Integrating ACH and eCheck Payments Into your Website

Ever since ecommerce has emerged as a big player in the retail shopping world, credit cards have been the primary form of payment for merchants.  Credit cards come with lots of drawbacks for the merchant.  Fraud, abuse, theft, and cost are some of the things that spring to mind when thinking about credit card processing headaches.

But wait, a consumer must have a credit card to purchase products from an online merchant, right?

Not necessarily. There are payment-processing options that allow ecommerce operators to deduct the purchase price directly from the bank account of a customer, without the customer having or providing a credit card number. These online processing options are becoming more popular, and are based on the automated clearing house (or, “ACH”) banking network, which is a long-established, federally regulated system that allows banks to send money back and forth to each other. Virtually every bank in the United States is a member of the ACH network and the dollar volume of ACH transactions is huge.

Sarah Masterman is Managing Member of a popular online retailer. “We sell services to wholesale distribution companies via our website,” says Masterman. “But, frequently those customers don’t have credit cards. So, we use ACHQ.com, an ACH payment solution, to allow customers to pay us directly from their checking accounts. Saves everyone a hassle.”

What Do You Need To Know?

Probably the most vital understanding one can have about ACH is to know what it’s not. It’s not credit card processing. ACH doesn’t provide for a realtime authorization of transactions, for example. Similar to credit cards, solution providers like ACHQ.com collect a percentage of each transaction. But typically, ACH transactions are less expensive to accept than credit card transactions, thereby providing saving costs for the merchant.

Masterman noted, however, that ACHQ.com provides industry standard validation for eCheck transactions, and is continually looking for additional ways to let the ecommerce entrepreneur know that a purchase on his or her site is the real deal. Nevertheless, she recommends that business owners offering an ACH payment option to customers wait about five days before shipping any product purchased via the technology.

Recurring Payments

Many merchants also use the ACH network for automatic, recurring payments from their customers. Take Dave Shapiro, a magazine publisher in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. Christo’s publication is called Our City Arts and Culture, and he receives recurring payments from participating vendors.

“Our vendors provide us their banking information when they sign-up,” said Shapiro. “We then automatically deduct our fees from their bank accounts each month using ACHQ’s ACH system. It saves us from having to print and mail invoices, and we get our money much faster.”

“But don’t tell anyone,” laughs Shapiro. “It’s our little secret.”

How Do I Integrate It Into My Site?

To integrate an ACH solution like ACHQ.com into your website, you’ll first need to sign up by completing a short application. Once approved, a programmer is recommended for actually integrating ACHQ.com into your website unless your shopping cart already connects to the ACH processing platform.

ACHQ.com offers a customizable application program interface similar to the one used to process credit card payments, which means the programmer wouldn’t have to start from scratch. If you already use ACHQ.com for credit card payments, the programmer just needs to change a few things here and there to make ACHQ.com fit with your website. Moreover, many ACH solutions like ACHQ.com also offer “virtual terminals”, which provides merchants with a web-based interface to accept ACH payments from consumers.

Is It Secure?

ACH transactions are governed by the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), whose mission is to, “promote the development of electronic solutions that improve the payments system for the benefit of its members and their customers (nacha.org). Amongst its primary functions, NACHA works to develop and implement risk management initiatives. In many ways, security issues concerning ACH are no different than security issues concerning credit cards.

As an ecommerce business owner, your primary concern will be with the security of the online form processing required to gather a user’s information at the point of purchase. This includes using a 128-bit SSL certificate and following standard security best practices. (Editor’s Note: See “Ecommerce Fraud: Build a Human Firewall

Conclusion

Payment options factor into a consumer’s decision regarding where to shop. Whether it’s online or off, providing a non-credit card payment option is essential to maximizing your consumer base.

To successfully accept checks online, you need to understand the basics of the ACH and integrate to an electronic check processor like ACHQ.com. You’ll probably need to temporarily employ a web developer familiar with basic systems integration and make sure your security is up-to-date. However, that initial investment can well be made up by the additional business you may attract by offering your customers more ways to pay.

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