Everything You Need To Know About Accepting eCommerce Payments For Your Online Store
Whether you still need to create a full eCommerce site, you already have one, or you want a flexible way to start taking online payments without a site, you have plenty of options.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the basics of taking online payments and show you some of the best platforms so that you can make an informed, confident decision about what’s best for you.
Learn More About Our Top Picks
|Company||Best For||Next StepsBest For|
|Square ||Square is best suited for low-volume merchants planning only to only sell in the US.|| |
Square is best suited for low-volume merchants planning only to only sell in the US.
|PayPal ||PayPal is best used as a supplemental eCommerce payment option for businesses that want to leverage the brand recognition of the PayPal name to reduce abandoned carts.|| |
PayPal is best used as a supplemental eCommerce payment option for businesses that want to leverage the brand recognition of the PayPal name to reduce abandoned carts.
|Stripe Payments ||Stripe is best for US and offshore eCommerce shops that need the developer tools and have the expertise to create exactly what they want in terms of branding and payment flow.|| |
Stripe is best for US and offshore eCommerce shops that need the developer tools and have the expertise to create exactly what they want in terms of branding and payment flow.
|Helcim ||Helcim is best for small businesses that process over $5K/mo and are looking for increased account stability and lower processing costs.|| |
Helcim is best for small businesses that process over $5K/mo and are looking for increased account stability and lower processing costs.
|CDGcommerce ||CDGcommerce is best for small and medium-sized businesses that want the security of a traditional merchant account.|| |
CDGcommerce is best for small and medium-sized businesses that want the security of a traditional merchant account.
|Show More Options|
|PaymentCloud ||PaymentCloud is best for high-risk businesses and has no setup fees or monthly minimums.|| |
PaymentCloud is best for high-risk businesses and has no setup fees or monthly minimums.
|Show Fewer Options|
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
Table of Contents
- 5 Things You Need To Know About eCommerce Payments
- 6 Best eCommerce Payment Providers
- How To Start Accepting eCommerce Payments For Your Online Store
- In Summary: 6 Best eCommerce Payment Providers
5 Things You Need To Know About eCommerce Payments
Before you dive into our six top picks in this post, here are a few things to know if you’re completely new to the online payments space.
1. There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Solution
Finding the right payment processor to start accepting eCommerce payments depends on a few different factors that are unique to you and your business. Take the website for your online shop, for example.
Do you currently have a site you like? Or are you starting from scratch? Some options on our list act as payment gateways, but Square and Helcim, for example, are like an “out-of-the-box” solution for those who need them with site templates and payment buttons.
If you’re a relatively technical person, you can integrate solutions into your site with software APIs or plugins. If you’re not, you’ll probably want to consider a service that provides that functionality upfront.
Of course, you’ll also need to take stock of your budget and figure out how much you’re willing and able to spend on payment processing and any additional software services.
2. You Need A Payment Processor & A Payment Gateway
A common point of confusion for people is that there are actually two components to taking credit card payments for eCommerce. You need both a payment processor and a gateway. Your payment gateway and payment processing services may be offered together as a package (PayPal, Square, and Stripe, for example) or separately. If you do end up going with a payment processor that doesn’t include gateway access, you’ll need to get it from a separate service like Authorize.net.
- A payment processor provides an account that allows your business to accept credit cards and receive credit card payments. Because it takes some of the liability, processors deduct their own fees and processing charges associated with the transaction. After the payment gateway successfully processes a transaction, your payment processor receives the information.
- A payment gateway stands in for what would be your point of sale (POS) interface in a brick-and-mortar transaction. It allows you to securely process payments online by relaying the transaction information from your site to the processor, which then requests the payment from the customer’s bank before releasing funds to you. A payment gateway is also responsible for most of the security features associated with online payments as well as offering services like eCommerce recurring payments and a credit card vault.
Types Of Payment Processors
Because nothing is ever simple in the world of payment processing, you won’t just need to think about getting a payment processor, but what type of payment processor you need.
