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Getting Started as an e-Commerce Merchant: How to Set Up an Online Merchant Account

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ecommerce-payment-processingSo, you’re ready to expand into the eCommerce realm, but you don’t know where to start. You’ve heard all the hype about internet retail sales figures, and you want in. Now what?

Well, one of the most obvious questions that comes up when one thinks about moving their business online is, “How am I going to accept payments?” If you can’t answer that question, then you might as well quit now. 🙁

In this article, I’ll lay out the basic process for getting set up with an eCommerce merchant account (online merchant account), so you can soon answer that question with confidence.

Note: I tend to use “eCommerce,” “online” and “internet” interchangeably throughout the article. I hope that doesn’t confuse you.

Do You Have an eCommerce Shopping Cart?

ecommerce software logosBefore we get started, let’s get one more thing out of the way. If you don’t already have it, then you’re going to need some eCommerce shopping cart software. That way you can display your products to the world…wide web.

There are tons of carts out there ranging from robust to bare bones…both free and paid. It all depends on what your needs are.

I’ve personally used Magento Commerce, and love it. It’s a very powerful platform, and pretty intuitive to use. Best of all, the entry level version is free. The only caveat of Magento is that it might not be the best solution for the absolute newbie.

If you aren’t comfortable enough to go with something as advanced as Magento, then Shopify might be the cart for you. It isn’t free, but the plus side to going with Shopify is that you get full tech support with your money. Very important for all you beginners.

As a side note, Magento just recently started their own “Shopify like” program called Magento Go. You should compare the two to see which one you like better.

Choosing the Right Online Payment Gateway

payment-gatewayNow that you have your shopping cart, you’re going to need an online payment gateway. Some people confuse the payment gateway with the merchant account, but they’re actually two different things.

The best way to understand the eCommerce payment gateway is to think of it as the “wiring” between your shopping cart and the merchant account or credit card processor. It’s where all the important credit card information is transferred during a transaction. It’s where the magic happens. 🙂

Much like shopping cart software, there are dozens of companies that offer payment gateways. You’ve probably already heard of the most popular one called Authorize.Net. They’re the 800lb gorilla of the industry, but more expensive because of it.

There are a quite a few merchant account providers with great gateways that don’t charge for them, like CDGcommerce and Payleap, so if you’re trying to save on monthly fees, then give them a shot.

One very important thing to remember is that you want to make sure your payment gateway is compatible with your shopping cart. Usually, it’s best to choose both the cart and the gateway at the same time so as to avoid any incompatibility issues. The good thing about popular carts like Magento and Shopify is that they can integrate with a wide range of gateways.

Additionally, gateway providers like CDGcommerce (Quantum Gateway) offer an Authorize.Net “emulation” mode which basically mimics Authorize.Net, thus making it compatible with any shopping cart that can integrate with AuthNet.

Choosing the Right Online Merchant Account Provider

This is an easy one. Look through my top rated providers and find the company that offers the best eCommerce merchant services. As I mentioned above, CDGcommerce and Payleap are great, as are GoEmerchant and Beanstream.

As always, make sure you ask for interchange-plus pricing. Try to go with a provider that won’t lock you into a contract with a cancellation fee, doesn’t charge an annual or setup fee, and offers great customer support (you’re gonna need it).

If you need more help figuring out how to get an online merchant account, let me know.

Amad Ebrahimi
Amad has worked in the eCommerce and online marketing world since 2002. He started as an eBay seller, then slowly graduated to building & marketing his own websites and consulting others to do the same. He founded Merchant Maverick out of frustration with all the misinformation and shady tactics that he encountered when trying to find a merchant account for his and his client's businesses. He's the man behind most of the merchant account reviews, and articles posted on Have any questions related to credit card processing? Talk to him.
Amad Ebrahimi
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    I am looking to sell my products online now, but I am not sure where to start. What will be the best way for me to achieve my online store? What is the best eCommerce app between Shopify, 3dcart, Volusion, or Best Ecommerce.
    Thanks for you help in advance

      Jessica Dinsmore

      Hi Annice, I’d suggest taking a look at our eCommerce comparison chart or check out our top rated reviews. Best!

        mamon boykin

        I have a store and shopping cart. I need an ecommerce account.

          Chloe Bahal

          Hi Mamon,

          This is going to take some research to find you the best solution. Please email me with the following information:
          1. What kind of products will you be selling?
          2. Who are your merchant processor and shopping cart?
          3. What is your average monthly revenue?


            Good post, thanks.
            One thing that would be good to add, shipping is another thing you have to add onto you shopping cart and can be fairly painful to figure out.
            I use sitesell for my website building software and made the choice to use e-junkie as a newbie, which integrates with paypal. Paypal being a gateway, also auto integrates with shipping.
            E-junkie wasn’t sophisticated enough over time so I decided to map a volusion cart to my website. I took another steep learning curve as I then had to figure out credit card processing, SSL certificate and shipping. What a pain. I’m still in the middle of it and should go fully volusion in a couple of weeks. Thought it was going to be so easy compared to e-junkie. I was wrong.
            I guess part of the reason this isn’t for everyone.

              Paul Atteberry

              Hello my name is Paul I wish I found this site before I started my web site. I went with 3dcart and it was a hard road to get where I am today. I consider myself a newbie at all this and a relative referred me to 3dcart it took a lot of time to set up and was expensive. The tech support is poor and I continue to have many problems with the site. My question here is, is it possible to quit 3dcart and go with some other cart service like Shopify that have better support service ?

                Click Samuel Fortune

                Good article very informative especially for beginners.
                like me I intend to start my eCommerce business soon in less than a month but I am worried about payment Gateway and Merchant Account. My eCommerce business do not have funding am doing everything myself so I will be happy if you can help me with a gateway and merchant account with no hidden charges. I will be grateful if you can help me.

                  Amad Ebrahimi


                  We have a great tool that can help you find the right merchant account. I think you should give it a try. 🙂

                  Take care,


                    thanks for writing a great article. very informative. I have a question, i am looking for a reliable merchant account service. One that’s not too expensive and with no hidden monthly fees after i sign up.

                    Doo you have a recommendation for me?


                      Tom DeSimone

                      Hi Paul,

                      Take a look at CDGcommerce. Very low cost, especially if you use their free gateway. Great for e-commerce.

                      Good luck,



                        I am planning to start e-commerce site. Please suggest good shopping cart software service provider and payment gateway. I don’t have much funding so please suggest which one i can choose to start.



                          Thank you for the great article.

                          I was thinking about using Shopify. However, I’m a little confused about the payment processing. Would I be charged transaction fees by Shopify as well as a 3rd party?



                            Mike Mcbull

                            I have started online wine store called, but I am not open for sale for public since, I am still looking for a good payment gateway with merchant account, I have few names to begin with because I am a start up I don’t have a huge funding to support.

                            I need these services to hoop up with my site, please recommend if you have some on mind.


                              Amad Ebrahimi


                              I’ll send you an email to discuss. Thanks!

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