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How to accept credit card payments online in 5 steps

Last updated on March 25, 2024

The benefits of accepting credit card payments online far outweigh the minimal work required to get your payment system up and running. It’s more convenient for your customers, it expands your potential reach to a global audience, it helps streamline your reporting and accounting processing and, most importantly, it keeps you in step with the current digital commerce landscape.

Any business, regardless of size and type, can set up online credit card payments in just five simple steps.

Step 1. Research and choose a payment processor

Although you may be keen to start accepting card payments immediately, it pays to do your research and find a payment processor that suits the needs of your business. Taking the time to assess and demo different payment processors will prevent the headache of having to switch providers down the road due to poor service or inadequate features.

Here’s what to look for in a payment processor: 

Responsive customer service support
Even with the best payment processing system in place, you will undoubtedly encounter an issue or require help with troubleshooting at some point along the way. When this happens, having a responsive and knowledgeable customer service team on hand to support you makes all the difference. Before deciding on a provider, be sure to ask about how (and how quickly) you’ll be able to get help when you need it. 

Scalable as your business grows
When assessing payment services providers, don’t just think about the current needs of your business, but also consider what needs it may have in the future. 

Ask yourself: 
- How do you see your business growing and expanding in the future? 
- In the future, will you add new services or products that have different payment processing requirements (e.g. subscription payments or high-value transactions)? 
- Is there a chance you might expand into new, international markets, and how might this impact your payment processing needs?
- As your transaction volumes grow, will you require enhanced security and fraud prevention tools?

In answering these questions, you’ll have a better understanding of the services and features you need (or may one day need) from a payment services provider.

Reputable, with good reviews
As part of your research into payment services providers, you should aim to get a sense of the company’s standing within the industry. Does the company have positive online reviews? Can the company provide any case studies showing how they’ve successfully supported other businesses? Do any of your business contacts work with this provider, and if so, what is their experience?

For additional due diligence, you can also check that the payment services provider is legally registered to do business in your country and ask to see documentation showing their compliance with financial regulations and data security standards (e.g. PCI DSS).

Experienced in your industry
One factor that many businesses overlook when researching different payment processors is whether the provider has specific expertise within their industry. Choosing a company that specialises in your industry can make a huge difference, as they’ll have a better understanding of how your business operates and what your customers are looking for. A payment services provider that knows your sector well will be able to provide recommendations based on their experience working with similar businesses, and this expertise is invaluable.

For example, if you work in the tourism or hospitality industry, your payment needs will be different from those in the tech industry. As a hospitality business, you may benefit from features like dynamic currency conversion, tax-free shopping solutions, and flexible cancellation options, but are perhaps less likely to need recurring billing solutions or high-volume transaction processing. When weighing your options, don’t discount the value of industry expertise. 

Step 2. Apply for a merchant account and get a merchant ID 
In order to accept card payments from customers, it’s essential that you set up a merchant account and get a merchant ID number. 

What is a merchant account?
A merchant account is where the funds from card payments are stored before they are settled into your business bank account. It functions like a holding cell for card payments while all of the various data processing and approvals happen behind the scenes. 

What is a merchant ID?
When you’re approved for a merchant account, your business will receive a unique merchant ID. This 15-digit number is an important component of your payment processing system, as it tells each party involved where the funds should be sent during the transaction. Your merchant ID is to your payment system what your home address is to the postal service. It’s an essential piece of the payments puzzle! 

The application process
Getting approved for a merchant account can take as little as a few hours or several weeks, depending on the nature and size of your business, and whether you’re considered “high risk.”

When applying for a merchant ID, you can expect to be asked to submit the following pieces of information:

- Business identification information, such as your legal business name, business type, tax ID, business contact information, and legal paperwork (e.g. incorporation documents, business licences, etc.).
- Banking information, such as your business bank account details and bank statements.
- Financial data and reports, such as your annual sales volumes (historic and forecasted), average transaction value, and current chargeback rates.
- Operational details, such as the type of products and services you provide, the type of cards/digital wallets you would like to accept, whether you have any physical locations/storefronts, and the payment processing features you need (e.g. currency conversion, additional security measures, etc.).

Many modern-day payment processing companies provide end-to-end payment services, serving as your merchant account provider, payment gateway, payment processor, and acquiring bank. If the payment services provider you’ve chosen is able to fill all three of these roles, it will make managing your payments much easier. Keep this in mind when researching providers.

Step 3. Select payment types, features, and security measures
Once you’ve chosen a payment services provider and are set up with a merchant account, you can start building your payment system to suit the needs of your business. Work with your provider to better understand the features and security measures available, and ask to apply those that will best serve your business and your customers.

