What Is a Virtual Terminal?
A virtual terminal is basically the web version of a physical credit card terminal or Point-of-Sale (POS) machine. It is a software application that is hosted online, usually on the service provider’s servers, and can be accessed from any internet connected web browser.
A virtual terminal will allow you to input your customer’s credit card information directly into a web-based payment form, which you can then use to process an electronic transaction.
To get a visual idea of what a virtual terminal looks like, see the picture below:
As you can see, the virtual terminal web-form looks pretty much like any payment form that you’d find on an eCommerce website.
You just fill out the required information, and hit the “Submit” button.
Historically, Mail Order or Telephone Order (MOTO) merchants were ideal candidates for a virtual terminal, since they don’t have access to a physical credit card, but that has changed in recent years.
A few merchant account providers (like CDGcommerce) now offer a USB credit card reader that connects to your virtual terminal, so you can process card-present transactions right through your computer.
Here’s an example of what one of those card readers looks like:
So what you do is hook up this reader to your PC, which interacts with your virtual terminal. Then, when you want to process a payment where you have the actual physical credit card, you can just swipe it through the reader. Pretty cool!
The obvious advantage of using something like this is that you won’t have to buy/rent/lease a traditional credit card terminal if you’re only processing retail credit transactions without a signature. The downside of course, is that you can’t collect signatures or accept debit transactions. At least, not yet.
As I mentioned above, I like the CDGcommerce USB reader option, but there are more and more providers that offer this service, so ask around.