The below blog post has been put written by Simon Jones, VP of Strategic Solutions at Plimus, a robust service platform for e-businesses selling digital products, who is speaking at Affiliate Management Days (San Francisco 2012) on the principles of building a flexible online payment system [more]

For a surprising proportion of online sellers, payment is still pretty much a black box.  Sure, we’re hard at work optimizing our SEO, analyzing traffic trends to within a fare-thee-well, and multi-variate-testing campaigns using algorithms that may as well have been created by Nobel Prize-winning scientists.  But once we drag our customers into the purchasing process, as often as not we are entering the Twilight Zone.

It turns out, though, that that last step — where the customer actually pays up — is not only more complex than it looks, but also more understandable than many expect.  And if we know nothing else about marketing online, it’s that something we can quantify is something we can tune and improve.

Let me give you a simple example: credit cards process more successfully in their own region than in another.  So, for instance, a US credit card will process more successfully in the US than in Europe; and a UK credit card will process more successfully in Europe than in the US.  The difference can be somewhere in the range of 8% – 10%; if someone proposed a change to landing pages that pretty uniformly offered that kind of difference, there aren’t many of us who would ignore it.  Now, to take advantage of this knowledge means deploying a more sophisticated payment plan than ‘sign up with PayPal’, but there are few serious online players who don’t have the chops for this.

What makes this matter all the more is the reality that the way consumers are using the Internet is changing in real and significant ways today.  The proportion of online buyers using mobile devices, for instance, has gone from an interesting side note to a reality: at Plimus, we see somewhere in the range of 15% – 20% of our traffic coming from mobile devices.

Similarly, in some demographics, the social web has become the primary interface to the outside world — folks search within Facebook instead of through Google.  Online sellers who can’t provide a seamless, appropriately-designed, checkout experience in environments other than a straight-up web page are missing a trick…and potentially a significant income opportunity.

The payments world is only becoming more complicated, with the expansion of the Payment Service Provider (PSP) model in the credit card arena, and the introduction of more payment methods than you can shake a stick at.  Don’t be put off by the noise, but rather see this as the right point to become educated before it gets any harder to gain a firm grounding!  With as much as half of your revenue likely coming from apps and social networks by next year, and the increasing benefits of offering worldwide consumers truly local checkout experiences, this could be make-or-break.

A simple starting point is simply this: ensure that every consumer who ever tries to buy from you (or from the partners consuming your traffic) is offered an experience that is tuned to them.  There are three simple rules:

  1. If they come from a non English-speaking country, offer their language; offer them their currency; and offer them payment methods that they recognize as locally relevant.
  2. Ensure that the experience makes sense for the device they are using – there’s no point in having dozens of data fields if they’re on a smartphone.
  3. Confirm that the payment is being processed in the region where the card, or other payment instrument, was originally issued.

There’s plenty more to do — but if you can check off those three starting points, you’re already in the top echelon of payment tuning.  And making the most out of your traffic.

Simon Jones is a Silicon Valley veteran who has worked with software companies like Interwoven, Hyperion and Adobe for over a dozen years in a variety of strategic marketing, sales and development roles. At Plimus, Simon ensures that solutions are developed and strategically positioned to meet the needs of e-commerce 3.0 and the evolving e-commerce marketplace. Come hear him speak on Sellers Changing the Way They Do Business on March 8 at AM Days SF 2012.