How do I accept credit cards (e-commerce) on my website?

We're often asked if we have an "e-commerce" package that allows our customers to accept credit cards on their website. While we don't sell a specific e-commerce package, we do make sure that our servers work with the vast majority of e-commerce systems available. This lets you use almost any system you want, including many free systems.

What is e-commerce?

Most people use the phrase "e-commerce" to mean the combination of a shopping cart, secure checkout pages, and collecting money from credit cards.

It's possible for technically advanced users to set up all of these things separately: you can use scripts to directly handle the shopping cart, get an "SSL certificate" to enable secure checkout pages, and sign up with a "merchant service provider" to handle the credit card payments. (A merchant service provider is a financial institution, usually a bank, that collects money from people's credit cards and puts it into your business bank account.) There's more information about how advanced users can do that below.

However, using your own scripts and signing up with a merchant service provider can be time consuming, complicated, and quite expensive if you don't already accept credit cards. It also means you’ll be in charge of the security of your customers’ credit card numbers and need to pass PCI compliance scans, which can be challenging.

Because of that, we recommend that if you're just starting out accepting credit cards, and you don't expect to handle more than 250 transactions or $2,500 a month, you should use the “Standard” PayPal Merchant Tools service instead of installing your own shopping cart software on our servers. (We're not getting any money from PayPal to recommend them. We think they're simply the best choice by far for people who are just starting out, especially because they charge no fees to get started. You can always switch to something more complicated and expensive as your business grows.)

PayPal handles everything you need. They provide a shopping cart and secure checkout pages without any script programming required, and they charge the credit card number and put the money in your bank account. If you can create a Web page, you can almost certainly use PayPal to accept credit cards.

What if I don't want to use PayPal?

Some people feel that using PayPal doesn't feel as professional as collecting the card number on their own website. Or perhaps you already use a merchant service provider to accept credit cards offline, and want to take advantage of that.

In that case, you can certainly use our service to accept credit cards directly. Keep in mind that:

  • You'll need to be comfortable installing and configuring scripts (usually written in the Perl or PHP programming languages), or you'll need to hire a Web developer to do that for you.
  • You'll need to get a secure SSL certificate for your website. This makes sure your checkout pages are encrypted and shows the "lock" icon to your visitors.
  • You'll need to decide how to store credit card information you collect so that it's safe from hackers. Simply storing credit card numbers in a database or files on the server is not acceptable — it violates merchant service provider contracts and data protection laws. Most pre-written shopping cart systems have a solution to this problem (they either encrypt the credit card number, or they don't store the full number on the server in the first place).
  • If you don’t already have an account with a credit card merchant service provider that supports online transactions, you'll need to establish one. The best place to start looking for a merchant service provider is probably with the bank that provides your business checking account; most banks offer this service. If your bank doesn't offer it, a search for “accept credit cards” on Google will show many companies that do.

Do you recommend any particular scripts if I want to do this myself?

Our customers have successfully used the following e-commerce shopping cart scripts with sites on our servers (some are completely free):

However, almost any e-commerce script that runs on Linux servers and is written in Perl or PHP will work.