Shopify VS Squarespace

Shopify VS Squarespace

Pricing

✓

Tie

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

✓

Ease Of Use

✓

Features

Web Design

✓

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Negative Reviews & Testimonials

✓

Tie

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Tie

✓

Security

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

Visit Site

Review

Compare

Right away, Shopify and Squarespace both score points in my book for their names. Shopify is all about helping you build an online store where customers can shop — “shop-ify-ing” a regular website, as it were. Squarespace, by comparison, is a more traditional website builder, allowing you to create a literal “square space” (or series of square spaces) where people can view your content and images on the internet.

Thank you, Shopify and Squarespace. Your names actually make sense.

Indeed, Shopify is a household name in the world of shopping cart software, whereas Squarespace is well-known for its attractive and modern site design capabilities. Squarespace is more than just a pretty face, though. In the last few years, this platform has added ecommerce functionality at a surprising level of sophistication.

If you’re here for an epic cage match between Squarespace and Shopify, I’m guessing you’re thinking about both of these platforms in terms of ecommerce. You’re in luck, because this is the precise focus of our comparison. How does Squarespace’s ecommerce functionality and design measure up to the ecommerce powerhouse that is Shopify? How do they compare in terms of pricing, customer service, and payment processing? Keep reading for our take on these and other key facets of Shopify and Squarespace.

Don’t have time to read an entire article? Take a look at our top-rated eCommerce solutions for a few quick recommendations. Every option we present here offers excellent customer support, superb web templates, and easy-to-use software, all for a reasonable price.

 

Pricing

Winner: Squarespace

Both Shopify and Squarespace offer free 14-day trials with no credit card required, and neither charge setup or cancellation fees. From there, the two platforms begin to diverge. Here’s how the differences play out:

Shopify

  • Price Range: Choose from $29/month (Basic), $79/month (Shopify), or $299/month (Advanced) plans. There’s also a $9/month plan (Lite) for selling in-person, for embedding little “buy” buttons on other sites, and for selling on Facebook — but you don’t get an actual online store at all, so we’re leaving this plan out of our comparison for the most part.
  • Annual Subscription Discount: Save 10% when your subscription is paid annually upfront, or 20% if you pony up for two full years. For example, the Basic Plan becomes $26 or $23/month, and the Shopify Plan becomes $71 or $63/month.
  • Subscription Structure: All Basic ($29/month) plans and above include unlimited storage, products, and bandwidth. Higher subscription levels add a few features and additional staff accounts. Subscription levels also affect your Shopify transaction fees and your payment processing fees. Which leads us to…
  • Additional Transaction Fees: If you choose Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe) as your payment gateway, you are not charged any separate transaction fees. As an added bonus, you also see a gradual decrease in your payment processing fees with Shopify Payments as you climb the subscription ladder. However, if you use an alternative payment processor and not Shopify Payments, Shopify does charge extra transaction fees, beginning at 2.0% on the Basic plan. Thankfully, these fees gradually decrease to 1.0% and 0.5% as you increase your subscription.

Squarespace

  • Price Range: For ecommerce capability, you must skip over the $16/month plan and start at the $26/month (Business) level. However, merchants who’d really want to take advantage of Squarespace’s ecommerce features in a manner that’s comparable to Shopify are likely opting for the $30/month (Commerce Basic) or $46/month (Commerce Advanced) plans.
  • Annual Subscription Discount: The Business plan drops to $18, Commerce Basic to $26, and Commerce Advanced to $40 per month when paid upfront in one annual lump sum. You also qualify for a free domain registration for one year when you pay your main subscription annually.
  • Subscription Structure: Similar to Shopify, features are added as you increase your Squarespace subscription level. Bumping up to Commerce Basic or Advanced will eliminate separate Squarespace transaction fees.
  • Additional Transaction Fees: A 3.0% fee (above your gateway fees) is incurred by Squarespace on every purchase if you’re on the Business Plan. This additional transaction fee is eliminated, however, on Commerce Basic and Advanced.

For a direct comparison with Shopify, use the smaller print, month-to-month figures for Squarespace (Commerce Basic $30 and Commerce Advanced $46). Shopify promotes month-to-month figures ($29, $79, or $299).

Confusing enough for you? With all these pricing components, you can’t actually perform a true apples-to-apples comparison of cost. In truth, both Shopify and Squarespace offer a fair market price for their services. I will say that the transaction fee issue is problematic with both companies, especially since many competing platforms have eliminated these extra charges altogether. The good news is that each platform at least offers some way out of these fees.

In the end, I’m primarily basing my pricing verdict on one key factor: Squarespace offers its complete arsenal of features for only $46/month ($40/month if paid annually). In contrast, Shopify reserves its premium features for sellers with much deeper pockets (six and a half times deeper, to be exact). The big question is: does Squarespace offer enough ecommerce features at that $46/month level? The answer will depend on your business needs, but you can keep reading to develop a clearer picture of each platform.

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Winner: Tie

Your Shopify or Squarespace store will be fully-hosted. No need to download and install either one locally.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Both platforms allow unlimited bandwidth and products, but Shopify is better at accommodating a wider range of business sizes and product catalogs. In addition, Shopify provides a natural growth option via Shopify Plus, whereas Squarespace offers no enterprise-level plan at this time. On the other hand, if you happen to sell a handful of very expensive products (and that’s what makes your business “big”), Squarespace could still work swimmingly for you.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

Since Squarespace and Shopify are both SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, you only need a computer, an internet connection, and an up-to-date browser to use either service. Both also provide Android and iOS apps for managing and editing your store.

Regarding supported browsers, Squarespace edges out Shopify by offering Chrome and Safari support on Linux operating systems, while Shopify only works with Windows and Mac. Meanwhile, Shopify stores are optimized for Samsung Internet in addition to Chrome and Safari browsers when viewed on mobile. Depending on your point of view, these finer points may or may not make a difference, so I’m still calling it a draw in this category.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Shopify

With both platforms specializing in general ease of use, we really need to examine Squarespace and Shopify in terms of usability for ecommerce.

Neither platform has a dedicated setup tutorial inside the dashboard, but both have documentation and instructional videos handy. If you’re accustomed to using or testing popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Squarespace will definitely have its own learning curve. Once I got the hang of it, though, I could operate the backend quite smoothly.

When you create a trial account with Shopify, you’re taken to the main admin panel. Shopify’s admin is structured like most ecommerce dashboards I’ve seen. Although you can preview your storefront at any time, your backend functions are kept separate from the storefront.

Shopify Dashboard:

With Squarespace, however, you must choose a theme (you can change it later) before you even get to see your admin panel. Once the admin opens, your dashboard is actually a combination of your backend control panel on the left, and your storefront preview on the right.

Squarespace Dashboard:

Although I can vouch that both platforms are very easy to use in the grand scheme, I find navigation of Squarespace’s backend to be slightly trickier than Shopify’s. The Squarespace UI is structured so that there are more dashboard layers to dig through — and then dig back out of again. Additionally, the left control panel menu changes (or even disappears) depending on what layer you happen to be in at the moment, which can be disorienting. This is in contrast to Shopify’s menu, which remains a fixed anchor point for admin navigation.

Take a quick look at the following screens from each platform to see what I mean:

Add A Product — Shopify:

You can see above that my main menu remains fixed on the left side of the dashboard as I enter my product details.

Add A Product — Squarespace:

With Squarespace, I’m already a couple of dashboard layers in, my left sidebar is gone, and I must dive one more screen deep from here to even enter my price. Also, what is not shown above is that you can’t just jump right in and start adding products with Squarespace like you can with Shopify and other online store builders. Even with Squarespace’s ecommerce-friendly templates, you must create a separate product page for your website first. I admit I had to resort to Squarespace’s documentation to figure this out, since I’m accustomed to ecommerce dashboards that make adding your first product a completely frictionless process.

Adding and managing inventory is just one piece of running an online store, but it remains a reliable ease of use test case. While you can list unlimited products with Squarespace, I think the backend interface is better designed for sellers offering a relatively small number of aesthetically-oriented products. Merchants with a large inventory will appreciate Shopify’s clear menus, efficient navigation, and the way in which product data is ultimately organized.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Shopify is the deserving winner in the features category. With solid out-of-the-box functionality and a rich add-on ecosystem, the blunt truth is that Shopify has spent much more time and resources cultivating features specifically for online sellers.

That said, there are a few features Squarespace offers that even Shopify lacks. Another thing to keep in mind is that Squarespace’s comparatively small feature set may still be just right for certain sizes and types of companies.

Key features of both platforms include:

  • Unlimited products, bandwidth, and storage
  • Free SSL certificate
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Shipping & accounting integrations
  • Inventory & order management
  • Offer gift cards
  • Create discounts and coupons
  • Checkout on your domain
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout & customer accounts
  • Real-time, carrier-calculated shipping
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools

I’d say the Shopify versions of some of the above features are stronger or more versatile than the Squarespace versions. For example, the discount engine is much more flexible with Shopify.

Now, here are a few features that differentiate the two platforms:

Shopify

  • App store with thousands of integrations
  • Point of sale integration (Shopify POS or third-party POS)
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Proprietary shipping platform (Shopify Shipping) for carrier discounts and label printing
  • Extensive dropshipping capability
  • Enterprise expansion available via Shopify Plus
  • Abandoned cart recovery at cheaper plan level

Squarespace

  • Unlimited staff contributors on all ecommerce plans
  • G Suite integration (full year free)
  • $100 Google AdWords voucher
  • Free domain for a year if you pay annually
  • Customizable checkout forms
  • In-dashboard product image editing
  • Third-party calculated shipping rates at cheaper plan level

Web Design

Winner: Squarespace

Both platforms offer elegant, modern templates that are fully mobile responsive. Here’s a quick comparison of template stats:

Shopify Themes

  • 67 total templates, most with 2-4 style variations
  • 10 templates are free and supported by Shopify developers
  • Remaining third-party themes cost $140-$180

Squarespace Themes

  • 90 templates organized into 21 template families
  • All templates are free and supported by Squarespace developers

Within these themes, both platforms facilitate the adjustment of fonts, colors, and layouts without any coding experience. In fact, I’d say both services offer more flexibility in this area than the average ecommerce store builder. If you still run into design limitations or simply want to alter the code, each site builder makes it relatively easy to customize your store with HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

The overall web design winner is a tough one to call, because that decision really depends on the type and number of products you intend to sell, with Squarespace catering to smaller catalogs with visual interest. If we were deciding strictly based on the variety of pre-made templates designed for stores selling lots of stuff, Shopify would snag the win.

That said, here are some ways Squarespace stands out when it comes to design:

  • All templates are free, and all are created and supported by Squarespace.
  • Offers a more versatile drag-and-drop editor for page layout customization.
  • Allows you to edit your product images from within your dashboard.
  • Uses a common templating language (JSON), versus Shopify’s own invented language (Liquid).

Was this category too close to call? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Shopify has an impressive app store with around 2500 integrations — more than the vast majority of SaaS ecommerce platforms at large. While add-ons can certainly increase your monthly expenditure with Shopify, there’s no denying that your choices are plentiful. Plus, since a huge community of developers and merchants interact with Shopify apps, you also have access to thousands upon thousands of detailed user reviews.

Squarespace takes a completely different approach to integrations. No app store is offered, but Squarespace spins this as an advantage. Any pre-built integrations (about 70 in total) are already incorporated into your dashboard and fully tech-supported by Squarespace. Aside from payment providers (Stripe, PayPal, Apple Pay) and shipping carriers (UPS, USPS, and FedEx), there are just a small handful of official Squarespace integrations specifically related to ecommerce. Here are a few key add-ons:

  • ShipStation: Order fulfillment
  • Xero: Accounting
  • MailChimp: Email marketing
  • Zapier: Workflow automation, multi-app connector

Just like many Shopify apps, several Squarespace apps have monthly subscription fees of their own. And, just like with Shopify, you can always build custom integrations if you have those skills or can hire someone who does. To put things in quick perspective, however, Squarespace has one official shipping/fulfillment app in ShipStation. Shopify has over 280 choices in its “Orders & Shipping” category, and over 600 results pop up if I simply type “shipping” in the app store’s search bar.

The win in this category goes to Shopify, the reigning monarch of ecommerce integrations. Besides keeping decision-making overload at bay, the trick with Shopify add-ons is to always check the quality (including quality of developer support) and ongoing cost of each integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Shopify wins at payment processing for one primary reason: flexibility. Consider the sheer number of gateway options with Shopify — over 100. With Squarespace, Stripe and PayPal are your only choices. More gateway options means availability in more countries and currencies, more ways for your customers to pay, better odds of finding the perfect processor for your specific needs, and even the opportunity to customize your own pricing model and rates in some cases. With Shopify, you can also accept cryptocurrencies or set up manual payment methods like cash on delivery, money orders, and bank transfers.

This is not the end of the story, however. Factor in the additional transaction fees that may be charged by either platform depending on your situation, as well as Shopify’s payment processing discounts with Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe), and the comparison becomes more nuanced.

As we examine these complications further, keep in mind that the going rate to process ecommerce transactions with most gateways these days is 2.9% + $0.30.

Here’s how your processing will work with Squarespace according to your subscription level:

Squarespace + PayPal and/or Stripe

  • Business ($26/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30, + 3.0% Squarespace fee = 5.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Commerce Basic ($30/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30
  • Commerce Advanced ($46/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30

Those are the only potential processing costs you’re looking at with Squarespace. That additional 3.0% Squarespace fee on the Business plan is pretty brutal, but as soon as you upgrade to Commerce Basic for an extra $4/month, it disappears. For this reason, I don’t think the Business plan is a sustainable option for most ecommerce stores.

Now, let’s take a quick look at Shopify, remembering that using Shopify Payments as your gateway provides two perks: 1) no extra Shopify transaction fee on any plan, and 2) decreased payment processing fees as you upgrade your overall Shopify subscription.

Shopify + Shopify Payments

  • Basic ($29/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30
  • Shopify ($79/mo.): 2.6% + $0.30
  • Advanced ($299/mo.): 2.4% + $0.30

Shopify + Alternative Gateway (Generic Example)

  • Basic ($29/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30, + 2.0% Shopify fee = 4.9% + $0.30
  • Shopify ($79/mo.): 2.9% + $0.30, + 1.0% Shopify fee = 3.9% + $0.30
  • Advanced ($299/mo.): 2.9% + 0.30, + 0.5% Shopify fee = 3.4% + $0.30

Another twist is that Shopify Payments is currently only available for businesses located in 10 countries, so you’re stuck with an alternative gateway and that pesky Shopify transaction fee if your country isn’t included. (Squarespace at least doesn’t punish you for something you can’t control — your location.) On the flip side, if you are in one of the supported countries, you could opt to use Shopify Payments in addition to any of the other gateways Shopify offers to increase your customers’ payment options.

