The Best eCommerce Platforms For Your Small Business

Selecting the best ecommerce platform for building your online store can be tough. I find it helpful to keep in mind that shopping for this type of software is similar to shopping for any other product (you just happen to be shopping for shopping cart software, which I’ll grant is slightly strange). You ultimately need your ecommerce software to do two primary things: to serve your particular online selling needs, and to accomplish this for an affordable price.

If you’ve heard of any ecommerce software up to this point, you’ve probably heard of a platform called Shopify. Shopify often receives top billing in this category, and with good reason. Still, it’s by no means the perfect solution for everyone. Along with Shopify, we’ve compiled a few other great options worth considering in your search for an online home for your store.

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Ecwid Wix

3dcart

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Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

Free – $99

$25 – $40

Core Features

Great

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

App Store

Very Large

Large

Moderate

Moderate

Small/Moderate

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

OK

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

From a bird’s-eye view, our main reasons for recommending these platforms are user-friendliness, a solid feature set, and an accessible price. Notice that they’re also all SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms, meaning you are not responsible for downloading, installing, and hosting the shopping cart on your own server. Instead, you subscribe to the service (most often for a monthly fee), and all the hosting and software updates that underpin your online store are automatically handled for you. Easy! eCommerce software has been trending in this direction over the past several years, and the available SaaS options have only become more robust and customizable over time.

What To Look For In An Ecommerce Platform

Before we discuss the individual recommendations further, here’s a quick overview of the key factors we consider when evaluating ecommerce software:

  • Pricing: How does the monthly subscription system work (what factors determine the different pricing levels), and what are the options/costs associated with accepting payments from shoppers?
  • Features & Add-ons: How strong is the core feature set of the software, and how well can these features be expanded upon using the platform’s associated app marketplace?
  • Ease Of Use: How steep is the learning curve for ecommerce beginners (particularly those without any coding experience)? What is the balance between user-friendliness and the capability of the platform to accomplish both basic and advanced tasks?
  • Web Design: How attractive, modern, and functional are the available theme templates for designing storefronts? What customization options are available, and how robust/flexible are these tools?
  • Customer Support: What is the availability and quality of email, live chat, and phone support for the software, along with any other self-help resources provided by the company and user community?

And, of course…

  • User Reviews: What are real store owners (like you!) saying about the software, both good and bad?

That’s our basic guideline. Now, we’ll take a closer look at each platform, highlighting the main benefits and drawbacks of each one, along with the types of online sellers we think the software typically suits best. We’d definitely recommend reading our full review of each platform before making your final choice. We’ve also posted one-on-one comparisons for several of the platforms if you’d like to check out those in-depth articles as well.

1. Shopify

As mentioned, Shopify is our most commonly recommended ecommerce platform. The combination of strong core features, an exhaustive app marketplace, and high ease-of-use put Shopify at or near the top of most SaaS ecommerce platform rankings.

Pricing

There are technically five Shopify plans, but the three subscription levels in the middle are considered the standard options for most SMB owners needing an online store. The price jumps between the three middle plans are based primarily on additional features and the ability to set up more staff accounts. Here are all five levels:

  • Shopify Lite: $9/mo. Embeddable cart, but no standalone store website.
  • Basic Shopify: $29/mo.
  • Shopify: $79/mo.
  • Advanced Shopify: 299/mo.
  • Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

When it comes to accepting payment from your customers, you should note that this is the only platform on our list that charges an extra commission per sale. This goes above and beyond the normal processing fees you’ll need to pay to your credit card processor. Shopify’s commission decreases incrementally as you climb the subscription ladder: 2% on Basic, 1% on Shopify, 0.5% on Advanced.

You can avoid these extra Shopify transaction fees if you sign up for the in-house payment processor — Shopify Payments (powered by Stripe) — but this gateway is only available in 10 countries. In addition to eliminating the extra transaction fee, Shopify struck a deal with Stripe to offer lower payment processing fees with Shopify Payments than if you were to use Stripe (or a similar processor) by itself. These discounts apply to your processing if you’re on the Shopify Plan or the Advanced Shopify Plan.

Shopify does provide over 100 alternative gateway options. You’ll just be saddled with that extra percentage Shopify charges per sale when you stray from Shopify Payments.

Features & Add-Ons

Shopify is defined by a quality core feature set that works well for a wide variety of sellers. Moreover, Shopify has a very large app marketplace (of around 2500 apps) that will provide virtually any additional feature you might need. If there is one disadvantage to this system, it is that these integrations can add to your monthly operating costs. Meanwhile, merchants appreciate how many of Shopify’s third-party apps are fully-fledged software platforms that are commonly used to support ecommerce, rather than just simple extensions that add a small feature or two (the app store does have those as well, though!)

Here are a few Shopify features we like:

  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Built-in shipping software (Shopify Shipping)
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Manual order creation (virtual terminal)
  • Automatic tax calculation
  • Shopify POS & other POS integrations
  • Extensive order fulfillment & dropshipping integrations
  • Coupons, discounts & gift cards

Ease Of Use

Shopify has one of the easiest learning curves in the ecommerce software market. Simplicity is the name of the game for Shopify — it’s clear they’d rather offer the ability to expand the platform’s capability with optional add-ons than to overwhelm the newbie with a complicated dashboard or intricate customization options from the get-go.

The Shopify dashboard is clear and well-organized, and any built-in feature can be manipulated easily with zero coding knowledge.

Web Design

Shopify offers 10 free themes (made by Shopify), as well as 67 paid themes (made by third-parties) that range in price from $140-$180. Technically, the total theme count is a bit higher, because each theme has multiple style variations that swap out colors and whatnot. Shopify themes are some of the more elegant and functional options we’ve seen. As a nice bonus, the theme marketplace can be searched by desired theme features.

While the Shopify theme editor may not be as flexible as that of a top-notch website builder (like Wix), the drag-and-drop editor makes it easy to stack and rearrange page elements, called “Sections.” (Perhaps don’t go quite as far as I did with awkward colors and fonts — just showing you what can be changed):

Beyond the theme editor, you also have the opportunity for more customization with a combination of HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme templating language (called Liquid). Most novices won’t open that coding can of worms straight away, but it’s good to know it’s there.

Customer Support

Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all subscription levels. Although no customer support system is perfect, we’ve found Shopify’s responses helpful and timely in the grand scheme. On top of this, the strong community of users and developers currently working with Shopify makes finding resources, reviews, and feedback a breeze. The library of self-help articles, tutorials, courses, and videos produced by Shopify is also impressive.

Who Is Shopify Best For?

If this were a little kids’ recreational sports league, Shopify would receive the “Most Well-Rounded Player” award, if not the full MVP as well. Shopify is suited to the widest variety of store types and sizes. When Shopify works for merchants, it works really well. Store owners who benefit the most from Shopify will most likely be based in one of the 10 countries in which Shopify Payments is available, because that’s the only way Shopify’s extra commission per sale is avoided. However, the quality of Shopify’s platform is strong enough overall that many merchants are willing to accept those extra transaction fees, even if they can’t (or won’t) use Shopify Payments.

Of course, we can’t mention Shopify without also mentioning one type of merchant in particular: dropshippers. Shopify is definitely the dropshipper’s go-to platform.

2. BigCommerce

If you asked most experts at large, they’d probably tell you that BigCommerce is Shopify’s most direct ecommerce SaaS competitor. BigCommerce also has an enterprise solution (BigCommerce Enterprise) that’s comparable with Shopify Plus.

Pricing

Subscription levels with BigCommerce are organized by added features at each level, but also annual revenue caps. This means you’re automatically bumped to a higher subscription once you reach a cap. Here are the plans and their associated sales limits:

  • Standard: $29.95/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79.95/month (sell up to $150K/yr.)
  • Pro: $249.95/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
    • add $150/mo. for every additional $200K/yr. in sales, up to $3M
  • Enterprise: Custom pricing

Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce never charges an additional commission per sale. For payment processing gateways, you have about 60 options. One of these is Braintree (a division of PayPal), which gives access to discounted processing rates as you move up the BigCommerce subscription ladder.

Features & Add-Ons

BigCommerce has a particularly strong set of native features, while also maintaining a sizable app marketplace for optional add-ons (ballpark 600 in total). The balance of out-of-the-box features versus add-on apps leans more toward the former, especially when compared to Shopify. Offered features include:

  • Faceted (filtered) search
  • Single-page checkout
  • Customer groups & segmentation
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Product ratings & reviews
  • Up to 600 product options/variants
  • Coupons, discounts, & gift certificates
  • Square POS integration

Ease Of Use

Some may argue that the balance toward more features included from the get-go can make BigCommerce harder to use at first. Personally, I wouldn’t let fears about user-friendliness stop a beginner from using this software. Extensive out-of-the-box features don’t complicate BigCommerce dashboard beyond reason, and the included features are intuitively configurable without any coding knowledge.

Web Design

BigCommerce offers around 125 themes, along with close to 500 total variations (or “styles”) of those themes. Seven of these themes (25 styles) are free; the rest are available for $145–$235. Quality of design is always subjective, but BigCommerce definitely has a wide variety of elegant templates from which to choose.

It’s a good thing this variety and quality of templates pre-exists, because customization options without coding knowledge or adding a separate integration are somewhat limited with BigCommerce. The theme editor lacks a drag-and-drop element, and you’ll be stuck with the theme’s fonts and colors for the most part.

Customer Support

Like Shopify, BigCommerce offers 24/7 phone, email, and live chat support at all plan levels. We’ve had mixed experiences with BigCommerce’s support, but find that more users praise the service than knock it. You can definitely make the argument (and we have) that BigCommerce support is just as good or better than Shopify’s. There are also active community forums and plenty of BigCommerce-produced support materials available online.

Who Is BigCommerce Best For?

The target market for BigCommerce overlaps significantly with Shopify’s. Much of your decision will come down to the appeal and specific fit-to-business of the extra features that come built-in with BigCommerce at your targeted subscription level. For example, I think B2B and wholesale merchants would do well to take close look at BigCommerce’s feature set. Support for more product variants or discount types will be interesting to other sellers. If you’re confident you’ll actually use most of the native features BigCommerce offers, you could definitely end up saving money and headaches. You’ll just need to be prepared for the automatic subscription bumps as your revenue grows.

Perhaps the most obvious appeal for BigCommerce is the freedom to choose your payment processor with no penalty of an extra transaction fee. That extra cut Shopify takes from your sales feels especially unfair if you’re not even based in one of the 10 countries where Shopify Payments is supported.

By the same token, maybe you already have a merchant account and/or payment processor that you like, or are looking for a specialized payment processor for your particular sales volume and/or risk profile. We often recommend merchants processing over around $100K per year look into credit card processors that offer your own dedicated merchant account with interchange-plus pricing. These accounts can provide more transparency and account stability (and often cost savings) than a standard flat-rate processor like Shopify Payments, PayPal or Square. With BigCommerce, your payment acceptance options are quite open.

3. 3dcart

3dcart

This platform has been around longer than any other on our list, and I’d actually heard of it before I’d even heard of Shopify. Over the years, 3dcart has developed a substantial and nuanced core feature set and continues to add and improve features at a steady clip. The software’s low monthly cost, extensive features, and plentiful payment gateway options make it worth a look when opening an online store.

Pricing

Subscription packages with 3dcart are delineated mainly by annual online revenue, number of staff accounts, and available features. You can sell up to 100 products on the Startup plan, while the other plans allow you to list unlimited items.

  • Startup: $19/month (sell up to $50K/yr.)
  • Basic: $29/month (sell up to $100K/yr.)
  • Plus: $79/month (sell up to $200K/yr.)
  • Pro: $229/month (sell up to $400K/yr.)
  • Enterprise: Custom

3dcart comes in at a lower starting price than BigCommerce or Shopify (if you exclude the Shopify Lite plan that doesn’t let you build a standalone store website). At the same time, the $29 plan level with 3dcart accommodates twice the annual store revenue of the $29.95 plan on BigCommerce.

On top of this, 3dcart never charges its own fee per sale, regardless which of the over 160 compatible payment gateways you select. For US merchants, there also are several “preferred” processor options (e.g., Square, Stripe, PayPal, and FattMerchant) that may give you access to discounted processing rates at the Plus and Pro subscription level.

Features & Add-Ons

3dcart prides itself on a rich supply of native, built-in features. We can vouch that the feature set is robust, especially for the price. And, while it’s true that 3dcart has managed to avoid some of the excessive “app creep” from which Shopify suffers, you can still connect with lots of useful third-party software via the app store.

We’ve mentioned that packed-in features can result in sacrificed user-friendliness. 3dcart keeps some of its complexity at bay by offering advanced features and modules that can simply be turned on and off depending on whether you need them.

Here are just a few of 3dcart’s noteworthy features:

  • Unlimited product options/variants
  • Single-page checkout
  • Robust discount/coupon engine
  • Real-time shipping calculations
  • Create/print shipping labels in-dashboard
  • Gift certificates on all plans
  • Wish lists & gift registries
  • Customer reviews & product Q&A
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Waiting list & pre-orders

Ease Of Use

When it comes to actually working with all of 3dcart’s plentiful features, we’re still looking at a user-friendly platform overall. You should just be aware that the learning curve you encounter may be slightly steeper than it is for Shopify (and perhaps BigCommerce as well) depending on your experience.

