In the early days of the internet, e-commerce struggled for one simple reason. While it was easy to advertise and order goods online, it was difficult to pay for them.
Now, of course, it's as simple as keying in your credit card details. But behind what looks to the consumer like an easy process is an impressive amount of technology and some very hard work.
To process credit cards over the web, businesses need an online merchant account. This will probably charge an upfront fee, and per-transaction or commission fees for each transaction handled.
Getting the merchant account set up is the easy part. Linking your website to the payment processors' sites in order to process the credit card payments is the difficult bit. It has to be secure, and it is not easy to build.
There are two steps to web credit card processing. The first step is the shopping cart, on the merchant's web site, which adds up the order, and takes the credit card details.
The second is the payment gateway. Payment gateways, businesses such as Authorize.net, transfer the information about the order and the credit card details and gain authorization for the card. (Effectively, the payment gateway does the same job on the internet that the POS terminal does in a shop or restaurant.)
Some payment gateways can handle business internationally while others are limited to a single country. Some payment gateways will also take on board the job of arranging a merchant account, if necessary.
Why should you get involved with web credit card processing? If you're a retailer on the internet, the answer is obvious. But suppose you are running a pet sitting service in San Francisco - do you need to?
The answer will depend on how many people are coming to you through your website, or want to use it for a booking service. Even in a business that looks like a business, if people can make a booking and have the amount automatically deducted from their credit card, then that makes it more convenient for them than having to pay a bill by Exchequer or cash. So businesses which don't accept credit cards may be turning down good business.