In a perfect world, both platforms would let you pick your own processor from among many, and never penalize you with extra transaction fees for any reason! Both Shopify and Squarespace have their own flaws in this regard.

So, what does this all mean for your business? The short answer is math. To determine the real winner in this category for your own company, you must consider your monthly subscription cost to either platform, your average number of transactions per month, and your average transaction size — not to mention the countries and currencies involved. Because the best platform and subscription level for your business depends on these and other factors, I award Shopify the payment processing win for at least making things interesting!

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

In terms of overall quality of customer support, both Shopify and Squarespace receive mixed user reviews. That said, Merchant Maverick’s own experiences with customer service and technical support would award Shopify the victory in this category. We’ve had better luck contacting the Shopify support team through the available channels — even when they’ve been unaware that we are software reviewers on the prowl.

Shopify also has more available support channels and more open-hours. Take a look:

Shopify

  • Phone: 24/7
  • Email: 24/7
  • Live Chat: 24/7

Squarespace

  • Phone: None
  • Email: 24/7
  • Live Chat: Monday-Friday, 4AM-8PM

Squarespace publishes a whole manifesto on its website explaining why no phone support is offered if you’d like to read it for yourself. Although they don’t come right out and say it, the bottom line is that this helps keep overall costs down. Meanwhile, not being able to contact a live person (even via live chat) after 5pm Pacific time is pretty brutal if you’re running an online store. Squarespace should know better — ecommerce never sleeps:

One final note in this category: both platforms provide several self-help resources — community forums, blogs, video tutorials, webinars, knowledgebase articles, and the like. However, note that Shopify resources are 100% geared toward ecommerce, whereas you’ll have to wade through other topics to find ecommerce resources at the Squarespace site.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Squarespace

When comparing user reviews for these platforms, it’s important to keep in mind the difficulty in teasing out feedback on Squarespace that is specifically related to ecommerce. Despite its growing ecommerce capability, Squarespace typically ends up in the generic website builder category on most review sites, with users discussing traditional website building issues.

Those caveats aside, here are some of the most common issues that come up for each platform:

Shopify

  • Extra transaction fees when not using Shopify Payments
  • Costly add-ons
  • Poor customer support
  • Frustration with Shopify Payments

Squarespace

  • Glitches & bugs
  • Poor/limited customer support
  • Limited theme customization

Of course, traditional website builders tend to get raked over the coals for the slightest theme customization limitations. We’ve already said Squarespace’s design capability is quite good overall, particularly when compared to a lot of shopping cart builders. When customers do criticize Squarespace specifically on ecommerce, there are no consistent patterns emerging so far. For this reason, I award this category to Squarespace based on a “no news is good news” argument. We’ll keep checking back for patterns.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

Both Shopify and Squarespace tend to rate highly for overall customer satisfaction on user review websites. On top of that, both platforms are known for their ease of use and elegant templates. And, along with all the negative review of customer support both software programs have received, users of both platforms have been known to also sing praises for customer support. The combination of these factors led me to call this one a draw.

Once again, we’re faced with the dilemma that there’s not a whole lot of feedback about Squarespace’s ecommerce offerings. I have definitely seen several generic comments, such as “good for ecommerce!” Honestly, I think people are mostly pleased (and perhaps a bit surprised) that there’s some solid ecommerce capability available with Squarespace at all. I haven’t come across many users directly comparing their experiences with the two platforms.

Security

Winner: Shopify

Our combatants are quite close in this category. Both offer PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance, a free SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate for your site, two-factor authentication for logging in to your account, a CDN (Content Delivery Network), and even provide methods for complying with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws implemented by the EU in 2018.

The main difference I can see is that Shopify’s checkout pages are covered by an industry-standard, 256-bit shared SSL certificate. Squarespace’s checkout pages are covered by a less-robust, 128-bit certificate. My understanding is that while 128-bit encryption may end up working slightly faster, it’s technically less secure.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

Squarespace put up a good fight in several categories, but Shopify emerges victorious as the better ecommerce website builder. Shopify’s pricing, core feature set, and vast app store can serve budding sellers on the Lite plan, all the way up to enterprise clients using Shopify Plus. Meanwhile, ecommerce was quite literally an afterthought for Squarespace. The platform’s developers have done an admirable job adding features for online selling, but they just can’t compete with Shopify’s dominance here.

As we’ve said time and again in this comparison, Squarespace still provides an interesting option for sellers who’d like to feature a small number of products with aesthetic appeal. Especially if you’ve already been using Squarespace to develop your company story and brand, I’d definitely recommend fully exploring the ecommerce feature set — perhaps by bumping up your subscription for just month or two — before completely abandoning ship for Shopify or another dedicated shopping cart builder.

I’ll offer one more interesting twist before you head off to test Shopify and/or Squarespace for yourself. Some users have actually used the two services in combination. How? By integrating those “buy now” buttons from a $9/month Shopify Lite plan into an existing Squarespace website. It’s a roundabout option, to be sure, but it also gives you access to in-person selling with the Shopify POS app. At any rate, take that as some final food for thought, and best of luck in your search for the perfect ecommerce platform.

The post Shopify VS Squarespace appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Zoho Books VS Wave

ZohoBooks-vs-Wave

Zoho Books VS Wave

Accounting

✓

✓

Features

Pricing

✓

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

✓

Users & Permissions

Ease of Use

✓

✓

Mobile Apps

✓

Customer Service & Support

Tie

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Tie

Tie

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Tie

✓

Integrations

✓

Security

?

Final Verdict

?

When you think of accounting software, you usually think of big names like Xero or QuickBooks. But what about the programs that are designed specifically with the small business owner in mind? In this post, we’re going to put two of the top small business accounting software programs face to face: Zoho Books and Wave.

Redesigned in 2014, Zoho Books is a scalable, full-featured accounting software that even gives QuickBooks Online a run for its money. The software has only improved over the years. It features beautiful invoicing, strong mobile apps, excellent customer support, and decent integrations. It also gives users the unique ability to send invoices in over 10 different languages.

Wave is free accounting software that has only gotten better as time goes on. The software has grown to support over 3.5 million users and offers a robust feature set with unique additions like lending, scheduling recurring invoices by timezone, and a brand-new light ecommerce tool. The software also offers professional bookkeeping services and supports personal and business accounting.

But which service comes out on top? And more importantly, which is right for your business?

Read on to find out.

At Merchant Maverick, our goal is to help you to find the best software for your small business needs. To make your decision easier, we’ve carefully researched and tested both products. We’ll compare Zoho Books and QuickBooks Online (QBO) based on features, pricing, customer experience, reputation, and more, so you don’t have to.

Don’t have time to read the whole post? Or looking for a different accounting option? Check out our top-rated accounting solutions to see our favorite recommendations.

Accounting

Winner: Wave

Both Zoho Books and Wave offer strong accounting features. Each software uses double-entry accounting and offers both cash-basis and accrual accounting. Both support accounting reports, a customizable chart of accounts, journal entries, bank reconciliation, and fixed asset management.

The two are almost neck and neck in this area, although Wave sets itself apart by having recently added an additional bookkeeping service called Wave+ where users can purchase additional accounting help from professional bookkeepers. Wave also has built-in personal accounting tools.

Features

Winner: Zoho Books

Zoho Books Features Wave

✓

Invoicing

✓

✓

Multiple Invoice Languages

✘

✓

Estimates

✓

✓

Expense Tracking

✓

✓

Bank Reconciliation

✓

✓

Chart Of Accounts

✓

✓

Fixed Asset Management

✓

✓

Contact Management

✓

✓

Accounts Payable

✓

✓

Time Tracking

✓

✓

Project Management

✘

✓

Inventory

✓

✓

Reports

✓

✘

eCommerce Checkouts

✓

✓

Tracking Categories

✘

✓

Multi-Currency Support

✓

✓

Sales Tax

✓

✓

Tax Support

✘

✓

Importing & Exporting

✓

✘

Lending

✓

Zoho Books and Wave have a lot of similar features. Both offer expense tracking, invoicing, contact management, and more. The difference is the depth and functionality of these features.

While Wave has a strong feature set and unique additions like a lightweight ecommerce tool and lending, Zoho Books’ features are far more advanced. Zoho Books offers some of the best invoicing on the market with 15 different templates and international invoicing. The software also offers project management (which Wave lacks entirely), better inventory, better time tracking, and better reporting, making it the clear winner here.

Pricing

Winner: Wave

Zoho Books offers three scalable pricing plans ranging from $9 – $29/month. Wave is completely free. The only additional costs are payroll, payment processing, and Wave+.

When it comes to pricing, you can’t beat free. And unlike most free software, Wave doesn’t put artificial limits on features like invoicing and estimates. You get complete access to fully-functioning features for $0/month. Another point in favor of Wave is that the software actually offers payroll. The service may cost extra, but in contrast, Zoho Books doesn’t have any payroll support or payroll integrations.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Zoho Books

As cloud-based software, both Zoho Books and Wave work with nearly any device so long as you have an internet connection.

Users & Permissions

Winner: Zoho Books

Depending on your plan, Zoho Books supports between 1 and 10 users, although you can purchase additional users for an extra cost. The software offers very basic user permissions. Wave is designed for the small business owner, meaning there are no additional users. You can technically invite “collaborators” who can have “view-only” or “view & edit” access to your Wave account, but the features they are able to access are limited, making Zoho Books the winner here.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Wave

Both Wave and Zoho Books are easy to use. They each have a modern UI that is well-organized, and setup is quick. However, because of Zoho Books’ sheer number of features, the software is a bit harder to navigate and get used to. Wave, on the other hand, is easy enough for anyone to use, no matter what their accounting background (or lack thereof) looks like.

Mobile Apps

Winner: Zoho Books

It’s no question that Zoho Books is the winner here. Zoho Books has always been known for strong, fully-featured mobile apps. Their Android and iPhone apps receive high ratings across the board, and the company supports smartwatch, Microsoft, and Kindle apps as well.

Wave’s mobile apps could stand improvement. Right now, there are two separate apps, one for invoices and one for receipts. Existing Wave users complain that they want one, full-featured app.

Customer Service & Support

Winner: Zoho Books

Zoho Books offers the most excellent customer support by far. Zoho Books’ phone support has hardly any wait times, and in my experience, representatives are friendly and helpful. The company also has an expansive help center, email, live chat, videos, and more.

While Wave does offer good resources like a well-developed help center and strong blog, you can only contact Wave support by email (unless you purchase payroll or credit card processing, in which case you get phone and chat support). Wave’s email response times often take over a day.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

Both Zoho Books and Wave receive mostly positive customer reviews from satisfied customers. They have a similar ratio of negative to positive reviews, resulting in a tie for this section.

The few complaints Zoho Books users have are about the lack of payroll and limited integrations. Complaints about Wave revolve around poor mobile apps, limited integrations, and limited features.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Winner: Tie

Both Zoho Books and Wave have many satisfied customers and high customer ratings. Zoho Books receives 4.5/5 stars on Capterra and 4.6/5 stars on G2Crowd, while Wave receives 4.4/5 stars on G2Crowd and 9/10 stars on TrustRadius.

Zoho Books users appreciate the software’s ease of use, strong mobile apps, affordable price plans, and constant updates. Wave users praise the software for its ease of use, free price, personal accounting, and feature selection.

Integrations

Winner: Tie

Zoho Books offers 33 integrations while Wave only has 3 integrations. However, both Zoho Books users and Wave users complain about a lack of integrations. Each software’s saving grace is that they both connect with Zapier, an integration that connects them to 1000+ other third-party apps.

Security

Winner: Zoho Books

Both Zoho Books and Wave offer strong security. Each uses 256-bit SSL encryption, regular data backups, and 24/7 data monitoring. We gave Zoho Books the victory in this section because Zoho Books is far more forthcoming about their security information so users can be 100% confident that their data is protected.

And The Winner Is…

Zoho Books VS Wave

Wave is powerful software that puts up quite the fight, but it just doesn’t have the features and capabilities of Zoho Books — at least not yet. A more robust feature set, strong mobile apps, more integrations, forthright security, and excellent customer service give Zoho Books the advantage.

Zoho Books is ideal for small to medium businesses in need of strong accounting that want the capabilities of QuickBooks Online without having to pay the price. Zoho Books is an affordable QBO alternative with a robust feature set and some of the best invoicing on the market, which is why we’ve named it the Best Accounting Software for Invoicing. Zoho Books’ invoicing features make it ideal for business in need of international invoicing. The only drawback is the lack of payroll, which could be a deal-breaker for some businesses.

If your business does need payroll or if you’re looking for free accounting software, Wave might be the better choice for your business. Wave is ideal for small business owners looking for easy bookkeeping software to manage their businesses with. There’s a reason we’ve named it the Best Free Accounting Software. Wave has an impressive features set — particularly for a free app — and offers a few key additions that Zoho Books lacks(payroll, lending, and the brand new eCommerce checkouts tool). It also has a strong Etsy integration, making it ideal for Etsy sellers.

Maybe after reading about Zoho Books and Wave, neither option seems like the perfect fit for your business. Don’t worry! Our comprehensive accounting reviews can help you find the best software for your business. If you need extra help deciding, read our Complete Guide To Choose Online Accounting Software.

Check out our full Zoho Books and Wave reviews for more information. Take advantage of Zoho Books’ free trial or start a free account with Wave to get a feel for each software, and feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.

The post Zoho Books VS Wave appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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FreshBooks VS Wave

Freshbooks-vs-Wave

FreshBooks VS Wave

Accounting

✓

Features

✓

Pricing

✓

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

Tie

Users & Permissions

Tie

✓

Ease of Use

✓

Mobile Apps

✓

Customer Service & Support

Tie

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Tie

Tie

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

Tie

✓

Integrations

Tie

Security

Tie

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Final Verdict

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ReviewVisit

ReviewVisit

Choosing the right software for your business isn’t easy, especially when you have two great choices to pick from like FreshBooks and Wave.

FreshBooks has been helping small business owners with their invoices and expenses since 2003. The software offers strong mobile apps, excellent customer service, and good customer reviews. A recent redesign has made the software easier to use than ever.