Like many worthwhile endeavors, 3dcart simply requires you put in a bit more effort in order to get more out of it in the end. The menus go a little deeper, the dashboard screens are more complex, and some advanced functions can be a little tricky to locate and use at first. Still, the basic setup and navigation are comparable to the ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed so far. You won’t need coding knowledge to operate your store.

Web Design

3dcart recently streamlined its entire theme marketplace, resulting in less quantity and more quality. The revamp brought 3dcart into better stylistic alignment with the ecommerce competitors we’ve discussed so far, but we’re still missing a bit of variety and uniqueness amongst the remaining options.

Of the 45 total themes available, about half are free, and more than half were created by 3dcart. Premium themes range from $149-$249.

With 3dcart, you get a very basic theme editor to change out photos and font colors, but you can’t rearrange any page elements:

Beyond these simple changes, you must use HTML and CSS inside the template editor:

Customer Support

Another key reason 3dcart makes our “best” list is the availability of 24/7 phone, live chat, email support. The only subscription that doesn’t offer phone support is the $19/month plan, but you still have the ability to talk to someone in real time with live chat. Support quality and responsiveness receive mixed reviews, but this is typical of all the software apps on our list. No ecommerce solution has cracked the code for keeping 100% of customers satisfied, but we’ll let you know if any of them do!

You’ll also have access to plenty of online resources produced by 3dcart, as well as an active community forum. Just note that while the knowledgebase articles are helpful, they’re sometimes low on screenshots and high on text.

Who Is 3dcart Best For?

We think 3dcart is a solid option for small-to-midsize businesses owners on a budget who still appreciate lots of built-in features. If you’ve experimented with Shopify or BigCommerce and felt a little boxed in when it came to flexibility and customization, and as long as you’re not intimidated by a relatively detail-oriented system, 3dcart opens up options for you. Or, if you’re skeptical of jumping on the Shopify bandwagon just because “everybody’s doing it,” and you balk at feeling hemmed into Shopify Payments lest you pay a penalty, 3dcart may be just the alternative you seek. Not to mention, we appreciate your Maverick spirit!

3dcart has a tried-and-true and even somewhat old school vibe, but without feeling clunky or inflexible. It has managed to stick around amongst an onslaught of newer competitors by quietly improving the quantity and quality of its core offerings over time. Meanwhile, you can still add on plenty of extra features via the app market, or do a bit of template tinkering on your own with basic coding knowledge.

4. Ecwid

Ecwid diverges the most from the software options we’ve discussed so far. At its core, Ecwid is an ecommerce shopping cart plugin (or “widget,” as the name implies) you can embed into an existing website. In this way, Ecwid is similar to WordPress’ WooCommerce, except you can add Ecwid to any website, not just WordPress sites. Ecwid also allows you to create a very basic standalone website and sell up to 10 products — for free! The company claims over 1.5 million users, which is significantly more than Shopify’s 600,ooo. The availability of a free plan likely has a lot to do with that!

Pricing

Subscription levels are organized by several aspects: available features, number of listed products, file storage, customer service access, and number of staff accounts. We’ve described the details of each level in our main Ecwid review, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Free: $0/mo. (10 Products)
  • Venture: $15/mo. (100 Products)
  • Business: $35/mo. (2500 Products)
  • Unlimited: $99/mo. (Unlimited products)

Happily, Ecwid does not charge an additional commission per sale. Along with offering around 50 payment gateway options for your store, Ecwid also has a special partnership with a payments provider called WePay. Together, they created Ecwid Payments, which offers discounted payment processing rates for merchants in the US, UK, and Canada. And, if you accept ACH or direct bank payments at your store (which is cheaper than accepting credit cards), you also qualify for discounted rates on those transactions with Ecwid Payments.

Features & Add-Ons

With Ecwid’s freemium pricing model, you can expect several new features unlocked at each subscription level. The free plan will definitely get you started with a small online store, but we don’t see most serious sellers staying on this plan for long. Fairly basic features such as inventory management, discounts, SEO tools, and access to the Ecwid app store require a paid plan. The Ecwid app store is on the smaller side, but you’ll still find several ecommerce staples in the shipping, tax, and accounting categories. And, don’t forget that if you’re embedding the Ecwid shop widget into another website, you’ll have access to that sitebuilder’s integrations as well.

Noteworthy Ecwid features include:

  • Create & edit orders
  • Several POS integration options, including mobile POS
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Branded shopping app for your store
  • Automatic tax calculations
  • Wholesale pricing groups
  • Mobile store management app

Ease Of Use

Intuitive dashboard navigation and foolproof feature manipulation make Ecwid an extremely user-friendly platform. Ecwid’s ease of use closely rivals Shopify’s. The Ecwid backend was clearly designed with the ecommerce beginner in mind.

Web Design

Remember that Ecwid’s main purpose is to act as a shopping cart plugin for an existing website that already has an established look and feel. That said, Ecwid does provide one theme template for a standalone online store. Here’s my in-progress edit of the starter template:

There aren’t a lot of customizations you can make to this starter website besides adding your own main image, your store name, and your 10 products. If your store is embedded into an existing website, you can purchase a third-party theme that helps your shop tie in with the rest of the site. Basically, unless you’re using the Ecwid Starter Site, web design for your storefront is largely dependent upon whatever existing sitebuilder you’re using.

Customer Support

Availability of customer support with Ecwid depends on which plan you have:

  • Free: Email only
  • Venture: Email & live chat
  • Business: Email, live chat, & phone; 2 hours of custom development (annual plan)
  • Unlimited: Email, live chat, & priority phone support; 12 hours of custom development (annual plan)

Also, note that email and live chat are not open on the weekends, and phone support is on a callback system. Despite these limitations, most users rate the actual quality of Ecwid’s support quite highly. Knowledgebase articles and video tutorials are also good quality.

Who Is Ecwid Best For?

Generally, we think Ecwid is a great option for small-to-midsize sellers. We highly recommend Ecwid for newcomers to online selling — particularly those with an established online presence who simply need to add a store component. If you love the platform your current website is built upon, and you’re already nailing your brand’s image and following, there may be no need to rush off and migrate to an all-in-one “website + ecommerce” system like the ones we’ve covered so far.

If you don’t have a website but would like to dabble in selling a few products online, you could also get an Ecwid starter site going for free while you develop a full-blown website on the side. It’s hard to argue with free! If you’re really on a shoestring budget or you’re just starting out with ecommerce, I’d encourage you to compare Ecwid’s free plan to Shopify Lite (at $9/mo.) to see which system might work best for your needs.

5. Wix

So, Ecwid built an ecommerce shopping cart widget that goes inside other website builders, but Wix is a website builder that actually built its own ecommerce widget (called Wix Stores) to go inside itself. I know, it’s a bit confusing! The point is that Wix began as a traditional sitebuilder, but now has ecommerce capability built in as well. Combining new ecommerce tools with its existing popularity in the no-coding-required-website-design niche, Wix presents quite an attractive (both figuratively and literally) option for online sellers.

Pricing

You may have heard that Wix lets you create a website for free. While this is true, you need a paid plan to use Wix’s ecommerce features. Below are your ecommerce subscription options, defined by file storage, customer support, and whether or not email marketing campaigns are included:

  • Business Basic: $25/month (20GB storage)
  • Business Unlimited: $30/month (35GB storage)
  • Business VIP: $40/month (50GB storage)

We’ve listed the true month-to-month price here, even though Wix advertises its monthly price if you pay for a full year. This drops the prices to $20, $30, and $35, respectively. All of the other platforms we’ve highlighted also offer discounts when paying annually — Wix just leads with these discounted figures in its advertising.

Regardless of which payment processor you choose (there are currently close to 20 options), Wix never charges an extra commission per sale.

Features & Add-Ons

If you choose to build an ecommerce website with Wix from scratch, the core of your site will be built upon the Wix Stores app. If, however, you already have a different type of Wix website (e.g., restaurant, hotel, photography site, etc.) and want to add an online shop, you simply switch to a Business subscription plan and add the Wix Stores app to your dashboard.

Wix is still working on adding some features that are becoming more standard amongst ecommerce platforms (like abandoned cart recovery), but we like a lot of what it has on offer so far:

  • Email marketing
  • Integrate with Square POS
  • Mobile app for store management
  • Send & manage invoices
  • Checkout on your own domain
  • SEO Tools
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Inventory & order management
  • Library of stock photos for your site

The Wix app marketplace includes hundreds of apps, but not all are ecommerce-specific. You may also notice limited pre-built connections to third-party integrations (shipping and accounting software, for example). These sorts of apps become more indispensable as a store grows, but are not as critical for a store that manages fewer products and orders.

Ease Of Use

Wix Stores integrates seamlessly with the rest of the Wix dashboard. eCommerce features and settings are simply added to the left sidebar menu, like in any other ecommerce platform. Further dashboards open as you explore each individual feature (like adding a product or creating a coupon). Wix is defined in the DIY web design market by its ease-of-use, and this extends to its ecommerce functionality as well.

Web Design

There are actually two ways to design an ecommerce storefront in Wix. The first begins in a familiar fashion — selecting a template.

Wix offers over 500 templates to choose from, with over 70 of these already built upon the Wix Stores app (although you can easily add the app to any template). A nice perk of Wix’s template system is that all are included free with a Business subscription to Wix. The only tricky part is that you can’t switch templates once get your store up and running!

Wix provides the most flexible no-coding-required theme editor of any ecommerce platform we’ve covered here. Rather than simply dragging and dropping elements up and down your pages, you can adjust and place page elements virtually anywhere.

The second (and even easier) method of creating an ecommerce website with Wix is via Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence). If you choose this option, you’ll be asked a series of detailed questions about your business, and Wix will use this information to draft a storefront for you.

Sites created with Wix ADI also have a theme editor available, but this editor’s flexibility is more limited than the standard WIX editor. Nevertheless, it’s comparable to Shopify’s drag-and-drop editor. You can stack and arrange elements up and down your pages.

If you decide you’d like to micromanage your design a bit more after creating your Wix ADI site, you’re welcome to switch over to the more advanced theme editor. You just can’t switch back to Wix ADI without losing your changes.

Customer Support

Here’s a quick rundown of Wix’s customer support channels:

  • Phone: Callback service open Monday-Friday, 5AM-5PM Pacific
  • Email: 24/7
  • Live Chat: None

As you can see, the phone channel is somewhat limited, but we like that you have access to this channel of support on all plans. The Business VIP plan also offers priority support, meaning your emails and callback requests jump to the front of the queue. Wix doesn’t have as thorough a set of self-help resources specifically for ecommerce as some of the other platforms, but the resources it does maintain are well done and useful.

Who is Wix Best For?

Wix may differ from the other ecommerce platforms we’ve discussed, but we see this variety as a very good thing. This platform is a great option for merchants who need a multifunctional (but still user-friendly) website — not just an online store. The way native apps like Wix Stores, Wix Bookings, Wix Restaurants, Wix Hotels, and others weave together to form a seamless dashboard on the backend, plus an elegant web presence on the front end, is really slick.

Speaking of elegance, the other (sometimes overlapping) group of store owners Wix works nicely for are those with a smaller number of visually-detailed products. You’re probably not going to want to run a massive fulfillment and shipping operation with Wix, but small shops with aesthetic priorities are perfect for Wix.

Quick Pricing Comparison

We’ve covered a lot of ground in our comparison of these five good options for building an online store. Before we wrap this baby up, let’s recap the subscription plans for each one, along with the main ways the levels are distinguished from one another. As you’ve clearly seen, pricing is just one component of your final choice, but it’s usually where people start.

eCommerce Platforms Pricing Summary

Pricing Levels Differences Btwn. Levels

Shopify

Lite: $9/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Shopify: $79/mo.

Advanced $299/mo.

Plus: Custom

  • Available features
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Payment processing discounts
  • Shopify’s commission per sale

BigCommerce

Standard: $29.95/mo.

Plus: $79.95/mo.

Pro: 249.95/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue

3dcart

Startup: $19/mo.

Basic: $29/mo.

Plus: $79/mo.

Pro: $229/mo.

Enterprise: Custom

  • Available features
  • Annual store revenue
  • Number of products
  • Number of staff accounts

Ecwid

Free: $0/mo.

Venture: $15/mo.

Business: $35/mo.

Unlimited: $99/mo.

  • Available features
  • Number of products
  • Storage
  • Number of staff accounts
  • Customer service

Wix

Business Basic: $25/mo.

Business Unlimited: $30/mo.

Business VIP: $40/mo.

  • Storage
  • Customer service
  • Available features

Final Thoughts

Did you find your ecommerce match? We know it’s a lot to take in at once. The great news is that all of these platforms allow you to test the software before you buy. We’d suggest narrowing down our five suggestions to a couple that look like strong candidates for your store and starting a free trial of each. Test drive all the features you possibly can, work on customizing your storefront, and pepper customer support with questions at all hours. That’s the only way you’ll know which is the best fit, even with our attempts to simplify the decision-making process for you.

Generally speaking, the first three platforms we mentioned (Shopify, BigCommerce, and 3dcart) are quite similar and will work for a lot of the same types and sizes of stores. 3dcart is probably the most complicated and detailed of the three out-of-the-box, and typically requires a bit more out of the user. This is not necessarily bad, though. BigCommerce may be a good middle ground between 3dcart and Shopify, combining ease-of-use with a dense set of out-of-the-box features. And, even with Shopify’s super annoying transaction fees (if you don’t use Shopify Payments), Shopify is still a very solid recommendation — it’s just good software.

