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Starting to Sell Online? Here's How to Choose the Best Payment Gateway

Everyone wants to know what the best payment gateway is, as these represent a key part of the ecommerce experience. We get it.

However, choosing the best payment gateway for your business is not as easy as picking a name from a list, as you will be looking for a solution that: 

  • Satisfies customers in a secure, user-friendly way
  • Makes sense from the business-side perspective 

This might sound like an understatement, but it isn't. 

As it turns out, there are many aspects to consider when choosing a payment gateway, including:

  • Fees and pricing
  • Physical and digital sales 
  • Geographical coverage (for crossborder sales and international payments)
  • Popularity and trust levels among customers
  • Customer support
  • Technical documentation
  • APIs and integrations

And once these are factored into the decision-making process, it is easier to understand why a list of payment gateway options won’t cut it.  

For example, the developer of an ecommerce site might be inclined to choose a payment gateway based on aspects like: 

  • The quality of technical documentation
  • The possibility to automate tasks via application programming interfaces (APIs)

These are valid reasons to choose a payment gateway...but what if your customers are used to seeing a different payment gateway when shopping online? 

In such a case, you would be facing a brand trust issue from the get-go. What’s worse, this problem would remain out of your control until you decide to change payment gateways on the run. 

payment-gateway-alternatives

This is one of the bottlenecks you can encounter when choosing the best payment gateway for your business, and the very reason why we wrote this article.

Below, we will show you what to look for in a payment gateway, with one single goal in mind: to help you find a solution that balances the needs of your business with the desires of your customers

So, before making a decision, make sure to run it by the tips below to see if it’s the best fit for your up-and-coming ecommerce store.

Ready? Let’s go! 

7 aspects to consider before choosing a payment gateway

Many merchants start and end their search for a payment gateway with one thing in mind: fees. 

While these are certainly a driver in the decision making process, it’s not the only factor to consider. 

In the following list, we will show you which aspects and features play a significant role in the choice of a payment gateway, particularly as an online store grows over time. 

1. Fees and pricing

Fees will impact your business from the moment you make your first sale, so it’s logical to stop at these before doing anything else. 

A quick overview of the main payment gateway options out there shows that most solutions operate on a similar pricing model, charging 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction

The list of payment gateway providers that will charge you this fee per transaction includes:

  • Stripe
  • Square
  • PayPal
  • Authorize.net
  • Braintree
  • Freshbooks Payments

2Checkout, on the other hand, charges higher fees than its competitors (starting at 3.5% + $0.35 per transaction). 

On top of these, some providers charge a one-time setup fee (such as Authorize.net and Payflow Pro by Paypal). The setup fee is often under $100, but hey - everything counts, right? 

Other payment gateways (notably, Forte), offer lower fees per transaction, but compensate by charging you the interchange rate of the credit/debit card in question, which can vary between 0.3 and 3%.

While this represents a slight change from other payment processors (which “fix” the interchange rate at 2.9%), it’s safe to expect somewhat similar fees for your transactions when using Forte.  

fee-comparison-payment-gateways-altCredit: Unsplash

Bear in mind, the fees mentioned in this section apply to the US territory only, and may vary for other countries. 

For example, Square offers lower transaction fees in the UK (2.5%), and in Australia (2.2%), than in the US.

Lastly, it’s also important to note that most payment gateway providers offer custom plans to cater businesses that:

  • Deal with large numbers of transactions (these are eligible for discounts)
  • Have special or unique pricing models 
  • Do a lot of price-anchored promotions (such as multi-product discounts)

If this is your case, make sure to dive a little deeper into the options and contact the providers, as there might be something special waiting for you.

2. Ability to process digital and physical sales

If you are planning to sell exclusively online, feel free to skip this section, as it is intended for those businesses that combine online sales with physical, in-real-life sales.

Now, if you will sell both online and offline, there’s a lot to learn about payment gateways. 

The first thing to know is that a lots of providers offer point-of-sale (POS) systems on top of their digital solutions, including:

  • Square
  • Stripe
  • PayPal
  • Forte

Others, like Authorize.net, offer virtual POS, a middle-of-the-road solution that will require you to get a credit/debit card reader that you can connect to the payment gateway to process physical sales (and yes, you will need to buy this piece of hardware separately).

square-point-of-sale-altCredit: Square

The second thing to keep in mind when choosing a POS are the capabilities of the hardware. Make sure you check if the POS features:

  • End-to-end encryption (for safety)
  • NFC (for contactless payments)
  • Hidden fees or extra operational costs

The two main reasons to pick a POS from a payment gateway provider are pretty straightforward:

  • Avoid redundancy (having two different payment processing systems in place)
  • Get access to payment and customer data
  • Avoid paying more for a third-party POS provider (banks, for example, are known for offering their own POS equipment)

In our opinion, data is the real deal-maker when choosing a POS, because it will allow you to develop other aspects of your business in the future.

We will elaborate on this subject later, as it is a big factor when it comes to choosing a payment gateway.

3. Geographical coverage for crossborder sales

If you are planning to sell abroad - perhaps not now, but somewhere in the future - then it’s better to kill two birds with one stone and choose a payment gateway that allows for crossborder sales from the get-go.

Needless to say, not every payment gateway is available in every country, and geographical coverage varies greatly; sometimes, along with fees and associated charges. 

selling-abroad-exampleCredit: Unsplash

But let’s not drift away from the main point here. There are three leading payment gateways in terms of geographical coverage:

  • 2Checkout (available in 234 countries)
  • PayPal (available in 203 countries)
  • Stripe (available in 42 countries)

Other solutions, including Square, Authorize.net, Braintree and Forte are available in a handful of countries, although the coverage is not as wide as the aforementioned options. 