Wave is completely free accounting software that has grown to support over 3 million users. The app offers strong accounting with ample features including project management, invoicing, and a basic ecommerce tool. Wave is also the only accounting software besides QuickBooks Online to offer lending services.

But which software is better? That’s what we’re here to tell you.

At Merchant Maverick, our goal is to help you to find the best software for your small business needs. So to make your decision easier, we’ve carefully researched and tested both products. We’ll put FreshBooks and Wave head to head by comparing features, pricing, customer experience, reputation, and more, so you don’t have to. Read on to see which software is best for your business.

Don’t have time to read the whole post? Or looking for a different accounting option? Check out our top-rated accounting solutions to see our favorite recommendations.

Accounting

Winner: Wave

This one’s easy. Wave wins by default because FreshBooks is not accounting software. While FreshBooks does offer a few basic bookkeeping tools, it does not use double-entry accounting. It also has no bank reconciliation features, no accounts payable, and no customizable chart of accounts.

Wave, on the other hand, uses double-entry accounting and offers both accrual and cash-basis accounting. The software offers bank reconciliation, journal entries, a detailed chart of accounts, and basic reporting,

Features

Winner: Wave 

FreshBooks Features Wave

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Invoicing

✓

✓

Estimates

✓

✓

Client Portal

✓

✓

Expense Tracking

✓

✘

Bank Reconciliation

✓

✓

Chart of Accounts

✓

✘

Accounts Payable

✓

✘

Inventory

✓

✓

Time Tracking

✓

✓

Project Management

✓

✓

Reports

✓

✘

Journal Entries

✓

✓

Sales Tax

✓

✓

Multi-Currency

✓

✘

Lending

✓

The two programs are pretty on par in terms of invoice template choices, time tracking, importing/exporting, and multi-currency support. However, Wave’s features are more developed than those of FreshBooks. Wave offers 5 more reports than FreshBooks, better project management, and better inventory. Wave also offers key features that FreshBooks is missing like bank reconciliation, vendor management, accounts payable, and a brand new ecommerce tool called Checkouts.

Pricing

Winner: Wave

You can’t beat free. Wave costs $0/month — no gimmicks, no tricks, no limitations. The only thing you have to pay for is adding payroll, payment processing, or bookkeeping help from a professional Wave advisor. FreshBooks costs $15/month – $50/month. FreshBooks is more expensive and offers fewer features, so businesses get a lot more bang for their buck with Wave.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

As cloud-based software, both FreshBooks and Wave are compatible with nearly any device so long as you have an internet connection.

Users & Permissions

Winner: Tie

Neither FreshBooks nor Wave shines in the “additional users” department. With FreshBooks, each pricing plan only comes with one user. You can add additional users for $10/month each, but you can’t set any user permissions. Wave was designed for the small business owner, meaning it’s not possible to have additional users. You can add “collaborators” who can view or view and edit your Wave account, but there are no permissions available here either.

If you’re looking for multiple users and strong users permissions, take a look at Zoho Books, QuickBooks Online, or Xero instead.

Ease Of Use

Winner: FreshBooks

Both Wave and FreshBooks have attractive interfaces that are well-organized and easy to use. However, FreshBooks has better customer support which helps you learn to navigate the software faster.

Mobile Apps

Winner: FreshBooks

FreshBooks is well-known for its strong, full-featured mobile apps. Wave, on the other hand, has separated its apps into Receipts by Wave and Invoices by Wave. Neither app is full-featured and many users complain that they want a single, all-encompassing Wave app instead.

Customer Service & Support

Winner: FreshBooks

When it comes to customer support, FreshBooks can’t be beaten. FreshBooks offers great phone support with hardly any wait times. Representatives are generally friendly, helpful, and well-informed. In addition, FreshBooks offers a detailed help center, email support, and a comprehensive blog. Wave only offers phone support for payroll and payment processing users, leaving regular users a well-developed help center and email support. Most emails are responded to within a day, but it’s harder to get a quick response than with FreshBooks.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

Both FreshBooks and Wave are loved by customers. Each software receives mostly positive reviews, with a few negative complaints thrown in. For FreshBooks, users call for more features, better invoice templates, and true accounting. Wave users complain of limited mobile apps, lack of integrations, and occasionally slow servers.

Positive Reviews & Complaints

Winner: Tie

FreshBooks and Wave have a similar ration of positive to negative complaints. Most users seemed thrilled with both programs and each software receives high marks across popular review sites. FreshBooks users love that the software is easy to use, offers professional invoicing, and has great customer service. Wave users love the software’s features, ease of use, and, of course, its price.

Integrations

Winner: FreshBooks

FreshBooks offers 70+ integrations as opposed to Wave’s four, so if add-ons are important to your business, FreshBooks is clearly the way to go.

Security

Winner: Tie

Both FreshBooks and Wave offer strong security. They each use 256-bit SSL encryption, redundancy, and regular backups, and they each host their servers with trusted security providers.

And The Winner Is…

While FreshBooks reputation for ease of use is well-earned, the software doesn’t always live up to these high expectations. First of all, despite its advertising, FreshBooks isn’t true cloud accounting software.

Wave, on the other hand, offers true accounting software and an incredible number of features for $0/month. In addition to the basic tools you’d expect from an accounting software, features like lending and Checkouts set the software apart and allow Wave to give even QuickBooks Online a run for its money. For small businesses looking to save money, you can’t beat Wave. The software is also ideal for Etsy users and ecommerce businesses.

That being said, businesses that don’t need the accounting capabilities or a large number of features may find FreshBooks to be a good choice. The software has better mobile apps and customer service than Wave. However, FreshBooks is far more expensive than Wave and your money only goes a short way with the software.

Perhaps, after reading this, neither option seems like the right choice for you. Our comprehensive accounting reviews can help you explore all of your options so you can choose the perfect software for your business.

Check out our full FreshBooks and Wave reviews for more information.

The post FreshBooks VS Wave appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Complete Guide to PayPal’s Fees, Rates, and Pricing

As a consumer mobile wallet, PayPal is darn-near ubiquitous. But with more than 17 million merchants worldwide calling PayPal their payments processor, it’s also a massive force in the merchant services industry. So if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get set up with credit card payments, whether for a POS system or online, PayPal is probably going to be on your radar, and with good reason.

But should you choose PayPal as your payments processor, and what will it cost? The good news is that PayPal offers transparent, pay-as-you-go pricing with no monthly fees, no account termination fees, or other hidden costs. You can predict fairly well what you’ll pay with PayPal, and all payment processing fees are deducted before PayPal deposits funds in your account.

The one major drawback is that PayPal is a third-party processor, also referred to as an aggregator. That means the company essentially onboards merchants as sub-users of one, giant merchant account that includes the entirety of PayPal’s merchant base. This means that the company does minimal underwriting before approving an account. You don’t need to provide much info beyond confirming your identity to open an account. However, this does mean you face a greater amount of scrutiny after opening an account, and PayPal can terminate your account or place a hold on funds with no notice to you.

That sounds worrisome, but the reality is it only happens to a small percentage of merchants. You can also take steps to protect yourself by recognizing the common red flags that processors look for and avoiding them. Check out our article on how to avoid merchant accounts holds and terminations to learn more.

PayPal obviously isn’t the right choice for everyone. There are restrictions on the types of products merchants can offer, and it doesn’t support certain business models. High-risk businesses should look somewhere else for a merchant account. However, most merchants should be fine with a PayPal account for payment processing.

Read on for a closer look at what you can expect to pay with PayPal as your business’ credit card processor! You can also check out our PayPal and PayPal Here reviews for a focused look at the products and services.

Payment Processing Fees

The major concern for most merchants who use (or are considering using) PayPal are the payment processing costs, so we’ll start there. PayPal offers predictable, flat-rate pricing for all merchants. You don’t have to worry about higher interchange for American Express cards, or MCCs, or qualified vs non-qualified transactions. Your exact rate will depend on the type of transaction.

Merchants who use PayPal’s mPOS app, PayPal Here, or integrate with one of PayPal’s POS partners (such as Vend), will pay the following for in-person transactions:

  • 2.7% per swiped, dipped or tapped transaction
  • 3.5 + $0.15 per keyed transaction

For online transactions, including monthly subscription charges, donations, and digital invoices, PayPal charges the following:

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online transaction

That’s it. Really. The simplicity of PayPal’s pricing is one of the biggest draws for merchants. You can predict fairly easily what your pricing will be and, because PayPal deducts its fees before depositing funds in your account, you don’t have to worry about an end-of-the-month invoice or going over a limit and incurring additional fees.

What About Alternative Payment Processing Rates?

If you’re wondering whether PayPal offers any sort of alternative payment plans, the answer is yes. Merchants with an average transaction size under $10 can opt for the micropayments plan. PayPal also offers a nonprofit discount for online transactions to qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

  • Micropayments Plan: 5% + $0.05 per transaction. (Note: This rate applies to all transactions, even those above $10)
  • Nonprofit Discount (Online Only): 2.2% + $0.30 per transaction

If you integrate with one of PayPal’s partner POS systems, such as Vend or TouchBistro, you may be eligible for special discounts  (presumably volume-based) or other promotions. However, these offers aren’t clearly disclosed, just advertised on the POS software sites.

Other PayPal Fees For Payment Processing

While PayPal does charge a few extra fees relating to payment processing, they aren’t many. But these are what you might come across:

  • 1.5% Cross-Border Transaction Fee: For US merchants who accept online payments from buyers out of the country, or in-person transactions involving a card from outside the US, PayPal charges a 1.5% cross-border fee. That means, for example, that a US merchant accepting a Canadian card at a POS terminal will pay 4% of the transaction value to PayPal.
  • 2.5% Currency Conversion Fee:  If PayPal has to convert the currency before it deposits the funds in your account, you’ll pay another 2.5% conversion fee. Whether you have to pay the conversion fee depends on the customer’s bank and whether it will handle the currency conversion (usually at a cost to the customer).
  • $20 Chargeback Fee: Chargeback fees are pretty standard, and if a customer files a chargeback against you, PayPal will assess a $20 fee in addition to withdrawing the funds to cover the transaction amount.
  • Refund Fee: In the event of a refund, PayPal will refund the percentage-based fee from the transaction to you, but keep the fixed fee. For most in-person transactions that means you’ll pay nothing. However, refunds on keyed transactions mean you’ll pay $0.15. Refunds on online or invoiced transactions will cost $0.30. PayPal can be a bit confusing about how this works in its transaction summaries, but be aware that you will pay a fee for most refunded transactions, albeit a small one.
  • 1% Instant Transfer Fee: If you’d like to move your PayPal balance to a bank account immediately, you can do that — for a fee. PayPal charges merchants 1% of the transfer value, capped at $10 per transfer, but your funds will be available typically within 30 minutes (s0 long as your bank’s system isn’t incredibly slow). You’ll have to connect an eligible debit card to support instant transfers as well. However, if you prefer to have instant access to funds without paying a fee, don’t forget that PayPal offers a business debit card that’s linked to your PayPal balance, too.

Software Fees

One of the big draws for PayPal is the lack of software fees. Instead of paying a monthly fee for PayPal’s ecommerce features, you pay only the payment transaction costs (in most circumstances — but we’ll come back to this in a moment). While you’ll need to arrange for your own domain and web hosting, you can implement PayPal’s “buy” and “donate” buttons with no additional costs. You can send digital invoices for free and only pay the transaction cost when the invoice is paid.

Likewise, access to PayPal’s mPOS app, PayPal Here (read our review) is also free. However, if you opt to integrate PayPal into a POS app, invoicing software, or another platform, you’ll be responsible for those software costs. PayPal doesn’t charge anything for use of the integration.

Also, take note: PayPal doesn’t charge merchants any PCI compliance fees, account maintenance fees, customer service fees, or termination/account closure fees.

However, PayPal does offer a couple of advanced software options that come with additional costs:

  • PayPal Payments Pro: The “Pro” plan from PayPal has two advantages. One, it includes a virtual terminal to accept payments over the phone by keying in a card from a browser window.  Two, it allows merchants to keep the checkout process on their own website rather than redirecting to PayPal to complete a transaction. This does come with a couple of concerns. For one, you’re not automatically PCI compliant and you’ll need to take additional steps to handle your PCI compliance. Two, $30/month for a virtual terminal is pretty pricey considering you’ll still pay higher rates than swiped/dipped/tapped transactions. Square and Shopify both offer free virtual terminals. Also, opting for PayPal Payments Pro and the Virtual Terminal will mean a few different transaction fees to worry about:
    • 3.5% American Express Fee: Any Amex cards will process at the higher 3.5% rate if you’re on the Pro plan.
    • 3.1% + $0.30 Virtual Terminal Fee: Any transactions processed through PayPal’s Virtual Terminal process at 3.1% + $0.30, plus the international transaction fee if applicable.
  • Recurring Billing: If you’d like to sell subscriptions (software, gift boxes, etc.), PayPal does offer a set of recurring billing tools. Recurring payments are available with PayPal’s Express Checkout Option at no additional charge, but if you have PayPal Payments Pro and want advanced tools, they’ll cost you $10/month. This doesn’t apply to “Donate” buttons, which have their own option for donors to choose between a one-time or recurring donation.

  • Mass Payouts: If you need to distribute funds to multiple parties, PayPal’s Mass Payouts feature might be an appealing option. You have two options here: using PayPal’s API to handle the command, or uploading a spreadsheet. Which method you choose affects how much you pay — if you opt to upload a spreadsheet through PayPal’s website, you’ll pay 2% per transaction, capped at a maximum $1 USD, which is pretty reasonable. If you opt for the API, you’ll pay a flat fee of $0.25 USD per payment. This is a great way to distribute payments to contractors, for example, or manage marketplace payments if you use PayPal’s platform.

PayPal Hardware Costs

Unless you’re integrating PayPal with a POS system or using the free mPOS, PayPal Here, you won’t have to worry about hardware costs. But if you do, you’ll have a few options for card readers:

  • Chip & Swipe Reader: PayPal’s entry-level chip reader sells for $24.99. In addition to EMV capabilities it supports magstripe transactions, but no contactless payments. However, it does connect to phones and tablets via Bluetooth and comes with a convenient mounting clip.
  • Chip & Tap Reader: To get a credit card reader that supports magstripe, EMV, and contactless payments, you’ll need the Chip and Tap reader, which sells for $59.99. We’ve already reviewed this reader as well as the optional charging dock ($30 separately, or bundled for $79.99), with a very positive rating. Again, the Chip and Tap reader connects via Bluetooth. In addition to the charging dock, it comes with a convenient mounting clip.
  • Chip Card Reader: The Chip Card Reader was the first EMV-enabled card reader PayPal offered, and it’s still the only hardware option for merchants who want to integrate with one of PayPal’s POS partners. It sells for $99 on the PayPal site, with an optional charging dock. Given the price point, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this all-in-one reader connects via Bluetooth.

