One of the biggest questions any event professional tackles when setting up their event is how to accept payments from attendees as they register – which event payment processing solution should they use?
It can seem overwhelming, which credit card processor to choose, what are the average rates I should expect to pay, how do I integrate a payment processor into my registration process, etc.
Below is a helpful guide to choosing a payment processor, geared towards small and medium-sized businesses (keeping in mind event budget!) but applicable to everyone. Hopefully the information provided will help to untangle some of the questions surrounding offering and accepting payments online for your next event!
What should event planners look for in a credit card processor?
Ease of use and integration.
The #1 issue with payment processing is the integration into your registration system, which is why it can be very complicated to narrow down the right options. It’s best to look for a service or payment processor that can integrate easily within your website or within the systems you’re already using.
If you have an online store you’ll want to be able to send over basic information to the processing page. But it’s best if you can send over more detailed client information such as name, email, and address to prevent people from entering information more than once. People hate filling out forms, so making this process quick and seamless means less abandon rate, more on-time payments and happier clients! Then, if possible, you want to get what is called an IPN (Instant Payment Notification) that will allow you to update your records and be on top of your payments.
Most small businesses do not have the technical ability, manpower, or knowledge to do an integration with the payment processor on their own. This results in sending users to an external page for payment which can have high abandonment rates since people distrust being sent to third parties. According to the data we have at Regpack, the abandon rate for sending users to an external page is 27%. This means that 27% of the people that wanted to pay actually do not, simply due to the fact that you sent them to an external link or service. Therefore, it is best for small businesses to seek out complete event management systems that have payment processing integrated already.
Rates for Online Processing
Online processing is the fastest growing method of payment in recent years, and allows companies to be open 24/7. The downside of these payment methods is that they are considered “remote payment” and therefore have higher rates. “Remote payments” are subject to regulations and laws that allow deals to be cancelled very easily due to the fact that the client did not see the product beforehand. There are exceptions such as software and services, but the general rule is that since it is a more “risky” process for the payment providers they charge higher rates.
That said, the upside of having your business open 24/7, allowing people to pay at any time and also allowing more complex payment methods, such as payment plans and installments, makes online payment worth the fees. Not offering online payments ultimately mean less revenue and more admin work (more money spent paying your staff) to deal with payments.
What rates are considered “affordable”?
Swipe fees are really complex. There are the fees that the credit card companies take and then there are the fees that the actual processor charges to take the transaction. The credit card fees go from 0.9% for debit cards and up to 3.2% for reward cards. The rates are even higher for American Express and Discover cards. To that you will need to add the fees of the processor, which run from 1.5%-3%. Add to that the fact that the credit card companies also charge a fixed cost per transaction that can also change based on the card type, and people paying you with all kinds of different cards, and we’re talking about a serious headache!
If you take the “normal” route you will not know your processing costs until you actually get paid through your processor, since every card and payment method will be charged a little differently.
Events with HUGE budgets and large amounts of processing can risk not knowing the actual rates in advance. This is because the high volume of processing, the fact that they know their demographic, and have the data to predict rates correctly since their events have been running for a few years. All this together allows them to know, more or less, what their “effective rate” will be (the rate they actually pay) ahead of time.
As a rule of thumb, if you are processing less than $15 million (yes, million) you do not want to deal with fluctuating rates. For small and medium-sized events, it is best to seek out a processor that can give you a fixed rate for all cards. Anything between 2.9-3.9% is acceptable. Lower rates can be achieved if the business is processing more than $400K annually. The best part is that you know what you are going to pay. Some processors will even take the “fixed cost per transaction” within the rate and just give you a flat percentage rate so you know what you’ll be getting to the cent.
A payment method generally overlooked by event planners is e-check processing. e-Checks are normally charged at a very low rate, ranging from 1.2% to 2% of the transaction. They are processed directly by the banks and are very low risk for all parties. The reason most businesses do not use this method is because in the past it was available only to big businesses. Today you can find software options that have e-check integrated and enabled for all clients regardless of size.
If possible, seek out a payment processor that allows you to process both e-checks and credit cards and just make the e-check method the default. That will let you reach a blended rate between 1.6%-2.5%, which is referred to as “money cost” (the cost of getting money from your clients).
How do you do this?
Select an event management software that integrates payments for you, and offers rates similar to those mentioned above. Capterra provides a great list of top event management software options.
What kind of security features should you consider?
The #1 security feature that a business needs to look for is fraud detection and prevention.
When fraudulent payment comes through, you will most likely get a “chargeback.” Chargebacks happen when a client does not contact you, but contacts the financial institute that issued the payment and tells them, “I did not make this charge.” This will result in the transaction being cancelled and you taking the loss plus a $25-$45 fee.
But more important, when a business gets chargebacks above a specific percent (normally 0.5% of transactions), they will be flagged by the payment processor and credit card companies as “high risk.” This will result in much higher processing rates, and could even make it not financially viable to take credit cards, e-checks, or any other form of electronic payment. Hence, preventing fraud is the #1 security feature that small businesses need to look into.
The second most important security feature is the ability to run through multiple processors to ensure payment success. Different payment processors have different agreements with the banks and the credit card companies. These result in different information requirements to process the payment and different approvals for transactions. This means when processing a transaction, one processor might accept it while another will not. You as the event organizer want every transaction that is posted to go through.
Luckily, there are processors and event management systems that understand this and have done the heavy lifting for you. If a transaction is declined by one processor they will route it to another processor, and then another, and another (normally up to three) until it goes through. This raises the processing success rate by 76%, which is more money in your pocket.
What questions should you ask vendors before signing up?
Below are some helpful questions to ask payment processors before signing up, including:
- How much do you process annually?
- What is the rate for all cards except American Express and Discover?
- What is the surcharge for American Express and Discover?
- What is the fixed cost per transaction? Is ‘a transaction’ only a successful transaction or also a transaction attempt?
- What are the payout times for transactions?
- What are the reporting mechanisms you offer?
There are a lot more questions to ask based on the type of business and your goals but these are the most important ones.
These questions should help give you a solid picture of what you can expect to pay and also a good basis for comparing between payment processors.
Choosing an Event Software with Payment Integration
I made the point earlier that for most small or medium-sized events, working directly with a payment processor is often too difficult if you don’t have skilled developers or in-house tech resources. Most events find a solution that integrates into their process, but often you will spend money both to build or buy an event registration software AND the payment solution, which is silly. Many online registration software options today have their own partnerships with payment processors that allow you to cash in on the better rates large companies can get. These better rates are passed along to you as a bundle when you pay for their registration software.
Not only will having an integrated payment solution as part of your registration software save you money, it will make invoicing, accounting, and attendee management that much easier. The system will work as one, which means attendee account pages will be constantly updated with their balance, and invoicing with automated emails will be easy to trigger when attendees make a payment or add products to their order. Integrated reporting will then make it a breeze to stay on top of your income, accounting, and money management.
Remember to ask the right questions when evaluating a payment processor so you gather a solid and complete picture of the rates you will pay. Bonus is finding a software that includes payment integration to make the admin side of event planning seamless!
Remember, including e-checks as a payment option is an underutilized tool and should be considered as a payment option for your attendees. You can save money here, since the rates are cheaper.
Not offering online payments is no longer an option for most businesses, events included. Finding the best way to offer these to attendees, at a cost that makes sense for you, and in a solution that is secure for everyone, is crucial, and not hard to do once you understand what to look for!
Anything we missed? What else do you think is important to look out for in event payment processing systems? Add your thoughts in the comments!