Taking payments online is hardly a new thing, but it's still a question I get asked a lot by businesses.
There are a large number of services that will process online payments for you. The most well know brand is Paypal. In its infancy there were a lot of companies unwilling to use Paypal but this has changed as the years have progressed. The good thing for individuals and businesses is that once the account is set up, it's very easy to create buttons and shopping carts to let the public buy your goods and services.
Larger businesses with establised merchant accounts may be interested to find what their banks offer for processing online payments. The alternative may be to use something like Worldpay, but there are a few hoops to jump before you can go live. Also to keep in mind is that it may take another 30 days for you to get your transaction money (minus processing fees) into your account.
All the processing services make their money from charging a percentage of the transaction so make sure you take time to research each company, |try and work out what it will cost you to run the service over a month, quarter or year. It's something that's overlooked and you can easily find |that your profit margins are reduced once the fees are taken into account.
With the rise in mobile devices being used, it's also worth noting that there are now applications to take payments on the move. These sorts of utilities are especially handy if you are not tied to a computer.
The big news a few months ago was that a company called Square, ( http://www.squareup.com ), had released a payment processing application for the iPhone.
It came with an attachment that plugged into the microphone socket of the phone and you could physically swipe the credit card into the iPhone. Then it was just a case of |typing in the details of the transaction and then it was processed.
The first version gained a lot of coverage in the technical press. Though it also raised an awful lot of questions in terms of the security considerations. There was no real user verification and the application was wide open, you didn't need a merchant account either.
Since then, the design has changed so you have to confirm the card holder against a picture of them. Still not perfect, but it's incredibly early days for this sort of system and worth keeping an eye on for the future.
It's also worth noting that Paypal has an application for mobile devices which lets you process payments on the phone. The advantage with this is that the consumer's Paypal account is already verified at this stage.
Generating cashflow for any business is important right now in these recessionary times. If you can offer a service that transfers online then seriously think about the payment gateways you could implement.
If you're out in the field then investigate them, it would be prudent to look at the mobile options and see what fits with your business.
Jase Bell is a software developer and founder of Data Sentiment ( www.twitter.com/jasebell )