  • Mobile Card Reader: PayPal used to offer its entry-level swipe-only reader for free, but now it sells for $15 because PayPal, like most processors, really wants you to start accepting EMV. Use of the mobile reader comes with limitations on accounts, so if you do a decent volume of credit card transactions and don’t want to encounter any holds on your funds, you should avoid the mobile reader at all costs:

*Key-in transactions and sales over $500 in a 7-day period made with the Mobile Card Reader are subject to an automatic 30-day reserve where funds are held in your PayPal account to cover the high risk associated with these types of transactions. For increased protection from fraudulent transactions, we recommend using a chip card reader. All PayPal accounts are subject to policies that can lead to account restrictions in the form of holds, limitations, or reserves. Additional information about these policies can be found in the PayPal User Agreement.

Apart from the cardreaders, PayPal doesn’t offer any proprietary hardware. If you need a countertop register setup, you can choose from an array of tablet stands, receipt printers, and cash drawers. A few select models are confirmed to work, while many others are “unofficially supported” in that they’re likely to work in most cases. The PayPal Here app doesn’t officially support any external barcode scanners (it supports in-app scanning using the device’s camera), but Bluetooth-enabled scanners may work with your setup.

Is PayPal Actually a Good Value?

We’ve talked pretty extensively about the cost of using PayPal, but we haven’t really talked about value. Because value is so much more than just the actual, physical cost. Value encompasses convenience, customer service, and other extra factors that could easily justify paying more than the absolute lowest prices.

PayPal isn’t the absolute cheapest processor out there — especially not for businesses that handle more than $10,000/month in credit card transactions. Larger businesses may be eligible for merchant accounts with volume discounts. For low-volume businesses, PayPal often does offer more competitive pricing because of the lack of monthly fees. The flat-rate pricing, especially for in-person transactions, can mean cost savings over interchange-plus.

But the real value in PayPal is the massive consumer trust and convenience. Just about everyone recognizes the PayPal name, and with 200+ million consumer users around the world, it’s safe to say a lot of people have PayPal accounts. The barriers to entry are minimal — you don’t need a huge amount of technological experience to implement PayPal for in-person or online payments. As long as you aren’t using PayPal Payments Pro, you don’t even have to worry about PCI compliance. PayPal handles it for you, at no additional cost.

Apart from the issue of account terminations or funding holds, the only other consistent complaint about PayPal is its customer service, and reports vary. Some merchants say they’ve never had a problem with customer service. Others say that their support reps have been downright unhelpful when they’ve called in. Fortunately, PayPal offers extensive self-help resources so you should be able to deal with most technical issues without having to contact PayPal directly.

I can’t say unequivocally that PayPal is right for everyone. It’s not. But it is a really good option for a lot of merchants, especially low-volume businesses that are just starting out. For a closer look at PayPal and all its services, we recommend checking out our PayPal and PayPal Here reviews.

If you’re not sure PayPal is right for you, I suggest looking at our Square vs. PayPal article, as the two companies are fairly similar in their business models and offerings.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you, so please drop us a comment!

The post The Complete Guide to PayPal’s Fees, Rates, and Pricing appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Do High-Risk Merchant Accounts With Instant Approval Exist?

Instant approval

It all started with the telegraph. Invented in 1837, this technological advance enabled nearly-instantaneous communication across vast distances for the first time ever. Its introduction into commercial use disrupted a courier system that had been the only available method of communicating from one distant place to another for thousands of years. In 1861, the completion of a telegraph line connecting the west and east coasts of the United States rendered the fledgling Pony Express obsolete practically overnight.

Today, of course, we take instantaneous communication for granted. Thanks to computers and the internet (and the fiber optic cables that actually connect them), we can send huge amounts of data anywhere in the world in practically no time at all. Given all this wonderful technology, if you’re a high-risk merchant, you might be wondering why it takes so long to get approved for a merchant account. You might also be sorely tempted by claims of “instant approval” from merchant account providers who advertise directly to the high-risk community, especially if you’re running an eCommerce business and you absolutely need to be able to accept credit cards. In this post, we’ll explain what “instant approval” really means and why it’s usually not a good idea, no matter how desperate you are to get a merchant account. We’ll also delve into how the high-risk merchant account approval process works and what you can do to make it run a little smoother – and faster. Finally, we’ll recommend a few reputable high-risk specialists that can get you set up with a stable and fairly priced merchant account.

What Is “Instant Approval”?

We get it. It’s no fun trying to run your business with an “In God we trust; all others pay cash” sign posted next to your cash register because you can’t get a merchant account. It also means disappointed customers and lost sales. Under these circumstances, the temptation to sign up with the first provider who will actually accept your business can be pretty overwhelming. Unfortunately, it’s also a really bad idea.

The simple reality is that it always takes longer to obtain final approval for a high-risk merchant account than it does for a low-risk business. While traditional low-risk businesses can expect to be approved within a day or two, high-risk merchant accounts require a minimum of three to five business days to be approved, and this process can sometimes take as long as three to five weeks. Why so long? Approving a high-risk business requires a far more extensive investigation into the credit history of both the business and the business owner. Poor personal credit on the part of the owner is one of several reasons why a business might be classified as high-risk in the first place. You’ll have to submit far more documentation and wait far longer for this process to be completed than a low-risk business would.

So, how can some providers even claim to offer “instant approval”? Well, for one thing, it’s not really instantaneous at all. If you see a provider advertising “instant approval,” there’s usually some fine print included with the offer specifying that approval actually takes 24-48 hours. While that’s a lot faster than the normal time-frame, it’s still not exactly “instant.” What these providers aren’t telling you is that approval for your merchant account is actually a two-step process. First, you must be approved by your merchant account provider. Second, you must be approved by the acquiring bank or backend processor that is actually going to underwrite your account and process your transactions.

Getting approved by your merchant account provider is actually pretty easy, but not for good reasons. The truth is that your merchant account provider’s business model is based on signing up as many merchants as possible in order to generate a profit. They’re also quite eager to have you sign a long-term contract, guaranteeing that you’ll be on the hook for three years or even longer. And if you close your account or go out of business, they’ll usually collect a hefty early termination fee (ETF). Because these early termination fees can run into the hundreds of dollars, it’s possible in some circumstances that your provider will make more money from the ETF than they will from your processing fees. High-risk businesses tend to fail at a higher rate than low-risk enterprises, and most of these providers will not hesitate to charge you the full ETF even if you’re going out of business. Although more and more providers are now offering month-to-month billing with no early termination fees to low-risk businesses, it’s still very unusual not to be required to sign a long-term contract – with an ETF – if you’re a high-risk business. Even the most reputable high-risk specialists almost always impose these terms, so be prepared for it and be sure to review your contract documents very carefully before you sign up for an account, even with a reputable provider.

The second step of the approval process, getting your acquiring bank or processor to approve you, is where the delays and difficulties come into play. The risk departments at these institutions really don’t like to approve high-risk merchant accounts due to the increased chance that you’ll run into problems later on. Every processor has their own criteria for determining whether you’re high-risk, and their own documentation requirements you’ll need to meet before they’ll even consider approving you for an account. While your merchant account provider is highly motivated to approve your account, your processor has every reason in the world not to approve it. Getting approved for a high-risk merchant account is an uphill battle, and the chance of being turned down is very high. Fortunately, there are some really good providers out there who specialize in getting high-risk accounts approved, and they’ll work with you to get your paperwork in order and find a bank that can approve you for an account.

Unfortunately, providers offering “instant approval” sometimes take some shortcuts with this process so they can get you on the hook for that long-term contract (and usually that ETF as well). What they advertise as “instant approval” (or being “pre-approved”) in most cases really means that they’re approving your account – and getting you to sign your contract – before your acquiring bank or backend processor has completed all the necessary steps to determine whether to approve your account. In some cases, your merchant account provider won’t even complete a credit check before approving your account.

This practice is all fine and dandy as long as your processor eventually approves your account. However, there’s a high chance that they won’t approve you, and by the time they make that determination you may very well be up and running with your credit card terminal or payment gateway. If this happens, you may suddenly find your account frozen and your funds being withheld. Even worse, you may have your merchant account closed altogether. (Note that in this case, you usually won’t be liable for an early termination fee since you aren’t the party deciding to close the account). In some cases, depending on the reason for your processor closing your account, you may even find yourself being placed on the Terminated Merchant File (TMF, also known as the MATCH List). Getting put on this list is really bad news, as it can completely prevent you from getting approved for a merchant account, even with another provider, for up to five years.

If you haven’t guessed by now, we highly recommend that you avoid any merchant account provider claiming to offer “instant approval” of your high-risk merchant account. This approval process is incomplete and can easily lead to your account getting shut down shortly after you start using it. No matter how inconvenient it is to wait for the approval process to run its course, in the long run, it’s a worthwhile trade-off to get a fully-approved account that will be stable and reliable.

How To Expedite Approval Of Your High-Risk Merchant Account

Get your merchant funds fast. Image description: Clock with money underneath it

While the approval process is unavoidably a lengthy one, there are steps you can take as a merchant to move things along a little quicker. These actions mainly serve to avoid the kinds of problems that might lead to delays in getting your account approved. Here’s what you’ll want to do:

  • Work With A Reputable High-Risk Specialist: The signup process can be sped up by ensuring there is a good chance of approval beforehand. This means working with a partner that has a proven track record and experience in your industry. High-risk specialists such as Durango Merchant Services will work with you to ensure that your paperwork is in order and can also work with a network of acquiring banks and processors to find one that will approve your business.
  • Have Your Paperwork In Order: You’ll need to provide far more information when applying for a merchant account as a high-risk business owner. If you can present all of this information with your initial application, it will save a significant amount of time during the approval process. We recommend that you scan all required documents as PDF files so you can simply email everything you need to your provider as part of your application. See below for a discussion of specific documentation requirements.
  • Be Completely Honest About Your Business: Are you selling medical marijuana (in a jurisdiction where it’s legal)? Do you have a personal bankruptcy on your record? Have you previously had a merchant account shut down by your provider? High-risk merchants who are desperate to get approved for a merchant account are often tempted to misrepresent these and other facts that might lead to them being disapproved for an account. Don’t do it! Intentionally failing to disclose important information or getting caught in a lie will almost always lead to you being turned down for an account — or having your account closed immediately once the processor discovers your dishonesty. You’re much better off being completely honest about your background. In many cases, you can still be approved for an account despite a little negative information.

As we’ve mentioned above, there’s a lot of paperwork involved with getting approved for a high-risk merchant account. While specific requirements vary from one provider to the next, here’s a generic list of the most commonly requested information:

  • Completed Merchant Account Application (from your merchant account provider)
  • Résumé or CV of business owner
  • Photo ID or Passport
  • Business Plan
  • Personal Utility Bill (used to verify your address)
  • Processing statements for at least the last three months (if you’re switching providers)
  • Copies of supplier’s agreements (for retail merchants)
  • Copies of your personal banking statements (usually for the last three months)
  • Personal reference letter from your bank
  • Copies of your business bank account statements (usually for the last three months)
  • Articles of Incorporation (or sole proprietorship documentation)
  • Articles of Association (if applicable)
  • Screenshot of your business website’s home page (if applicable)

Final Thoughts

If you’re a high-risk merchant, we understand that merchant accounts are not easy for you. Okay, they’re not easy for anyone, but high-risk factors make them even more complicated (and expensive) than they are for everyone else. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to get turned down a few times and start feeling like you have to sign up with any provider who will take you. Also, the inevitable delays in getting your account approved can make the possibility of “instant approval” seem very tempting. Resist that temptation. Instant approval isn’t what its promoters claim it is, and it’s a good way to set yourself up for much more serious problems down the road.

The difficulties that high-risk merchants encounter in getting a merchant account have, unfortunately, created a market opportunity for unscrupulous providers who use the lure of “instant approval” (or, sometimes, “guaranteed approval”) to lock you into a prohibitively expensive long-term contract with high fees, high processing rates, and an onerous early termination fee to discourage you from canceling your account on your own. Do a Google search for “high risk merchant” account, and you’ll quickly find ads from plenty of predatory merchant account providers looking to take advantage of your desperation.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are reputable providers who specialize in working with the high-risk community and will go out of their way to get you fully approved for an account. While their prices and contract terms won’t be as great as what a low-risk business could obtain, they’re still reasonable and backed up by top-notch customer support. We’d also note that none of the high-risk specialists we’ve found offer “instant approval.” Instead, they’ll work with you and help you to get your documentation squared away so you can be approved by one of their partner processors for a stable account that won’t get shut down the moment you actually try to use it.

Of all the high-risk specialists we’ve reviewed, we’ve found Durango Merchant Services and Easy Pay Direct to be among the best of the best. They both have strong track records of providing high-quality service at reasonable prices. For more recommendations, check out our post The Best High-Risk Merchant Account Providers or see the chart below.

Durango SMB Global Host Merchant Services Soar Payments

Review Visit Site Review Visit Site Review Visit Site Review Visit Site
Specialities International, Offshore, Credit Repair, Bad Credit, Vape/E-cigarettes, Fantasy Sports, Forex International, Offshore, Travel Businesses, Nutraceuticals, Multilevel Marketing, Kratom, CBD Oil Debt Collection, Life Coaching, Airlines, Loan Modification, SEO Services Antiques & Collectibles, Credit Repair, Debt Consolidation, Firearms & Ammunition, Precious Metals

The post Do High-Risk Merchant Accounts With Instant Approval Exist? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Accept Credit Cards Online

So you’ve realized you want to start selling online. Good for you! The ecommerce market is certainly booming. But before you can start raking in the money, you probably have a few questions, like “how do I make a website?” and “how do I accept credit cards online?” Here’s the good news: There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from! The bad news? There are plenty of software options and payment processors to choose from. So how do you choose?

As always, there’s no one perfect solution for everyone. You need to know your business (and where you want to go with it) and have a rough idea of what you need. If you have no idea where to start, never fear! In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic considerations about accepting credit card payments online, as well as types of payment processors and how to accept credit card payments online with and without a website. We’ll also discuss some of our favorite solutions for ecommerce and provide resources to help you learn more.