Ecwid and Wix each have their own advantages as well, especially for smaller stores. Both are well-designed and user-friendly. Ecwid has an enticing free plan and can be embedded in any existing website, while Wix allows you to develop a particularly elegant and multifunctional storefront using your choice of not one, but two different methods.

We think most small business owners will find a good solution from among these five options. And, we’ll let you in on a rather little-known secret: it’s not the end of the world if you end up needing to migrate platforms. That goes for right now if you’re looking to make a switch, or later if you decide your software isn’t working for you anymore. Nevertheless, you can still head into your decision with the confidence that you’ve done your research and tested the software thoroughly before handing over your credit card. (You’re going to test them first, right? Promise? Good.)

Do you have experience with one or more of these ecommerce platforms? Let us know how you think they compare in the comments. We love feedback from real users like you!

Shopify BigCommerce 3dcart Ecwid Wix

3dcart

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Review Visit Site

Monthly Cost

$9 – $299

$29.95 – $249.95

$19 – $229

Free – $99

$25 – $40

Core Features

Great

Excellent

Excellent

Good

Good

App Store

Very Large

Large

Moderate

Moderate

Small/Moderate

Ease Of Use

Very Easy

Easy

Moderate

Very Easy

Easy

Web Design

Great

Good

Good

OK

Excellent

Customer Support

Great

Great

Good

Good

Good

The post The Best eCommerce Platforms For Your Small Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles

 

Square made its name offering a free mobile credit card swiper, but the company has expanded so much in the past few years that there is now a massive array of hardware options, catering to all types of businesses. You can still get mobile card readers from Square if you don’t need more than just a phone or tablet and a swiper, but you can also get a countertop POS system complete with a customer-facing display, or a slim, portable credit card terminal with a phone-sized high-resolution screen and built-in receipt printer. And if you’d like to print paper receipts and have an automated cash drawer, Square offers a wide range of compatible hardware. You can even save some money by opting for one of Square’s ready-made bundles of hardware.

Let’s take a look at Square’s hardware options, including its mobile readers, POS systems, and POS kits. We’ll start with simplest options and move on to the most comprehensive kits. We’ll also talk about what you can do to control your costs and manage your cash flow with Square’s financing.

If you’re still curious about Square’s offerings, we also recommend checking out our complete, in-depth review of Square, which covers hardware as well as the software.

Square Mobile Card Readers

Square’s mobile card readers are meant to work with smartphones and tablets — unlike with some of the company’s “all in one” hardware solutions, if you go with a card reader it’s a “bring your own device” situation. Square’s mobile readers are ideal for businesses that are always on the go — farmer’s market stalls, service businesses, food trucks, etc. These card readers work with any of Square’s POS apps as well. However, compatibility with specific tablets or smartphones will vary — and you should check before you buy that a card reader is compatible with your device. Square has a helpful compatibility checker tool on its website for this purpose.

Square Magstripe Readers

Square has been offering free basic magstripe readers for years. The boxy design hasn’t changed significantly over the years and it’s simple to use. Recently, the company added a Lightning connector variant in addition to the 3.5mm headphone jack connector. Square used to sell a 3.5mm adapter, but that’s no longer available (because it’s no longer necessary). However, I will say that adapters from other makers will work for the same purpose.

New Square merchants get 1 free card reader; additional card readers sell for a very reasonable $10. Unlike PayPal Here, Square doesn’t impose any limits or restrictions on transactions processed with a magstripe reader — there’s no limit to the number of swiped transactions you can process before you trigger a hold. That’s a nice touch. However, if you do process large transactions or do a significant volume of credit card payments you should definitely look at upgrading to a chip card-capable reader.

Magstripe Reader Quick Facts 

  • Free for new merchants
  • $10 retail price
  • 3.5mm headphone jack or lightning port connectors
  • Supports magstripe transactions

Square Chip Card Reader

 

Square’s first chip card reader wasn’t particularly fancy, or even all that different from its elder sibling: it was boxy, with a headphone jack connector. And it has since fallen out of favor — partly thanks to Apple and its removal of the headphone jack on its iPhones. However, this entry-level chip card reader is still available at a reasonable price — ideal for merchants who want to accept chip cards but also save some money.

Square doesn’t offer a lightning connector variant for the Chip Card Reader, but as I mentioned, a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter would work for iPhone users. This reader also requires the occasional battery charge because of the addition of the chip reader.

Chip Card Reader Fast Facts 

  • $35
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack connector
  • Requires battery charging
  • Supports magstripe and chip card transactions

Square Contactless + Chip Reader

Square’s Contactless + Chip Reader is a departure from Square’s earlier mobile credit card readers. First, it connects via Bluetooth. Second, it doesn’t support magstripe transactions at all. Instead, Square includes one of its free magstripe reader in the box as well. (To be honest, this design kind of disappoints me, but I figure that the Contactless + Chip Reader was designed to add EMV support to the Square Stand, which already has an integrated magstripe reader. So building magstripe support into the Contactless + Chip Reader was a moot point. Still, for merchants who don’t have a Square Stand, this might prove to be a small annoyance if the chip reader can’t read a card properly.)

Square also sells a charging dock, which can be plugged into a wall, or into the Square Stand’s USB hub. It sells for $29 separately. You can use it in a countertop retail environment and let customers insert their payment cards themselves, or you can set the dock aside and grab the reader by itself whenever you need to make a transaction.

Contactless + Chip Reader Fast Facts 

  • $49
  • Charging dock sold separately ($29)
  • Bluetooth connection
  • Supports chip card and contactless transactions
  • Basic magstripe reader also included

Square Countertop POS Devices

If you’d like something a little bit more permanent and stationary in your POS setup, Square offer options tailored to different environments. The offerings here get a little more complex, so bear with me!

Square Stand

The Square Stand has been one of the company’s core offerings for a long time — it is a tablet stand with a built-in card reader, all for a reasonable price (at launch, it cost $99). It swivels, it has minimal cords, and it looks good. Square has improved it slightly with the bundling of the Contactless + Chip Reader. That brings the price to $169.

Square doesn’t include a receipt printer for the Stand, but a printer is available in hardware bundles. Likewise, Square doesn’t include an iPad with the Stand, but you can purchase one directly from Square for an additional $329. Keep in mind that the current edition of the Square Stand only works for the most recent iPad models. If you have an older iPad, you can order a legacy stand from Square for $99, but the Contactless + Chip Reader requires iOS 9.3.5 or higher, and that version of iOS isn’t supported on an iPad 2 or other earlier models.

Because the Square Stand runs an iPad, it can also support merchants using Square Point of Sale, Square for Retail, or Square for Restaurants. There are an assortment of recommended hardware bundles for the Square stand, but if you prefer to build your own setup, you will be happy to know that the Square Stand supports USB, Ethernet, WiFi and Bluetooth printers, as well as other devices.

Square Stand Fast Facts 

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $169 (iPad sold separately)
  • Includes Contactless + Chip Reader (integrated magstripe reader in stand)
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale, Square for Restaurants, Square for Retail, Square Appointments

Square Terminal

Square Terminal (read our review), the newest addition to Square’s lineup of hardware, takes the concept of the Square Stand and the traditional credit card terminal and combines them into one portable machine. The display is large enough to be a fully functioning POS (it runs Square Point of Sale, the free app). It accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions. It even has a built-in thermal receipt printer.

While you can operate Terminal by keeping it plugged in, Square promises the battery will last all day if you prefer to go wireless. You also get a cleverly-designed power brick and USB hub to connect accessories, such as the USB barcode scanner and cash drawer. Bluetooth accessories aren’t supported, so the USB hub will be important for some merchants.

While Terminal runs Square Point of Sale, it also offers some compatibility with the iPad-based premium POS app, Square for Restaurants. Specifically, Terminal can be used for tableside ordering and payments. It doesn’t support all of Square for Restaurant’s features, though, so it’s important that you make sure Terminal will really fit your needs.

Square Terminal Fast Facts 

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $399
  • $300 processing credit for new merchants
  • 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale (limited compatibility with Square for Restaurants)

Square Register

 

Square Register (read our review) definitely targets a higher-end market, with a price tag of $999 — not counting a cash drawer, receipt printer, or barcode scanner. However, for that price, you get a 13.25-inch screen running Square Point of Sale, as well as a 7-inch consumer-facing screen with integrated support for magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions.

Square Register runs an Android-based version of Square Point of Sale, which means it’s not compatible with Square for Retail. However, you can take advantage of the back-end features if you opt to subscribe to Square for Retail. Specifically, that means access to the reporting features, including cost of goods sold and profitability reports. Square Register also integrates perfectly with Square Loyalty and allows customers to see the status of their loyalty accounts.

All in all, Square Register is an absolutely gorgeous piece of hardware that would look great in a retail space. The addition of the customer-facing display, combined with all of the supported hardware, brings Register on par with more traditional countertop POS systems.

Square Register Fast Facts

  • Accepts magstripe, chip card, and contactless transactions
  • $999
  • 2.5% + $0.10 per transaction
  • Compatible with Square Point of Sale (back end features compatible with Square for Retail)

Square POS Bundles

Square’s POS Kits are available for the Square Stand and Square Register — but if you’d prefer to use a different tablet stand for an iPad, Square also offers some alternatives. It would be a bit redundant and very overwhelming to go through every single bundle that Square offers, so let’s focus on what they offer, broadly speaking.

Square will first ask you to pick a category for your business. The options are limited — just food and beverages, beauty and wellness, or retail. However, those three categories cover a lot of industries. And honestly, you shouldn’t worry too much about picking the right category because the offerings will be similar. Check the options in each category and see which bundle you like.

After you’ve chosen an industry category, Square will also ask you about your Internet setup, specifically whether your business has a router. If you are relying on cellular data, obviously, there’s no router involved. But this question primarily affects what kind of printer Square includes in its bundles.

The biggest advantage to choosing a Square POS kit is the cost savings. Buying individual accessories from Square will cost more than buying a bundle. Square lists the prices as “starting at” for most bundles, but that’s usually because you have the option of purchasing an iPad direct from Square. (Note that you can only get the most recent model of iPad. Square offers POS bundles that support the iPad 2, for example, but you’ll have to acquire the iPad separately.)

Let’s start by looking at what the Square Register and Square Stand bundles look like, versus the alternative tablet stands.

Square Stand POS Kit

 

Square Stand on its own is pretty affordable, but if you opt for the bundle with the stand over buying individual components, you’ll save a small amount. Square suggests running the Stand with a router setup, which includes a USB hub for accessories, rather than wireless options. Your Square Stand Kit includes the following:

  • Receipt printer paper (25 rolls)
  • USB Receipt Printer
  • 16 in. Printer-Driven Cash Drawer
  • Square Stand for Contactless and Chip

If you decide against the Square Stand Kit, keep in mind that you can use any piece of hardware that works with an iPad running Square Point of Sale, as well as USB-enabled devices. That includes barcode scanners and receipt and kitchen printers in addition to cash drawers.

Square Register POS Kit

The POS kit for Square Register will add $530 to the cost, but it will save you $67 over buying the parts individually. (Also take note: You can’t order just the hardware bundle separate from the Register.)

In addition to the Register itself, the kit includes:

  • 16 in. USB Cash Drawer
  • USB Receipt Printer
  • Receipt printer paper (25 rolls)
  • Square Register

Square only recommends the Register kit for businesses with routers, not mobile setups. That’s not too surprising because it’s clearly not a mobile setup. Register does support some USB and Ethernet printers (and one WiFi printer), but it does not support as many devices as the Square Stand or just a standalone iPad. Square also offers compatible kitchen printers, which aren’t included in the bundles for food and beverage businesses, surprisingly.

Other Square POS Kits

If you’d still like to use Square on a tablet — but without the Register or Square Stand — you can get a selection of Heckler brand tablet stands designed for iPads, as well as Galaxy Tab A devices. They contain the following:

  • A tablet stand
  • A printer (Ethernet or Bluetooth)
  • Cash drawer
  • Receipt printer paper
  • Card reader (Magstripe or Contactless + Chip)

Prices vary by the tablet stand model, as well as whether the kit includes an Ethernet or wireless printer. Which card reader Square includes depends on the model of iPad (remember, early models of iPad can’t upgrade to the iOS version required to support the Contactless + Chip Reader). And again, you can mix and match tablet stands and other devices to create a custom setup, though you will ultimately pay more than if you chose one of Square’s pre-made bundles.

Other Square Accessories

When you check out Square’s hardware shop, you can also browse standalone accessories for Square’s products. I like that the site has added the ability to filter compatible accessories by the POS device. The available accessories include kitchen printers, USB and Bluetooth barcode scanners, WiFi routers, and more. However, these are far from your only options. Square actually supports an extensive array of hardware in addition to the options available directly through its own shop. And it’s great about publishing that list of confirmed, supported devices.

Should You Finance Your Square Hardware Purchase?

There’s one last factor to consider when shopping for hardware from Square: the cost. If you are worried about the price of Square’s hardware, or the overall price of accessories, you’ll be glad to know that Square offers financing on purchases of $49 or more. Generally, the limit is $5,000, but you can apply for an increased limit. Depending on the total sum you’re financing, Square offers payback terms of 3, 6, 12 and 24 months.

Square will deduct your payments from your total processing volume before disbursing funds to your bank, so you don’t have to worry about making monthly payments. Eligibility depends on a credit check, and the financing program isn’t available in all U.S. states yet. However, if you are eligible, this could be a great option.

