How to choose a merchant services provider: A step-by-step guide


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  1. Introduction
  2. What are merchant services?
  3. What is a merchant services provider?
  4. How to choose a merchant services provider
    1. Assess your business needs
    2. Research providers
    3. Compare fees and pricing structures
    4. Evaluate customer support
    5. Review security and compliance
    6. Check integration capabilities
    7. Analyse reporting and analytics features
    8. Test the provider’s platform
    9. Negotiate contract terms
    10. Monitor performance

Global digital payments are expected to reach almost US$15 trillion by 2027. With so many payment options available and an increasing demand for efficient and secure payment processing, businesses should refine their payment processing systems to ensure that they have the right tools and strategies in place to meet these needs. Merchant services providers can help businesses create efficient payment systems, improve customer experience, and scale efficiently in a competitive market.

Below, we’ll discuss what merchant services providers are and how they support businesses. Whether you’re a small business owner or the leader of a larger organisation, here is what you need to know about how to choose a merchant services provider.

What’s in this article?

  • What are merchant services?
  • What is a merchant services provider?
  • How to choose a merchant services provider

What are merchant services?

Merchant services are a wide range of financial solutions that enable businesses to accept and process electronic payments – primarily credit and debit card transactions – manage transactions, and handle other important financial functions. Key features of merchant services include:

  • Payment processing
    Merchant services includes the secure processing of payments through various channels, such as credit and debit card payments, online payments, mobile payments, and more.

  • Fraud prevention
    Merchant services involves the implementation of security measures – such as real-time fraud monitoring, chargeback protection, and secure payment gateways – to protect businesses and customers from fraudulent transactions.

  • Payment management
    Merchant services includes tools to help businesses manage payments, including payment tracking, payment analytics, and reconciliation.

  • Customer service
    Merchant services often includes access to robust customer support to assist businesses with any issues related to payment processing or transaction management.

  • Equipment and software
    Merchant services also typically includes supplying businesses with the equipment and software required to accept payments, such as point-of-sale (POS) systems, card readers, and payment processing software.

What is a merchant services provider?

A merchant services provider is a company that offers a suite of financial solutions to businesses, enabling them to accept and process electronic payments, primarily through credit and debit card transactions. These providers act as intermediaries among businesses, customers, and financial institutions, ensuring secure and efficient payment processing.

Merchant services providers help businesses set up and maintain the infrastructure required to accept various payment methods, while taking care of compliance with payment industry regulations and security standards. Partnering with a reputable merchant services provider allows businesses to streamline their payment processes, reduce operational costs, and improve customer satisfaction.

How to choose a merchant services provider

As merchant services providers provide benefits across the business, it’s important to thoroughly and thoughtfully select the best partner to support these functions. Here are the steps to follow when selecting a merchant services provider:

Assess your business needs

Begin by identifying your specific payment processing requirements. Consider factors, such as:

  • Sales volume
  • Average transaction value
  • Types of payment methods you want to accept
  • Whether you need in-person, online, or mobile payments (or a combination)

This assessment will help you to determine which features and services are most important for your business. At this point, it’s helpful to assess how you prioritise these needs. Which needs are most important? Which could you potentially support internally, and which must be handled by the third-party provider you choose? While some of the answers will align with industry norms, in other areas they will reflect the specifics of your business. The end result will be a unique set of needs and priorities that will guide the rest of this process.

Research providers

Once you have a clear idea of your needs and priorities, start researching merchant services providers and create a list of potential options. Seek recommendations from fellow business owners, industry peers, or online forums. For each provider, look at online reviews and ratings to gain insight into the experiences of other businesses.

Compare fees and pricing structures

Merchant services providers have varying fee structures, which may include transaction fees, monthly fees, setup fees, and equipment rental costs. Carefully review and compare these fees to determine which provider offers the most cost-effective solution for your business. Stay alert for hidden fees or overly complex pricing structures.

Evaluate customer support

Effective customer support is essential for addressing payment-related issues and minimising downtime. When evaluating merchant services providers, consider their customer-service reputation, availability (24/7 support is ideal), and communication channels (phone, email, live chat, etc.).

Review security and compliance

Ensure that the merchant services provider you choose adheres to strict security standards, such as PCI DSS, to protect sensitive customer data. Additionally, ask about the provider’s fraud-prevention measures and their track record in dealing with security incidents.

Check integration capabilities

Your chosen merchant services provider should be able to integrate seamlessly with your existing business systems, such as your e-commerce platform, accounting software, and customer relationship management (CRM) system. This will ensure smooth operations and allow for more efficient data management. Prioritisation is key: for some businesses, it might be worth adjusting parts of your business to integrate better with a merchant services provider that supports your most important needs. Conversely, adjusting for a provider that doesn’t integrate easily with your existing business systems might not be worth the effort.

Analyse reporting and analytics features

Advanced reporting and analytics tools can provide insight into your sales performance, customer behaviour, and payment trends. Evaluate the merchant services provider’s reporting capabilities and ensure that they meet your business needs.

Test the provider’s platform

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, request a demo or trial period to test the merchant services provider’s platform and ensure that it meets your expectations in terms of functionality, user friendliness, and reliability.

Negotiate contract terms

Once you’re confident about your choice, negotiate the terms of your agreement with the merchant services provider. Be sure to address factors such as contract length, termination fees, and any potential penalties. Ask about the provider’s policies on equipment upgrades or additional services, in case your business needs change in the future.

Monitor performance

After selecting and implementing a merchant services provider, monitor their performance continually and ensure that they meet your needs. Regularly evaluate their customer support, reliability, and the overall value they provide to your business.

For more detailed information about the suite of customisable business solutions available with Stripe, start here.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accurateness, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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