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“FAST TIME TO MARKET IN THE ONLINE WORLD” – HOW MERCHANTS CAN AVOID THE PITFALLS

By Steve Wilson, Managing Director, Allied Wallet Europe

Steve Wilson _ Managing Director, Allied Wallet Ltd
Steve Wilson _ Managing Director, Allied Wallet Ltd

For any organisation looking to set up a new online business or expand an existing one, there are a host of challenges to overcome.

A solid, well thought-through business plan that clearly articulates the business objectives is critical from the outset not least in helping to engage with investors, partners and suppliers. The construction or design refresh of the company’s website is often the next key step to take when launching a new business, branching out into international markets, or simply adding a digital element to a previously purely physical ‘bricks and mortar’ operation. If the design matches the business proposition, adds value for customers and provides reassurance about the product or service being offered, that can give the organisation real impetus and the potential to grow.

However, there are typically a raft of issues associated with selling online that many businesses fail to address. These range from terms and conditions to refund policies to contact telephone numbers. All of those need to be considered and have a presence on the website. Businesses that don’t do this look unprofessional and may fall foul of consumer protection law.

It’s a given that dealing with customers professionally and efficiently at all times is critically important but it is, if anything, even more important in the digital environment. Businesses need to be aware that as soon as they move from face-to-face to online customer interaction, the balance of power shifts to the consumer. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations of 2014, the consumer’s right to cancel an order starts the moment they place their order and ends 14 days from the day they receive it. In the online world also, unless there is indisputable documentary evidence to the contrary it is often easier for consumers to claim, for example, that they didn’t receive the goods, and therefore avoid payment.

The Payments Processing Challenge

While the need for a well-designed, well-appointed website and a carefully planned consumer policy are clear, it’s equally critical that these organisations get their payments capability in place. It’s often a tough challenge.

All of the elements on the website have to be carefully coordinated. The integrations between each stage – from the product details in the online catalogue, to the shopping page right through to the payments page, have to happen seamlessly. The payments process itself has to be efficient and secure.

If a merchant takes each of these steps in turn, acting in isolation it’s likely to be a painstaking; error-prone process, taking weeks or even months to complete. Acquiring a merchant account can often in itself take more than a month while choosing a payments gateway and implementing fraud prevention services could add two weeks or more to the time needed to get up and running.

That’s all without considering such critical parts of the process as hiring a developer to integrate the company’s site, gateway and cart software, bringing a customer service team on board and selecting a shopping cart partner to process orders, all of which may take a significant amount of time and incur charges in excess of several thousand pounds. Factor in such issues as screening and certification for PCI compliance and currency conversion for international orders and the scale of the challenge facing merchants that decide to act alone becomes ever clearer.

For many businesses this will amount to several steps too far. Time is money for any business and particularly for those just starting up or launching into new markets and making a rapid return on their investment is especially important. Companies can’t afford to wait weeks or months to start seeing money coming in. They could go out of business during that time.

That’s where third party payments processing providers can play such an important role. Key ‘value adds’ that they can deliver include broad industry relationships and the technical skills to quickly and easily integrate all the different elements of a payments processing system together, and to partner with and seamlessly connect to all the major shopping carts.

Much of this integration can be carried out pre-implementation and its complexity should be hidden from the business operating the system and critically too from the customers. Onboarding should be intuitive. Merchants can select a specific shopping cart solution, accept a processing agreement, implement a cart module; test the payments process and be fully up and running in a matter of hours rather than weeks or months. For end customers, the result is a smooth and straightforward buying process; for the merchant it’s a payment processing system that drives engagement, loyalty and ultimately profitability.

The best payments processing providers can deliver much more than this to customers though. Typically, their in-depth understanding of ecommerce means that they can offer consultancy and strategic advice on everything from website design to distribution strategy to sales techniques and where required they can offer customer service and support into the bargain.

Ultimately therefore any merchant looking to move into the online world would be best advised not to look to go it alone. They need to move fast to take advantage of the opportunities out there in the marketplace but they also need a system and an approach that is efficient, robust and secure – and that’s where partnering with an experienced third party payments processing can provide the best solution to their needs.