Square’s markup for financing is incredibly reasonable, and the program is managed by Square directly so you don’t have to worry about a shady third-party stepping in. If you can’t afford the upfront investment in hardware, Square’s financing can help you manage your cash flow better. And I like that it’s not a leasing program — when you’re done paying off the hardware, you own it.

Which Square Hardware Is Right For You?

If your business is primarily on the go, you can get a cheap, affordable mobile card reader. If you’d like a countertop setup, there’s Square Terminal with its very small profile, Square Stand for a good entry-level piece of hardware, and of course, Square Register. Plus, the bundled kits from Square allow you to easily add a cash drawer, receipt printer, and any other hardware you need. The number of options can seem overwhelming, but it really comes down to how portable you need your hardware to be and what you can afford.

One of my absolute favorite things about Square is that the company offers a huge array of very affordable hardware for all types of businesses. Some companies might only offer a few options, use expensive leases, or charge an arm and a leg just for a single terminal. You don’t have to worry about that with Square. The price is right and there are hardware options to suit every business that work with all of Square’s Point of Sale apps. That’s a very powerful reason to go with Square already. Throw in the affordable credit card processing and the great customer service, and it’s easy to see why Square is a favorite among small businesses.

If you’re still just learning about Square, be sure to read our complete Square Review! You can also check out our Square Point of Sale, Square for Retail, and Square for Restaurants reviews to learn more about the point of sale systems.

Thanks for reading! Leave us your thoughts and your questions in the comments below!

The post A Guide To Square Credit Card Readers And POS Bundles appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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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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Square Loyalty Program Review

Square Loyalty Promotional Image

The concept of a punch card is nothing new; coffee shops the world over have been slinging their punched out business cards alongside foamy espresso beverages for decades. Likewise, the concept of companies offering rewards to returning companies goes way back into the annals of entrepreneurship. But as the business sector dives further into the capabilities of digital tools, loyalty programs have come along for the ride.

Square has been tinkering with loyalty features since 2012. About two years ago, they stopped offering a free add-on to the basic Square POS, creating a paid-for loyalty product instead. After some concerns about that initial re-launch, Square Loyalty is back again with a new pricing scheme and feature list.

Square has consistently expanded its business products and generally does a decent job at creating useful tools that people feel confident implementing in their businesses. How well does the new version of Square Loyalty measure up? Let’s find out!

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

The price of Square Loyalty is determined by how many “loyalty visits” you get in a given month. A loyalty visit is exactly what it sounds like: whenever a customer signs up for or returns to your loyalty program, that counts as one visit. Square tracks your visits, then charges you based on the following pricing scheme:

Loyalty Visits Price Per Month
1-50 $25
50-100 $35
101-200 $50
201-500 $75
501-1,000 $125
1,001-2,500 $175
2,501-5,000 $250
5,001-10,000 $500

If you think you will require more than 10,000 loyalty visits in a single month, you will need to get in touch with Square for more information on exact pricing.

Ease Of Use

The team at Square has built their brand on the simplicity of their software; just about anyone can pick Square up and use it with little-to-no training. Not surprisingly, the loyalty rewards program operates with the same simplistic design. This is a system designed for intuitive use on both sides of the register for customers and employees alike. As long as you already use Square products for payment processing and point of sale, this will work just fine for you.

Setting up your rewards account is as simple as determining the economy of your rewards points (how many should customers get after a visit?) and creating the rewards themselves (how will customers spend their points once they have accumulated?). From there, you can refine your system as time goes on, making adjustments as needed–you will want to be clear with your customers about what is going on, though!

On the customer side, simply have new program members enter their phone numbers to sign up. From then on, your Square Register will remember the customer and apportion their points on subsequent views. Speaking as one who has encountered Square loyalty rewards in the wild, I can report that the system works well, and is even a little exciting!

Features

Square Loyalty comes with the following features:

  • Points System: You get to pick between three different loyalty schemes: by visit, by amount spent, or by item. Customers will get text message updates on the number of points they have built up. Basically, your decision for which system to use will come down to your industry and business model. Selling beverages or baked goods? Visit-based rewards might be best. Working retail? Amount-based might be best. Selling niche products? You might want to go by item.
  • Customer Rewards: You can select three different kinds of rewards that align vaguely with the three different loyalty schemes: free item, discount on the entire sale, or discount on a product category. Obviously, some business types will find one of these systems more useful than others; it’s up to you to determine which will be best for you.
  • Customer Data: Once your customers sign up for loyalty rewards, you can begin tracking information about them. In some industries — coffee shops, for example — you get to know repeat customers quickly as a matter of course. In others, it may be valuable indeed to know a bit more about your clientele, particularly things like their most purchased items and how often they visit your shop.
  • Analytics: Square gives you a bird’s eye view of how your loyalty program is helping your business, showing data on all your customers and how often they visit your shop. You can see how many people use your loyalty rewards, how many points they have, and more. This is the feature that will tell you how well your loyalty program is working, so I definitely recommend checking this out.

Final Thoughts

Square boasts that customers who enroll in their loyalty programs spend 37% more than non-enrolled customers. A cynical person might point out that the kind of person who signs up for a loyalty program would be automatically more likely to spend more at a particular store than other, but at the same time, 37% is difficult to argue with.

But is Square’s loyalty feature ultimately worth the price? I definitely found the monthly cost a bit prohibitive; $50 for just over 50 loyalty visits is a lot. It is possible that at higher subscription levels the price comes down and makes more economic sense, but in order for that to be true, you will need more customers to sign up.

On the other hand, from what I can tell, the feature set works reasonably well — especially when you consider how closely it plays with Square’s flagship POS product. That right there might make it worth it to stop and consider coughing up the cash, especially if you are using one of those snazzy new Square Registers. I suspect many Square Loyalty users hop on board the hype train for this very reason; they are already using some kind of Square product in the first place. In fact, one of the biggest caveats to Square Loyalty (apart from price) is the fact that in order to use it, you will have to already be using Square POS (at the very least); if you have a different system, this is not the loyalty program you have been looking for.

As usual, the final decision comes down to you. Are you using a Square product? Is the touted increase in customer engagement worth what might be an excessive price? Fortunately, you can give it a try before deciding for sure. Be warned though! Though Square provides a generous 30-day trial, your customers may feel less than generous if they discover that your rewards program has up and disappeared just as they were about to redeem one of their rewards. Tread carefully then, and make sure you are confident in your decisions before committing even to the free trial.

Reader eCommerce Retail Food Service
Free App & Reader Square eCommerce Square for Retail Square for Restaurants
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization Specialized software for more complex retail stores Specialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month $0/month $60/month $60/month
Always Free Always Free Free Trial Free Trial

The post Square Loyalty Program Review 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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The 10 Best Restaurant Management Software Apps

It’s almost 2019, if you can believe it, and more than fall leaves or pumpkin spice lattes, tech fans like myself relish the smell of a freshly unboxed smartphone (thanks to Apple’s annual September unveiling). But it’s not just consumers who love mobile tech; businesses do too.  As mobile technology becomes more powerful, businesses — including restaurants — enjoy increasingly robust mobile hardware which can handle more powerful and nuanced software functions.

Indeed, restaurant managers, in particular, have an increasing number of mobile management applications at their disposal. From tablet-based POS systems that accept mobile payments to online reservation services that let customers reserve a table with an app, more restaurant management functions are being conducted online and on mobile devices. But with all the restaurant apps out there, how do you know which ones you should use? Think of it kind of like cooking: if you use too much or too little of an ingredient, it ruins the dish. Similarly, if you use too many management apps, there’s too much overlap in services (not to mention the fact that you’ll run out of bandwidth and money), and if you use just one or two services, you may miss out on critical features.

To help you out, I’ve put together this list of the top restaurant management apps in terms of both quality and popularity. From employee management to accounting to raw ingredient tracking, modern mobile restaurant software can help you with every restaurant management task you can imagine.

I’ve divided these top 10 best restaurant management apps into restaurant point of sale (POS) software apps—which are often complete restaurant management systems with few if any third-party add-ons required— and other restaurant management apps which offer more specific, targeted functionality.

Restaurant POS Systems

Toast TouchBistro Breadcrumb ShopKeep Lightspeed Restaurant

Toast

TouchBistro

Breadcrumb POS by Upserve

ShopKeep

Lightspeed Restaurant

ShopKeep alternatives for restaurants

Visit Site 

Review

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Compare 

Review

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Monthly fee

$79+

$69+

$99+

Get a quote

$69+

Cloud-based or Locally Installed

Cloud-based

Locally installed

Cloud-based

Hybrid

Cloud-based

Compatible credit card processors

Toast only

TouchBistro Payments, Square, PayPal, Moneris, Cayan, Chase Paymentech & more

Upserve Payments only

Shopkeep Payments & some others; contact your processor to see if they are supported

Cayan or Mercury in US; iZettle in Europe

Business size

Small to large

Small to medium

Small to large

Small to medium

Small to medium

The awesome thing about today’s app-based restaurant point of sale systems is that they are often complete restaurant management systems. Or if they do not include essential restaurant management functions, they will typically have integrations that work together with other restaurant management apps (for accounting, staff scheduling, inventory management, etc.). As such, your restaurant POS system is a good basis on which to build any other add-ons to your restaurant application suite.

1. Toast

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Android-based restaurant POS
  • All-in-one restaurant management system
  • Advanced inventory management
  • Add-ons for kitchen display system, kiosk POS, online ordering, delivery management, and more

Try it out: Schedule a Toast demo

Toast is a complete, Android-based restaurant point of sale system and restaurant management system for restaurants of any size. With strong front-end and back-end features, Toast not only takes payments with integrated payment processing, but also tracks your sales, labor, and inventory, organizing that information into useful, internet-accessible reports.

With mobile POS tablets, servers can send orders directly to the kitchen and even process payments right from the table. Kitchen display system and kiosk ordering are some other high-tech add-ons available for purchase from Toast.

Useful Features:

  • Customer data management system
  • Menu creation with comprehensive modifier system
  • Labor management including employee time tracking
  • Inventory management system that includes a recipe costing tool, food cost calculator, and menu engineering chart that shows you your best-selling and most profitable menu items
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Online ordering (extra monthly charge)
  • Delivery management system (extra monthly charge)
  • Customer loyalty program (extra monthly charge)
  • Gift cards (extra monthly charge)

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • Compeat
  • PeachWorks
  • CTUIT
  • CrunchTime
  • PayTronix
  • Bevager
  • GrubHub (online ordering and delivery)
  • Samsung Pay
  • Kitchensync

Toast also has an open API which lets you create your own applications, should you be so inclined.

The Quick & Dirty:

Pricing for this complete POS and restaurant management system starts at $79/month. Overall, Toast is a good option for restaurants that want a complete restaurant POS and management system and prefer a non-iPad POS.

2. TouchBistro

ShopKeep alternatives for restaurants

 

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • iPad POS system for restaurants
  • Affordable
  • Locally installed
  • Compatible with multiple payment processors
  • Table management with reservations add-on

Get started with TouchBistro: Get a custom quote

TouchBistro is a bestselling iPad POS app for restaurants. While it isn’t an “all-in-one” restaurant management system like Toast, it’s cost-effective, easy to use, and very good at what it does. TouchBistro runs as an app on via one or more iPads, with multi-iPad setups keeping in sync via a local Apple server.

TouchBistro does have some online reports allowing you to view your restaurant metrics anywhere with an internet connection, but it does not require a WiFi connection to operate, other than to process credit card payments. TouchBistro integrates with multiple payment processors.

Useful Features:

  • Tableside ordering
  • Table management with visual layout
  • Menu management
  • Kiosk option
  • Employee management
  • Loyalty program (extra monthly charge)
  • Reservations function with TouchBistro Pro

Integrations With Other Restaurant Management Software:

  • 7Shifts
  • Xero
  • Shogo
  • Square
  • Quickbooks
  • JUST EAT (for online ordering)

The Quick & Dirty:

In summation, TouchBistro a very capable iPad POS for small-to-medium restaurants that are budget-conscious and may not have a powerful internet connection. Pricing starts at $69/month.

3. BreadCrumb POS By Upserve

Review

Highlights

  • All-in-one restaurant POS and restaurant management system
  • iPad-based
  • Fully cloud-based
  • Fully integrated online ordering
  • Must use Upserve for payment processing

Compare: Compare Breadcrumb with other top-rated iPad POS software

Breadcrumb is an all-in-one restaurant management and iPad POS system which could perhaps be considered the iPad-based answer to Toast. Comprehensive restaurant-centric management features that let you manage tables, employees, and menu items with a few finger taps make this restaurant software application suitable for any full-service or quick-service restaurant, no matter the size.

Breadcrumb is fully cloud-based and requires no on-premise server. In-house payment processing is provided exclusively by Breadcrumb’s parent company, Upserve.

Useful Features:

  • Customizable interface
  • “Offline” mode allows you to continue using POS and taking payments if internet goes down
  • Table management with color coding and meal progression graphic
  • Choice between “Server” mode with table view and “Quickserve” mode for bartenders and other quick orders
  • Fully-integrated online ordering system
  • Detailed online reporting suite
  • 24/7 support

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • Grubhub
  • Shogo
  • Restaurant 365
  • CTUIT
  • Peachworks
  • 7Shifts

The Quick & Dirty:

Breadcrumb pricing starts at $99/month. Again, it’s a solid all-in-one restaurant POS system for iPad with an array of restaurant features. When compared to Toast, however, Breadcrumb might come up slightly short in some respects, such as inventory management. However, Breadcrumb offers integrations with third-party restaurant apps to help fill in any functionality gaps.

