For purposes of nostalgia and to show how much the internet has changed, I have included below the old first paragraph of this page, from when Virtually Ignorant was first started:
If you want to compete in the e-commerce arena you need to accept credit cards on-line, and if you want to accept credit cards on-line you need to have a merchant account. Unfortunately, there are few areas of web building more difficult to get a grip on than merchant accounts. The other components we’ve dealt with on this site mainly involve a straight forward product with a straight forward price. There are two reasons why this doesn’t apply with merchant accounts: 1) These accounts are very lucrative, resulting in tons of advertising on the subject, much of which is intentionally misleading; and 2) There are more ways of putting hidden fees into merchant accounts than into just about anything else on-line.
The above still applies to traditional merchant accounts, and if that’s the route you wish to go, you’ll have a number of options to choose from.
However, the alternatives to a traditional merchant account are now so good and easy to work with that we recommend these exclusively to Virtually Ignorant readers.
There are three main options we’ll explore, and there’s nothing wrong with using all three. They are Paypal, Google Checkout, and Amazon Payments.
If you’re going to go with one of them, we recommend Paypal. Paypal has two levels of service: Website Payments Standard and Website Payments Pro. The standard option gives you buttons to put on your website and when someone clicks on the button, they finish the order in the paypal shopping cart. The pro option costs $30/month and takes some work integrating it (though your CMS likely already resolved this for you), but it is fully integrated into your site.
Google Checkout is a nice add on to paypal, but we can’t recommend it as an exclusive solution. It allows those who have Google Checkout accounts to complete orders in one step, just by pushing the Google Checkout button. Since Google stores the credit card numbers and shipping addresses of its Checkout account holders, there’s no need to enter any further information in a shopping cart. Accepting Google Checkout can definitely help with getting traffic from Google shopping and ads, so it’s a good feature to add on. However, so few people have accounts that you do not want it to be your exclusive way to accept credit cards.
Amazon Payments is the newest player in this sector. They are now allowing websites to accept credit cards through the Amazon payment system. Customers will go through the same checkout process that they do on Amazon.com, including signing into Amazon, choosing the credit card they want to use from the ones that are on file with Amazon or adding a new one, choosing which shipping address they want from the ones on file with Amazon or creating a new one, etc.