PayPal (www.paypal.co.uk) is a well established online payment gateway owned by eBay (www.ebay.co.uk). The service was originally designed to allow individuals to securely transfer cash online between each other, but has grown into a professional payment system favoured by smaller businesses which do not have the facility to accept credit card payments directly. PayPal Merchant Tools allow companies to accept credit card payments through their existing websites.
The system works quite simply, once users have set up a free business account with the site they only have to insert a few lines of HTML code into their existing web pages to start selling online. For example, if your company has a simple web page containing details of your top product all you would need to do is add the code snippet supplied by PayPal into a suitable point on that page, editing the details to include the product name and cost. Once this is done, customers will see a PayPal ‘Buy it Now’ button on the page – if they click the button they are taken to a PayPal payment screen and if they complete the transaction an email is sent to you informing you of the payment so you can ship the goods. The money sits in your PayPal account until you transfer it into your bank.
The main advantage of this system is the very low start up cost, it allows you to take online payments without having to set up a merchant account to process credit card payments. PayPal does not charge for signing up to the service, but it does take a commission for each customer transaction (starting at 2.7 percent plus 20 pence). Providing you feel comfortable performing some very minor HTML cutting and pasting, it is easy to build into an existing static web site. However, all but the very smallest of companies are likely to require a more sophisticated solution and should consider ‘shop in a box’ type ecommerce software.