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Automate purchases on Web

Do you offer your products for sale on your Web site? Today I want to tell you how you can easily give your Web site visitors the ability to securely pay for products from your site.

There are three things you need to do this effectively: an e-commerce merchant account, a gateway account and a shopping cart or order page. Please allow me to explain what these three services are and where to go to set them up.

E-commerce merchant account — This is not a checking account. It allows your Web site to take someone's credit card and charge it for the cost of your product. The merchant account provider then deposits the money into your checking account, usually within two to three days.

In order to get an e-commerce merchant account you will need to apply with a merchant account provider, or you can apply through your local bank (you should know, however, that some banks are extremely conservative and may not be as easy to deal with as independent merchant account providers). Once your account is set up, you will be able to accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover.

Gateway account — This account allows your Web site to automatically charge your customer's credit card. The gateway basically communicates between your Web site's shopping cart or order page and your merchant account.

Think of the gateway service as the swipe machine you see at your local store. You swipe your credit card and then after a few seconds the machine shows "approved" or "declined." The gateway service is similar, except the gateway allows you increased flexibility because you can now allow your customers to purchase from your Web site automatically.

Shopping cart or order page — A shopping cart allows Web site visitors to select more than one product per visit, and it calculates the total cost of all purchases, including shipping. The shopping cart then tells the gateway account to charge your customer's credit card automatically. If the shopping cart receives approval from the gateway, it will show your customer an approval page. If your customer's credit card is declined the shopping cart shows a declined page.

An order page is similar to the above, except it will only allow the purchase of one product or service at a time. If you sell only one product or service and you don't plan on offering additional products or services, then you will only need a simple order page that communicates with your gateway account.

Following is a list of providers that offer one or more of the above services.

E-commerce merchant account and gateway provider — The first and leading provider of the gateway service is a Utah company called Authorize.Net. If you need an e-commerce merchant account, they will set you up with one with a gateway account. Their Web site is www.Authorize.Net.

Shopping cart providers — I've used many shopping carts over the years, and I like the following providers because of their flexibility and features: www.AdvancedMarketingSystem.com, www.PinnacleCart.com.

Order page provider — The following company offers order pages you can have your Web developer install on your site that work with the Authorize.Net gateway: www.AuthnetScripts.com.

The cool part about all of this is you no longer have to manually charge customer credit cards unless you want to. With the Christmas season here you will save a lot of time by having your Web site set up to automatically process orders.

If there is a Web Marketing topic you would like me to cover, submit your idea at www.AskDionJones.com. I will focus future columns on the topics you suggest.


Dion Jones is a Web marketing specialist and is affiliated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship.