. Early termination of the Merchant Agreement may require the repayment of all or a portion of the free terminal's value. This offer is not available to existing Chase Paymentech customers.

Chase also offers “free statement review.” This is a pretty common sales practice, and is actually something that you can get for free in this industry. It does, however, give Chase the opportunity to see exactly what you pay currently, which is information you may or may not want to disclose right out of the gate.

Lastly, I’d really like to have seen some advertising for an interchange-plus plan. Come on!

Customer Service and Technical Support:

When you deal with a company as large as Chase, you probably won’t get the same level of support you would from a small-time processor. It’s just a trade that you’re likely to make to get lower rates and a larger infrastructure.

I can say, however, that Chase provides a 24/7/365 help desk, although it’s not clear if this comes from in-house, US-based, or foreign outsourcing.

I can also say that Chase makes a claim that might put you at ease:

Most of us have experienced that friendly sales person who walked into our business and sold us on their product only to disappear immediately after the sale. Not at Chase Paymentech. Your dedicated representative is an employee of Chase Paymentech, fully trained on our customer service philosophy and our products.

So while you won’t be able to get your account rep on the phone 24/7, it’s nice to know that they strive to provide a solid point of contact for merchants after signing. I also really like Chase’s many instructional videos, guides and training materials. Sometimes these resources are actually the quickest, easiest way to solve a problem.

If you can substantiate or refute any of these claims, please leave a comment. Remember to check out our review policy first, and please consider authenticating your review. It's a HUGE help for me, and allows us to provide the most accurate ratings possible.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Chase Paymentech doesn’t have a squeaky-clean record, but they’re pretty close considering the number of merchants they serve. For instance, their parent company JP Morgan & Chase Co. has over 2,000 complaints through the BBB in the past three years. Chase Paymentech has only 81, with only 20 in the last 12 months. They have 20 fewer complaints overall than last time we updated this review, and they are on the downtrend. They have about a dozen complaints through Ripoff Reports (mostly about sub-ISOs) and scattered complaints with other review sites.

I spend a good chunk of my day looking at complaints for businesses of all sizes. I can tell you for a fact that Chase Paymentech is doing a great job of disclosing contract terms and arbitrating complaints in-house to the satisfaction of customers. That’s basically the only way to maintain such a low volume of complaints on external sites with such a high volume of customers overall. Sure, there are plenty of processors with zero BBB complaints - but they aren't handling over half a trillion dollars a year.

Of the complaints that do get out, these are the most common:

  • Expensive/undisclosed terminal lease contracts through Lease Finance Group (LFG) and Northern Leasing: It is well-known within the industry that terminal leases are a big money maker for sales reps. They usually come with a 4-year contract, and can cost you a ton of money. I've actually seen similar complaints against Lease Finance Group (LFG) and Northern Leasing when doing my review of Pivotal Payments, EVO Merchant Services and others. I personally think terminal leasing is unnecessary to begin with. If you're a small merchant, and you only need a few terminals, then why not just buy them? They don't cost much these days. Leases make sense for bigger organizations that need many terminals and don't have the upfront capital to invest in buying them. If you’re getting a “free” machine from Chase, make sure all stipulations are disclosed to you.
  • Early termination fee: These complaints should be petering out now that Chase has started to offer month-to-month agreements, but for now the web has a few of these complaints still coming in. While there’s nothing you can do to get out of this if it’s in your existing contract, try asking for a compromise or look for a new processor who will buy out your existing contract for you.
  • Bad post-approval customer service: Most of these larger organizations tend to have customer service issues. The smaller merchant processors have the ability to spend more time with you, but may not be able to offer the same kind of pricing that Paymentech might. I believe that, on average, you can receive an acceptable level of customer service through Chase. There are a number of major complaints floating around, but not a copious amount.
  • Billing issues/withholding funds: These complaints come up with some regularity in our comments sections as well as on other review sites. Usually funds are withheld because of an unusually large transaction or a string of unusual transactions, and it’s fairly common with most processors. The real problem is that Chase seems to, a) Not give warning about withholding funds or freezing accounts, and b) Not provide the necessary customer service to quickly resolve these issues. This is really disappointing and unsettling to me, because (unlike contract terms) you can’t negotiate these problems away, since they originate with the Risk Management department. Still, these problems are fairly few and far between when compared to other processors, so I think Chase is doing an average job here. To avoid this, be sure to have an accurate average ticket/high ticket listed in your application and to contact your processor when you ring up an unusually large transaction. Also make sure to discuss it with your sales rep if it's a concern.