5 Questions To Ask Before You Start

It’s really important, before you dive headlong into any kind of financial investment in your business, to sit down and make sure that you know what you want and what you need. I say that a lot, but with selling online it’s especially important to look before you leap because if you get any component of your setup wrong, redoing it will cost time and money.

So before anything, here are some questions to consider:

  1. How technologically savvy are you? Simply put, are you even able to build and maintain your website yourself? If you’re not exactly a technological wizard, your priority should be finding an easy-to-manage solution. You can also outsource tasks you can’t handle yourself, such as design or even data entry for the creation of products. Of course, if you have an ambitious idea and no ready-made solution exists, or you need a lot of customization, you might need a developer who can work with software APIs to create what you need. You can find freelance developers to help out as you go, but the more high-tech you go, obviously, the more you should consider having a full-time developer.
  2. Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new site to sell a handful of products, payment buttons or plug-ins are better options. If you don’t have a site or you don’t mind nixing your current site in favor of something better, shopping cart software might meet the brief nicely. But of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
  3. What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind the more technically advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise, the busier your site — the more products you have and the more sales you make — the more you can expect to pay. Don’t forget the tangential costs, such as hiring a designer or a developer, or data entry, and of course, the costs of payment processing itself!
  4. What are you selling? Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscriptions/services, or retail products, look for service providers that cater to your industry so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but with add-ons and integrations to make them more tailored. You can also find payment processors and software that offer ready-made specialized solutions and service plans, such as micropayments for merchants who sell low-priced digital goods.
  5. How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, you have to make sure your website is secure. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden — in some cases, you may not need to do anything at all.

Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to actually start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor. However, depending on your business model, you might want to first look at what kind of ecommerce options work for you and then select a payment processor from the available options.

We’ll begin by talking about payment processors and go on to look at what other software or platforms you should explore.

Types Of Payment Processors

No matter how you go about finding a payment processor — choosing a standalone, going with the default processor included with your shopping cart, or choosing a recommended partner from a software provider — you need to consider what kind of business model the processor uses. If you’ve been here before and read any of my other articles, you know that I am talking about the difference between third-party payment processors versus traditional merchant accounts.

Traditional merchant accounts are very stable. It would take a clear violation of either your contract or card network rules in order to trigger an account termination, and you’re unlikely to encounter a hold on funds unless you’ve had a series of issues with chargebacks or fraudulent transactions. However, most merchant account providers expect you to have an established business and a monthly volume of $10,000 in credit card transactions. Plus, setting up a merchant account will typically take a few days. It could take longer depending on how many processors are on your short list and how much negotiation is required.

Third-party processors are not quite as stable as merchant accounts. That’s because instead of issuing separate accounts for each of their merchants, everything is lumped together in one giant, communal merchant account. It takes very little effort to apply for an account with one of these processors, and you can often get approved and set up to accept credit cards online within a day. Factor in no monthly minimum volume requirements and third-party processors provide a great way for new businesses to take payments. However, the trade-off is that you’ll face greater scrutiny and a higher risk for account holds or terminations, often with no warning. Check out our article on how to prevent merchant account hold and freezes to learn how to reduce your risk.

While third-party processors are riskier than merchant accounts, they are a great option for new businesses who don’t know what sort of volume they can expect and don’t have an established history. Even for established businesses, there are some advantages: namely, third-party processors offer predictable, flat-rate pricing, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay. The best merchant account providers typically offer interchange-plus pricing, which, while clear and transparent, doesn’t make it easy to accurately estimate processing because interchange rates vary.

It’s up to you to decide which type of processor is right for your business. I do want to point out that some software companies (ecommerce shopping carts, point of sale solutions, invoice platforms, and more) often build white-label payments into their solutions. These solutions can take the form of third-party processors or merchant accounts, so make sure you investigate before just going with the default processor. In addition to their native payment processing services, most ecommerce software providers support integrations with an assortment of merchant accounts and third-party payment processors.

Square is our top-pick for third-party payment processor. In addition to predictable, flat-rate pricing with no monthly fees or contracts, Square offers a whole suite of seamlessly integrated apps to address in-person and online sales at no charge at all. eCommerce transactions process at 2.9% + $0.30 each.

For merchant accounts, we recommend CDGcommerce, which offers flat-rate pricing and an interchange-plus option depending on the merchant’s payment volume. There are no monthly minimums and no contracts, just a $10 monthly fee. Low-volume merchants will pay 1.95% + $0.30 for most transactions, or 2.95% + $0.30 for premium, corporate, or international cards. Merchants who process more than $10,000/month are eligible for interchange-plus pricing with a 0.30% + $0.10 markup.

Does Your Payment Processor Include a Gateway?

If you want to accept credit card payments online, it’s not enough to find a credit card processor. You also need a gateway. As the name suggests, a gateway is an intermediary software program that transfers the payment data from your website to the customer’s bank to be approved or declined (and then routes the money to your merchant account).

Many payment processors offer gateways as part of their services. For example, PayPal, Square, and Stripe all offer gateways bundled with the rest of their services at no additional cost. CDGcommerce offers its Quantum gateway as part of its services for online merchants.

However, some processors will charge you a setup fee and/or a monthly fee for use of the gateway. While it’s fair and legitimate to charge for this service (especially if you’re being offered other discounts or freebies in exchange), there’s no reason for you to overpay, either. Make sure you know how much a gateway service will cost if it’s not offered for free.

While it’s rare to find a processor that doesn’t include some sort of gateway access, they do exist. In the event that you find yourself leaning toward one of these processors, you can find your own gateway. Authorize.net is nearly universally compatible and reasonably priced, which makes it a good option for most merchants. (Worth noting: CDGcommerce’s gateway, Quantum, also includes an Authorize.net emulation mode to maximize compatibility.)

Want to know more about how payment gateways figure into your ecommerce setup? Check out our article, The Complete Guide to Online Credit Card Processing With a Payment Gateway, for more information.

How To Accept Online Payments With A Website

A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary — we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports ecommerce.

Adding Payments To An Existing Site

best templates

If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the sitebuilder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. If you already know which payment processor you want to use, you can search directly for an available add-on. Otherwise, you can browse and see what options are ready-made for you. These add-ons will allow you to securely collect payment information from your customers as well as manage the order fulfillment process. Do your research and go with solutions from your site builder rather than third parties, if possible. Check reviews of any plugins or extensions you add and make sure they are well supported and any glitches are fixed in a timely manner.

If you run a WordPress site, WooCommerce or Ecwid could be good starter options. WooCommerce is actually a free plug-in to add to your site, with a basic theme and your choice of payment processors. It’s a very modular setup, so you can choose from a mix of free and paid extensions that allow you to customize WooCommerce to your needs. That includes payment processors, subscription tools, the ability to create add-ons (such as gift wrap for products), and more. Most WooCommerce add-ons are charged on an annual basis, which could require more of an up-front investment than a monthly subscription, so be aware of this fact.

Ecwid is another plug-in designed for WordPress. However, it also works on an assortment of other website-building platforms, including Wix and Weebly, Ecwid does offer a free plan for businesses with 10 or fewer products, but for higher-tiered plans you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee. Ecwid supports a wide assortment of integrations, including payment gateways. With higher plan tiers, you also get access to expanded sales channels.

Wix and Weebly’s website builders can be used for blogging, personal portfolios, and any other purposes. They both offer online store modules. Online stores from Wix start at $20/month with no transaction fees and your choice of processors. Upgrading to an eCommerce plan is fairly simple from within the Wix dashboard and won’t require any substantial reworking. Simply add the “My Store” module to your dashboard, make the upgrade, and start creating products.

Finally, there’s Weebly. Square actually bought Weebly in the spring of 2018, so it’s possible we could see Weebly start to favor Square pretty heavily in the future. For now, though, Weebly’s online store plans start at $8/month (on a yearly plan), with a 3% transaction fee on top of your processing costs. The transaction fee drops off with higher-tier plans, leaving just the monthly fee.

The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports customizable payment buttons. A good payment button creator will give you power over the appearance of the buttons as well as the settings for transactions. The obvious, go-to solution for many is PayPal, which offers a pretty powerful array of tools. PayPal’s buttons are a good option whether you are selling a single product or multiple ones. You can set up payment buttons to allow products to be added to a cart or to go directly to checkout. PayPal even allows nonprofits to create a “Donate” button for their site, which can be configured for one-time and recurring donations.

An alternative to PayPal is Shopify Lite, an entry-level solution. For $9/month plus transaction costs (2.9% + $0.30), you can accept payments on your website by adding payment buttons. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.) And it’s worth mentioning that Ecwid also supports the creation of custom buy buttons.

While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted ecommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with:

Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software

eCommerce software apps, sometimes also called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an ecommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly. Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels, so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.

As far as payment processing goes, some shopping carts have opted to include their own white-label payments as a default part of their services. One such cart is Shopify, which offers its own Shopify Payments service (read our review). However, this is just a white-label version of Stripe. Be aware that choosing a payment processor other than the default can incur additional fees.

Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.

There’s a lot to consider and compare with a shopping cart. Obviously, you can use a sitebuilder such as Weebly or Wix, which both offer eCommerce modules. Then there are ecommerce-exclusive platforms, including Shopify and BigCommerce, which make it easy to build your site and customize the design (and even offer blogging so you can centralize control of your website).

If you want a whole lot of freedom and have coding knowledge, an open-source platform such as Magento might be more to your liking. Open-source platforms tend to be chock-full of specialized features (particularly if they have attracted active user communities) and you have almost limitless control of your site. A closed-source, SaaS platform is certainly a lot easier and more convenient for business owners who are just starting out and want to go the DIY route.

If you aren’t sure what you want, we recommend you start by checking out Shopify and BigCommerce, both of which are affordably priced for new businesses and offer extensive customer support resources. They also both offer multi-channel sales manage so you can sell through your own site and through other platforms but manage all of your orders from a single portal.

If you’re still curious about what makes a great ecommerce platform, check out some of our other resources!

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store (eBook)
  • Shopping Cart Flowchart: Choose the Right eCommerce Software for Your Business (Infographic)
  • Shopping Carts 101: How to Choose a Shopping Cart for Your Business (Article)
  • Questions to Ask Before You Commit to a Shopping Cart (Article)

Managing Services, Subscriptions & Other Recurring Charges

A lot of merchants, from accountants and other professional service provideres to lawn care and cleaning services, could benefit from being able to automate recurring charges. And of course, the ability to automate charges is essential for SaaS providers and subscription-box sellers.

Generally speaking, the ability to accept recurring payments — for monthly services or subscriptions — isn’t a default option for payment processors or shopping carts, which tend to be retail-focused. However, you can find plenty of solutions that will work with your existing eCommerce setup. For example, Stripe and Braintree both offer extensive subscription management tools along with their payment gateway and processing services. Add-on services such as Chargify, Recurly, and ChargeBee work with a variety of processors. Zoho Subscriptions and Freshbooks also offer recurring billing tools. PayPal offers recurring billing tools for its merchants; Square offers “recurring invoices” but not a lot of advanced customization for subscription billing.

Proper research will be very important when selecting a provider that offers all of the features you need, whether you require metered billing for usage-based online services, the ability for customers to upgrade to a higher tiered plan mid-billing cycle, the ability to offer free trial periods and extend them, or a way to calculate taxes. Tools that automatically update expired cards can also help reduce failed charges and therefore improve revenues and reduce customer loss.

Accepting Online Payments Without A Website

Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.

Creating Online Invoices

You could create your own invoices in Microsoft Office and send them out via email, but then you’ve got to keep track of which invoices have been sent and which have been paid — and you’ve still got to deal with waiting for the check in the mail. Online invoicing solutions can eliminate every single one of these hassles.

Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email (or generate a shareable link to the invoice). But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.

Depending on which invoicing software you choose, you can get some powerful features. For example, PayPal allows you to enable partial payments on an invoice if you are willing to accept installment payments. Square’s invoicing links up with the platform’s customer database, allowing you to send recurring invoices and even store customer cards on file to make getting paid even easier. Zoho Invoice, which starts at $0/month, also allows for a customer database, as well as project management (so you can generate an invoice based on the number of hours worked). Shopify offers invoice creation within its platform at no additional charge as well — and this feature is even available on the Lite plan.

For most merchants, Square Invoices may be the most appealing, as it’s available with a Square account at no additional charge. However, Shopify’s built-in invoicing will work for merchants who want to sell with or without a website. Merchants who need project management as part of their invoicing should look at Zoho Invoice.

Using Online Form Builders

So you don’t have a website, but you still need to collect user information and accept payment. Online form builders offer an easy way to do both. Plus, you can post links to forms on social media or send them out via email.

Off the top of your head, you might think of Google Forms, which is free to use and quite advanced for a freemium software. However, it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with payment processors. Your best option, in this case, would be to use PayPal’s embeddable buy buttons and include the button in the form’s submission confirmation page as a second step. However, you’ll have to manually reconcile the payment records versus form submissions.

Subscription-based form builders will cost you money but offer far more capabilities than Google Forms, including direct integrations with payment processors/gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net. Subscriptions generally work on annual or monthly plans, but one option, Cognito Forms, offers an entry-level plan that charges 1% of the transaction amount instead. (Note, that’s in addition to any processing fees.) Other form solutions worth looking into are Zoho Forms and Jotform. Zoho Forms starts at $10/month and includes unlimited forms and up to 10,000 submissions. It integrates with both PayPal and Stripe. Jotform’s paid plans start at $19/month and are limited to 1,000 submissions, but include integrations for quite a few payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, Square, and even Dwolla. Cognito Forms’ paid plans start at $10/month plus 1% of the transactions and include up to 2,000 form submissions. Integrations include PayPal and Stripe.

And we haven’t even talked about event registration sites. There are a lot of them, but the one many people are likely familiar with is EventBrite. EventBrite allows you to put all the details of your event online and sell tickets — including setting multiple tiers of admission and promotion cards, automatically setting price changes for registration deadlines, and so on. You can even collect marketing data about your patrons, from their zip codes to how they heard about the event. Your event is searchable from within the EventBrite platform, allowing people searching for something to do to discover your event as well. EventBrite does charge fees on top of processing costs, but these can actually be passed onto event registrees, saving you some money at least.

Selling On Social Media

It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your own online shop through Facebook, or sell on Instagram or even Pinterest.

With Facebook, you just need a Facebook business page to get started. You can choose your payment processor (PayPal or Stripe) and start manually uploading products, all of which have to be reviewed by Facebook before they can go live. An easier option is to link your Facebook shop to an online store builder such as BigCommerce, Ecwid, or Shopify.

