Ecommerce is swallowing up an ever larger portion of global sales. According to Statista, worldwide ecommerce sales exceeded $5.7 trillion in 2022, and online now accounts for 20% of all global retail activity.
But this thriving commercial force would be nowhere without secure and effective payment processing.
Ecommerce payment processing involves the cooperation and collaboration of numerous parties, systems, and methods. It’s a massive ecosystem, one which merchants use and play a role in every day, but don’t often have time to consider as a whole.
But consider they should. Having a thorough understanding of ecommerce payment processing allows you to make informed decisions on the best solutions and payment options for your needs and your customers’ preferences. It also allows you to optimize your setup to give you the best chance of achieving your goals.
Below we dive into ecommerce payment processing, and explore how it works, different payment methods, and what to look for in a payment processor.
Ecommerce, a contraction of electronic commerce, refers to any buying and selling of goods or services that take place on the Internet. It includes online transactions, where consumers pay businesses through digital means, but also the entire commerce experience, from browsing to buying and customer service. Ecommerce has transformed the global economy, allowing businesses to reach a worldwide customer base and consumers to shop without leaving their homes.
Business-to-consumer (B2C) commerce is any type of ecommerce where businesses sell products or services directly to individual consumers. For example, online retail marketplaces, food delivery services, and subscription platforms.
Business-to-business (B2B) commerce describes when businesses sell products or services to other businesses. For example, sales between manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. B2B ecommerce often takes place on platforms that cater to the specific needs of businesses, by facilitating things like bulk ordering and customized pricing, or directly between organizations.
Consumer-to-consumer (C2C) includes any type of online commerce that involves individuals selling products or services directly to other individuals. Online marketplaces, like eBay or Amazon, and classified ads platforms, like Craigslist, facilitate C2C transactions by providing the tools for individuals to interact and pay each other.
Direct-to-consumer (D2C) commerce occurs when brands sell their products directly to consumers, bypassing traditional channels like retailers or distributors. D2C ecommerce has been enabled by the rise of online platforms and social media, allowing brands to form direct relationships with their customers and giving them much more control over the customer experience.
Consumer-to-business (C2B) is an ecommerce model where consumers provide skills, expertise, or products and services to businesses in exchange for payment. It is the opposite of traditional commerce as the consumer is the supplier, creating value for a business that can then drive further growth. Platforms like Upwork and Shutterstock have enabled C2B commerce.
Learn more: Ecommerce for retailers
An ecommerce payment is any financial transaction that takes place between a buyer and a seller in an online purchase. It involves the internet-enabled transfer of funds from the buyer's account to the seller's account. E-commerce payments can be made using an increasingly wide range of methods, including credit cards, debit cards, digital wallets, and bank transfers.
Ecommerce payments require the involvement of numerous third-parties, including payment gateways, payment service providers (PSPs), payment rails, merchant account providers, and card networks.
Once the customer has initiated a payment, the transaction has to go through a number of crucial steps in order to be verified and securely processed. The three main players in any ecommerce payment are the payment gateway, the payment processor, and the merchant account.
Here’s a simplified account of ecommerce payment processing and how these three providers fit in:
Firstly, the customer initiates the payment by adding a product to their basket and entering their card details and other personal information at checkout. These details are encrypted to ensure secure digital transmission. Now the payment gateway comes into play.
A payment gateway acts as an intermediary between the ecommerce merchant, the payment processor, and the customer's bank or card issuer. Once the payment gateway has received encrypted payment details from the merchant’s website, it sends an authorization request to the customer's bank or card issuer. The bank then verifies that the person attempting payment is the cardholder and that they have sufficient funds available for the transaction. They can then decide whether or not to approve or decline the payment.
The payment processor also plays a key role at this stage of the process. The card details are sent to the PSP via the payment gateway, and it’s the processor that notifies the issuing bank and then communicates the card network’s decision back to the payment gateway, which, in turn, relays it to the merchant. If authorized, the customer will receive confirmation in their browser window and in an email receipt. Now the acquirer plays its part.
An acquirer allows merchants to accept electronic card payments from their customers. Once the transaction has been approved, the funds are debited from the customer's account and credited to the merchant's bank account via the acquirer. The acquirer can hold funds in the merchant’s account for between one and three days - the settlement period - while all verification and fraud checks are conducted.
The main differences between ecommerce payment processing and in-person payment processing are:
There has never been a greater variety of Ecommerce payment methods available to merchants and customers, offering choice and convenience, and meeting the diverse needs of consumers around the world.
Here are the main types of payment methods:
One of the most common types of ecommerce payment methods, credit cards allow consumers to make payments at online checkouts by using a line of credit from a provider. They then settle the total sum of all their transactions processed in a given period. Major credit card brands like Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover are widely accepted around the world.
Debit cards are another extremely popular payment method and allow customers to make payments directly from their bank accounts. The funds are deducted immediately from the customer's account when the payment is authorized. Both credit and debit card payments are expected to decline between now and 2026, declining to account for just 16% and 10% of all payment methods used worldwide.
