Digital Money for Your Real Wallet
BY Justin Torres
New innovations are revolutionizing online payment processing. These emerging technologies are easier to integrate than past products, and they may even lower the cost of accepting money through your website. Soon, they may change the way you and your firm conduct online transactions.
New Payment Gateways, More Possibilities
When you bill for invoices or take orders on your firm’s site, it is just as important to choose the right online processor as it is to choose the right domain. There are different levels of implementation available to you: some are completely seamless, and some redirect a user to a third-party domain.
First, outline the path you want a user to take. Make checkout effortless and maximize your conversion ratio. By partnering with a gateway like Authorize.net or Paypal, you can accept cards on your own domain and achieve the highest level of integration. The user will never have to leave your site. However, gateways come with an upfront development cost and will lock you into the provider that you choose, so make your selection with care.
Companies are also debuting more feature-filled products that make it easy to switch to the provider that suits your needs. Google Wallet began as a mobile application to replace your credit cards in brick-and-mortar stores. Now, it has expanded to web-based payments. Amazon has also opened up its system, allowing users to complete orders using their credit cards or their Amazon funds on supported websites.
Right now, competition is hot: Dwolla, another streamlined payments API, is offering very similar services. Moreover, this second company boasts tiny, 25 cent fees for each transaction. If you are selling an ebook or access to web seminars, transactions under $10 are free.
Both companies are secured by the same technology that major banks use, and more businesses pick them up every day.
Bitcoin and Crypto-Currency
The recent media frenzy surrounding digital money and Bitcoin has attracted just about everyone’s attention. Traditional currency is regulated by governing bodies; digital currencies, in contrast, are based on math and employ cryptography to prevent double spending (and are, therefore, sometimes called crypto-currencies).
Owners of bitcoins link them to their “wallets”. Wallets are cryptographic keys that prove ownership of bitcoins. They can be stored on a web server, portable USB drive or even on a printed-out sheet of paper. With software that runs on desktop and mobile devices, anyone can create a wallet within seconds.
All transactions are public and are recorded in the “blockchain”: a ledger of every bitcoin exchanged. The blockchain is downloaded to every client on the peer-to-peer network and is used to see which wallet owns what.
To introduce new coins, special software proofs the math of the entire ledger to be “mined” (rewarded with newly minted coins). The task is no longer feasible on an individual level, so the job is mostly done by large collections of dedicated hardware.
Bitcoin has earned some notoriety in dodgy online markets. Silk Road, the largest online illegal substance marketplace, was raided by the FBI earlier this year. 30,000 bitcoins (1.5 percent of all coins minted so far) were moved to the Bureau’s wallet. This was the first government seizure of the Bitcoin currency; crypto-currency has definitely gained the interest of our federal government.
In the past few months, news stories have only fueled the currency frenzy. Reports tell of students buying coins for next to nothing, then rediscovering them and buying luxury real estate and exotic cars after bitcoin value skyrocketed. At the time of writing, a single coin is trading for over $1,000. Online currencies like Bitcoin are promising, but their value is still very unstable.
Some see the present surge as a bubble soon to pop, but Bitcoin continues to attract new users and businesses looking to exchange funds over the internet. Mainstream websites like WordPress and Reddit are slowing beginning to adopt Bitcoin. More services accept the currency each day. Acquiring coins is easy, and Bitcoin exchanges (such as Mt. Gox and BTC-E) allow you to buy and sell coins with your native currency.
As Bitcoin gains legitimacy with some local businesses, will law firms follow suit?
New Technologies for Personal Funds
Square empowers anyone to run their own point of sale, accepting credit and debit card payments with a “swipe dongle” that plugs into any Google or Apple device. Their latest venture is Square Cash, which allows a user to send money to anyone with just an email. Compose a new message, add “email@example.com” in the CC field and write the dollar amount in the subject line. The service will send replies with steps to link both parties’ respective debit cards with zero fees.
Brick-and-mortar stores present the biggest hurdle to innovation, as the founder of Clinkle realized. Clinkle has raised over $25 million from 18 investors and aims to replace the contents of your wallet with an app. By digitizing your debit card, credit card and even your cash, you could be buying your next cup of coffee using your phone.
Imagine buying an Xbox by sending out a tweet. American Express is trying out a new service that lets you link your Twitter account with applicable cards to take advantage of special offers. Once connected, special offers will be available through hashtags like “#AmexAmazon,” which allows a Twitter user to get $25 back from a $75 purchase.
Whether or not you use hashtags yourself, this new development is surely a leap forward: it monetizes users on social media in a new way. Eventually, that progress could be part of your firm’s future.
Whether your firm’s website is adequately handling your billing needs or not, it’s worth the time to check out other options. They may allow you to engage your customers in even better ways.
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