If you are interested in learning more about this, please refer to the following article, where we compare Stripe and Square for international payments

Now, what if your favorite payment gateway doesn’t operate in the countries you are planning to sell? 

In this case, you have two options:

  • Switch to another payment gateway that covers your targeted country/region
  • Choose a local payment solution

For example, the most popular payment gateway in Latin America (MercadoPago) does not even operate outside the continent. 

And yet, it is what customers in Latin America are used to seeing when making online purchases and payments - but this is the next subject in our list, so let’s jump straight into it.

4. Popularity and trust levels among customers

Like anything else, payment gateways are subject to the mere exposure effect

This is a common psychological phenomenon by which people tend to prefer one item or service over another simply because they are familiar with it. 

And in case you are wondering, the mere exposure effect is present in ecommerce interactions as well. 

According to a 2020 survey by Baymard, a staggering 17% of consumers abandoned their carts during checkout because they didn’t trust online shops with their credit card information

In other words: your customers will be more inclined to purchase from you if they recognize your store’s payment gateway right away

spiderman-recognition-meme-alt

With this in mind, the advice is simple: if it’s feasible from a financial and operational standpoint, get a payment gateway that customers recognize.  

5. Customer support

This is one of those “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today” pieces of advice, as the quality of customer service offered by a payment gateway provider can save you from multiple headaches in the future. 

Online payments are not hassle-free, and it is safe to assume that at least some customers will encounter problems related to their payments. Common situations include:

  • Rejected cards
  • Delayed transactions
  • Frozen transactions
  • Suspicious activity
  • System failures

Let’s not forget that money-related issues make anyone anxious, and this is where top-class customer service makes a difference. 

payment-gateway-customer-service-altCredit: Unsplash

The first thing to do is check the kind of customer service you will be entitled to according to your subscription. Important aspects to look after include:

  • 24/7 support
  • Support channels: phone, online ticketing, live chat
  • Documentation and FAQs

Also, it’s always good to check if training is required. 

If so, make sure to see what the training looks like, how much it costs, and other relevant details.

Last, but not least: to get a better picture customer service quality, do not forget to check online reviews

First-hand experiences with customer support from payment gateways are extremely valuable, so make sure you spend some time reading these. 

Popular sources for customer reviews are:

In these sites, you will find extensive reviews covering virtually every payment gateway - don’t miss out!

6. Technical documentation

Good technical documentation will make things easier for everyone, and likely accelerate the solution of issues. 

To evaluate the quality of technical documentation, make sure you check it contains detailed information about the following topics: 

  • Setup 
  • Features
  • API integrations
  • Security considerations (PCI compliance, TLS, HTTPS)
  • Data storage, privacy, and management
  • Payment authorization
  • Gateway customization

stripe-documentation-homepage-altCredit: Stripe

As with customer service, we recommend to search online reviews that address technical documentation, and see what the specialists say about it. 

If you are not planning to implement the payment gateway yourself, you might be willing to run the available documentation by your dev team, and ask what they think about it. 

Also, it’s worth noting that most of the market-leading payment gateways offer thorough documentation in their dedicated sites. In this category, we can include:

  • PayPal
  • Stripe
  • 2Checkout
  • Square 

Nonetheless, we highly recommend going through the available documentation and reviews to see if what you will be needing is already there.

7. APIs and integrations

Last, but not least, come the application programming interfaces, or APIs. 

Payment gateway APIs are the door towards automating workflows that involve online payments - many of which can be extremely time-consuming. 

We are aware that this sounds a bit abstract, but API functionality can make a real difference when choosing a solution, and the bigger an ecommerce grows, the more it will benefit from a robust, feature-rich API. 

Examples of tasks you can automate using payment gateway APIs include:

  • Automatically store transaction data into a spreadsheet
  • Add customers to your email marketing lists
  • Get automatic notifications for transactions that meet certain criteria

stripe-googlesheets-integration

The advice here is to check whether the payment gateways feature a public API, and also to look at the API documentation to get a sense of what it is capable of. 

In the case you don’t want to dabble in code, it’s also useful to check if the payment gateway provider features the following:

  • Native integrations
  • Possibility to integrate with other apps via platforms like Integromat

For example, Stripe features an excellent native Typeform integration that allows you to include a payment step into your forms. 

Including this factor in the decision-making process can be tricky, and this is why we recommend the following:

  • Take a step back
  • Look at what your processes look like
  • See if there’s a possibility to automate the time-consuming tasks

It might be something simple - like sending your paid Shopify orders to a centralized spreadsheet - but trust us, automating such tasks can make a huge difference in how you manage daily operations.

Conclusion: What is the best payment gateway? 

We all have our favorites when it comes to anything, but in honor of the truth, there is no “best payment gateway”, less a perfect one; they all have their strengths and weaknesses. 

In other words: in order to learn which is the best payment gateway, you will need to see how the available options solve your particular business needs

best-payment-gateway-illustration

For example, the best payment gateway for a small ecommerce that uses Typeform forms to pick up orders is Stripe, as it features a great native integration for Typeform. 

But what if the main problem to solve isn’t a Typeform integration, but selling products across Spanish-speaking countries? 

Stripe isn’t even available in some of these, but PayPal and 2Checkout are. You get the point.

In summary, make sure you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where will you sell?
  • Will you sell exclusively online, or online and offline? 
  • Who will be buying?
  • What the fees are per transaction?
  • What processes involving payments can be automated?

After answering these, you will be able to see which is the best payment gateway for your business, and make the final decision. 

And we are confident that it will be an informed one. 

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