What is an Electronic Payment Gateway?

When you decide to sell products online, the first thing you need is a website to use as your store and to display your products. But to actually sell those products, your website also needs to function as a point of sale terminal for credit cards or other types of electronic payments. That’s where an online shopping cart and an electronic payment gateway come in. Without these two essential pieces, your online store will simply be a showcase for your products and not a true store.

Shopping Cart vs. Payment Gateway
All the different elements needed to keep an online store running can get confusing, but all of these elements are necessary to accept any type of payment online. The online shopping cart and the payment gateway are two separate pieces that work together to gather and process payment information.

Shopping Cart
The shopping cart is the first thing your customers will encounter when they decide to purchase one of your products. The shopping cart is a place for customers to collect or save items they want to buy, but a shopping cart does not take payment information or process payments. Some shopping carts allow customers to register with the store, save items, and return to their shopping cart at a later date, while others simply save the items as the customer is shopping on your site.

Payment Gateway
Once a customer has decided that he or she wants to buy the items in the shopping cart, that customer can “check out,” usually by clicking on the “checkout” button. This takes the customer to the gateway where he can enter his credit card information to be approved and processed. A very important feature of any gateway is the security. Customers will be hesitant to enter their credit card information online if they feel your site is not correctly encrypted and secure. This also protects you and your online store from fraud and other forms of theft. Once the payment information is entered into the gateway, that information is sent to the merchant account provider for approval and processing. Your customer gets the items shipped to her, you get paid, and everyone is happy.

Other Types of Electronic Payments
A gateway can accept more than just credit cards. With the appropriate merchant account and gateway, your store can accept debit cards, gift cards, and even electronic checks online.

If you’re ready to open your online store, make sure you have all of the elements in place. A website is a great place to start, but you can’t sell your products until you have your shopping cart and gateway ready to go.