Merchant Account Reviews
We receive a lot of inquiries and merchant account questions regarding who offers the best merchant account, and I wish I could simply rattle off the names of a couple providers, but the fact is it's just not that easy.
The reason that you don't see a directory of providers on this site complete with nifty ratings and stars is because they're just not helpful, and here's why.
There are too many players in the game, all of which play for multiple teams.
The biggest obstacle to a useful merchant account review is that there are too many merchant service providers representing different parent sales organizations and acquirers. To understand what I mean, you first have to have an understanding of how the industry is structured.
Take a look at this cool site that provides a visual directory of the relationship of the card originators (Visa & MasterCard) acquirers and independent sales organizations (ISO). Let's use Heartland Payment Systems as an example. Looking at the outline you'll notice that they are three tiers away from Visa and MasterCard behind Nova and Key Bank.
What the outline doesn't show is the tens of thousands of agents and sales organizations that are registered with Heartland Payment Systems that can go another ten tiers deep. Following this logic, when you're reading a merchant account review of Heartland Payment Systems, you may actually be reading a review about an individual representative's performance loosely associated with the parent company.
To further muddy the waters, not all merchant account providers are registered with Visa and MasterCard. Instead, they work as independent brokers through ISOs or acquiring banks that are registered and there's nothing stopping them from working with as many organizations as their contracts allow.
For example, a fictitious company called Something Merchant Services may have agreements to write merchant accounts through five different registered ISO. On top of that, Something Merchant Services could have 150 agents working under their business name. So, if you're goal is to write an accurate merchant account review on Something Merchant Services, would you focus the review on an individual agent, on the sales organization, on the parent ISO, on the acquiring bank or all of the players?
Although the above example uses a fictitious company, it represents a real-world scenario. Unless you've got the resources to maintain an accurate database of tens of thousands of merchant service providers all at different levels of the food chain, you simply can't produce useful results. Add to that the high industry turnover rate and you've got an even larger dilemma.
The time spent searching for a useful merchant account review is better spent educating yourself about merchant account functions. As the saying goes, "give a person a fish, they eat for a day. Teach them how to fish, they eat for a lifetime." No one can tell you who the best merchant account provider is for your business. You need to learn about how accounts function so you can intelligently negotiate rates and know when you're getting a bad deal. I suggest that you start by looking over the merchant account information guide.
If you're still not convinced that merchant account reviews aren't a reliable way to find the best account for your business - here are a few more things to watch out for.
Rates and fees change often and for many different reasons
Merchant account reviews are often displayed in the form of a table to compare merchant accounts by rates and fees from various providers. These tables are nice to look at but that's about the extent of their appeal and usefulness.
Merchant account fees and rates aren't structured like the typical retail pricing that we're used to. Sales agents don't operate on fixed prices, instead, they use a range of rates and fees to create offers based on what the market and the competition will allow.
In a company with 50 sales agents it's theoretically possible for a single business to negotiate 50 different rate and fee packages by talking to each agent individually.
Many online assessments are created by affiliate marketers whose goal is to create sales for the company that is the subject of their commentary. For obvious reasons the information offered by affiliate marketers are biased toward their partner provider. Later on we'll tell you how to spot affiliate marketers.
Different reps at the same company give different levels of service
Merchant service providers can employ tens or even hundreds of individual sales agents that sell merchant accounts under the parent company's name. Quality of customer service, sales approach, experience and other important factors that create a good representative will vary from one agent to the next.
Merchant account reviews that attempt to evaluate a company's performance are really just evaluating a single agent.
Providers have specialties
Merchant service providers often specialize by focusing their product offering on a specific type of processing account. Resources that evaluate different providers will seldom recognize specialties. Instead, they lump providers together under general comparisons leaving the important information out.
For example, a provider that specializes in offering wireless merchant accounts may perform poorly if their services are analyzed on for how well they cater to Internet-based businesses.
Individual agents work with some people better than others
Going back to the idea that an entire processor can't be evaluated by the performance of a single agent, it's easy to see how personal chemistry can become a factor in a merchant account review.
Some people work well together and some don't. It's very possible for the same business person to give glowing feedback for one agent and poor feedback for another agent at the same sales company. Individual agent performance shouldn't reflect on the company as a whole, it should reflect on the agent.
How to recognize useful, unbiased merchant account reviews
Consistent feature focus
As we've explained above, it's virtually impossible to create a useful performance analysis around merchant account rates and fees. The most useful evaluations will focus on more consistent aspects of a provider.
Look for resources that focus on areas like quality of customer service, industry experience, and depth of product offering. These things take quality and effort to accomplish over time. Rates, fees and other things that can be easily changed with minimal effort make poor reference points from which to compare providers.
There's a specific focus
Look for merchant account reviews that compare and contrast specific agents or specific types of processing options. Services like CardFellow.com that report on every provider individually are good examples of this. Disregard sources that attempt to generalize entire companies.
Multiple first-hand experiences
Merchant account reviews that are derived from a collection of first-hand experiences and opinions have a much better chance of being fair and balanced than those created by a single researcher.
There are no indications of an affiliate marketer
Affiliate marketers offer biased information that's based on which processor will pay them more for their referrals. Affiliate ID numbers within links, calls to action like “Buy Now” buttons and overly positive ratings for one company are all solid indications of an affiliate marketer. Avoid these resources and continue searching for something more impartial.
Copyright © 2004-2010 MerchantCouncil.org. All Rights Reserved.