Shopify is actually an interesting solution because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan for $9/month that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and a Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to go through the hassle of building a website with Shopify just to sell on Facebook, but you still get more tools than you would by going through Facebook directly. Check out our Shopify Lite review for an in-depth look at the plan and all its features.

Selling on Instagram requires you to have a Facebook shop (because Facebook owns Instagram) to create what it calls “Shoppable posts.” That shop can be managed directly via Facebook itself, or via Shopify or BigCommerce as one of multiple sales channels. I’d like to point out that Instagram isn’t available as a sales channel with the Lite plan; you’ll need to upgrade to Shopify Basic at $29/month to be able to manage sales via Instagram.

Lastly, Pinterest allows merchants with a business account to create “Buyable pins,” so you can sell from your Pinterest page. Unlike Facebook, where you can manage the buyable pins from the platform, to sell through Pinterest you will need to go through either Shopify or BigCommerce and actually apply for approval before you can start selling.

Shopify Lite is an ideal option if you want to start with Facebook and maybe add buy buttons to a website. You can upgrade to Shopify Basic ($29/month) to get your own site, plus access to Instagram and Pinterest if that appeals to you.

Selling In Marketplaces

Online marketplaces are a good alternative to having your own website if you’re selling retail goods. You don’t have to pay for hosting or invest anything in web design. You simply create your product listings using the tools provided and publish them. Marketplaces allow you to get your products in front of a large audience without you having to build a stream of traffic yourself. However, the trade-offs are that you generally pay more in fees (listing fees, seller’s fees, and payment processing) than you would with your own website, and you have zero control over the design of the site or even how your products are displayed. Generally speaking, you are limited to using whatever payment processing the marketplace offers as well.

A few popular marketplaces include:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Jet (owned by Walmart)
  • Ruby Lane

Accepting Payments Through Virtual Terminals 

The final alternative is a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit, but it can be a powerful tool for some merchants. A virtual terminal is a web portal where you can manually enter credit card information to process a transaction. (There’s the stretch: VTs require an internet connection, so they’re technically online payments.)  Virtual terminals are a necessity for merchants who want to accept payments over the phone (or even by mail).

Some payment processors offer a virtual terminal as part of their software package, others as an add-on. These providers include PayPal, Payline Mobile, Square, and Fattmerchant. However, if you want the best value for a virtual terminal, we recommend Square. You pay only the payment processing costs (3.5% + $0.15) and it is interoperable with the rest of Square’s platform.

Beyond Credit Cards: Alternative Online Payment Methods

Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too.

Offering ACH processing as an additional option, especially if you’re in the B2B space, could win you more customers. According to a 2017 Payment Benchmarks Survey by the Credit Research Foundation and the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), ACH transfers currently account for 32 percent of B2B transactions, lagging behind checks, which took the no. 1 spot at 50 percent. Credit cards account for just 11 percent of B2B transactions. By 2020, the survey estimates that ACH will take the top spot and account for 45 percent of B2B transactions.

Despite this, most merchant accounts or even third-party processors don’t offer ACH by default. Some offer it as an add-on plan, others may require you to look for a supplemental option for ACH acceptance.

ACH is far from the only option as far as “alternative” payment processing now, too. Mobile wallets are bridging the gap between in-person and online payments, and card networks have implemented their own online checkout options for cardholders. The major advantage to accepting these options is that they offer an extra layer of security for consumers. For example, Apple Pay on the web still requires biometric authentication before approval.

Some of these alternative payment methods include:

  • Apple Pay on the Web
  • Google Pay
  • Microsoft Pay
  • Chase Pay
  • MasterPass
  • Visa Checkout
  • Amex Express checkout

Apple Pay and Google Pay are fairly widely supported, but you may not see the other options on this list everywhere.

Two noteworthy providers that offer ACH, as well as other alternative payment options, are Stripe and Braintree. However, both are developer-focused platforms, so you’ll need someone with the technical know-how to implement them. Merchant accounts that specialize in eCommerce and provide a solid gateway might offer these options too.

We recommend Stripe because of its extensive developer tools, customizable checkout, and resources for recurring billing. The company also offers round-the-clock customer support (an admittedly recent addition to its feature set). Plus, Stripe is great for international merchants who want to be able to accept localized currencies in Europe and Asia.

Begin Accepting Payments Online

Starting an online store and learning how to accept credit cards online can seem like a daunting task! There are so many factors to consider, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the process and point you in the direction of some good options. A merchant account can give you security and stability, but it may not be the most cost-effective option for low-volume merchants. A third-party processor can get you set up quickly with predictable pricing that often favors low-volume merchants, but the trade-off is account stability. And of course there’s the matter of compatibility: You need to make sure that whatever payment processor you choose offers a gateway compatible with the software (and sales channels) you want to use.

But you also need to have a good idea of what you can afford to spend up front and on a monthly basis and understand your limitations when it comes to technology and software. If you want to go the DIY route, you’ll need to be fairly tech-savvy. Otherwise, be prepared to outsource tasks to designers, developers, and even admin assistants. Some software solutions make it incredibly easy to do everything yourself, others will require lots of hands-on effort to make them work.

If you’re still not sure where to go from here, we recommend you check out our article: The Best Online Credit Card Payment Processing Companies. You can also view our merchant account comparison chart for a quick look at our favorite providers.

Have questions? We’re always happy to hear from our readers, so please leave us a comment!

The post How To Accept Credit Cards Online appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Choose The Best Products to Sell Online

Best Products to Sell Online

You’ve probably landed here on this beautiful wall of text because you’re wanting to start an online store and are wondering, “What are the best products to sell online?”

The short version – it depends 🙂

The long version – keep reading for specific ideas to find the best product for you to sell online.

There are hundreds of articles out there talking about trending products for [insert year here], the best all-time products, rising products, etc., but these resources are typically 100% based on what’s happening now.

So, how do you know what the best products are in general?

Again, spoiler alert: there is no such thing as a best product to sell online!

Sure, there are basic principles to stick to, such as

  • products with a high average order value
  • things that can be drop shipped / don’t require a high-touch in store experience
  • products that can be shipped cheaply and easily, etc.

But with that said, if you look at the brands that are killing it online right now, like Native, Dollar Shave Club, and Tuft & Needle… they break all of those “rules”. Native sells deodorant, Dollar Shave Club built an entire business on super-cheap razors, and Tuft & Needle sells mattresses (a product that typically requires a high-touch in-store experience with high shipping costs).

I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as the “best” anything — instead, I operate from “best for your skills, knowledge, resources, and goals”.

So when it comes to starting your online store, the key is to move out of the “best product to sell online” mindset and into the “best product for ME to sell online” mindset. And that’s a product that fits your skill set, knowledge, resources, timeline, and market demand.

There are several approaches to finding the best product to sell online for you… and that’s what I’ll be breaking down in this post.

How to Find the Best Products to Sell Online (For You)

The Product Research Route (Amazon scraping, Adplexity, etc)

Thanks to platforms like Amazon, anyone can sell something online — and luckily for you, there is a giant trove of product data just waiting for you on the Internet.

One way to figure out what to sell is by looking at other products that are performing well and weighing those against your own wants and needs.

The goal here is to collect data on what’s working already, then reverse engineer an ecommerce strategy to sell it.

For example, let’s say you’re looking on Amazon for bestselling dog toys. You could look at niches within dog toys to niche-down into subcategories, look at best-selling products within those subcategories, see top sellers to identify competitors — the opportunities are endless.

Amazon Bestselling Dog Toys

The bonus here is you don’t have to do this manually — and you’re not limited to Amazon’s data. Spy tools like Adplexity and Jungle Scout can aggregate product data across several ecommerce platforms and even show you competitor’s ads so you can reverse engineer a marketing strategy that works.

With that said, keep in mind that everyone has access to this data, which means you won’t be the only one reverse engineering a successful product. What’s really going to set you apart is choosing a successful product that fits your own criteria and knocking your marketing strategy out of the park.

The Persona Research Route

People are constantly searching for things online. Think about your own behavior — where do you go when you’re looking for the “best swimsuits for speed” or “most durable dog toys for puppies”?

As a business owner, you can use this data to figure out what people actually want and give it to them. In marketing, this approach is known as creating a persona (marketing jargon for a description of your ideal customer).

An effective persona defines what your ideal customer actually wants. Who are they? What problems do they have? How can you solve these problems.

Use tools like Facebook Audience Insights, Pinterest, Google Display Planner, Trend Hunter, and basic keyword research (see here) to create 2-4 personas that outline your ideal customers. Be as descriptive as possible by including things like job title, favorite device, pay scale, main frustrations & problems, end goals, what they do in their spare time, etc. Use this detailed guide by Moz to guide you through the process.

Remember that your personas don’t have to be the end all be all. The focus here is to define your initial target market that’s small enough you can effectively reach them but large enough to get some insight on what products will fit their needs (and to get some initial sales and feedback on those products so you can polish what you’re offering).

Nearly every business started this way (think about how Facebook started by targeting college students). Here’s a podcast episode explaining this concept [skip to the ~ 11-minute mark].

The Sell What You Know Route

Perhaps the most self-explanatory method for finding the best product to sell online is selling what you know. What are you good at? Passionate about? Experienced with? Use that experience, channel it into a need, and sell it.

Take Quad Lock, a bike mount designed by a biker who was unsatisfied with the mounts on the market, so he designed one he wanted and sold it. The founder used used his own experience (biking) and pain point (ineffective mounts for his iPhone) to create a product that others love too.

Keep in mind though, it isn’t just about the product. Quad Lock leveraged reviews and Facebook and Google ads to get the right people to the product. You’ll need to have a proper and realistic marketing funnel behind whatever it is you’re selling.

The Build an Audience Route

Traditionally, ecommerce business owners take a “build it and they will come” approach to product development and selling online. This method takes the opposite approach. Instead of creating a product and finding an audience to sell it to, you’ll first build an audience and bring them a product they actually want.

Both approaches have advantages — again, there is no blanket “best” way or “best” product to sell online. Once again, it depends on your goals.

Building your product first and selling it to an audience could bring in revenue faster (as long as you build a product that actually sells). However, you do run a higher risk of creating a product that doesn’t fit the market as well as it might if you were to build an audience first, learn about them, and give them what you want.

The tradeoff here is time vs. money. If you have the time to build out an audience, nurture them, and build a minimally viable product to get feedback on, this route can save you the headache of launching a product that no one wants (see The $100 Startup). However, if you need to generate revenue quickly, this path might not be the best option.

The Rapid Product Testing Route

If you’ve ever donated to a kickstarter campaign, or if you know anything about Tim Ferris and the 4-Hour Work Week, then you know how successful rapid testing a bunch of product ideas can be.

Ferriss did it with different ads, headlines, and even book titles until he found what worked, and you can take the same approach with your own product development. The goal here is to get a ton of data quickly. What are people clicking on? What are they signing up to learn more about? What’s sticking? Once you have that info, keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.

Again, the tradeoff here is time and/or money. You have to give yourself enough of a runway to actually test and get the data, whether you’re starting a campaign on Kickstarter, offering email and social demos to find that one customer with a new idea, or running multiple Google Adwords campaigns to test which promotions get the most traction.

The Niche / Tailwind Route

Sometimes it’s worth sticking to what’s already working. Similar to reverse engineering products that are performing well and fit your criteria, you can also find a growing niche and/or company and build out products that complement them.

A classic example of this is the cell phone case industry. Before the iPhone blew up, cell phone cases were practically non-existent. But once the iPhone took off, an entire niche industry was born.

This is happening all the time. Think about Peloton — the at home spin bike that’s building an entire submarket that needs attention. There are constantly new opportunities to hop on board with what’s working and complement it with submarket products of your own.

The Supplier / Numbers Route

Keep in mind that you don’t always have to supply a product. Sometimes the best product to sell online could be one that someone else has created. In this scenario, you’d focus on building a killer marketing strategy for the product.

For example, let’s say you have a dentist friend who has a patented a new mouthguard that’s amazing, but he has no idea how to sell it. You could start an ecommerce business with exclusive access to the product at a price that makes sense. He’d be your supplier while you’d focus on getting sales.

Even if you don’t know someone directly who has an amazing product, you could always research suppliers on AliExpress or Alibaba, or connect to people who have great industry contacts in a niche you know well enough to navigate profit margins and create a marketing strategy that gets the products to move.

Alibaba

Either way, you’re removing yourself from the product definition. Instead, you’re looking at suppliers who have already created a killer product and need someone (AKA you) to sell it.

Next Steps / Takeaways

Finding the best products to sell online really has less to do with there being a “best” product and more to do with having a system and approach to finding a product that fits your own needs, skills, and means.

Instead of randomly brainstorming and endlessly searching online for that one big idea, take time to do an inventory of your own needs. Think about your skill set, knowledge, resources, and timeline to launch your product. Then, choose one of the methods above to find the product that best aligns with your defined criteria.

You also want to find the best way to sell – here’s how to choose the best ecommerce platform.

The post How To Choose The Best Products to Sell Online appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The Best Offshore Merchant Account Providers

Offshore Merchant Account Providers

Ordinary payment processing is complicated. But finding good offshore, international, or high-risk payment solutions can be a real nightmare. If you fall into one of these categories, you’ve likely had your merchant account applications denied at least a few times. Even worse, perhaps you’ve had your processing service terminated and your money withheld from you for months. We understand your struggle. We’ve seen hundreds of businesses go through the exact same thing, and we’re here to help you find the perfect offshore merchant account for your high-risk business.

If you’re just looking for a run-of-the-mill high-risk merchant account for your business, you’ll want to check out our article The Best High-Risk Merchant Account Providers. The high-risk category often includes business types that you wouldn’t normally associate with the term “high-risk,” such as airlines or online furniture sales. While these types of businesses are usually treated as high-risk by banks and processors, they can usually be approved for a domestic merchant account by working with a high-risk specialist.

For our purposes, we’ll use the terms offshore merchant account and international merchant account interchangeably, as they mean the same thing. Both terms refer to a merchant account that is underwritten by a bank or processor that is situated in a different country from the one where the business is located. The most common reasons for needing an offshore account include the following:

  • You do a significant amount of business in a foreign country and need to accept payments in the local currency.
  • Your business has offices in multiple countries, and you need separate merchant accounts for each location.
  • Your business is considered to be so risky that you cannot obtain a regular high-risk merchant account in your own country.

Below, we’ll discuss the factors to evaluate when considering an offshore merchant account and several special features that you’ll want to include in your service. We’ll also profile four offshore merchant account providers that we feel offer superior service and overall value in comparison to their competitors.