4. ShopKeep

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Powerful retail and restaurant tools
  • Available on iPad (Analytics app on iOS)
  • Multiple hardware options available
  • Pricing based on custom quotes 
  • Loyalty program only as add-on

Excellent all-around POS: Get your custom quote

While it can be used for either restaurant or retail environments, ShopKeep is a great all-around POS software system that’s reasonably priced and extremely easy to use. Aimed at small businesses in particular, this iPad POS software has a pleasant, Apple-centric interface with convenient register buttons for the most popular menu items. ShopKeep uses a “hybrid” data storage system in which data is stored locally on your restaurant’s iPads, and then syncs back to the cloud when there is an internet connection.

As with the other restaurant POS apps on this list, ShopKeep has integrations to make up for any restaurant management features it doesn’t have, such as advanced inventory management and online ordering.

Useful Features:

  • Integrated ShopKeep Payments payment processing
  • Comprehensive register functionality
  • Extensive back-office reporting suite
  • Raw ingredient inventory management
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Staff management tools
  • ShopKeep Pocket App to track restaurant metrics from iPhone or Android

Integrations With Other Restaurant Software:

  • MailChimp
  • ChowBot (online ordering and delivery)
  • Quickbooks
  • AppCard

The Quick & Dirty:

ShopKeep is an affordable and capable iPad POS that works well for small restaurants of any type. ShopKeep pricing is customized based on your individual business’s needs and is comparable to TouchBistro or Lightspeed Restaurant. Note that while Shopkeep does provide fairly priced in-house payment processing via Shopkeep Payments, you can also use an outside payment processor.

5. Lightspeed Restaurant 

Review Visit Site

Highlights

  • Affordable iPad POS for restaurants
  • Fully cloud-based
  • Also works on iPhone and iPod touch
  • Best for small-to-medium restaurants

Try out Lightspeed Restaurant: Free trial offer

Lightspeed Restaurant is an app-based iPad POS system built specifically for—you guessed it—restaurants. Lightspeed is not the most complete restaurant POS out there, but it is highly mobile-friendly and certainly delivers a lot of bang for your buck.

The Lightspeed Restaurant app requires iOS 9.3 or later to operate and you can access the backend via any internet-connected web browser. In addition to iPads, Lightspeed can even be used on an iPhone or iPod touch, though using the app on those two devices is best for basic features such as clocking in and quick orders.

Useful Features:

  • Intricate employee management
  • Raw ingredient tracking
  • Tableside ordering lets servers show pictures of menu items to customers
  • Floor planner
  • 24/7 phone support excluding holidays
  • Ability to set up timed promotions
  • In-depth reports

Integrations With Other Restaurant Management Software:

  • Resengo
  • Orderlord
  • QuickBooks
  • Xero
  • MarketMan
  • AppCard
  • Multiple online ordering services

The Quick & Dirty:

Lightspeed Restaurant pricing starts at $69/month. This cloud-based iPad POS app is perfect for small-to-medium restaurants of any type.

Other Restaurant Management Apps

What follows are some more restaurant management apps. Rather than the complete restaurant management tool that POS systems provide, these apps have a limited, specific function — like reservations or email marketing — and may integrate with your POS system or be used separately.

opentable

6. OpenTable

OpenTable is an online reservation and waitlist system that’s convenient to use for both restaurateurs and customers. You can access the app on your smartphone or tablet to view or change reservations, and to see your waitlist in real time. OpenTable is a highly useful tool for restaurant managers and waitstaff alike.

Useful Features:

  • Guests can make online reservations from your website, the OpenTable app or website, or third-party
  • Monitor status of each table in your restaurant
  • Shift management tool

POS Integrations:

  • Aloha
  • Micros
  • POSitouch
  • Heartland Dinerware
  • Squirrel Systems
  • Toast (coming soon)

The Quick & Dirty:

OpenTable is online reservation software for restaurants of any type, especially favored by trendy, upscale bars and eateries. OpenTable’s “Connect” option has limited features but only costs between $0.25 and $2.50 for each booked guest. The “GuestCenter” option with more advanced restaurant management features and POS integration is $249/month + $1 per reservation.

7. Fivestars

fivestars logo

Fivestars is a mobile rewards program for local businesses such as restaurants. Customers sign up for Fivestars’ loyalty program either at your restaurant or via the Fivestars mobile app and start earning rewards and receiving promotional offers via text, email, or push notification. Your staff then redeems your customers’ rewards and offers from your POS or a mobile device.

Fivestars also has a lot of cool marketing features that vary depending on which plan you choose. Whether you want to encourage repeat business or gain a competitive edge on other restaurants in your area, Fivestars will help you do both.

Useful Features:

  • Automated rewards and promotions
  • Send one-time offer anytime your sales need a boost
  • Multiple options for setting up rewards system, e.g., customers could earn points per-dollar, per-visit, etc.
  • Social media integration
  • Customer data collection

POS Integrations:

  • Clover Station
  • Clover Mini
  • QuickBooks POS
  • Harbortouch
  • Aloha
  • Aldelo
  • Windows POS

The Quick & Dirty:

Fivestars online loyalty software is especially popular among cafes and coffee shops, but it’s also used by full-service restaurants, bars, bakeries, smoothie shops, and every other type of brick-and-mortar eatery. Fivestars’ starter plan—which includes two customer-facing tablets, POS integration, the Autopilot program, onboarding and three training sessions—is $279 per month.

Best Accounting Mobile Apps

8. QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks is essential accounting software for small businesses, and restaurants are no exception. In recent years, this quintessential business software has become has become more online and mobile-friendly, with the introduction of QuickBooks Online and excellent mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Besides making accounting tasks simple and affordable for independently owned restaurants, cloud-based Quickbooks Online also integrates with most modern restaurant POS systems.

Useful Features:

  • True double-entry accounting
  • Live bank feeds for easy bank reconciliation
  • Unlimited estimates and invoices
  • Accounts payable with ability to create purchase orders and convert them to bills
  • Easy-to-use payroll and other employee management features (for additional cost)

POS Integrations:

Quickbooks Online integrates with most restaurant POS systems. Usually, the question is not whether Quickbooks integrates with your POS, but rather, the quality of the Quickbooks/POS integration. A direct, seamless integration is ideal. Here you can read about 7 POS system that have direct integrations with Quickbooks.

The Quick & Dirty:

QuickBooks online is cloud-based accounting software for any internet connected device. Depending on which features you need, QuickBooks online will set you back between $15 and $50/month.

Xero logo

9. Xero

Xero is a QuickBooks alternative which many restauranteurs around the world use every day to manage their restaurant’s accounting tasks. Just like QB Online, Xero has both iOS and Android apps and can be accessed via any internet-connected device. Xero also integrates with many cloud-based restaurant point of sale systems.

Xero doesn’t have as many features as QuickBooks; for example, payroll support is limited to only 37 states and there is no job-costing feature. However, Xero also costs a lot less than QuickBooks.

Useful Features:

  • Accounts payable feature with recurring bills and purchase orders
  • Unlimited users with extensive user permissions controls
  • Double-entry accounting
  • Excellent customer service
  • Easier to use than QuickBooks (in most respects)
  • 500+ integrations

POS Integrations:

While Quickbooks is the most popular accounting software system, Xero is catching up and most major POS systems integrate with Xero as well as Quickbooks. Some of these systems include:

  • Square for Restaurants
  • Nobly POS
  • TouchBistro
  • Lightspeed
  • Vend
  • Shopify POS

The Quick & Dirty:

With pricing starting at just $9/month, online accounting app Xero is a more affordable QB alternative for restaurants that don’t need every advanced accounting feature.

10. MailChimp mailchimp logo

MailChimp is email marketing software you can use to boost the online marketing efforts of your restaurant. While most POS apps include some email features, they are usually somewhat lacking. With a fully featured email marketing program like MailChimp, you can set up automated email campaigns to build customer loyalty, advertise promotions, and grow your social media following.

MailChimp is entirely cloud-based; the company also offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices.

Useful Features:

  • 23 basic templates and hundreds of theme templates
  • Easy list segmentation
  • Advanced email campaign reporting
  • Robust free plan includes up to 2,000 subscribers and sends up to 12,000 emails per month.

POS Integrations:

  • Revel Systems
  • Shopkeep
  • Lightspeed
  • Epos Now

The Quick & Dirty:

MailChimp has a very decent free plan and paid plans start at $25/month, scaling up depending on how large your list is (and how many features you want). This easy-to-use ESP supports both small start-ups and large corporations.

Final Thoughts

A successful restaurant business has the same basic ingredients it did 20 years ago or even 200 years ago: delicious food, happy customers, excellent service, and organized behind-the-scenes processes to keep everything running smoothly. However, the tools used to achieve restaurant success have changed with advances in technology. Everything from taking payments, to advertising, to bookkeeping, to employee management has been digitized.

One important job of restaurant management that can’t be replaced with automation is the restaurant manager herself. Being awesome at your job, I’m sure you will do a great job selecting the management apps that work for your unique restaurant business. Have fun with the selection process and make sure you utilize free trials of all of these apps so you can be sure the restaurant management software you choose works great for your needs before you commit.

The post The 10 Best Restaurant Management Software Apps 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 Analyze Your Credit Card Processing Statement

Here at Merchant Maverick, we’ve received countless questions over the years from concerned business owners regarding their merchant account statements. In fact, our website owes a large part of its very existence to the complex pricing, convoluted statements, and hidden markups that are hallmarks of the card processing industry. This is the unfortunate state of affairs that keeps us researching, writing, and advocating for small business owners.

Questions we frequently field from our readers about their processing bills include:

  • Am I paying too much for card processing? (That’s the big one everyone wants to know!)
  • Why did my processing costs suddenly go up this month?
  • What is this unexpected/oddly-named/junky-looking fee? Is it legit?
  • Is there anything I can do to lower my costs without changing providers?
  • Should I change account providers?

Only a thorough understanding of your own statements will yield the answers to these important questions. The inherent difficulty of the task is that you can’t completely rely on your provider’s statement guide, nor its sales or customer service reps, to explain all the fees. If your account provider is being sneaky about extra markups and unnecessary fees, the responsibility falls directly on you to decipher what’s really going on.

There’s no one-size-fits-all method for analyzing a statement, because every business and situation is a bit different. Still, there are definitely some foundational concepts that should help demystify the process. For example, here’s one quick tip to kick things off: Examine more than one statement side-by-side to avoid missing anything. Often times you need two months of statements just to completely view one month’s worth of charges. So, grab at least two or three consecutive statements and let’s get started!

Detail Vs. Big Picture

Analyzing a processing statement is always a balancing act between the details and the big picture. If you’re worried about a questionable charge, or suspect you’re paying too much overall, you may need to check every fee on your statement to identify its source and confirm the amount is what it should be. I’d encourage all merchants to at least give this a try on a few statements. If anything, you’ll verify that the fee schedule from your merchant agreement was implemented as you expected.

On the flip side, you actually needn’t worry too much about all the individual fees and rates on your statement if you track the big picture numbers (your overall costs) month-over-month. As long as the big picture amounts remain reasonable and consistent, you’re pretty much good to go. If they do change significantly, though, you’re back to looking at the details of your statement to figure out why. Fortunately, if you’ve already mastered the baseline details of your statements, you’ll easily identify the culprits that are most impacting your costs.

In short, understanding the interplay of your big picture numbers (what you’re paying overall) and detailed costs (why you’re paying it) is the best way to protect yourself from paying too much.

With that bit of philosophy out of the way, let’s look at the main big picture percentage that all merchants can calculate.

Effective Rate

Your effective rate is the “all-in” percentage rate you’re paying for the privilege of accepting card payments. All business owners should take a first crack at calculating this rate before conducting any detailed analysis. It’s a simple formula:

(Total monthly fees / Total monthly sales) x 100 = Effective Rate

By total monthly fees, we mean processing charges, gateway fees, statement fees, monthly fees, equipment leases, weird fees you can’t figure out — everything. Sometimes you can grab these numbers from a summary section, as below:

calculating-effective-rate-statement

$5,907.03 / $98,511.45 = 0.0599, or an Effective Rate of 5.99%

I still always recommend calculating your effective rate again once you’ve analyzed your statement in full. That way, you can ensure your summary section didn’t sneakily omit any charges. You’d be surprised how often this happens. (Or, maybe you wouldn’t be!)

Your effective rate provides a basic answer to “How much am I being charged for card processing?” and “Am I paying too much?” The precise answer to that second question is, of course, more nuanced for each business. For a large retail corporation, a 2.5% effective rate might be too high. For a high-risk ecommerce operation with lots of small transactions, 4.5% might be a screaming deal. Even with this variation, however, the effective rate gives you an important birds-eye view of where you stand.

Types Of Fees

You’re probably already aware that there are multiple layers to the card processing industry. Not surprisingly, each entity involved takes a cut of your card sales in one form or another. We’ve covered a lot of this territory in our complete guide to rates and fees, but I’ll quickly recap the main players in the industry, and whether they each charge wholesale costs (fixed throughout the industry) or markups (variable and negotiable depending on your business situation and account provider).

Wholesale

  • Card Networks: We’ve all heard of these folks — Visa, MasterCard, and the like. These associations take their cut of processing costs in the form of card association fees and assessments. If you don’t think you’d be able to recognize these charges on your statement, head over to our card brand fee article for an explanation and full reference list.
  • Card-Issuing Banks: The banks that have issued credit and debit cards to your customers charge interchange fees — the cost of running each individual type of card and transaction. The card associations actually set these fees for the issuing banks, and also publish and frequently update lists for merchant reference.