Depending on your volume, you may or may not be able to open up a traditional merchant account. Think of your merchant account as a holding area where all the busy work of receiving a credit card payment happens. Unlike, say, a business checking account, you don’t have direct access to your merchant account or the ability to directly make deposits and withdrawals to it. Instead, it automatically transfers payments to your business bank account — typically a day or two after receiving the transaction.
Merchant accounts are generally stable and you’re less likely to encounter holds, freezes, or terminations — unless you have a sudden spike in chargebacks. Because of the underwriting process, merchant accounts are somewhat slow to establish, however. You’re probably looking at three days or so to get it up and running, though if you are negotiating or your business is particularly complex, it could take longer.
The biggest drawback is that they often have minimum credit card transaction thresholds you have to meet; $5,000/month is typical but some expect you to handle at least $10,000/month in credit card sales. Pricing models with merchant accounts vary, and not all of them are great. We recommend interchange-plus pricing because it’s the most transparent and easiest to compare.
So what do you do if your new business isn’t doing that kind of sales volume?
You can turn to a third-party processor (aka payment services provider). Instead of having your own, unique merchant account, a third-party processor puts you in a pooled account with other merchants.
Signing up for a third-party processor is typically faster and easier than for a merchant account (you can start accepting payments the same day), but puts you at somewhat of a greater risk of account holds and terminations. Still, they provide an entry point for new businesses, or established ones, that want more predictable pricing. Most third-party processors use a flat-rate pricing model where you’ll pay the same fee regardless of the card type; for eCommerce, that rate is commonly 2.9% + $0.30.
3. You Can Accept Multiple Payment Methods
While credit and debit cards will probably make up the bulk of your eCommerce transactions, they aren’t the only way to make payments online.
It seems like every few years a new tech company rolls out its own digital wallet. We’re talking about services like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App that allow you to link one or more payment sources to a single app account. In-person, mobile wallets (a type of digital wallet that lives on your phone) allow you to make near field communication (NFC) purchases at terminals that allow tap-to-pay. In most cases, mobile wallets directly debit a linked credit or debit card while other digital wallets tend to store a balance, which can be used for online payment methods or be deposited into a bank account.
The other type of payment you may want to think about isn’t cutting edge. In fact, it’s been around since the 70s: the automated clearing house (ACH). ACH transactions cut out the credit card company middleman and instead establish direct transfers between bank accounts.
ACH payments can be one-time transactions, but if you’re using them in a retail context, you’re probably more interested in using them for recurring payments.
4. Global Payments Are Going To Cost More
While it’s true that you can theoretically sell anywhere in the world, it introduces some additional complexities. For starters, there’s the matter of different currencies.
Someone’s got to turn those euros into dollars! Some service providers, like Stripe, will handle currency conversions for you. Keep in mind that this service will usually cost you a little more as currency exchanges hands.
5. You Have To Be PCI Compliant
If you’re doing eCommerce, you’re going to be handling people’s money, and that means security concerns. And yes, yet another acronym.
The Payment Card Industry (PCI) has established a set of guidelines called the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) designed to minimize the risk of data being compromised by bad actors.
PCI can get a bit complicated, but what this means in practical terms for you is that you want to make sure your payment processor is PCI compliant and that you’re following the guidelines laid out by your PCI-compliant payment processor. In all of the options in our best-of list, PCI is either bundled with the cost of processing or added as a monthly fee so you’ll be all set to take a secure payment.
6 Best eCommerce Payment Providers
When you’re ready to accept eCommerce payments to sell your goods or services online, consider what you need. For instance, Square and Helcim provide more inherent features like a full site and many other tools, whereas a standalone payment gateway simply connects to your own site.
Get a free card swiper from Square at no cost when you create a free account. Claim your card reader.
Square is best suited for low-volume merchants planning to only sell in the US. Square's robust suite of tools that come free with every account, making them a favorite for eCommerce selling.
