How to accept credit card payments from customers – online, in person and by phone

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  1. Introduction
  2. How to accept credit card payments online
  3. How to accept credit card payments in person
  4. How to accept credit card payments over the phone

Accepting credit and debit card payments is an easy way to increase sales and improve customer experience for your business. While credit and debit cards remain the most popular payment methods for in-store purchases, they were also used for 35% of online global transactions, totalling US$4.2 trillion in 2020. If your business doesn't accept card payments, you're missing out on substantial revenue opportunities.

Credit and debit card payments aren't just relevant for retailers. Even businesses that don't sell physical goods are increasingly offering customers an online card payment option, either before or after providing services.

We'll walk you through each step of how to accept credit and debit card payments. Fortunately, the process isn't too complicated or time-consuming.

What's in this article?

  • How to accept credit card payments online
  • How to accept credit card payments in person
  • How to accept credit card payments over the phone

Quick note: When we mention "credit card payments", we mean both credit card and debit card payments. There is not much difference in payment processing between the two kinds of cards.

How to accept credit card payments online

Whether you need to process credit card transactions online or in person, there are two things you need to do first. Pick a merchant service or credit card processing provider. If your payment processor doesn't include merchant account capabilities (like Stripe does), you'll also need to open a merchant account to accept credit card payments. Stripe customers do not need – and, in fact, cannot have – a separate merchant account.

If you need to accept credit card payments online, there are various providers offering competing solutions. Each provider has its own strengths and weaknesses. Think about what other merchant services you need, too. Some providers, such as Stripe, offer more comprehensive merchant services and products optimised to scale and easily integrate with other software your business might already use.

Many small business owners use peer-to-peer payment platforms to accept customer payments. A change in the federal tax code effective 1 January 2022 now requires merchants to report any commercial transactions over $600 received through those apps on their taxes. Previously, users only had to report once they exceeded 200 commercial transactions per year in excess of $20,000 in total value.

Regardless of your merchant service's needs, you must have three things to accept credit card payments online:

  • Digital storefront
    Your digital storefront is your business's home base online. It's where you present your products to customers and allow people to make purchases. Your digital storefront could be hosted on its own website or set up as a shop on an external marketplace.

  • Payment gateway
    A payment gateway is an interface for customers to input their payment information.

  • Payment processor
    Payment processors collect payment information from customer transactions and liaise with the credit card networks, issuing banks (also called issuers), and receiving banks in order to transfer the funds.

How to accept credit card payments in person

Businesses need a point-of-sale (POS) system and a card reader to accept credit card payments in person. The exact hardware you'll want to use will depend on the physical setup of your business. Do you have a countertop, or do you need to process transactions directly on your phone?

Most payment processing providers offer two types of hardware for in-person transactions:

  • Countertop card readers
    Countertop card readers are best suited for businesses with physical counter space, allowing customers to swipe or tap their credit cards.

  • Mobile card readers
    Mobile card readers are more compact and, therefore, perfect for on-the-go businesses – for instance, a plumber or in-home massage therapist. They connect to mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, via a physical port or Bluetooth.

Both card readers typically interface with POS software. Depending on which provider you work with, the POS system will either be a standardised, ready-to-use product – or it could be a highly customisable solution. Stripe Terminal is an all-in-one POS solution that can be set up easily without elaborate customizations. It can also be tailored by businesses that need a specific setup or functionality.

Although online payments are growing year over year, in-person payments are still common for many businesses, including:

  • Brick-and-mortar retail businesses: grocery stores, hardware stores, bike shops, etc.
  • On-site services: contractors, landscapers, cleaning services, private makeup artists, etc.
  • Mobile businesses: food trucks, coffee vans, etc.

For most mobile businesses, it doesn't make sense to offer online payments only. For example, not many people buy their coffee online and then walk to the van at the corner to pick it up. It's important to accept payments in person if you're doing business in person.

How to accept credit card payments over the phone

If your business regularly accepts credit card payments over the phone, you probably don't need unique hardware to facilitate these transactions. For most businesses, over-the-phone card payments simply require manually inputting the card number into their POS terminal or online payments interface.

Let's say you own a restaurant that receives a high volume of takeaway orders over the phone. This can be tedious and time-consuming, so it might be worth looking into payment processing providers who specialise in solutions to streamline these transactions.

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