Getting Started as an e-Commerce Merchant: How to Set Up an Online Merchant Account
So, 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?
Before 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
Now 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.