On the issue of withholding funds, Paymentech provides the processing network for Square Register, the popular mobile processor with a bad reputation for withholding funds and freezing accounts. This may indicate that Chase has a conservative Risk Management department, so high-risk businesses or businesses that fluctuate a lot may want to look elsewhere for their processing.

A number of complaints also came up about a reseller for Chase Paymentech called Payment Systems Corp. located in California. They seem to provide poor customer service and charge very steep cancellation fees. If you want the most standardized service possible from Chase Paymentech, make sure you contact them directly.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

You’ll find two video testimonials on Chase Paymentech’s Customer Stories page. They say that more are coming soon, so if you visit that page and find more than two, please let me know. They’re really focused on the mobile processing app, so they may or may not be relevant to your business.

I'd really like to see a better effort put forth here by Chase. They are a huge company with hundreds of thousands of customers. They should be able to give me a little more to work with than two measly videos.

Final Verdict:

In the big processor category, I really like Chase Paymentech. I’ve never been crazy about banking with Chase, so my sentiments don’t come from any sort of brand loyalty. I’m impressed by their standard contract terms, their services and their reputation. If I could get a bit more validation for their customer support and independent sales practices along with a bit more fee disclosure, Chase Paymentech could venture into the perfect processor category.

A company this big is never going to be able to satisfy every merchant, but they seem to do pretty well with what they’ve got. When an issue does arise, Chase certainly has more leeway to come up with an amicable solution than a smaller processor might. They do seem on the conservative side when it comes to risk management, so high-risk businesses or businesses prone to big fluctuations may want to check out a different processor. I can recommend Durango if you’ve had problems with this.

For their commendable efforts in complaint mitigation and their new offerings for month-to-month contracts, I’m bumping Chase Paymentech up half a star to 4.5 stars. But until they can prove they’re offering solid customer service, they will never hit the perfect mark.

If you’re looking for the best customer service in the industry, check out Dharma Merchant Services or GotMerchant.com.

12Apr/140

Ethix Merchant Services

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4.5 out of 5)

four-and-one-half-stars

Last Updated: April 14th, 2014.

Logo:

Ethix-logo

About Our Ratings | Leave Your Review | Need Help Choosing?

Overview:

Don't you wish your processing fees could be donated to a local charity instead of lining the pockets of some bigwig Lex Luthoresque CEO with his expensive shoes propped up on his expensive-er desk, smoking a cigar rolled in $100 bills? Okay, okay - the money cigar is over the top. But still, you get my drift. If you have to pay to be paid, wouldn't it be great to pay someone you actually like, someone who is more... ethical than your average fat-cat-banker/supervillain?

(This is where Captain Ethix ™ busts through the wall, trumpets heralding...)

Well, the dream is finally a reality! (Mostly.) When I heard that Ethix Merchant Services donates 25% of the gross revenue from your account to the non-profit/school/charitable organization of your choice (not just from a list - really any one you want, local or otherwise), I knew I had to review them pronto! This kind of thing just makes my day. And it gets better...

So what if I run a non-profit, you might ask, assuming you run a non-profit. Can I donate 25% to myself? Well, YES. If you are a non-profit processing through Ethix, you get a 25% back on Ethix fees. I'm still smiling about this.

At Ethix (formerly named Fees to Funds), you get an affordable merchant account with my four favorite attributes:

  • Low interchange-plus markup
  • No early termination fee
  • No monthly minimums
  • No BS

Good deal. And in terms of responsiveness, I put in a sales query late Friday night and got a thoughtful and thorough response by noontime Saturday from the company CEO. I put in a lot of sales queries, so I can tell you that hearing back over the weekend following a very general email doesn't happen with every company. I have every reason to believe that Ethix makes good on their promise of superior customer service (although I'll look forward to hearing from our readers to confirm this).

In the spirit of generosity, I've decided to award Ethix Merchant Services 4.5 stars for this initial review. I want to note, though, that this is partially due to hopefulness and gut feeling, because I was not able to obtain reports from any merchant who have used Ethix long-term. But based on everything I've seen so far this is a company poised for success, and I am truly delighted to recommend that you give them a chance. Your community, your conscience and your wallet will all thank you. (Unless your wallet is trying to lose weight...)

See the full review below for more information, and please comment with your thoughts!

Date Established:

  • Fees to Funds launched in 2009.
  • Ethix launched in 2012.

Location:

  • Oakland, California.

Domain Name(s):

  • www.ethix.com.