Here are some of our favorite features for an eCommerce shop that set Square apart from the rest:
- Built-in payment security (PCI compliant) for no extra charge
- Reporting features
- Free virtual terminal
- Free email marketing tools and management
- Subscription payments
- Free online store (other paid options available)
- Robust add-on features and integrations
The features in Square Online for eCommerce selling are growing by the day. With Square's newish Square Online Checkout feature, you can start selling online via payment buttons, links, and more without having a full eCommerce site. However, if you already have a site, you can either opt for their developer tools or use their checkout flow to finish the sale on Square's hosted payment page. The point is — you have options! Check out Square Online Payments Guide: How To Use Square's Online Store, Checkout & Other Tools.
For more on how much Square costs and a lot more, check out our full Square Review.
- Predictable flat-rate pricing
- Robust set of free tools
- No monthly fees
- Ease of use
- No international sales
- Spotty customer service
As of August 2, 2021, PayPal has changed its pricing for online payment processing, affecting new and existing merchants. The new rates are complicated and not easy to summarize, so we recommend reading our article on PayPal's pricing to understand how the new prices will affect your business.
PayPal is best used as a supplemental eCommerce payment option for businesses that want to leverage the brand recognition of the PayPal name to reduce abandoned carts and improve customer trust. And this isn't just lip service. Research from Nielson showed that PayPal customers, on average, complete their transactions 88.7% of the time and that PayPal Checkout conversion is 60% better (on average) than all payment types combined.
That's pretty powerful stuff. While PayPal doesn't have a robust set of built-in tools like sleek web templates and add-on marketing features, it's easy for merchants to set up a PayPal account and add ready-made code to your website yourself. You'll often find that PayPal integrates with other platforms (e.g., Shopify) so you can still get the benefits and find other features you need if you look.
Check out our full PayPal Review for more on pricing, features, and a closer look at what to expect.
- Enables international selling
- Easy to set up
- Predictable pricing
- Developer tools included
- Inconsistent customer support
- Not suitable for high-risk industries
- Limited features
Stripe is best for US and offshore eCommerce shops that want the developer tools and have the expertise to create exactly what they want in terms of branding and payment flow. Stripe offers multi-currency display and currency conversion, making it a nice option for merchants who currently, or who will eventually, sell on an international scale.
While this platform is impressive, it could be overwhelming for those who don't have the confidence to work with Stripe's API and extensive developer tools. That being said, you'll also find plenty of plug-and-play options with Stripe that probably won't require a developer. If you do have the expertise (or are willing to pay for it), however, you'll be in the company of big names such as Pinterest, Lyft, Shopify, and Under Armour — all companies that also have Stripe as their backend payment processor.
Stripe is widely trusted and has a massive footprint in the retail and eCommerce payment space. It isn't necessarily a household name, however, because the company provides white-label products and doesn't feature its own branding on payment buttons but instead leaves the branding to you.
To learn about the features Stripe offers, as well as pricing and more, check out our full Stripe Review.
- Excellent developer tools
- Predictable flat-rate pricing
- Ideal for international sellers
- Excellent subscription tools
- Not suitable for high-risk industries
- Needs technical skill to implement many tools
Get Started With Stripe Payments
Helcim is best for small businesses that process over $5,000 per month and are looking for the increased account stability and lower processing costs that come with a traditional merchant account. You won't be locked into a long-term contract or have early termination fees with Helcim, unlike most traditional merchant account providers.
Here are a few of our favorite features:
- Fully hosted online shop
- Customizable templates
- Hosted payment pages
- Buy-now buttons
- Online food ordering
- Helcim API
Helcim charges no monthly account fee, no monthly minimum, and no PCI compliance fee. This makes it an excellent low-cost alternative to companies like Square or Stripe, who mainly use a flat-rate pricing model for transaction processing.
Helcim's transparent interchange-plus pricing structure makes it a very good choice for growing businesses, as processing costs will decrease as your business grows. The company also accepts international payments, allowing you to easily expand your business and reach more customers. For more on Helcim pricing and features, check out our full Helcim Review.