Choose the payment methods you want to accept
Think about your customers and the ways they like to pay for the type of goods or services your business provides. Make sure you allow them to pay with their preferred payment methods, while also considering the fees and costs associated with each.

Popular payment methods include:

Debit and credit cards
- Visa
 - Mastercard
- Discover
- American Express
- JCB

Digital wallets
- Apple Pay
- PayPal 
- Google Pay

International payment methods
- Alipay (China)
- WeChat Pay (China)
- Union Pay (China)
- iDEAL (Netherlands)

Financing / “Buy Now Pay Later” (BNPL) 
- Klarna
- Afterpay
- Sezzle

Add features to enhance the customer experience 
Think about your customers’ sales journey and consider whether the following features will improve their experience and help boost sales.

- Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)
- Recurring billing / subscription options
- Gift card payments
- Loyalty program integration
- Appointment scheduling and booking 
- Invoicing, billing, and payment link generation

Safeguard cardholder data with additional security measures
Work with your payment processor to ensure that your system meets data security standards, such as PCI DSS, and add on any additional measures to further bolster cardholder security.

Effective security measures include:

Secure Customer Authentication (SCA)
- 3D Secure
- Biometric authentication
- Mobile authentication apps (e.g. Google Authenticator)

Enhanced fraud protection
- Real-time transaction monitoring
- Geolocation analysis
- Anomaly detection
- Tokenisation of sensitive data

Step 4. Integrate and customise your payment gateway

After customising the back end of your payment system, it’s time to turn your attention to the customer-facing component of the payment journey. In other words, it’s time to add your payment gateway to the checkout page of your website or mobile app.

A payment gateway is the interface that your customers use to add their card details when paying for goods or services online. It’s the piece of technology that links your website (or app) to your payment processor, securely transmitting cardholder data for processing. Your payment gateway is typically provided by your chosen payment services provider.     

How to add your payment gateway to your website
Integrating your payment gateway into your website or mobile application is easier than you might think. It usually involves adding a few lines of code, a payment plugin, or the payment services provider’s API to your checkout page. Your payment services provider should support you through this process by providing easy-to-follow instructions and implementation guides. 

How to customise your payment gateway
Different payment service providers allow for different levels of customisation, but at a minimum, you should be able to adjust your payment interface to match your brand colours and fonts. This will help ensure that your customers have a seamless experience as they navigate from product/service pages to the checkout page. Customising can be as simple as adjusting your font and colour settings from within your merchant dashboard. Many providers also allow for further customisation by adding CSS code or by providing fully tailored payment gateways via API integration.

It may seem like a minor detail, but customising the look and feel of your payment gateway plays an important role in reassuring shoppers that they’re in the right place and can safely enter their card details.

Step 5: Test and launch your payment system 
Once you’ve added your payment gateway to your website or mobile app, it’s nearly time to start accepting payments! Before going live, it’s worthwhile to test the system and ensure that payments are being processed correctly. Most payment gateways have a testing mode (also known as a “sandbox” mode), where you can run test transactions without actually processing any “real” payments.

After you go live, continue to monitor payments closely in the days and weeks following the launch so that any initial bugs can be fixed promptly.

Monitoring your new payment system
When monitoring a new online payment system, there are several metrics you should keep an eye on, including:

Transaction acceptance rates
Are the vast majority of payments being processed successfully? High rejection rates can be an indicator that there’s an issue with your system.
Speed and performance across devices and browsers
Do your checkout page and payment gateway load quickly and properly regardless of what device or browser your customers are using? 
Customer communications
Are your customers receiving order confirmation emails, shipping updates, and tracking information?
Error handling
When customers encounter an error, does the system give them the information they need to troubleshoot?
Security protocols
Are your security checks, such as 3D Secure or one-time passwords, switched on and working as expected?

Once it’s up and running, a robust, end-to-end payments system should require relatively little additional work from you and your team. However, it’s also not advisable to completely neglect your payment processing system once it's set up. Routine monitoring helps you stay informed and address any issues before they become more significant problems. 

Online card payments: essential for your customers

Although it requires a bit of legwork upfront, setting up online credit card payments is a crucial step for the majority of today’s businesses. Companies of all sizes and types—from local tradesman to giant retail chains—must meet the needs and expectations of their customers in order to survive. Among those needs and expectations is the ability to pay for goods and services online. In our modern, tech-driven world, companies that fail to offer online payment options risk getting left behind by the competition.

Fortunately, getting set up with online card payments has never been easier. Once a daunting and time-consuming task, requiring many separate parties and expensive tech support, adding online card payments to your website is now much more straightforward. By working with an end-to-end payment services provider that covers all aspects of payment processing, you can be up and running in a matter of days, if not just a matter of hours. 

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