Products and Services:

  • Donations: 25% of the gross revenue from your account will be given to the non-profit, charitable organization, school or philanthropically-oriented project of your choosing on a monthly basis, with completely transparent and fully-disclosed accounting of these donations provided to both the merchant and the non-profit. This is kind of the crown jewel at Ethix, and it's enough to turn my head! And don't forget that non-profits can take that 25% directly off their processing fees if they use Ethix.
  • Merchant accounts: Ethix is a partner of CardConnect, processing with First Data and Chase Paymentech. Remember that Ethix will act as an intermediary here, so you won't have to worry about most of the complaints that come in directly through their processors' profiles. (Although I really love Chase Paymentech to begin with.)
  • Gateway/virtual terminal: Ethix can set you up with an Authorize.net gateway or otherwise integrate with most gateways on the market.

Fees and Rates:

The Ethix rate quote is super simple. While they don't disclose any scheduled or incidental fees on the EMS website, the follow represents the information I have heard. Depending on your sales rep, the monthly fee may vary. Aside from that everything should be pretty standardized.

Standard Interchange-Plus Plan

  • 0.25% + $0.10 over interchange/assessment
  • $8 monthly fee
  • $3.50 monthly Regulatory Product fee (takes place of IRS reporting fee)
  • $99 annual PCI Compliance fee
  • 25% of your Ethix fees are donated to the non-profit of your choice

So overall you're looking at about $19.75 per month in scheduled fees (calculating PCI pro rata). This is a good deal.

Non-Profit Interchange-Plus Plan

  • Same as the interchange-plus plan described above, except...
  • 25% off Ethix fees!

Of course they can't discount the actual interchange cost or network fees - but if they could I have a feeling they would. The 25% comes off of gross profit from your account.

Other Fees

Chargebacks are $25, which is the industry standard. Authorize.net gateways go for about $18 per month through Ethix, but you can use a different gateway if you'd like.

 Fees You Will Not Pay:

  • No Set Up Fee
  • No Annual Fee
  • No Monthly Minimum Fee
  • No Termination Fee
  • No Batch Fees

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

No early termination fees with Ethix! They also advertise the fact that they will pay your existing early termination fee if you choose to switch to Ethix. I can't ask for more than this.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

A lot of important fee information is left out of the corporate online advertising, probably to allow their independent agents leeway to fiddle with the numbers. I don't love this because it reduces transparency and can lead to overly-expensive contracts pushed by sales reps working on commission. The keyword here is that it can do this, but in this case I have heard no reports of expensive contracts or unreputable sales agents from Ethix. It seems to me - at this point, anyway - that Ethix is quite ethical in this regard. Still - a couple more fee disclosures wouldn't kill them. Right?

Customer Service and Technical Support:

Ethix states that they have "Superior Customer Service," but makes no claims beyond that. They don't have much in the way of self-service support resources (knowledgebase, etc.). I have an okay feeling about Ethix in this category anyway. They've got a pretty good social media presence (Twitter, Facebook), and seem responsive overall.

Have you worked with Ethix Merchant Services? What did you think of their customer service and tech support? Let me know in a comment. Our readers help to keep these reviews as accurate as possible!

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

None to be found at the moment. Ethix Merchant Services is not currently registered at the BBB and does not have active profiles on other popular review sites. For now I don't have much public opinion to go on. So let me give you my spiel again:

Have you worked with Ethix Merchant Services? How are they doing? Let me know in a comment. Our readers help to keep these reviews as accurate as possible!

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

You can find a few kind words from merchants on the Ethix Facebook page, but not much aside from that. I'd love to see a detailed testimonials page or even some basic case studies. Just a little something to demonstrate that they maintain merchant relationships and have long-term clients.

And one more time, at the risk of sounding like a skipping Pandora station:

Have you worked with Ethix Merchant Services? How are they doing? Let me know in a comment. Our readers help to keep these reviews as accurate as possible!

Final Verdict:

In theory, Ethix Merchant Services sounds absolutely fantastic. They seem to offer everything I look for in a merchant services provider, and I love the way they do business. All Ethix plans feature low interchange-plus markups, no early termination fees and no monthly minimums. They can provide you with everything you need to process cards, but won't try to sell you on a bunch of junk that you don't need. And lets not forget that they will give 25% of the profit generated from your account directly the the non-profit or charitable organization of your choice! And if you are a non-profit, go ahead and take 25% off your fees. I mean, come on. This is just awesomely awesome.