Not everyone will be able to see pure wholesale costs on their statements. This is because sometimes wholesale costs are passed through directly to merchants, while in other cases they’re blended in with markups. This mostly depends on your pricing model (we’ll have a section on that topic coming up). Still, regardless of what “should” be happening with wholesale charges according to your pricing model, it’s worth checking to see if any have been passed through to you, and if the amounts are correct. Interchange fees are usually pretty easy to spot — they’re typically in a giant itemized list if you can see them at all. Card brand fees can be more difficult to identify, so definitely consult a reliable reference list.

Markup

Everything besides those two types of wholesale fees we’ve just discussed counts as a markup. Here are the main players that add costs above wholesale:

  • Processor/Acquirer: You may know some of the big ones — First Data, TSYS, Vantiv/Worldpay, Chase, Elavon, etc. These entities are also usually involved with an acquiring bank (e.g., Wells Fargo or B of A) if they aren’t already one themselves. The processor behind your merchant account can add its own extra fees and markups.
  • Merchant Service Provider (MSP): This is the entity that actually sets up and manages your merchant account — the company you interface with most directly. You also access your monthly statements through your MSP, even though the statement might have the big processor’s name across the top. You may have signed up for your account with the MSP department of one of the large processors we’ve already mentioned, or you may have used a separate MSP/ISO that has teamed up with one or more processors to provide accounts. Regardless of the setup, your merchant services provider adds its own markups as well.
  • Additional Service Providers: Charges from other third parties (such as gateway or equipment providers) may also show up on your merchant account statement.

A word of caution about “pass-through” fees: Just because your MSP claims to be merely “passing through” a fee to you “at cost,” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a wholesale charge (from the card associations or card-issuing banks). As you can see above, the big processor/acquirer behind the scenes may also charge its own fees and markups, and often other third-party equipment and software providers do as well. These “pass-through” fees should be counted as variable markups, even though your MSP may not see any money from the charges.

Effective Markup

If you can see all interchange fees and card brand fees (wholesale costs) itemized on your statement, you can calculate your effective markup. Let’s take a look at what this is, and why it’s an advantageous number to crunch if you can swing it.

Remember, the markup is the piece that varies between MSPs. Not only can the overall amount vary widely, but the way markups are charged is also variable between providers. For example, one MSPs might charge a low markup percentage on your individual transactions, but several different monthly fees as well. Meanwhile, another MSP might charge a high markup percentage on transactions, but hardly any monthly fees. Which one’s a better deal? This is why it’s good to know your markup as an overall percentage.

You’re effective markup not only lets you know how much you’re really paying in controllable costs each month, but it’s also a handy figure to have if you’d like to compare your statement with other merchant account offers.

Here’s the basic formula (always multiply by 100 to convert to a percentage):

Markup Fees  / Total Sales = Effective Markup

Depending on how your statement is laid out, here’s another way to think of the calculation that might be more helpful:

[Total Fees – (Interchange Fees + Card Brand Fees)] / Total Sales = Effective Markup

I like this second way because it’s a clear process of elimination. Once you’ve got all the wholesale fees accounted for and subtracted away from your total fees, you automatically know everything else you’re charged is a markup.

You might have a summary section on your statement that divides up your fees in such a way to make this calculation simple. It’s more likely, however, that you’ll have to pick through your statement to make sure you understand your pricing structure and the true classification of each fee before you can add up the numbers and perform the effective markup calculation with confidence. Call me paranoid, but I have a mistrust of so-called “summary” sections on statements. Been burned way too many times!

What if you can’t calculate your effective markup at all, because your statement doesn’t make it possible to see all wholesale fees separately? That’s fine — just focus on tracking your effective rate for now. It’s not as telling a number as your effective markup, but it’s an excellent starting point for staying on top of your costs.

Pricing Model

Knowing your pricing model is absolutely critical to understanding your statement, so if you don’t already know it, now is the time to figure it out! We have an article that walks you through the process of identifying your pricing model by looking for specific, telltale signs on your statement, as well as in-depth articles on each of the four main models most MSPs offer.

We’ve already alluded to the fact that your pricing model determines whether or not you can distinguish wholesale costs from markups. You’ll never know exactly where you could be saving money (or where you’re getting ripped off) if you can’t make this distinction.

This is a complicated topic, so it may take you a while to wrap your mind around which model you have and how it impacts your statement. That’s okay — take your time. We do also occasionally come across some interesting hybrid models, so if you still need assistance figuring out your model, feel free to reach out to us.

So, how do the pricing models work? Well, the models were developed based specifically on interchange fees and whether or not they are blended in with MSP rate markups. (Card brand fees are not tied as tightly to your pricing model, so I’d just recommend checking your own statement to see if any are passed through.) Below are links to articles on each of the models, as well as a super-brief overview of each.

Interchange separate from markup:

  • Interchange-Plus (Cost-Plus) Pricing: Interchange rates are itemized and passed through separately from the MSP markups. Rate markups typically include a percentage markup and a per-transaction fee markup.
  • Membership (Subscription) Pricing: A version of interchange-plus pricing in which a monthly membership fee is charged as a markup in lieu of a percentage markup over rates.

Interchange blended with markup:

  • Tiered Pricing: Interchange rates are blended in with markups to create multiple rate tiers.
  • Flat-Rate Pricing: Interchange rates are blended in with markups to create a flat processing rate (most often used by merchant aggregators like Square, Stripe, and PayPal — not traditional MPSs).

In theory, you should be able to calculate your effective markup if you have one of the first two models, because wholesale fees are kept separate. This is one reason we favor MSPs that offer transparent interchange-plus or subscription models to all merchants. For the other two blended plans, you’ll need to stick to monitoring your effective rate only.

Billing Cycle

Beyond understanding your pricing model, you should be aware of exactly when you’re charged the various fees and rates due on your account. A closer look at your billing cycle could potentially reveal that you’re not calculating your effective rate properly, or that you’re paying higher processing rates than you originally thought. Here are a couple of tricky billing methods to watch out for:

Daily Discount (Vs. Monthly Discount)

“Discount” here refers to your card processing fees (as opposed to scheduled monthly fees). Your discount method is totally irrespective of your pricing model. Most merchants are on a monthly discount plan, meaning their discount fees are all charged in one lump sum at the same time as the rest of their scheduled monthly fees. In other words, you receive gross deposits from your batch settlements throughout the month, and then pay all your discount fees along with all other scheduled fees all at once.

On a daily discount cycle, your discount fees (or a portion of them) are deducted from each batch settlement as the month progresses. This leaves you with net deposits from your batches, and all your other scheduled fees are charged in a separate chunk. You can often tell if you are on a daily discount cycle if your statement contains terms like “less discount paid,” or shows net versus gross amounts in sales columns. With daily discount, you must be careful to add the discount fees you’ve already paid throughout the month to the other monthly fees you still need to pay. Don’t be mislead by the “total charges” figure, which may not include the discount fees you’re already paid.

Add together the “less discount paid” of $168.03 and “total card fees” of $50.95 to find the actual amount that is paid for the month: $218.98!

Billback

This is a rolling billing method that is technically different from (but often combined with) both a daily discount setup and a tiered pricing model. On a normal tiered plan, you’re charged the different rate tiers (qualified, mid-qualified, non-qualified) for your transactions all in the same month. With billback, however, you are charged the qualified (lowest possible) rate for all your transactions first, but then charged a fee the next month to recoup all the extra cost for any higher-tiered transactions you ran.

With this rolling system, you actually need two months of statements to even calculate your effective rate for a given month, since your charges for one month are split over two months — possibly more. Even worse, the Enhanced Billback method (a.k.a. Enhanced Recovery Reduced) adds an additional markup to the next month’s recouping fee. You may see BB, EBB or ERR abbreviations (along with a past month’s abbreviation) listed on your statements if you’re in a billback situation, but you may just need to spot the extra fees on your own.

enhanced billing merchant services

Billback statement: Extra fees for April transactions charged in May.

Nitty-Gritty Numbers

As we discussed at the beginning of the guide, you needn’t identify every fee every month into eternity, but I’d strongly recommend going for it on a few statements. Maybe you’re just curious and would like to become a more cost-savvy merchant, or maybe you suspect a hidden fee, or maybe your processing bill has spiked lately and you want to know why. Not to mention, sometimes statements contain run-of-the-mill mistakes that need catching! After all, not all MSPs are pure evil. Just most of them.

Of course, I can’t tell you every fee you’ll ever see on a statement and whether it’s legit. What I can do is offer you a few general tips I’ve found helpful as I’ve analyzed statements:

  • Identify Percentages vs. Dollar Amounts: Costs may come through as percentages of sales volume, per-transaction fees, or flat fees. At times, half the battle is just confirming which fees are percentages and which are dollar amounts, because they may all be shown in decimal form (and all mixed into the same columns!). The good news is that a quick calculation of your own can usually confirm which are which.
  • Use Fee Guides: Absolutely make use of any statement guide from your provider, but also check out an outside resource or two. Our fee guide lists the common fees you’ll encounter on a statement, and our fee infographic shows the typical cost range of many standard charges. I know I’ve said this a bunch of times already, but you’ll also need a good card brand fee reference list to confirm these fixed-yet-esoteric charges.
  • Ask Yourself Fee ID Questions: As you work through each charge, see if you can answer the following queries:
    • Who charges this fee/rate? (see “Types Of Fees” section above for possible culprits)
    • Is this charge a markup, wholesale cost, or a blend of the two?
    • Is this wholesale charge correct according to interchange tables or the card brand fee list?
    • Is this markup (or blended cost) correct according to my merchant fee schedule from my MSP?
  • Don’t Trust The Layout: We’ve dissected some horrifically disorganized statements over the years, which has only confirmed in my mind that you simply cannot rely on the sub-headings on a processing statement to properly categorize your fees. Wholesale fees are very often interspersed with markups and vice versa, so be on your guard. I’m particularly vigilant about “authorization” sections —  the perfect hiding spot for extra per-transaction fees.
  • Don’t Trust Fee Names: This last tip sounds strange at first, but hear me out. Names and abbreviations for fees have little standardization across the industry — even wholesale fees that are supposed to be the same for everyone! This makes it all the more difficult to identify extra or padded fees on a statement. If you’re trying to pin down a particular charge, it’s often best to consider the amount first while taking the fee’s name with a grain of salt. Here’s one good rule of thumb: Just because a charge has a card brand abbreviation in front of it doesn’t guarantee it’s all from the card brand!

Poor layout example: An MSP markup fee buried in the middle of a giant alphabetical list of wholesale card brand fees. And, the section name is just “Other Fees.” Not cool! (Note: this is an old statement with non-current card brand fee amounts)

Fine-Tuning Fees

We’re about take this detailed numbers analysis thing to the next level. Ready?

So, remember how we said that wholesale fees are fixed, non-negotiable and completely out of your control, and that markups from your MSP are the variable, negotiable costs of processing? Well, in reality, this is a slight oversimplification of the system. There are some nuances and gray areas that once recognized on your statement can help you catch problems, and potentially even adjust your processing habits to save money.

  • Avoidable Penalty Fees: Most card brand fees are simple, blanket assessments on your transactions, but others are in place specifically to punish you for not following the proper protocols for authorization and settlement. They’re small fees, but can add up fast if they’re applied to a large portion of your transactions. If you’re seeing a lot of transaction “integrity” type fees, you should take the initiative to find out why this is happening. (While we’re on the topic, don’t forget that MSPs can also charge avoidable penalty fees — a PCI-non compliance fee is one common example.)
  • Optimizing Interchange Rates: While interchange rates themselves are fixed and pre-established across the processing industry, you may have more control over which categories of interchange your transactions fall into than you think. The process of ensuring you get the best interchange rates possible is called interchange optimization. B2B transactions using commercial cards can be processed with additional Level 2 and Level 3 data to get the optimal interchange rate, for example. Transactions can also end up “downgraded” to higher-cost interchange categories if you do not authorize and settle them properly (in this way, downgrades are basically another type of penalty fee). Interchange downgrades happen more commonly to card-not-present businesses because there is more margin for data-entry error and omission than when cards are read directly by processing equipment. Common statement codes for downgraded interchange rates include EIRF (electronic interchange reimbursement fee) and STD (standard). It’s normal for a few transactions to be downgraded, but if you’re seeing interchange downgrades on the majority of your transactions, this is a definite red flag.

This merchant’s largest Visa Card Brand fee for the month was $25.30 for 253 transactions that didn’t follow proper authorization/settlement procedures. It’s likely these transactions are getting downgraded to higher-cost interchange categories as well. The merchant should look into adjusting its processing procedures to avoid these unnecessary costs.

Pulling It All Together

After you’ve worked through the details of your 2-3 consecutive statements, it’s worth repeating your effective rate calculation on each one, just to ensure you didn’t miss any charges. You may have also spotted an extra or padded fee here and there that you’re ready to confidently take up with your MSP. You should also be able to locate any anomalies that occurred during a given month (e.g., excessive penalty fees, chargebacks, one-time incidental fees, etc.) that may have impacted your effective rate.

If your statements itemize interchange rates and card brand fees separately from markups (interchange-plus or subscription models only), you’re finally ready to do that magical effective markup calculation accurately. Remember to only count interchange fees and card brand fees as true wholesale. Everything else is technically a markup!

