Friday, September 26, 2008

Payment Gateways

A payment gateway provides a way for a merchant to accept credit cards and in some cases eChecks or ACH transactions. The merchant can send transactions in a variety of ways, either from a website, terminal or even a batch. The transactions are encrypted using SSL (Secure Socket Layer). The gateway authorizes credit card payments by directing those transactions to the appropriate card association,Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover. The response is then directed back to the merchant securely. When done in real-time it say for a website can take anywhere from 2-3 seconds. eChecks work a little differently but are usually have the same response time.

Where can I get a Payment Gateway?
Payment gateways are usually offered by a merchant service provider. Normally they come standard with a merchant account, there may or may not be fees associate with using a payment gateway. Before you sign up for a merchant account be sure to ask if it includes a payment gateway among other things.

Sending Transactions

Most gateways allow multiple ways to send transactions.

  • Credit Card Terminals - Normally used in a POS environment.
  • Batch - Some merchants will close out at the end of the day and send them all at once.
  • API's - Used for e-commerce allows an instant response for a transaction.

Additional Features

Some payment gateways do more than just process transactions. Here are some additional features offered by some gateways.

  • Identity Verification - check on a customers address, drivers lic. etc.
  • AVS - Address Verification Systems check a customers address matches their credit card.
  • Check Verification - Can be used to verify if a checking account is closed, frozen, etc.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Shopping Carts for Ecommerce

What is a shopping cart?

Much like the shopping cart in your local grocery store the e-commerce shopping cart holds your items until your ready to pay for them. For example you can add a widget to your shopping cart and continue to browse the site add more items then pay for them all at once. When the Internet was just getting started e-commerce consisted of finding an item then being directed to a payment page and paying for it. This had many draw backs the main one being that you couldn't pay for more than one item, for goods to be shipped this was an even bigger problem since shipping costs couldn't be consolidated. The electronic shopping cart changed all that.

Database driven shopping carts

So lets go back again, the web was great at displaying a static web page. The page could include a picture showing the product with some helpful text telling what it did or why you needed it so badly. What about if you have 25 products, no problem you can put more than one product on a page. When you started getting into 50 or more products you might start pulling your hair out. When your supplier changes prices or UPS ups their price you wouldn't have any hair left. Here comes the database. The database allows storage of your products and more importantly allows the creation of dynamic pages. These dynamic pages are built using the data in the database.

Shopping carts support a number of different databases depending on the one you choose. For example OsCommerce supports mySQL. ASPDOTNET storefront supports MSSQL. The database only really matters when choosing a host. Since mySQL is an open source database the hosting is generally cheaper.

Shopping cart features

There are many many shopping cart features. The ones that are important to you depend on your business. Some of the more important ones would be.

  • Which payment processors or gateways are supported
  • What are the shipping options
  • How may products does it support
  • How easy is it to customize
  • Price
  • Does it offer search engine friendly URLs

Payment processors

Probably the most important question to ask is, does it support my payment gateway? The payment gateway service should be included with your merchant account. Every shopping cart should have a list of gateways supported. This just means that they have programmed the cart to work with the payment gateway out of the box. For example Zen Cart supports a number of payment processors. For example you, with a simple change of a setting send your payments to the gateway. That is all that is required to start taking orders on your site. The cart already knows where to send the transactions.

Keep it simple

Choosing a shopping cart doesn't have to be difficult. Do you homework upfront and you should be fine. Changing shopping carts is not something you want to do because you'll have to re-enter all your products. Don't enter all your items until your sure your going to stick with a shopping cart. Also remember free shopping carts are supported by developers, so getting technical support could be a challenge. We've had both free and paid versions of shopping carts and it seems free shopping carts offer greater flexibility when it comes to payment processors and other features.

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