Digital wallets – such as PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Amazon Pay - allow customers to securely store the payment details for a number of cards on their digital devices. They can then make payments without needing to enter their card details every time. Digital wallets are already surpassing cards in popularity, and are set to grow from a 49% market share last year to a 54% market share by 2026.
A mobile payment is any method that uses a smartphone or other mobile devices to facilitate transactions. These include digital wallet payments (as above), in-app payments and purchases, payment platforms that enable customers to make payments by scanning QR codes, NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, and sending money via messaging apps.
Bank transfers, also known as electronic funds transfers (EFT), allow customers to transfer funds directly from their bank accounts to the merchant's bank account. Consumers need online banking or a mobile banking app to initiate a bank transfer.
Buy now, pay later (BNPL) services are becoming an ever more popular form of ecommerce payment. They allow customers to make a purchase, defer the payment, and then pay it off in installments over time, with the merchant paying fees to a provider in order to offer the service. BNPL services provide flexibility and convenience for customers who might not be able to afford goods upfront, and give businesses a way to access untapped revenue and drive customer loyalty. BNPL is currently used by about 5% of consumers worldwide, which is expected to grow slightly to 6% by 2026.
Prepaid cards are loaded with a specific amount of funds in advance and can be used for online purchases. Customers can purchase prepaid cards and use them to make payments without the need for a bank account or credit card. They are available in various forms, including gift cards or reloadable cards.
When it comes to ecommerce, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Different methods are suited to different industries, regions, and consumer preferences. If a method isn’t practical or economical, don’t invest in it. That said, all businesses stand to benefit from offering a range of methods to their customers, which maximizes the chance of a successful sale and drives loyalty.
Here are the most popular payment methods by sector:
It’s simple. The right ecommerce payment processing option for you is the one that provides everything you need to meet your goals, drive growth, remain compliant, and keep your customers happy.
Here are the main factors to consider when choosing your payment processing provider:
You and your ecommerce payment provider must be PCI compliant, which means you’ll need to adhere to regulations set by the payment card industry that safeguard online payment security. This includes ensuring your systems are secure against breaches through the use of firewalls and password protection, using encryption when transmitting customer data, maintaining anti-virus software, keeping all systems properly updated, and testing for vulnerabilities. It is mandatory for merchants and payment processors accepting online payments to meet these standards.
Tokenization involves replacing sensitive credit or debit card information, such as the Primary Account Number (PAN), with a completely unique token that is unable to be exploited by criminals. When a customer wants to make a payment, the token replaces the card data in the transaction, ensuring vulnerable information is never exposed to fraudsters. This, of course, helps to reduce fraud but also improves the customer payment experience because the card network takes on the responsibility of keeping the token updated with current details, even when the card is replaced. This means less effort on the customer’s part, and increases acceptance rates by ensuring there’s always a valid card on file. It’s also great for subscription businesses as it makes repeat payments more convenient.
Success in ecommerce payments is absolutely dependent on meeting rigorous security standards.
To process payments safely on your website, you need a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate. This certificate adds a layer of security by encrypting customer information during online communication and transactions and protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access.
Making use of advanced authentication procedures will also help to protect your business and your customers. Solutions like 3D Secure (3DS) use Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), Risk-based Authentication (RBA), and Transaction Risk Analysis (TRA) to keep payments safe. SCA requires businesses to use a combination multiple factors like basic login details, biometrics, One Time Passwords (OTPs), and more to verify cardholders.
Fraud detection capabilities are a must in the modern economy, especially where emerging technologies are concerned, which haven’t always developed the robust security protocols of their more established peers. The fact is that the soaring value of the digital marketplace has created something of a gold rush for criminals. Luckily, a decent payment processing provider should provide all the tools you need to effectively fight fraud. A system that utilizes machine learning and flexible rules can take on a lot of the burden of fraud detection for merchants, and learns to spot changing trends in payment fraud to stay one step ahead of the criminals.
Meeting your customers’ preferences is essential and an emerging payment trend for driving loyalty and maximizing conversions. The best way to do that is to work with a payment processor that allows you to offer as many different options as possible in order to meet varying needs around the world. That includes offering the most popular payment methods in each region, as well as shipping methods that cater to different requirements.
As an online merchant, you should look at ecommerce payment processing as an ongoing process of optimization and refinement. You can’t just sit back and expect consistently high sales to roll in - there will be challenges, but there will also be opportunities. When it comes to payment processing marketplaces can offer competitive advantages as well.
Here are our top tips for processing ecommerce payments:
Checkout.com is the only payment processing solution you’ll ever need. Our integrated platform provides advanced tools for everything from authentication and data analysis to compliance and fraud detection.
Process payments quickly, cut your processing costs in more than 150 countries, and offer all the most popular local payment methods to drive your global growth. And with granular data and actionable insights at your fingertips, you’re empowered to continually optimize your payment experience.
Find out more about ecommerce payment processing with Checkout.com.