Factors To Consider When Selecting An Offshore Merchant Account

While many offshore merchant account providers also specialize in high-risk accounts more generally, not all high-risk processors work with international merchants or provide offshore accounts for domestic merchants. Many high-risk specialists only work with US-based businesses, and only provide accounts through US-based banks and processors. Before you apply for an offshore account, you’ll want to confirm that the company you’re considering works with businesses located in your country. This information might be spelled out explicitly on the provider’s website, or you might have to talk to their sales staff to get a confirmation.

Providers that specialize in setting up offshore merchant accounts can usually get you an account in just about any country around the world, though obviously, there are exceptions. As a US-based merchant, don’t expect to set up your offshore account in a place like Afghanistan or North Korea. It’s simply not going to happen. With the exception of countries limited by political considerations or a high level of instability, however, the possibilities are wide open.

In most cases, you should aim to get an account in a country where you expect to do a significant amount of business. On the other hand, if your business is going to operate exclusively in the United States, an offshore account serves mainly as a last resort for getting a merchant account when you simply can’t get approved for a domestic high-risk account. Banking regulations are more relaxed in certain other countries, and the willingness on the part of banks and processors to work with high-risk businesses is also more favorable. At the same time, you should be aware that setting up an offshore account under these circumstances, while it might be your only option for accepting credit cards, can present some serious risks to you as well. Your ability to pursue a legal remedy against a foreign bank or processor might be severely limited – or even nonexistent. At a minimum, you should consider legally registering your business in the country where your account will be located. Even with legal standing in the country, however, be aware that it might be extremely inconvenient and expensive to pursue a legal action outside of your own country.

There’s also an increased risk that you could become the victim of fraud or identity theft. Banks in other countries collect the same personal data about you and your business that US-based banks do, but they don’t always do as good a job of protecting it. You’ll want to keep an especially close eye on your merchant account, your business account, and any personal accounts about which you’ve released information to get approved for an offshore merchant account.

High-risk merchant accounts are notorious for including higher processing rates and account fees, and offshore accounts can be even worse. Providers know you’re particularly desperate and some, but not all, will take advantage of your situation by charging you as much as they think they can get away with. We recommend that you shop around and compare multiple quotes when looking for an offshore account. Don’t accept the first offer from a bank or processor just because they’re the first one that hasn’t rejected your application due to the nature of your business.

Note that merchant account providers who market offshore accounts often downplay or fail to mention these risk factors, so it’s up to you to look out for yourself. Do your own independent research, compare multiple offers, and thoroughly review all contract documents before you sign up for an account.

Special Features Of Offshore Merchant Accounts

For the most part, you’ll want the same services and features for an offshore account that you would want for a traditional merchant account. This includes processing hardware such as credit card terminals and POS systems for retail merchants, and a robust payment gateway for eCommerce merchants. You’ll also want an online account dashboard of some kind that allows you to monitor your sales in real-time. While online account access is now a standard feature in the United States, you might not always find this feature with an offshore account. Mail-order and telephone-order (MOTO) businesses often find a virtual terminal to be the most cost-effective method for inputting transactions. Depending on the needs of your business, a smartphone- or tablet-based mobile processing system might also be important. Almost all providers offer some type of mobile processing system these days, either as a proprietary product or through a partnership with a third-party provider. Be aware that very few mobile processing systems have begun to offer EMV-compatible card readers, and you’ll often be stuck with a magstripe-only reader.

In addition to these basic merchant account features, there are several special features that your offshore merchant account might (or might not) include. How important these features are to your business will be determined by how you intend to use your account. Extra features to look for in an offshore merchant account include the following:

  • Multi-Currency Support: If you’re going to do business in a foreign country, it only makes sense that you’ll want your customers to be able to pay in their local currency. Multi-currency accounts allow you to maintain balances in multiple currencies and can save you a ton of money in currency conversion costs.
  • Currency Conversion Services: Having an offshore account will invariably require you to convert funds into your own local currency at some point. Most offshore account providers include built-in currency conversion services that allow you to convert foreign funds when it comes time to transfer them to your business account. While these services can sometimes offer you much lower conversion fees than what a bank would charge you, it still pays to shop around for the best deal on this service. You might save money by using an international transfer service such as TransferWise or OFX.
  • Expanded Anti-Fraud Features: Offshore merchant accounts invariably involve a higher degree of risk of fraud than their traditional counterparts, so you’ll want as many extra services to avoid it as you can get. Most offshore account providers offer a number of enhanced anti-fraud features as a standard part of their service. These features automatically detect suspicious activity, hopefully stopping any fraudulent activity before it can affect your business. Providers are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) features to improve their ability to detect potential fraud beyond what would be possible with a traditional algorithm.

With these considerations in mind, let’s take a brief look at four of our overall favorite offshore merchant account providers:

Durango Merchant Services

Durango Merchant Services is a small merchant account provider headquartered in Durango, Colorado. Established in 1999, the company specializes in providing high-risk and offshore merchant accounts to hard-to-place businesses. They work with a wide variety of banks and processors to find a suitable account for almost any business. While they can’t place 100% of the merchants who apply to them, their track record is very good, and their sales process is so transparent and honest that we’ve even seen praise for the company from merchants who’ve been turned down for an account.

If you need an offshore account, Durango has you covered. Their accounts include multicurrency support as well as enhanced anti-fraud features to keep you protected. They can set up accounts in countries as diverse as Germany, Panama, Spain, and many others.

Durango doesn’t try to set you up with expensive leases when it comes to processing equipment. Instead, they offer a variety of terminals for sale right on their website. Options include both wired and wireless models, with some offerings that support NFC payments. They also sell the iPS Mobile Card Terminal, which connects to a smartphone to provide mobile payments capability in conjunction with the iProcess mobile app. If you’re using a virtual terminal, they sell the MagTek DynaMag, a USB-connected magstripe card reader that attaches to your computer. Unfortunately, it’s Windows-only. Durango currently doesn’t offer any POS systems for sale.

The company supports eCommerce through its proprietary Durango Pay payment gateway, which integrates with the numerous processors the company uses and includes support for most of the popular online shopping carts. Durango’s gateway also features an Authorize.Net Emulator, which allows it to interface with any shopping cart that works with Authorize.Net (see our review).

Because Durango works with such a wide variety of third-party processors to set you up with an offshore merchant account, they don’t list rates or fees on their website. These will vary tremendously depending on which processor they set you up with. While we normally like to see more transparency from merchant account providers, in this case, it’s understandable. Depending on your qualifications, you can expect either an interchange-plus pricing plan or a tiered one. Merchant accounts through Durango don’t seem to have standardized fees. Again, these will depend on the terms that your backend processor imposes.

Durango assigns a dedicated account manager to every one of their merchants, which means you’ll be talking to the same person every time you have an issue. While this can sometimes be problematic outside of regular business hours and when your account manager isn’t available, overall it provides a much higher level of service than you’ll get from a random customer service representative.

Pros

  • Direct sales of processing equipment
  • Reasonable rates and fees based on your business and your backend processor
  • Dedicated account manager for customer service and support

Cons

  • No support for POS systems
  • USB card reader not compatible with Mac computers

For more information about Durango Merchant Services, read our complete review.

SMB Global

SMB Global logo

SMB Global is a new high-risk provider that was spun off from one of our favorite providers, Payline Data in 2016. Headquartered in South Jordan, Utah, the company specializes in providing merchant accounts to high-risk and offshore businesses. Using a variety of backend processors, they’re able to approve a merchant account for almost any high-risk business (including those selling CBD oils). They have an excellent reputation for fair prices and top-notch customer service.

As a newly-established business, SMB Global is still a little rough around the edges, lacking a mobile processing system and credit card terminals for retail merchants. At the same time, they offer a full range of services for eCommerce merchants, including a choice between the NMI Gateway and Authorize.Net.

Because they work with so many banks and processors to get you approved for an account, the company doesn’t offer any pricing information. Processing rates, account fees, and contract terms will all vary widely depending on which backend processor is handling your account. While we highly recommend that you request an interchange-plus pricing plan, be prepared to have to accept a tiered plan instead, particularly if you haven’t been in business for very long. Likewise, you can also expect to have a standard three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee if you close your account early. As a high-risk merchant, you should be prepared to have a rolling reserve included in your account agreement.

SMB Global requires a minimum processing volume of $50,000 per month for an offshore merchant account, although they will occasionally waive this requirement if your business has a very strong financial history. Offshore accounts support multi-currency processing, allowing you to avoid cross-border fees. They also feature dynamic currency conversion, letting your customers pay in either their local currency or the currency in which you bill them.

Pros

  • Offers international merchant accounts to a wide variety of industries
  • Reasonable pricing and contract terms
  • Excellent customer service

Cons

  • No mobile app
  • No information available about credit card terminals or POS systems

For a more detailed look at SMB Global, be sure to check out our full review.

Host Merchant Services

Host Merchant Services is a relative newcomer to the merchant accounts business, first opening in 2009. The company is headquartered in Newark, Delaware and has a second office in Naples, Florida. While they primarily cater to traditional, low-risk businesses, they can accommodate several categories of high-risk businesses and also offer offshore accounts. Their interchange-plus-only pricing and a full range of products and services make them an excellent choice – if you can get approved. A former web hosting company, HMS is ideally suited for eCommerce merchants. They use TSYS as their primary backend processor, but can also work with several international banks and processors to get you an account.

For retail merchants, HMS offers a variety of Verifone and Equinox (formerly Hypercom) terminals. Terminals are offered for sale, and the company does not lease its equipment. While prices are not disclosed on the HMS website, you should be able to negotiate a very reasonable deal on terminals, especially if you need more than one. If you already have a compatible terminal, they’ll reprogram it for free.

HMS also offers a variety of POS systems that utilize either tablets or touchscreen displays. Choices range from an 8” tablet-based system up to a 17” touchscreen monitor. The company’s Starter, Plus, TouchStation Plus, and Custom POS options should meet the requirements of just about any business that needs or wants a POS system.

If you need a mobile processing capability for your business, HMS has you covered, offering the ProcessNow mobile payments system via a partnership with TSYS. ProcessNow works with either iOS or Android phones, but the current card reader is magstripe-only and requires a headphone jack to plug into.

As a tech-focused company, eCommerce is HMS’ specialty. The company has recently introduced their proprietary Transaction Express payment gateway, which includes a free virtual terminal. HMS also supports a large number of third-party gateways, including Authorize.Net.

HMS uses interchange-plus pricing exclusively for its low-risk merchants, but you might have to pay tiered rates if you have an offshore account. While they don’t disclose their rates on their website, they’re based primarily on monthly processing volume and are very competitive. Fees are not disclosed either, but include a $24.00 annual fee, a $14.99 monthly account fee (which includes PCI compliance), a variable payment gateway fee ($5.00 per month for Transaction Express, $7.50 per month plus $0.05 per transaction for Authorize.Net) and the usual incidental fees (i.e., chargebacks, voice authorizations, etc.). High-risk and offshore merchants should expect to pay higher fees than these, and possibly additional fees as well. In particular, be prepared to have a rolling reserve included as part of your account.

HMS provides customer service and support via 24/7 telephone and email. Chat is available via the HMS website during regular business hours. They also feature an extensive collection of articles and blog posts on their site for customer education. Support quality appears to be well-above-average, based on the almost complete absence of complaints about it on the BBB and other consumer protection websites. If your business falls into one of the categories of high-risk activities that the company can accommodate, HMS is an excellent choice for an offshore merchant account.

Pros

  • Full range of products and services for retail and eCommerce businesses
  • Exclusive interchange-plus pricing plans (for low-risk businesses)
  • Excellent customer service and support

Cons

  • Rates and fees not disclosed on website
  • Can only accommodate a small number of high-risk business categories
  • Mobile card reader not EMV-compliant

For more information, see our complete review.

Easy Pay Direct

Easy Pay Direct logo

Easy Pay Direct is headquartered in Austin, Texas and has been in business since 2000. The company’s primary product is their proprietary EPD Gateway, but they also provide full-service merchant accounts for international, high-risk, and traditional non-high-risk merchants. High-risk merchants will have to pay a premium in terms of processing rates and account fees, whether they’re partnered with a domestic or offshore bank or processor. However, the additional expense is entirely reasonable under the circumstances.

Like most offshore merchant account specialists, Easy Pay Direct works with a variety of banks and processors, both domestic and international, to find one that’s a match for the needs of your business. You’ll have to pay a $99 account setup fee to get started, but considering the extra effort required to underwrite a high-risk or offshore account, we feel the expense is justified in this case. Processing rates will be under a tiered pricing plan, but you should still have some room to negotiate your rates, especially if you have a high monthly processing volume. Contracts generally follow the industry standard, or a three-year initial term that automatically renews for one-year periods after that. One very positive feature about Easy Pay Direct’s contracts is that they do not have an early termination fee, even for high-risk businesses. While this isn’t quite the same thing as true month-to-month billing, it does make it much easier to close your account without penalty if you have to.

One helpful feature offered by Easy Pay Direct is called load balancing, where a business can divide its incoming funds among multiple merchant accounts. This is particularly helpful for high-risk businesses that often exceed the monthly processing volume limits imposed by the processor underwriting their account. Just be aware that you’ll usually have to pay separate monthly fees for each account, so it might not be cost-effective for some merchants. Also, be aware that you might not need this feature if you opt for an offshore account. Underwriting guidelines in some (but by no means all) foreign countries are more relaxed, and you might not have a monthly processing limit imposed on your account at all.

Although Easy Pay Direct doesn’t get as much attention as other, better-known processors, it’s a solid choice for merchants in the high-risk category or those who need an offshore account. We particularly recommend the company for high-risk eCommerce businesses due to the robust feature set of their EPD Gateway.

Pros

  • Load balancing feature for high-risk merchants
  • No equipment leases
  • No early termination fee

Cons

  • $99 account setup fee
  • Three-year contract with automatic renewal clause

Check out our full review of Easy Pay Direct for more information.

Final Thoughts

Having a hard-to-place business doesn’t mean you have to run your company through Bitcoin. You can accept credit card payments just like any other business by finding a payment processor that will set you up with the right acquiring banks. At the same time, you need to be fully aware that, for a US-based business, signing up for an offshore merchant account is a risky endeavor. You’ll want to be very cautious and carefully research any provider you consider, even the ones we’ve recommended above. Take extra care to protect your sensitive personal financial data and be sure your account includes additional fraud prevention features. You might also want to consider registering your business in the country where your merchant account is located – just in case. Having a merchant account in Panama might sound very tempting if you’ve been repeatedly turned down by domestic providers, but it will be very expensive to have to travel there in person if you later run into legal troubles with your account provider.

