Shopping for merchant services? Here’s what to look for.

The explosion of e-commerce over the past decade and the popularity of virtual payment terminals have led to a vast array of options for businesses to accept payments. If you’ve shopped the offerings lately with plans to upgrade, you know how challenging it can be to compare packages.

The companies that offer merchant services vary in the products and services they offer, as well as their pricing models (flat rate, interchange-plus, membership).

What should you look for as you investigate the possibilities?

  • From a big-picture perspective, consider how long the provider has been in business and whether they have the bench strength to see you through the journey to being a satisfied client. Is it a fintech start-up with an ambitious appetite for high-volume sales but wobbly with onboarding and long wait times for customer service via an automated phone tree? Ideally you will have a person who is your concierge, walking you through pricing structures, point of sale solutions and the application process and remaining available by phone.

  • Ask about payment processing times, supported payment types, customer service channels and contract lengths. Be sure to zoom in on the terms of the agreement. A provider who’s confident their service is markedly better than the rest won’t ask you to sign a lengthy contract. Beware of promotional pricing that expires after a number of months or unclear processing fees.

  • If you’re interested in passing the transaction fee or a portion of it on to your customers, look for a system that offers a cash discounting solution, surcharge or convenience fee program(s). These features assist with calculating the additional fee into the purchase seamlessly.

  • Look at the system’s scalability with an eye toward your business’s future growth. The ideal provider will recommend a right-sized set-up for your current volume and business model and demonstrate the options that would be appropriate as your business changes. This is especially important in an evolving marketplace during a pandemic. You need a system in which you can add on or reconfigure the set-up easily and without disruption or down-time.

  • Inquire about the system’s built-in protection against fraud and its features. You need confidence that the vault with your customers’ data is secure, assurance that fraudulent activity will be quicky detected and that support will be available when legitimate customers encounter an issue.


Julie Lewis is a merchant card services manager with Pinnacle’s Merchant Services team.  She is based at the firm’s West College Street office in Murfreesboro, TN, and can be reached by phone at (615) 849-3371 or by email at

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