If I had to come up with some concerns, top of the list would be a lack of reputation on the web. But this is to be expected with such a new and small company. As time passes, they'll develop a more complete track record. Next, I'm always just a little concerned when independent sales reps play a big role in a merchant services business model. These sales agents can be poorly regulated and, more often than not, desperate. That said, based on the little information I've read about about the Ethix sales rep hiring and training process, I'm willing to give this company the benefit of the doubt. And if you don't want to deal with an independent rep, feel free to reach out to the corporate office directly.

Earning 4.5 stars for their initial review, Ethix is among my favorite providers of the year so far. Definitely give them a shot and let me know how they do!

11Apr/140

Transparent Merchant Services Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4 out of 5)

four-stars

Last Updated: April 11th, 2014.

Logo:

transparent-logo

About Our Ratings | Leave Your Review | Need Help Choosing?

Overview:

"Transparency is the Best Policy" is a motto I might have framed in my office if I was the motto-framing type. For many merchant services providers, decreased transparency allows for increased profit. So for obvious reasons not all sales agents are likely to live by this Golden Rule. Now, enter Transparent Merchant Services - a new provider (launched in 2013 out of Arizona) with a fairly new pricing model. Instead of paying an interchange-plus type of markup, you simply pay a monthly membership fee that covers all costs except for actual interchange and PCI compliance, along with a per-transaction fee of $0.09-0.19. If you read my recent review of Payment Depot, this will sound familiar since that company uses a very similar fee structure.

In terms of how Transparent does business, I'm generally impressed. With no early termination fees or other junk fees, and with complete disclosure of most other fees, they blow the industry standard out of the water. The highly predictable pricing schedule certainly has an appeal, and has more transparency than your average tiered plan. That said, I still prefer cost-plus markups personally, although merchants with high dollar-volume might find significant savings as Transparent. In terms of predictability and simplicity, Transparent is among the best, giving the similar provider Payment Depot a run for their money in some cases.

I have a few gripes. First, while you may be able to call this pricing structure "transparent," that doesn't make it a good value necessarily. And, in all honesty, it's not any more transparent than a good interchange-plus plan. Next, upon a preliminary review, I do not care for their parent company Vantage Payments. They seem mostly focused on attracting resellers and I'm immediately put off by their use of stock images for "testimonial" head shots. Overall, the Vantage marketing doesn't have a trustworthy feel to it. But so far they have a clean slate in terms of online reputation.

In the end, Transparent Merchant Services earns a commendable 4-star rating from me today. If they can maintain a good reputation and develop a proven track record in the coming year, that rating will absolutely increase. I will sincerely be hoping for the best. Check them out!

See the full review below for the finer details.

Date Established:

  • Vantage launched in 2009.
  • Transparent launched in 2013.

Location:

  • Scottsdale, Arizona.

Domain Name(s):

  • www.trytransparent.com
  • www.vantagepayments.com

Products and Services:

  • Merchant accounts
  • Virtual terminal: This comes with all account packages, allowing you to accept payment from any internet-connected computer. 
  • Payment gateway: A proprietary gateway is included with the cost of all Transparent Merchant plans. If you'd like to use an outside gateway, that's fine too.
  • Credit card machines: They offer the Ingencio iCT250 for purchase at $249.00, or for rental starting at $9.95 per month.
  • Mobile processing: While there is no plan offered specifically for mobile processing, they offer a nice mobile card reader with an SDK for Apple, Android and Blackberry.
  • Next-day funding: This is standard for all accounts. I don't know how well they follow through on this, but it's impressive to see.

Fees and Rates:

While I have some reservations about this kind of bundled pricing because of the inherent decrease in cost transparency (ironically), it can in some cases lead to savings over a more traditional interchange-plus plan. And it is definitely better than a standard tiered plan. I'll walk you though the pricing and offer a few points of comparison in this section.

Pro

  • $49.97 monthly fee
  • 0.00% + $0.19 per transaction
  • $99 annual PCI compliance fee
  • Limited to 500 transactions monthly
  • Gateway is included

Comparison: Lets say your business processes $5,000 monthly with a $100 average transaction. It would cost you:

  • 500 * 0.19 = 95
  • 95 + 58 = $153 (plus interchange) at Transparent

At Payment Depot, you will pay $40 monthly fee and 0% + $0.15 over interchange for unlimited transactions through a payment gateway, adding up to:

  • 500 * 0.15 = 75
  • 75 +40 = $115 (plus interchange) at Payment Depot

That's a noteworthy savings if you choose Payment Depot, plus you don't have to worry about the 500 transaction limit. The same service at Helcim (a fantastic interchange-plus provider) would cost $212, so Transparent comes out ahead in that scenario.