- Stable merchant account
- Processing costs decrease with business growth
- Accepts international payments
- Excellent customer support
- Robust eCommerce selling features
- Not cost-effective for very low-volume accounts
- Not available to high-risk merchants
CDGcommerce is best for small and medium-sized businesses that want the security of a traditional merchant account. Plans come with a free payment gateway and offer transparent pricing with no long-term contract.
While CDGCommerce may not have all of the bells and whistles that Square or some of our other options do, it is a solid choice for eCommerce shops. Your choice of a free payment gateway includes Authorize.Net as well as their in-house gateway solution. Additionally, you won't have set up fees, monthly fees or per-transaction fees to use the gateways.
CDGCommerce also makes our best-of list because they have a good reputation for customer service. Additionally, you won't be faced with early termination fees should you need to close your account. Unfortunately, this isn't too common in the industry which makes this option stand out. To find out more about CDGCommerce's pricing structure, features, and more check out our full CDGCommerce review.
- Free payment gateway and virtual terminal
- No account set up or application fee
- Stable accounts
- Excellent customer service
- Only available to US merchants
- Limited features
Exclusive Promo: PaymentCloud will give you $200 if they can't beat your current rate. Get Your Quote
PaymentCloud is best for high-risk businesses and has no setup fees or monthly minimums. Authorize.Net is its payment gateway, but other third-party gateways may be used. This high-risk specialist has few public complaints, making it a trustworthy option.
Because eCommerce businesses have more probability of being in the high-risk category, we wanted to include PaymentCloud in our list. We like them because according to our research, they have a higher success rate than many of its competitors, and they have stable consumer ratings.
If your business is a lower-risk business, you'll probably be better of checking out some of the other options — or at least comparing the other options on our list with any rate PaymentCloud provides you to be sure. For more on PaymentCloud's products and features, visit our full PaymentCloud Review.
- Specializing in high-risk businesses
- Excellent customer support
- Few public complaints
- No account setup
- Pricing not disclosed
- Not ideal for low-risk merchants
How To Start Accepting eCommerce Payments For Your Online Store
Here are some final thoughts to keep in mind as you make the best choice for your business to start processing payments online and making those sales.
Choose The Right eCommerce Payment Option
When you think about how to accept eCommerce payments for your shop, the step that may feel like the most challenging is choosing the right payment processor. While every option on our list provides you with a payment gateway and offers multiple payment methods to customers, there is never a one-size-fits-all solution. We encourage you to narrow your options by taking a look at our full reviews of your top picks.
Of course, the other thing to keep in mind about a payment processor is what type of online payment methods you can accept. For instance, if you have a subscription service or product, you’ll want to make sure you have ACH or recurring payments enabled and check if these services cost more.
Set Up Your Account With Your Payment Provider
When you feel you’ve decided among the online payment processors on our list, be sure to read and understand your contract. This step can be easy to skip, but we see lots of preventable frustrations with merchants who are surprised later when issues arise.
Connect Your Payment Provider With Your Online Store
Some options on our list allow you to get up and running right away without a lot of expertise while others offer more freedom but you’ll need to be comfortable working with APIs and other developer tools. Several options on our list do give you options in both!
Start Accepting Payments
When you start accepting payments, you can keep yourself safe by reducing your chargeback risk. After you start accepting online payments, periodically reassess if the solution still gives you the tools you need to run your store efficiently. Don’t be afraid to try something new if it isn’t working for you!
In Summary: 6 Best eCommerce Payment Providers
- Square: Square is best suited for low-volume merchants planning only to only sell in the US.
- PayPal: PayPal is best used as a supplemental eCommerce payment option for businesses that want to leverage the brand recognition of the PayPal name to reduce abandoned carts.
- Stripe Payments: Stripe is best for US and offshore eCommerce shops that need the developer tools and have the expertise to create exactly what they want in terms of branding and payment flow.
- Helcim: Helcim is best for small businesses that process over $5K/mo and are looking for increased account stability and lower processing costs.
- CDGcommerce: CDGcommerce is best for small and medium-sized businesses that want the security of a traditional merchant account.
- PaymentCloud: PaymentCloud is best for high-risk businesses and has no setup fees or monthly minimums.