Neil Harris

How to make e-commerce work for your website

As a start-up entrepreneur, Neil Harris spent hundreds of hours researching online payment providers and setting up his website intently.co to handle payments coming in from all over the world. It was a gruelling process and during that time he learnt many lessons. Here he shares his top five advice tips for those in a similar position:

“Getting your website business ready can be a time consuming job. You’ve built your site and it looks great. And guess what - you’re starting to get some traction, even better! And now you’re beginning to think about monetising it. Maybe you’re asking yourself some questions. When is the right time to start charging? How much should we charge? What technology should we use for payments? Is this going to be complicated, and what could go wrong?

When I set up my global consumer services marketplace, intently.co, I knew I was going to be handling requests from all across the globe so I needed an e-commerce platform that could handle that. If I had to go through the process again, these would be my priorities:

- Choose a payment provider that best suits your business. A few companies offer a complete platform that covers a checkout, payment gateway and merchant account – these are known as “full-stack payments platforms”. If you go with one of these, then you can be up and running and taking payments securely from within your website in a matter of hours. If you are unable to, or do not want to, go with a full-stack payments platform, then you’ll be getting into the “mix-and-match” of selecting and implementing components that are compatible with one another. If only all products at each level of the technology stack worked with each other. Alas, this is not the case – you will need work through your selections carefully. Whatever you decide to do, you will need to go through one or more application and approval processes. These can take weeks to complete, and rejections are common so planning is crucial.

- Check your payment provider allows the import / export of encrypted customer card data, and that you would not breach their terms. Once you have chosen your payment provider, check their terms and conditions carefully. Import / export of encrypted data is an important consideration if you use a subscription model for your business. If for some reason you need to move to a new payment provider, will you be able to securely export your existing customers’ card data and import it into the new payment provider’s vault? If the answer is no, then you will need to contact each of your customers and ask them to re-provide their card data when you are live with your new payment technology. It’s pretty much a certainty that some of your customers will ignore this request, and as a result your business will immediately see a reduction in revenue. This is a big risk, and it could put you off switching technologies and tie you in with a provider you are not happy with.

- Take time to understand the risks your business would pose to potential e-commerce partners, and work out how to reduce / mitigate these. If you think there is any risk at all that you would be in breach of a provider’s terms, then my advice is to ask them. You need to be 100% transparent with them. If you have user activity in certain countries such as Iran and North Korea then you may be in breach of terms. Even if you do not trade with those countries you need to make sure you have procedures in place to prevent customers from these countries from signing up with your service.

- Applying to payment providers. Write a “Company Information and Policies” document which you can use to support applications – it will help to position your business positively and mitigate risks when an underwriter reviews your application. Apply to several payment providers in parallel to reduce the time-impact of rejections – should that happen.

- Have a contingency plan in place. Because there is always a risk of your payment provider terminating your contract at short notice for some unexpected reason, I recommend that you implement a second e-commerce solution as a backup / contingency in case this happens. That way you can switch to the contingency solution quickly if your primary solution is shut down.

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