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With the advent of e-commerce, merchant services have become a necessity not just for large companies but also small businesses that need it for survival. Hiring a company that provides merchant services opens the door to a bigger customer base, increased sales and an improved bottom line. For any business, it can be the difference between being profitable and barely surviving. Whether or not a business is engaged in e-commerce, it is essential to make the benefits of a merchant services company available to customers.

Merchant services companies are in the business of processing payments. In the past, they primarily handled credit card transactions but their services have expanded as payment options have. Now, any competent company will also handle check verification, debit cards and, often, will provide customer service representatives to quickly resolve consumer payment problems. Importantly, reputable companies will also provide data center security in the form of meeting PCI compliance standards that prevent identity theft by hackers. These companies provide all the terminals, software and technical support a business needs to begin accepting payments.

Of course, with such technologically complex issues to consider when evaluating merchant services companies, it is difficult to know which one to choose. The first step in making a merchant services comparison is to set up some basic criteria for evaluating the companies you are considering. Any search engine will yield reviews and information on factors the companies rate themselves on and consider important enough to highlight for potential customers.

However, some factors are more important than others in doing a merchant services comparison. Cost per month should be compared. Competitive companies will have a low monthly fee and communicate transparently about any other costs and ongoing fees. Comparing startup costs is important. A company should not overcharge to set up a payment gateway and merchant account. Note what transaction fees are charged and what fraud protection systems are offered.

Look at what customer service options are provided. Ideally, they provide customer service 24/7 and many ways to contact them – from telephone to instant messaging. If you are a retail business or have remote sales locations, compare the variety of point-of-sales options and card readers that the service has available. For e-commerce, the company should have more than one kind of virtual terminal and provide an online merchant account and payment gateway.

After your initial research is done, contact your top companies and ask for a list of their clients. Call them and ask about the company’s service and reliability.

Performing a merchant services comparison may not be the most exciting part of being in business, but it can be the most important decision you make for your customers.