Elite

  • $99.97 monthly fee
  • 0.00% + $0.09 per transaction
  • $99 annual PCI compliance fee
  • Unlimited monthly transactions
  • Gateway is included

Comparison: Lets say your business processes $100,000 monthly with a $100 average transaction. Let's take a look at how Transparent stacks up:

  • .09 * 1000 = 90
  • 108 + 90 = $198 (plus interchange/assessment) at Transparent

At Payment Depot, with the mid-grade plan, you'd pay:

  • 1000 * 0.15 = 150
  • 150 + 40 = $190 (plus interchange/assessment) at Payment Depot

In this case the comparison is close, with Payment Depot winning my a hair. At Helcim, a similar plan would cost about $390, so you can see the substantial savings this pricing model can have over interchange-plus in this case.

Enterprise

If you process over $100,000.00 monthly or $1.2 million annually, you will have a different pricing plan. The details of this plan are not disclosed.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

There are absolutely no early termination fees or cancellation fees charged by Transparent Merchant Services! As always, I still encourage you to carefully review your contract before signing. But Transparent is one of the more trustworthy providers I've encountered in this regard, since they don't seem to rely on outside agents. They have very consistent contract terms overall.

Be aware that you'll need to formally cancel your account to stop monthly fees being deducted from your bank. Also, the annual PCI compliance fee is not prorated or refundable. So if you cancel the month after that $99 charge goes through, there's not much you can do.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

Well, this is the section you were undoubtedly waiting for. With such a company name, they're just asking for us to say: Is Transparent really transparent? The answer? Mostly yes.

Their advertising is honest and straightforward. Although they don't go above and beyond to discuss different kinds of fees (FANF fee, IRS reporting, PCI compliance), examples of interchange charges, etc. So while I don't think that Transparent is not at all dishonest, I'd like to see a little more. Until I can hear from some merchants who have competed the boarding process with this company, I can't say for sure how honest Transparent is.

Transparent Merchant Services offers a different kind of transparency. They acknowledge that a big transaction costs about the same to process as a small one (except risk-wise, of course). So instead of charging a percentage markup - thus collecting greater fees on larger transactions - Transparent treats all transaction exactly the same with a flat fee of $0.09-0.19 each. This is a very fair pricing model, and benefits those with high-dollar tickets the most. For low-volume and low-ticket merchants, the value is may not be there.

Customer Service and Technical Support:

You can find a very limited, sales-oriented FAQ that offers little useful information. Their Resource Center blog features relevant topics that some may find useful and interesting. It's not great, but doesn't hurt their cause.

I tried using the chat function to ask some general sales-related questions, but no one responded to me. I came back a number of times during business hours, but live chat was not available. Kind of disappointing. Phone support is available during business hours (Arizona time) Monday through Friday.

It's too soon to say one way or another how well Transparent is doing in this category. Let me know if you have any insights! I'd sincerely appreciate it.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Transparent Merchant Services does not have a unique BBB profile, but the profile of its parent company Vantage has an A rating with zero complaints since the profile was opened in June of 2013. That's not quite long enough to give me a whole lot of confidence, but it's a good start. Beyond the BBB profile, I couldn't find much - positive or negative - about Transparent anywhere on the web.

If you have any thoughts about how Transparent Merchant Services is performing, please let us know about your experience!

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

The Transparent site features a few short testimonials - nothing all that impressive, but nice to see in general. Aside from that, you won't find much insight on the web.

I think that they are okay, but what would mean more to me is your opinion! If you have any insights about Payment Depot, please leave a comment with your thoughts. Our readers help us to keep these reviews as accurate and thorough as possible.

Final Verdict:

Overall, end of the day, I like Transparent. The flat membership fee/transaction fee setup is growing on me. This company uses better contract terms than probably 95% of the industry, with no early termination fees, no junk fees, and no unregulated resellers pushing expensive agreements. Although they still need more time to build up a reputation, I have no problem recommending you give Transparent a shot. If you do, please come back and tell me how it went. (The good lab rat gets the cheese!)

A few factors come up against Transparent. First, I don't understand their parent company. Vantage Payments has a website that, to me, screams "Untrustworthy!" The BBB begs to differ, however, and - lacking any evidence to the contrary - I'm prone to believe them. My other issue is a matter of comparison. It just seems to me that Payment Depot offers similar fees and contract terms with overall better value. So I'd recommend you do your own comparisons before making any decisions. Transparent does have next-day funding, which could be a major selling point for you!

Thanks for reading! Please leave your thoughts in a comment.