Best merchant services
The need to take card payments online and off has become paramount for the modern business. However, to do that requires payment processing, usually supplied by merchant service providers.
This can come in the form of a card reader for physical PoS (Point of Sale) transactions, in which even an app on your phone or other mobile device can run the transaction through. Additionally, or alternatively, you can also get credit card processing to run through an ecommerce site.
PoS processing fees tend to be cheaper, on the grounds that the customer is physically present and so the chances of fraud are less than anonymous online transactions. However, for PoS processing in a bricks and mortar store you may need to pay for additional equipment, not least the card reader itself.
Fees can also vary according to sales volume, and it's worth keeping an eye on transaction fees. While some merchant services may charge seemingly high monthly fees, these often come with very low individual transaction costs that make them very competitive.
Overall, the market for merchant services is a competitive one, and there's plenty of choice out there. The challenge is to find one that works best for your business model. To help you, we've identified the best in merchant services for both online and offline businesses.
- We've also highlighted the best payment gateways of 2019
- Want your company or services to be added to this buyer’s guide? Please email your request to email@example.com with the URL of the buying guide in the subject line.
A solution from the household name in online transactions
Paypal Merchant Services is the business version of the ubiquitous online transaction tool, and it claims to be in use with over 17 million firms.
It features the secure transactions that PayPal is known for including fraud protection and risk modeling, a customer service team, and allows a variety of payment methods including mobile and in-store credit cards. Logically, it also provides support for acceptance of PayPal from its 200 million account holders.
The service is better suited for a lower volume of transactions, and especially well developed for ecommerce. With no monthly fees the service is attractive to online start-ups and small businesses.
With a transaction fee of 2.9% plus $0.30, the service is competitive with similar services, though this may not be so true with higher sales volumes.
The merchant service for the startup business
Square (previously known as Square Payments Processing) is a merchant service designed to “start selling fast”. It will attract smaller and new businesses starting out with its promise of quick setup, no long term contracts and no monthly fees, and even includes a free mag-stripe reader.
Square offers a robust feature set including being able to send invoices (even from a mobile device) to customers for payment, storing the card information for regular customers, plus support for third-party e-commerce platforms such as Wix and Ecwid. It also boasts the ability to take keyed-in payments directly via the Square Virtual Terminal without a card reader, and an offline mode for those occasions when an internet connection is not available.
Square further offers a variety of card reader hardware, beyond the free mag-stripe reader, such as paid devices that can handle card chips, and NFC payments.
The pricing is simple, with a single tier, and only transaction fees. For a “swipe, dip or tap,” the cost is a fixed 2.75%, and keyed-in transactions are a steep 3.5% plus $0.15 per transaction.
More than just accounting software
QuickBooks Payments is another option worth considering, as the company has expanded from simply providing accounting software to the arena of online payment processing, and now full merchant services.
Options include a card reader for store purchases, phone payments, and online processing. What is especially useful is its direct integration into the QuickBooks accounting software, which means even POS purchases appear immediately in your accounts in real-time.
Charges are provided upfront and are relatively straightforward. There's a Pay-as-you-Go payment plan with no monthly fee, with transactions charged at 2.4% + $0.25 per swipe, dip, or tap, or 3.4% + $0.25 for keyed-in entries.
However, there is also a Pay Monthly subscription option available for desktop users, which costs $20 per month and reduces card swipe transactions to 1.6% + $0.30 and may especially benefit volume users. A free card reader is provided at sign-up for taking card payments, but if you'd also like to be able to deal with NFC payments from Apple or Android devices, you will need to buy the all-in-one card reader for $49.
A suite of services for the small business
Payline is a merchant service that promises to make it easy to accept credit card payments, and offers a variety of plans to suit any company's needs. It offers a variety of services including mobile, online, in-store, enterprise and integrated payments, and also Payline Medical for the healthcare field, and business loans as well.
Payline offers a Payline Gateway, that can be used as a plugin on a business website to accept payments, and also a ‘virtual terminal,’ that is used to manually enter payments received over the phone or through the mail.
Payline offers pricing based on the service. A swipe falls under Payline Start, which has a $10 monthly fee with an additional 0.2% per transaction, which now includes AMEX as well – note there is an additional $0.10 per transaction fee here.
For a keyed-in, or online transaction, Payline Connect is also $10 monthly, with a more expensive 0.3% plus $0.20 per transaction, with AMEX also included. With Payline Connect there’s a further option for the aforementioned Payment Gateway for an additional $10 monthly fee.
Payments for online and retail merchants
Worldpay is an established merchant provider that offers a range of payment services, both for online and offline transactions. There are options for integrations for a large number of POS systems as well as being able to offer their own SmartPay Series terminals.
Additionally, you can turn your smartphone into POS to take payments in person, so you can sell both in store or on the go, such as at exhibitions and outdoor events. There's also the ability to take payments wirelessly, using NFC, Apple Pay, and Amazon Pay.
Worldpay also offers an integrated payment gateway for taking payments online, which is available either as a standalone option for internet merchants, or as a combined service for bricks-and-mortar stores.
There are multiple security protections available, such as card fraud screening that can flag up transactions for manual approval, allowing you to check whether the details and guage the risk of accepting the payment.
Rather than a flat fee service, Worldpay aims to deliver a customized solution so costs will depend on which features you will actually need to use. However, do expect to pay a monthly fee as well as processing fees, though you'll require a consultation with Worldpay to see how competitive they are.