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Accepting Customer Payments

Tips for selecting the safest payment solutions for your business

Q: What's the safest way for me to accept payment from my customers?

A: Identifying which payment methods are best for you depends on the type of company you run and how you conduct business. Anti-fraud technology and encryption techniques are continually improving in the transaction-processing industry. And secure, affordable payment solutions exist to meet almost every merchant's needs.

Retail Businesses

If you run a retail establishment, your business can benefit from a variety of noncash payment options. Credit and charge cards, for example, offer a secure, convenient way for you to receive payment from your customers. Debit cards provide another option that can help you boost sales while reducing risk. And check conversion services make accepting checks both safe and easy.

Credit card acceptance is especially advantageous in retail settings, because you conduct business face-to-face with your customers. By following a few simple precautions--such as asking your customers for identification or checking for the security features on every card--you can greatly reduce the occurrence of fraudulent transactions.

Debit card payments are even more secure because they require your customers to enter their personal identification numbers (PINs) at the point of sale--a safety measure that virtually eliminates your exposure to fraud or chargebacks. What's more, customers can only make debit card purchases if they have sufficient funds in their accounts, assuring you'll receive payment on authorized transactions.

Another popular payment option for security-conscious retailers is check conversion, which transforms paper checks into electronic transactions (or e-checks) that are securely processed in real time. One of the leading providers of this payment method today is TeleCheck, which offers the Electronic Check Acceptance (ECA) Service.

The benefits to you of accepting e-checks are numerous. For one thing, all converted checks are verified, usually at no extra charge. Better yet, if you use a check guarantee program in conjunction with your e-check service, you will always receive funds from approved transactions, because returned checks are the responsibility of your check service provider. Plus, funds from authorized payments are deposited automatically into your account, usually within two business days.

Restaurants

Credit cards, debit cards and e-checks can also benefit full-service restaurants, as well as fast-food eateries. Not only do these payment methods provide security by reducing the amount of cash exchanged at the counter, but they can also help you boost traffic, capture impulse purchases and increase your business's average ticket amount.

Both full-service restaurants and fast-food establishments can enjoy the above advantages, as well as the ability to build customer loyalty. And this, in turn, can help you improve your restaurant's bottom line.

E-Tailers

It's no mystery why credit cards are the most widely accepted form of payment on the Web--they are secure, fast and convenient. But in addition to credit cards, online merchants can offer their customers the option to pay with money orders or electronic transfers from their checking accounts. Both options are now available to buyers via the Internet.

Contrary to reports of rising fraud rates, credit card payments remain one of the safest payment methods available online. Sophisticated Internet solutions, such as the LinkPoint Secure Payment Gateway, process credit card payments in real time using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology, which encrypts all confidential information during the transmission and authorization of transactions.

Other fraud-prevention tools, such as the Address Verification Service (AVS), make online credit card acceptance even safer. The service compares the numerical information in your customers' addresses with records stored by card-issuing banks. It then returns codes that indicate whether the numbers match. Although the information provided by the AVS does not affect the authorization of your transactions, it can help you make informed decisions about suspicious orders.

Besides the AVS, you can protect yourself by using the card validation code 2 (CVC2) and the card verification value (CVV2) verification systems of MasterCard and Visa, respectively. These verification services use the three-digit codes printed on all MasterCard and Visa cards to help you determine whether your customers possess legitimate cards.

For customers who don't have credit cards, money orders are a great payment alternative, particularly if you sell your products in an online auction environment, such as eBay. Services like BidPay.com allow your customers to purchase Western Union-branded money orders with their credit, debit or charge cards. BidPay.com then sends the money orders to you, along with e-mail notification that your customers' payments are on the way.

Services that transfer checking account funds electronically are another quick and easy option for customers without credit cards. Western Union's MoneyZap service, for example, lets buyers pay merchants online from their existing checking accounts.

All three payment options can help you turn browsers into buyers. Equally important, the speed and convenience of these services enable you to ship merchandise quickly, which helps ensure customer satisfaction.

Other Businesses

If you operate a mail-order or telephone-order business, credit cards let you receive payments quickly and safely. And again, by using such security tools as the AVS and the CVC2 and CVV2 systems described above, you can effectively safeguard your business against fraud.

Mobile merchants--such as taxi drivers, plumbers and delivery people--can process secure credit and debit card transactions almost everywhere they go using wireless payment equipment or software. If your work requires you to accept payments while you're on the road, credit and debit cards offer a safe alternative to checks and they allow you to carry less cash.

No matter how you conduct business, there has never been a better time to offer noncash payments options to your customers. Service-conscious consumers expect security, speed and convenience. And thanks to today's innovative payment solutions, you can affordably deliver the level of service your customers expect without compromising the safety of your business.

To identify which payment options best suit your business, contact a leading merchant service provider with experience that offers a wide range of payment solutions.

Cardservice International Senior Vice President of Sales John Burtzloff is in charge of sales strategy and execution and thus is responsible for managing all aspects of the company's marketing, communications, telesales, check guarantee, new accounts and sales support activities.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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