Vendors Promote International, Echeck Payment Options at IRCE

My conversations with epayments exhibitors at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE), held June 5-8 in Chicago, brought two ecommerce payments themes to the fore: international payments and echecks.

The first seemed natural to me, as ecommerce frees retailers from geographic boundaries.

The second theme, the promotion of the echeck as a payments mechanism, surprised me at first, given that the technology is hardly new. It also delighted me because I prefer echecks to credit or debit cards as a web-based payment mechanism and do not find that it’s often available.

I did not make a complete tour of every payment vendor at the show, but here’s a rundown of the vendors I visited and conversations we had.

International Payment Options

When I mentioned to Allyson Stramotas, a marketer for Digital River, that a number of vendors were talking to me about international payments, she assumed I must have heard a lot about China. I had not, though I later found in my conference bag a card presenting the statistics for Alipay, China’s leading third-party electronic payment service. Geographically, a number of vendors pointed out their capabilities for Latin America in general and Brazil specifically.

For instance, Cobre Bem, based in Brazil, provides a PCI-compliant gateway to Brazilian and Latin American banks, providing connections to more than 80 different financial institutions and bank card organizations in Latin America. For its part, Digital River World Payments covers Latin America and Asia in its white paper “Online Payments in the BRIC Countries.”

Other international payments processors I talked to included Moneris Solutions, a joint venture between Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal, which partners with BMO Harris in the United States. Moneris provides a whole suite of payment options, including loyalty programs and echecks, for retailers. They stressed the completeness of their solutions across all needs, from store to web to company accounting.

Payza and Order Bridge showed payment platforms. Payza, with an international gateway, presented an ewallet service that can be loaded through bank transfers, wires, credit cards, and other means, allowing you to both make and receive payments. Order Bridge seeks to make it easier to integrate a wide variety of payment, risk-management, and transaction tracking options into a merchant’s website.

2CheckOut exhibited its online payment processing service that integrates a merchant account and payment gateway in a single package, another way of making it easier for retailers to accept online payments. The 2CheckOut shopping cart seeks to open retailers to international customers by presenting international currencies upon checkout, which also supports 15 different languages. It does not require shoppers to create a separate payment account.

Several other vendors emphasized supporting international payment and currency options directly on a retailer website. JCB, a Japanese payment card, wants merchants to accept the card and display its logo on their websites and in their stores. “Japanese consumers love American goods,” said sales rep Charles Spatola. Providing a payment option they know and use will increase the likelihood of making the sale.

Planet Payment made a similar case for international currency support. The company provides in-store and ecommerce payments processing in international currencies so that shoppers can use their local credit cards at a store’s point of sale or see their currency symbol on the website. They receive a guaranteed exchange rate upon checkout, and Planet Payment ensures that it’s lower than other options, as a reason for the customer to buy more goods at the foreign exchange rate.

PacNet Services Ltd., however, impressed me with its comprehensive international payments processing. They did it with the most impressive piece of collateral from an educational point of view: the World Payments Guide 2011, a 720-page reference book and online guide to banking systems and consumer payments in every country in the world, including an explanation of PacNet capabilities.

Echeck Options

The cost of payments filtered into the general media last year with the Durbin Amendment, which directed the Federal Reserve to place limits on the fees banks can charge for debit-card payments. For many years, credit- and debit-card processing fees have been roughly the same for retailers, regardless of who does the processing.

I believe that the increased promotion of echecks, an option that has been around for seven years, is driven in some way by today’s post-Durbin environment, in which transaction processing fees are no longer a standard three-plus percent. Electronic checks, which process as low-cost ACH transactions, provide lower transaction costs and can provide yet another option for consumers.

First Data argues as much in the latest version of an echeck white paper, which the payments processor provided at IRCE, “Electronic Checks: The Low-Risk, Low-Cost Way to Accept Online Payments.”

ACHFederal stressed the low cost and customer convenience of echecks. I agreed, as I prefer to pay by electronic check when it’s offered by a merchant, which it generally is not.

Payment fraud also arose as a topic of conversation, especially at the Authorize.Net booth. The company’s parent firm, CyberSource, estimates that merchants lost some $3.4 billion to fraud in 2011.

Finally, my favorite payments vendor of the show was Wipit, a service that allows online merchants to serve people without bank accounts (generally known as the “unbanked”). Unbanked customers use mobile devices that they load up at currency exchanges and mobile phone stores, explained Ian Williams, manager of business development.

Wipit allows them to open an account that they can add cash to in the same way. When they buy on the web, they choose the Wipit icon and pay from their Wipit account. The company has received a lot of attention since its founding in 2010, in part following FDIC concerns for the unbanked.

Whether it’s accepting cash, international payments, or echecks, the vendors face a common challenge: getting their logo for their payments option on a retailer’s website. That, in turn, depends on whether retailers believe that they can use payments channels to open new markets, increase sales to existing customers, or make paying at online checkout so easy that the customer rarely abandons the transaction.