Final Thoughts

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide, but hopefully you’re ready to tackle some big picture calculations (like your effective rate), as well as better identify any specific “what the heck is that?” charges from your statement. If you’re ready to become the consummate master of your processing statements from here on out, the first step will be to get on a cost-plus pricing model (interchange-plus or subscription/membership). This is the only way you’ll see what you’re paying each month above wholesale processing costs that are largely out of your control. All but very small merchants will benefit from one of these pricing models from a trustworthy MSP. If you’re not on a cost-plus plan already, make it a priority if you change providers.

Meanwhile, keep on tracking that effective rate (and effective markup if your statement allows) month-over-month for the lifetime of your merchant account. Once you’ve got a handle on your statement, it will be totally worth the 12 seconds the calculation will take you each month. I’m a super detailed-oriented person as a matter of principle, and even I give you my blessing to pretty much ignore all the stupid little fees and markups your processor or MSP may charge, as long as you’re satisfied your big picture numbers are remaining sensible and consistent. Just know I’ll send you right back into the details if those effective numbers go up!

Still need help with pricing or statements? Check out the transparent pricing of our highest-rated merchant account providers, or try these additional resources:

  • Never Overpay for Credit Card Processing Again
  • How Much Should You Pay for Credit Card Processing?
  • How to Negotiate the Perfect Credit Card Processing Deal

The post How to Analyze Your Credit Card Processing Statement appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Are HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Services Right For You?

If you are a marketing guru with loads of experience in the trade, you probably know all about inbound and outbound marketing. And the world absolutely needs people like you. But if you are like the rest of us, just trying to get your product noticed and understood by the teeming masses, these terms are just more industry jargon gibberish.

Fortunately, Merchant Maverick is here to provide definitions and cut through the jargon. Basically, an inbound marketing methodology requires you to market yourself in such a way that customers naturally find their way to you, rather than employing more aggressive marketing efforts and strategies (like cold calls).

What Is Hubspot?

Apps like HubSpot are designed to be the backbone of your inbound system. Visit the HubSpot website and you will see multiple references to the company’s commitment to inbound marketing. Specifically, HubSpot offers three separate products that each address a distinct aspect of a business’s inbound marketing strategy. The first is HubSpot’s “free-forever” customer relations management (CRM) system; the second is HubSpot Marketing. Finally, HubSpot offers a Sales tool. But what exactly do these products offer subscribers? And are HubSpot’s inbound marketing services right for you? Join us as we dive into the deep end of inbound marketing. We’ll cover HubSpot pricing, support, and more.

HubSpot CRM Tool

As mentioned above, HubSpot’s CRM tool is free forever. Now, I have been writing and reviewing tech products for a while now, and I have come to expect a few things when I see the “free forever” label. Usually, that just means there is a free version of a software, but with most useful features removed. HubSpot’s CRM is not like that. There are no other subscription tiers, no other fees. HubSpot CRM is 100% free.

But what does it do?

Basically, this tool is designed to help you manage your interactions with customers. When adding a new contact into your database (that can hold up to 1,000,000 people), the CRM begins cataloging every interaction. As you communicate with prospective customers, you retain access to your entire history with them. No more losing emails in the depths of your inbox. All the details are saved and easy to access. In addition to the microscopic view of each contact, the CRM also provides you a broad perspective on what HubSpot calls your “sales funnel.” Using the dashboard, you can quickly identify which customers are locked in on the road to closing a deal and which ones might need more assistance. You can use this tool to automate those communications as well, ensuring no customer falls through the cracks.

So do you need HubSpot’s CRM? Basically, if you are attempting to sell any sort of customizable product where different customers will receive individually tailored products, then you definitely want some kind of CRM service. And HubSpot’s is free. Not only that, but it works, and works well. So yes, you probably want to at least try it out.

But what about HubSpot’s other products? Let’s take a look.

HubSpot Inbound Marketing

You may have a way to manage your relationships with all your customers, but how do you get those customers in the first place? The obvious answer is that you need to market yourself somehow. Fortunately, HubSpot also offers an inbound marketing service that works seamlessly with their CRM product. You can use the free-forever version of this product, but really you will want to start at the $200/month “Starter” level, which includes such crucial features as Calls To Action pages for your website and email marketing. HubSpot pricing for larger subscriptions (which run into the $2,400/month range) includes marketing automation, A/B testing, and custom event triggers.

This is where HubSpot’s “inbound marketing” philosophy really starts to show through: Most of the marketing that you will do with this product involves creating content that draws prospective customers to you. Inbound methodology could entail content marketing, like writing blogs, or optimizing your website to bring in customers rather than investing in outbound marketing through social media sites Facebook, Google, or other advertising platforms. It is organic lead generation, in other words. Keep in mind that you will need a website already in order for this to work. If you’re using a hosting service like Squarespace or Wix, you will need to add a few lines of code (provided by HubSpot) to the source in order to integrate with HubSpot. If you use WordPress, on the other hand, you can simply install the HubSpot plug-in. So far so good.

But what do you actually get from there?

Like I mentioned above, the idea of HubSpot’s marketing service is to attract customers organically to your own content by optimizing your website. HubSpot provides blog and email templates designed to look great across devices, then allow you to insert the all-important ‘Call to Action’ boxes that encourage people to enter their information to your email list and start that customer relationship. The more money you spend per month, the more automated this process becomes.

So do you need inbound marketing services through HubSpot? In my opinion, yes. This service is worth at least the $200/month subscription. From there you will have to decide how much you want to spend on increased automation.

HubSpot Sales

So now you have a way to attract potential customers and manage your relationship with them. But really the whole point is to convert those leads and prospects into sales. Once again, HubSpot offers a product to fill that gap. HubSpot Sales Hub is all about communicating with customers, lead nurturing, and centralizing the process of negotiation so that you can focus on the warmest leads without sacrificing the others. The free version of this product is relatively viable, including meetings, calls, task tracking, and more. However, by paying for the $50/month subscription, you also gain features like live chat, prospects, and dedicated customer support. For a whopping $400/month, you can automate your sales process, as well as unlock HubSpot’s excellent Salesforce integration.

Like all of HubSpot’s products, the Sales Hub is built with centralization in mind. All your leads are kept in the same place, organized to keep them from getting mixed up or lost. The focus in sales, though, is on communication with clients. All subscribers gain access to HubSpot’s calls feature, which simplifies the process of scheduling phone meetings with customers. You also get access to powerful email marketing tools, allowing you to track which customers read your messages or downloaded your attachments.

So do you need it? I think the free version of the software is definitely worth a try. If you find you like your experience with the free version, you might consider paying a higher price for some more advanced features.

HubSpot Service Hub

Offered at $400/month, HubSpot’s Service Hub is the final square in the grand customer management quilt that HubSpot has created. As with all their other products, the key to understanding the Service Hub is organization. The goal is that you will be able to keep all your customer interactions organized and arranged so that no one gets left out.

The Service Hub comes with several communication tools, including a live chat and enhanced email inbox to ensure your customers never feel ignored. Additionally, you can create a “knowledge base” of self-service articles to allow your more independent customers a chance to figure out their problems on their own. There is even a feature allowing you to create chatbots to increase the efficiency of your customer service interactions. Finally, use comprehensive data insights to make sure you are getting optimal interactions every time.

So do you need the sales hub? Really, it will only be useful if you have a lot of customers every month. Of all the HubSpot products I have reviewed in this post, this is the one I would recommend skipping out on, at least at first. Having said that, if your products require extensive customer service, this might be a great option for you.

Why Go Hubspot?

HubSpot provides products that cover every facet of customer interaction, from marketing to sales to leads to customer service. Supporting all other products is the Hubspot CRM, which serves as the bedrock product that makes the others work smoothly.

But do you need HubSpot? Frankly, I think you do. If you are trying to market or sell a product on the internet today, you will want to use these kinds of products in some way, even if you use low-level or free subscriptions for some of them. The only possible exception would be the customer service hub, depending on the level of service required by your product.

Fortunately, most of HubSpot’s products have a free-forever option, so you can try before you buy. I recommend signing up and putting the different apps through their paces before committing to paying a monthly subscription.

The post Are HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Services Right For You? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Advertise On Pinterest Effectively

How to Advertise on Pinterest Effectively

Pinterest was launched in 2010 and has grown to at least 200 monthly active users in 2017. The social sharing platform is designed to help people discover information on the internet. Therefore, just creating an account on Pinterest can draw viewers to your brand.

Pinning content from your own website puts it in front of a new audience. Even pinning other people’s content can draw followers to your Pinterest account. You can get more data from your account. Optimizing the SEO of your Pinterest boards can boost their organic search rankings in Google. All of these strategies are free.

The platform began experimenting with monetizing certain pins in 2014, initiating an effective way for companies to advertise. Nowadays, advertisers can create Promoted Pins, which show up alongside all of the other pins on the page. In this image, you can see that the pin that says “Get 500% more traffic” indicates that it’s promoted by Pinterest in the description below it:

In this case, Pinterest is using its platform to advertise tips for businesses. It’s always encouraging to see a company using its own advertising services. That’s one way to know that the system works.

What Is Pinterest?

First, let’s discuss Pinterest and how it works. Some people say that Pinterest is a social network. Others refer to it as a search engine. Through Pinterest, you create a profile and then “pin” visual content onto different “boards.”

It’s like a collection of virtual bulletin boards. Instead of cutting out paper images from magazines, though, you save images that you find on the internet. You can write a description or include a link with those images so that you can refer back to the website from which they came.

You can create several boards and label them however you’d like. Most people set up boards for different categories. For example, you might have boards that are labeled:

  • Home décor
  • Fun summer activities
  • Dessert recipes
  • Knitting and crochet
  • Boho style

If you’re looking for inspiration for a project, a shopping venture or content that falls in line with your interests, you can search for it on Pinterest. Your search results appear as visual pins with short descriptions underneath them. This is what came up when we searched for “watercolor tutorials”:

To find out more about each search result, you can click on it. From here, you can see the full description, the URL from which the image came, when it was published and any comments that other users have left.

Here’s where things get social. You can leave a comment or ask a question. You can also follow the original poster’s account. Therefore, simply pinning items that interest you can drive traffic back to your Pinterest page and potentially to your website.

Emarketer says that there are 2 billion monthly searches on Pinterest. The platform drives about 5 percent of referral traffic to websites.

When you log onto Pinterest, you’ll see your feed, which shows the pins that the platform thinks that you’ll be interested in. You might see pins from people you follow or a combination of content that you might care about, based on other items that you’ve pinned.

However, Pinterest prefers to show content from trusted sources in users’ feeds. Therefore, if you’re using Pinterest for your business without advertising, you need to make sure that you pin high-quality content and that your pins are receiving engagement in the form of click-throughs, saves and comments.

Why Pinterest Advertising Works

While Facebook is the largest social media platform, Pinterest is competitive with Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Twitter, according to Pew Research. Twenty-six percent of all American adults use Pinterest, and most of them are women. Pinterest reports that 40 percent of people who actively pin have a household income of at least $100K. If you sell products targeted toward women who want to shop, you’re in the right place.

Here are some other statistics about Pinterest users and their purchasing power:

  • Millenials use Pinterest as much as Instagram.
  • People who use Pinterest are ready to make a purchase.
  • 93% of active pinners use the platform to plan future purchases.
  • 73% of pinners say that brand content makes the platform more useful.
  • 61% of pinners have bought something after viewing a promoted pin.
  • 75% of saved pins are initiated by businesses.
  • People who use Pinterest spend 29% more on retail than non-users.

People search the platform for information that they can use to fuel upcoming purchases for things like home renovations, weddings, parties, vacations or having a baby. This is the place where people are looking for new information, ideas and brands. If you can provide these new ideas, you can make connections with a new audience.

Pinterest advertising looks natural. It fits into place with the other pins in your feed, and it doesn’t detract from or interrupt the user experience. Promoting your pins puts you in front of a receptive audience who is looking for products and ideas that will help them make their next move.

Types Of Pinterest Advertising

There are several types of Pinterest ads, including:

  • Promoted pins
  • Promoted video pins
  • One-tap pins
  • Promoted app pins
  • Cinematic pins

Promoted pins look just like a regular pin, except that they have the word “Promoted” at the bottom of the pin. Businesses pay Pinterest to give these priority over non-promoted pins. Once someone saves your promoted pin, it’s considered an organic find, and that person will no longer see the word “Promoted.” Other people who follow these pinners may find and save these pins, bringing you added traffic for free.

If your promoted pin contains a video, it will appear in search results, news feeds and a “More Like This” section that comes up below a clicked pin and shows similar content. The video will play automatically.

One-tap pins bypass the close-up image and “more details” page that normally shows up when you click on a pin in your feed. When a user clicks on these ads, they go straight to a landing page that you designate. You might think that this is a great way to get your audience in your lap, but some users are surprised by the change in the normal process and click off of your website quickly to get back to Pinterest.

If you are promoting an app, you can use a promoted app ad to get people to install it. The ad will include an app icon and install button so that users don’t have to leave Pinterest to sign up for your app.

Cinematic pins contain animation that moves when a user scrolls. This captures users’ attention and makes them feel like they’re in control without missing the end of the video.

5 Things To Do Before Advertising On Pinterest

Paying to promote pins can be an effective marketing strategy. However, there are a few steps that you should take before you set up your first advertisement on Pinterest.