Of the four offshore merchant account providers we’ve reviewed above, Durango Merchant Services is undoubtedly the best all-around provider of the group. They disclose more detailed information about offshore accounts than any of the other providers. SMB Global is also an excellent choice. While the company itself is very new, they have an impressive track record from their days operating as the high-risk division of Payline Data. Finally, both Easy Pay Direct and Host Merchant Services offer a solid line-up of products and services for both eCommerce and retail merchants. If you need an offshore account to break into the world of accepting credit cards, they both have everything you need to get started.

Finally, we can’t caution you strongly enough that selecting and setting up an offshore merchant account involves a higher level of risk on your part, and you’ll need to be extra cautious in choosing a company to go with. Relaxed underwriting guidelines and a general lack of monthly processing limits make offshore accounts very tempting to merchants who’ve had a hard time getting their business approved for a traditional account, but these advantages come at a price. If anything goes wrong in your relationship with your provider, you might face some real challenges in pursuing a legal remedy. You should also be aware that if this happens, the US-based provider that brokered your account will not be able to help you in most cases.

Do your homework! Research your provider thoroughly and review all contract documents very carefully before signing up. While these steps won’t eliminate the chance of things going sideways somewhere down the road, they will shift the odds considerably in your favor.

The post The Best Offshore Merchant Account Providers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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When Should Someone Not Use WordPress?

When Should Someone Not Use WordPress

You’re probably here because you’ve heard the buzz about WordPress (Alignable’s SMB Index says WordPress is the most trusted software for small business), but are wondering if there are situations in which someone should not use WordPress for their business website.

WordPress is an incredibly versatile website platform — I won’t hide my enthusiasm for it. But there is no such thing as a “best website platform”. There’s only the best choice based on your goals, resources and preferences.

Most website platforms promote with features and price. But like buying a house – price and features don’t tell the whole story. They don’t tell you if this platform is a good choice for your website.

When evaluating whether or not to use WordPress, you need to think about your needs for a website. Do you need flexibility? Support? A mixture of both?

Here’s how to figure out if/when someone should not use WordPress for their business website:

Disclosure – I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional judgements as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Understanding Tradeoffs: What to Know Before Choosing a Website Platform

Before we dive into the no-WordPress scenarios, it’s important to understand how we’re approaching deciding on a website platform.

Think of it like shopping for a house. You should be evaluating your website provider based on what you want, what you need, and what tradeoffs you are willing to make.

When it comes to your website platform, the main trade-off is between maximum convenience and maximum control. Think of it this like buying somewhere to live.

The absolute most convenient place is a hotel room. It’s safe and furnished with room service. But can you repaint the room? Nope.

On the other extreme is raw land. You have unlimited control to do whatever you want. But is it convenient? Nope.

And in the middle, you have a mix. An apartment has some freedom – but you have landlord. A condo has even more freedom… but you have a HOA and shared property.

A house has even more freedom… but you have more responsibility and you have to deal with an existing building.

Here’s a graphic from my post on ecommerce software (that also applies to website software) to illustrate —

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

Using this analogy, WordPress is like owning a house. You don’t have as much control as you would if you just bought raw land and built something yourself, but you have way more control than say, an apartment or condo.

Which means a situation is which you wouldn’t want to use WordPress most likely involves more control (AKA raw land) or more convenience (AKA an apartment/condo/hotel room). Let’s break that down further:

Reasons/Situations Where You Wouldn’t Choose WP:

You Need a Fully-Customized Solution

WordPress’s primary structure is pages, posts, and comments. While the platform does use Plugins (where you can download and “plug-in” third-party pieces of software to make your site look, act, and feel exactly the way you want) that allow the CMS to be turned into literally anything, you should still be operating within the realm of pages/posts/comments if you want to use WordPress.

If you’re looking to build a non-CMS website (think Software as a Service or mega-robust ecommerce platform), then you’re better off building a custom solution. Why?

Because something ultra-specific like the examples above typically require 100% control. Loading up your WordPress site with hundreds of Plugins just to make it close to what you want is just going to slow it down.

This is your raw land example — it’d be easier to build your dream home from scratch than try to manipulate the house you already have or add on a bunch of attachments (Plugins) that may mess with the wiring/airflow/other elements of the home.

You Want Customization But Don’t Want to Handle the Technical

If you’re looking for some customization abilities on your website but don’t want to deal with the more “technical” aspects of managing a website such as self hosting, check out customizations for ecommerce, server management, etc. then a self-hosted WordPress isn’t the best option.

There are two different routes you could go if you want more customization without having to handle controlling the technical aspects of your site.

The first is what I’ll call the 70% Convenience // 30% Control group. These are providers that allow for more control than a totally done-for-you platform (like Amazon, where you have zero customization), but you’re still using their space and rules (in our house analogy, these are the apartments).

These are usually “website builders” like Wix (I reviewed Wix here and you can check out Squarespace here) and Weebly (I reviewed Weebly here. You can check out Weebly here…). They allow you to customize your website and have a custom domain, but the remaining technical elements (like ecommerce integration) are handled for you.

The second group is 50% Convenience // 50% Control. They’re known as hosted platforms and provide as much control as you can have before you have to have your own server.

The biggest advantage here is that you have customer support, seamless “onboarding” and advanced tools. Building a website with these providers is like owning a condominium or leasing a storefront in a mall. The plumbing and “big stuff” is taken care of. You can pretty much do what you want since you do fully own your property. However, you’re going to run into condo association rules and fees.

This would be a provider like WordPress.com which is a hosted version of WordPress or a self-hosted WordPress page builder like BoldGrid. They limit some of what you can and can’t do. For example, you don’t have FTP access to a server, but you can access your HTML/CSS editing and use 3rd party plugins with their business plan.

You can also export your data and migrate it to self-hosted WordPress or another platform with relative ease, making it a good in-between if you want to start with more convenience and migrate to more control in the future.

You Don’t Have Time or Resources

WordPress comes with a learning curve. But given the platform owns 50-60% of the global CMS market share, there are thousands and thousands of pre-made templates, plus designers and developers who know WordPress and are ready to help your firm.

That being said, the trade-off here is time and/or resources. Either you have to take the time to learn the basics of WordPress and keep the software updated like you do the apps on your phone, or you have to know enough to vet these support roles to make sure you’re getting the results you need at a reasonable price.

Not all projects justify this trade-off. A simple website that doesn’t need any advanced functionality or the ability to scale would work perfectly fine as a simple HTML site and may cost you less in time/resources than learning WordPress or hiring a designer and developer to build your WordPress site.

You Have Plenty of Resources

The flip side of having no time and resources is having all the time and/or resources.

This goes back to our first scenario… if you have a team of people and the funds to build and maintain your website for you, you can build whatever you want, including a totally custom website that’s unique to your business and the functionality you need.

With that said, this scenario comes with one big caveat: you’re putting your website in someone else’s control.

Let’s say you have a developer build a totally custom website that only he/she can manage — that takes you out of the driver’s seat and puts that developer in total control. The same applies to a website that only works on one specific platform. A change in mission statement, privacy policy, billing practices, or even simple incompetence can put your business in an insecure position.

If you’re comfortable with putting your website 100% in the hands of someone else, go for it. If not, then you may want to rethink a custom build and brush up on your website management knowledge.

Takeaways

WordPress is like the mid-size SUV of the website building world. It doesn’t fit everyone by any means, but there also good reason that a large plurality has one.

I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to try WordPress before making any decisions here.

If you don’t have time to run software updates and learn a bit of WordPress jargon, then you should go ahead and pay the extra money for an all-inclusive website builder. Sure, you’re trading control for convenience, but that’s fine.

On the flip side, if you’re very adept at working with developers or have the money to pay for custom builds and don’t mind putting your site into someone else’s hands, then you’d want to research more – especially in regards to ecommerce. WordPress may not be the right fit for you. You can check out some interesting WordPress alternatives here.

Finally, if you’re building something super, super simple, then WordPress may simply be too complex for what you’re looking for. You might just need some cheap hosting or even a simple profile on an existing platform.

The post When Should Someone Not Use WordPress? appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Dynadot Review: Pros and Cons of Dynadot as Domain Registrar

Dynadot Review

Dynadot is an ICANN-accredited domain registrar and web host headquartered in California. They were founded in 2002 by a software engineer and state their primary focus is engineering and designing excellence.

Dynadot’s main pitch is to help customers “register domains names and create websites simply and affordably”.

They are one of the myriad smaller domain registrars that have a dedicated but smaller following than the big brands like GoDaddy.

Do they hold up to their mission? Here’s our Dynadot review with pros and cons.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Dynadot

Straightforward Search + Purchase Process

Dynadot makes good on its promise to make registering a domain simple. The interface is clean, easy to navigate, and straightforward. There aren’t any bells and whistles, which for a domain registrar is just fine — we don’t need them. What we need is function and usability, and Dynadot’s interface gives us both. It’s basic and directs you to where you need to go.

Dynadot Interface

While Dynadot does offer complementary products (such as websites and hosting — more on that in a bit), the design has no upsells, cross-sells, or visual clutter. There is no distraction from the main action, which is to search and register for a domain, and the checkout process is quick and easy to complete.

Transparent Pricing

There’s nothing more frustrating than going to a domain registrar and having to hunt for pricing information. Dynadot is 100% transparent with their pricing. From the moment you land on the homepage, you can see what .com domains and other popular top level domains (TLDs) are selling for.

Dynadot Pricing

As far as the actual value goes, Dynadot skews toward the cheaper side for first-time purchases and renewals. They’re not as cheap as NameCheap or GoDaddy for a first time purchase of a .com domain (who offer first time purchase promo codes), but their renewal rates are cheaper ($8.99 vs. $13.16 for NameCheap and $15.17 for GoDaddy), and their transfer rates are on par with the rest.

If you’re planning on holding on to your domain for awhile, it could be worth purchasing it elsewhere and then transferring and renewing with Dynadot to save money in the long run.

Variety of TLDs

Now that ICANN allows more TLDs outside of generic .com/.net/.org, website owners have to make sure their domain registrar has all of the variations they need (especially if you’re buying in bulk). Dynadot offers a ton of TLD options that go beyond generic domains, from country-specific domains for international use to category-specific, like technology, real estate, etc.

Dynadot TLD Variations

Upsells

Upsells aren’t inherently annoying or bad. But so many domain registrars make the mistake of bombarding customers with direct sales tactics that they do become annoying.

Dynadot is not one of these domain registrars. While they do offer complementary products such as websites and hosting, they keep them in the background. You can add them from your account dashboard once you purchase a domain, or you can purchase them from the Dynadot homepage, but at no point are you bombarded with pop-ups or forced to navigate through upsells while trying to buy a domain.

Cons of Dynadot

Unclear Next Steps/Management

Dynadot makes registering a domain incredibly simple… but once you register the domain, there aren’t clear instructions as to what to do next. As soon as I was done checking out, I was given a referral code to share with friends and an order pending message with details. There weren’t any instructions on what to do now that I have my domain.

This is fine for those who are familiar with registering domains and building websites, but if you’re new to the experience and looking for guidance, there’s not much to go on.

Even the follow up email I received after my order had been processed was lacking detailed instructions. Again, if you’re experienced in managing domains, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if you’re a beginner and aren’t sure how to set up your nameservers (or what those even are), you’re probably going to be confused. Transfer Code Dynadot

I also found it difficult to actually manage my domain. For example, I couldn’t find where I’d go about transferring my domain when I was logged into my account. I had to click around a good bit (and eventually consult the help forum) to get that information.

This experience relates to “onboarding” which is the jargon for moving a new customer to an active customer.

Complementary Products

It’s important to remember that a domain is not a website. It’s not email or any other service. It’s merely your address online. It helps people locate where your property is by telling browsers/email/etc where to go to get whatever it wants (website files, emails, images, data, etc).

If you want to setup a website, you’ll still need to get hosting or a website builder / ecommerce provider that provides hosting.

Dynadot provides an all-in-one approach with complementary products. You can bundle your domain, website builder, hosting, and email and do it all from their platform.

Typically, this would be a pro —  while I personally prefer to separate my hosting and domains to provide an extra layer of control & reliability in addition to cost savings, many website owners prefer to have them bundled for convenience.

But Dynadot’s complementary products are actually a con due to serious limitations.

For example, Dynadot only offers VPS hosting (virtual private server) rather than the more traditional spectrum of shared hosting paired with a website builder or open-source software.

Dynadot VPS Hosting

While VPS provides a level of control you can’t get with Shared hosting (where every account is treated the same), you have to be technically competent enough to manage your own server resources.

If you don’t like getting in the weeds with your server, the price only makes sense if you know how to use it. It’s a bit like buying the whole chicken at the grocery store and cutting it yourself instead of buying the drumsticks, thighs, and breasts. On one hand, it makes sense if you know how to carve it and are willing to take the time to do it… but most people just want it done for them.

In most cases, if you’re looking to bundle your website, hosting, email, and domain management, then you’re looking for convenience. Dynadot, for all their simplicity in the domain buying experience, doesn’t prioritize convenience in their products. They’re a company founded by a software developer — they’re into engineering and hands-on approaches. That’s fine – but it’s also something to be aware of as a customer. It’s like going to a lumber yard over Home Depot. You get the same thing, but the feel is a bit different.

Next Steps

If you…

  • Want a very simple domain purchasing process
  • Don’t need guidance on how to set up / manage your domain
  • Want to save on domain renewals
  • Are looking for complementary products you can customize to your own needs

…. Dynadot could be a good choice for you.

However, if you’re…

  • Less experienced getting online
  • Need detailed steps on how to set up / manage your domain
  • Want to keep your hosting / website separate from your domain
  • Want complementary products that require less technical expertise

… there are better options out there for you (I use NameCheap). You can take my domain registrar quiz to help you narrow down which might be best for your needs.

Dynadot

Dynadot is an ICANN accredited domain registrar and hosting company founded in 2002. They offer domain registration and management along with complementary products like hosting, website builders, and email.
Dynadot Review
Date Published: 08/29/2018
Simple, straightforward domain purchasing process with cheap renewal rates. Domain management and complementary products are geared toward those with more technical experience.
3 / 5 stars

The post Dynadot Review: Pros and Cons of Dynadot as Domain Registrar appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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