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This post is a part of a series. If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, you’ll wanna give those a whirl. Then hurry on back, because today’s Part 4 is the big ‘ol grand finale!

If you’ve been following along, here’s your super-fast refresher:

In Part 1, I simply laid out the 6 moving parts you need to make e-commerce happen.

In Part 2, I explained 1 important difference that will save you tons of confusion while you’re looking into e-commerce software and services: hosted vs. self-hosted.

In Part 3, I demystified the intimidating (but more bark than bite) world of internet security and SSL certificates.

the final stretch

We’re now nearing the end of the process. Our customer has added our product to their cart (or clicked on the “buy” button), filled out our security-clad payment form, and pressed “Submit.” What now? Let’s consult that handy graphic again:

what makes e-commerce work?

The answer is #4-5: have the credit card information whisked through a processing service, who’ll then deposit the money into our merchant bank account.

the quick + easy two-in-one solution

The reason I’ve lumped these steps together is because the most popular services are two-in-ones.

PayPal, for instance, is both a payment gateway and a merchant bank account. They can process your customer’s credit card information and hold the money for you in an account until you want to take it out.

Now, if you had a gigantic business already, it would probably be more cost-efficient to use a separate payment gateway (Example: Authorize.net) and merchant bank account (Example: your local bank’s merchant account offering). In exchange for the lower fees, however, you’d likely be obligated to hit a certain quota of sales each month.

paypal vs. stripe

So I do recommended the payment gateway + merchant bank account two-in-one option for small-scale businesses. And though PayPal is an easy reference since most everyone has heard of it, it’s actually not your only option.

I consider your best options to be PayPal or Stripe. Let me try to explain the differences.

One reason why you might go with Stripe over PayPal is because there are less horror stories floating around. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard several about PayPal accounts being unjustly frozen. To make a counter-argument, it could be that the only reason PayPal has stories like this and Stripe doesn’t is because PayPal has had a lot more users, but I admit I would feel remiss not to at least bring this up.

Another reason you might choose Stripe over PayPal is because their costs are generally the same but a little less complicated. And a third reason you might choose Stripe is because they’ll transfer the money into any bank account of your choosing at a regular interval, whereas you’ll have to do this manually with PayPal.

However, on the other side, PayPal is extremely well-known, and that means there’s more “Help” data out there on the internet should you ever run into problems with it. Also, along this same line, you might choose PayPal over Stripe because the e-commerce software or service you want to use doesn’t support Stripe as a payment gateway. (Of course you’ll want to check on this ahead of time.)

Those are the main pros and cons. In the end, though, if none of these points carry all that much weight for you, my best advice is just to go with your gut.

hooking up your site’s payment form + payment gateway

Once you’ve made your choice, to link up your hosted e-commerce platform or shopping cart software with your payment gateway (PayPal or Stripe), you’ll want to look for a “payment gateway” setting in your admin area.

It’s likely that you’ll be given choices like PayPal or Stripe by default. If you choose PayPal, all you need to do is type in your account-related e-mail address. If you choose Stripe, you’ll need to copy-and-paste over some keys (or long strings of random characters) to validate your account.

Once you do that, they’ll be linked up and ready to process credit card info coming in through your payment form.

file delivery

Finally, we hit step #6: file delivery. This is that extra step that only applies if what you sell is a digital product like a .pdf, an e-book, an .mp3, or a video course.

Just to clarify, it’s quite possible to sell a digital product without an instant delivery service. For instance, you could just collect all your orders at a certain time of day and e-mail the goods to each buyer then. However, most people have the expectation that a digital product is to be delivered instantly. This instant gratification is why some people favor digital goods like e-books over the physical stuff in the first place. So, you should probably offer instant delivery, and this will require using a service.

Many hosted e-commerce platforms and shopping cart (or “buy” button) providers carry this option for you, but if you do plan to get into digital goods at any point, you really ought to make sure it’s a feature included in the software or service before you choose it. Ones that do will likely say somewhere that they “support digital products.” That means they’ll give you the option of setting each of your products to physical or digital, and should you choose the latter, inputting the file you want to send.

And that’s it!

That concludes pretty much all you need to know about what it takes to accept credit cards from your own website– like a boss.

So, what do you think? Do you still have questions related to payment gateways or merchant bank accounts? File delivery services?

Is there anything you’d like me to talk about that I didn’t cover in this series? Feel free to send all your questions and comments my way!

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