1. Register For A Business Account

If you haven’t used Pinterest before, you’ll need to create a new account. It’s free to set up, and it takes less than a minute. Start by going to Pinterest’s Business Account page and clicking “Sign Up.”

Enter your email address, password and business name, select your business category from the drop-down menu and click “Create account.”

Follow the next steps, which are self-explanatory. These include selecting your language and country, adding your website URL and picking at least five categories in which you’re interested.

If you already have a Pinterest account, log in and click on Settings. It will say “Business Account Basics” on the top left if it’s a business account. If it’s a personal account, you can convert it to a business account by going to this link.

2. Claim Your Website

When you set up your business account, you should have added your business website URL to your profile. If you didn’t do that yet, go to your settings by clicking on the profile image on the top right when you’re logged into your account. Scroll down until you see the “Claim Website” section.

After you claim your website, you can utilize features such as:

  • Website analytics – Track traffic to pins from your site.
  • Featured logo – Add your profile picture to any content that’s pinned from your site.
  • Early access to tools – Be the first to hear about new business tools that Pinterest rolls out.

To claim your website, you’ll need to either add a bit of code to the <head> section of your website’s index.html file or download a file from Pinterest and upload it to your site’s root directory. After you do that, you can submit your website to Pinterest for review.

3. Install A Conversion Tag

You can add another Pinterest code to every page that you want to track on your website. The code is the same for every page, but you can use it to retarget people who have visited specific pages on your website.

To do this, click on “Ads” on the top left of your account, and then select “Conversion Tracking.”

Choose “Generate Pinterest Tag.” You’ll get code that you can insert between the <head> and </head> elements in the HTML of every page on your website for which you want to track visitors.

4. Upload Your List

If you have amassed a list for your newsletter, you can upload it to Pinterest so that you can target the same users with your Pinterest ads**. Just create a .csv file with the email addresses that you’ve collected over the years. Log into your Pinterest account.

**If you go this route – you need to have your audience’s consent. If you are in the EU, because it’s the law. If you are outside the EU, because you need to be cool, not creepy.

Click on Ads > Audiences.

Then, click on “Create Audience.” Choose “A list of customers that you upload” from the window that appears. Name your audience, and include the date so that you can update it a few months from now.

Pinterest will match up the email addresses from your list with those of its users so that you can show ads to the same people. In the future, you can also create “an actalike audience that behaves similarly to the one you already have.” This will choose people with similar demographics and interests as the people on your email list.

5. Pin Some Content

You can’t promote a pin unless you’ve pinned it publicly. Therefore, if you have created a new Pinterest account in hopes of setting up some ads, you should take some time to create boards and pin content for free before you put money into it.

Make sure that all of your pins contain high-quality images. The visuals are going to grab people’s attention before anything else. Therefore, they need to be top-notch.

Vertical Pins

Pinterest displays images vertically. Therefore, you need to use the correct aspect ratio to get the most out of your pins’ appearance. For years, Pinterest has claimed that a 2:3 aspect ratio is ideal. However, some pinners said that posts with these dimensions didn’t perform well. Some people even created extra-long posts to capture people’s attention.

As of June 2018, however, Pinterest said that those “giraffe pins” may be cropped and won’t show up as frequently in people’s feeds. The ideal aspect ratio is 600 pixels wide by 900 pixels high (720 x 1080 works well too). Square images look good, and they are easy to import from Instagram.

An aspect ratio of 600 x 1260 (with 1260 being the height in pixels) won’t be cropped. Anything taller will.

If you’re creating long giraffe pins, make sure that they add value. Infographics and step-by-step tutorials are ideal for these space-hogging pins.

Rich Pins

Creating Rich Pins can help people learn more about your products. Rich pins contain additional information, including:

  • App – Takes viewers to the app store for download
  • Article – Includes a headline, author and story description
  • Product – Includes pricing, availability and purchase location
  • Recipe – Includes title, ingredients, cooking times, serving information and ratings

By adding the metadata directly to the pin, brands can increase engagement. Picture a recipe that contains a gorgeous picture of the food that you’re eating with the recipe itself below it. The pins pull from the metadata on your website.

Creating Rich Pins is a two-step process. First, you must add metadata to the articles, products and recipes on your site. If you have a WordPress site, you can do this easily with a plugin like Yoast. Then, you need to verify your Rich Pins with Pinterest. Once you validate one URL with a Rich Pin on your site, you’re all set. You don’t need to validate all of the URLs with Rich Pins.

Buyable Pins

Pinterest rolled out Buyable Pins in 2015 to make it easier for its audience to shop directly from a pin. These pins list the price in blue and contain a Buy It button so that people can make a purchase right from the app. When someone clicks Buy It, they go directly to the checkout, where they can pay with a credit card or Apple Pay.

If you’re a retailer or sell your own products, you’ll need to have a Shopify store that’s linked with the Pinterest sales channel to take advantage of Buyable Pins. As long as you point a pin’s URL to the product detail page on your Shopify store, it will activate as shoppable.

Pinterest automatically matches your product feed with your pins and generates Buyable Pins for any products that you have already pinned. For any other product, you should create pins from scratch. These can include additional images so that more people can discover your products.

Buyable Pins are similar to Rich Pins in that they display additional information. Rich Pins, however, don’t send you to the checkout when you click on them.

How To Set Up A Pinterest Ad

If you’ve decided to spend money on advertising, you might wonder how to advertise on Pinterest. This is a step-by-step tutorial that teaches you how to do it.

1. Create The Ad

When you’re ready to start advertising, click on the + sign that appears toward the top right, and then select “Create Ad.”

This brings you to your Ads Manager, where you can create your campaign.

2. Set Your Goals

You’ll begin by selecting your campaign objective.

Then, you’ll enter your campaign details. You’ll have to come up with a name for your campaign if it’s new, or you can select an existing campaign from the drop-down menu. You’ll also designate your daily and lifetime budget for the campaign here.

Then, decide on your campaign placement, which includes whether you want to make your ads one-tap. This feature can’t be edited once your campaign starts running.

If you’re creating an app install ad, you will have the option to select whether to optimize the campaign for completed installs or visits to the app download page. Both are charged on a cost-per-click basis. Pinterest also has direct integrations with mobile measurement partners, or MMPs, which help you track the install performance.

Finally, click “Create campaign and continue.”

3. Set Up An Ad Group

An ad group is a set of promoted pins that fall under the same campaign. You can have multiple ad groups for one campaign, which means that you will have a separate budget for your ad groups than you do for the campaign as a whole.

Understanding Ad Groups

Each ad group can have multiple promoted pins within it. You can assign different budgets and targets to each ad group, though. Therefore, you can use ad groups to set up unique budgets for different marketing areas, such as regions, demographics or products. You can also use ad groups to test the design, placement and objectives of your advertisements without building separate campaigns.

For example, you could create separate ad groups with maximum daily budgets to target:

  • Your email list
  • People who have visited related pages on your website
  • Actalike audiences

To keep everything straight, you should name your ad group based on its organizational structure, such as who you’re targeting or what promoted pins are showing up within that group.

4. Create A Target Audience

On the ad group page, you’ll be asked to create a target audience. This helps you get your ads in front of the right people. You can target viewers based on the following criteria:

You’ll need to give this audience a name and description. If you choose to retarget people who have visited your website, you’ll have to create a Pinterest tag to track them. If you choose to target individuals from an email list, you’ll be asked to upload the list.

You’ll be able to further clarify your audience by interests, such as boards and pins that they’ve interacted with in the past, keywords, languages, locations, devices and genders.

5. Create Your Maximum CPC Bid

On the page where you create your ad group, you’ll be asked to set a maximum CPC bid. This is the maximum amount that you want to pay per audience action, whether that’s impressions, clicks, engagement or app download. You won’t be charged the full bid unless it’s necessary to beat out the next-highest bidder.

6. Select Your Promoted Pin

Now, you can select the pin that you want to promote. You can only choose from items that you’ve publicly pinned. The pin doesn’t have to be one that you have initiated through your own website, although it would probably be a good idea to use an image that you’ve created.

Next, you’ll give the promoted pin a name (optional) and set the URL of the landing page that you want visitors to end up on when they click on it.

Consider the URL carefully. Ideally, you’ll send people who click on your ad to a page dedicated to your Pinterest audience. The landing page should have something to do with the pin that led people to it. If you’ve added Pinterest tag code to your website, you’ll be able to track the success of each promoted pin.

Click “Promote Pin” when you’re finished. The ad will go to Pinterest for review, which can take 24 hours. At this time, add your billing details so that you can pay for your ad once it’s approved.

The Quick Way To Promote A Pin

Pinterest also provides a way to promote your pins in about 10 seconds. Go to your profile and hover over a pin that you want to advertise. Click on the Promote button.

A window will open up where you can add all of the promotional details, including the URL, daily budget, campaign duration, target audience and keywords.

Tips And Tricks For Optimizing Your Pinterest Advertising

Just putting yourself out there isn’t always enough to gain an audience. Instead of wasting your dollars by advertising blindly, follow this advice to get the most out of your budget.

Promote The Best Pins

You might wonder what pins to promote when you advertise on Pinterest. Those with strong visuals do best. Making multiple pins for the same product is a good idea. You can show different angles, styles and descriptions to pull in different customers. Adding your brand name or logo to the image improves credibility.

If you sell products, Pinterest says that photographing them in lifestyle shots is more effective than displaying the product on its own. For example, a fashion pin should show someone wearing the clothing in a real-world setting. Home décor pins do better when they concentrate on the product instead of people. Hair and beauty products get great engagement when the items are displayed against a plain, contrasting background.

Most experts recommend promoting pins that are already doing well. Even though you might figure that boosting a low-performing pin could help it get in front of your audience, promoting a high-performing pin is more likely to give you results. Wouldn’t you want to pay for results as opposed to a lackluster reception to your ad?

When you’re picking a pin in step 3 of the ad creation process, you have the option of choosing from all pins, 30-day most clicked pins or 30-day most saved pins. Use this to your advantage to promote your most engaging content.

Add Text To Your Pins

Even though Pinterest relies on photos, it doesn’t hurt to add a little text to your images. The text overlay should clarify what viewers are looking at without detracting from the design as a whole. The words shouldn’t detract from the aesthetic. A simple overlay works wonderfully.

Make sure that you’re using the description wisely too. A call-to-action helps users stay engaged. You can ask people a question or give an instruction, such as “Learn more” or “Buy now.” You might even try having your call-to-action say, “Pin this for later” to remove the urgent sales quality but encourage people to save your pin.

Consistently Monitor And Analyze Your Ads

It’s hard to predict what’s going to resonate with viewers. Pinterest is a visual platform, and some images may capture more attention than others. When you’re just starting out, test everything, including the:

  • Image
  • Description
  • Call-to-action
  • Keywords
  • Bids
  • Audiences

After doing this consistently for a while, you’ll begin to notice which combinations are more effective.

Focus Your Keywords

Although you’re allowed to include up to 150 keywords with a promoted pin, you don’t have to use all of them. If you’re all over the place, you won’t get many click-throughs. Think about the way that your audience interacts with Pinterest.

The keywords should match the way that your target audience uses the platform (similar to how you “theme” keywords for SEO). Make sure that the keywords are also consistent with the information in the pin and the landing page to which they’re directed.

Because Pinterest is a search engine, keywords are crucial to your pins’ visibility. Create your descriptions the way that you would create meta tags for a web page’s title and description. Using trending keywords earlier in the text will help your pins get noticed.

When you place pinnable images on your website, make sure that you include keywords in the alt text. Your boards should contain long-tail keywords. Use Pinterest Analytics to track which pins get the most impressions and experiment with the keywords that you use.

Add Value

The best practices for advertising on some other platforms involve using a call-to-action to send people to a lead page. However, people who search using Pinterest are looking for information. They might get annoyed if they come across your promoted pin, click on it to investigate it further and reach a page that simply asks them for their email address.

An effective way to use Pinterest for advertising is to send people to a landing page where they can explore what you offer. You can certainly include a lead generation form on this page, but don’t make it the only asset at that URL.

Group Boards

Group boards are sometimes referred to as shared, community, collaborative or contributor boards. Using them can lead to significant increases in traffic.

More than one person can add pins to a group board. Therefore, when anyone adds pins to the board, those pins may appear in the home feed of anyone who follows any of the board members. This exponentially increases your reach.

If you focus on sharing your own content to group boards, you’ll gain exposure for your brand. Keep the content relevant, however.

Because Pinterest rewards high-quality pins with exposure, make sure that you join the right group boards. Those that are targeted to a specific theme usually have more traction with an audience and get more engagement. Click on several of the pins on a group board that you’re thinking of joining to make sure that the links aren’t broken or redirect to a spammy or inappropriate site.

Pinterest is an opportune way to expose your brand to a new audience. The platform isn’t just used by crafty people, DIY-ers and foodies. Travel, fashion, design, hobbies, health and beauty, entertainment, accessories and sporting goods are commonly searched categories on Pinterest. Creating a business account for your brand is free, and you can play around with promoting your pins at a low cost to determine whether it works well for your business.

Next Steps

Pinterest holds a lot of opportunity for businesses of all sizes. It’s also straightforward and fairly risk-less to experiment there.

You’ll learn more from running a single experiment than any blog post – so go for it!

If you want to know other ways to use Pinterest for marketing, check out Nate’s post on Pinterest & SEO research in addition to Using Pinterest Analytics.

The post How To Advertise On Pinterest Effectively appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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