1. Business Ideas
  2. Business Plans
  3. Startup Basics
  4. Startup Funding
  5. Franchising
  6. Success Stories
  7. Entrepreneurs
  1. Sales & Marketing
  2. Finances
  3. Your Team
  4. Technology
  5. Social Media
  6. Security
  1. Get the Job
  2. Get Ahead
  3. Office Life
  4. Work-Life Balance
  5. Home Office
  1. Leadership
  2. Women in Business
  3. Managing
  4. Strategy
  5. Personal Growth
  1. HR Solutions
  2. Financial Solutions
  3. Marketing Solutions
  4. Security Solutions
  5. Retail Solutions
  6. SMB Solutions
Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.
Grow Your Business Technology

What is a Virtual Merchant?

What is a Virtual Merchant?
. / Credit: Online Shopping Image via Shutterstock

A virtual merchant is a website that sells goods and services to the public via online transactions with debit and credit card processing. The end result is a fully online experience where consumers can virtually visit a store to browse goods, purchase them fully online and receive them in the mail several days later, all from the comfort of your personal computer.

Virtual merchants are made up of multiple features that basically make a website into an online store. Online stores provide e-commerce capabilities in the form of processing payments for orders and then shipping the goods or services either digitally or physically. Some brick and mortar companies may create a Web presence that only describes the store or displays the goods it sells, but they may not sell anything online.

Virtual merchants are a different breed from simple informational websites, utilizing a merchant account to create a secure online storefront. Merchant accounts create a contract between the store and online credit card processing companies. As part of this merchant account agreement, the virtual merchant pays the processor vendor a percentage of each transaction made via the online store. In some cases, this fee comes out to a monthly rate with a set per-transaction fee.

Virtual merchants expand the functionality of a website beyond a simple informational resource into a usable storefront. As is the case with most any type of online service, a virtual merchant service will help reduce overall work and costs associated with creating an online storefront, freeing you up to run your business as it was meant to be.

Using virtual merchant services for your website can benefit business in the following ways:

  • Improves customer service levels
  • Reduces administration and maintenance times for online retail websites
  • Removes geographic barrier from consumers, allowing for national and international sales
  • Facilitates more positive sales experiences
  • Easily integrates with your existing website for brand continuity

Making each transaction as secure as possible becomes a main selling point of any company trying to build credibility through a Web presence. Virtual merchant services become an ideal solution as they offer all the necessary security measures to protect and keep private each buyer’s payment information.

The end result becomes that the payment process is protected through secured-socket layering (SSL) encryption to prevent data interception during an order, and account information is stored in multi-tiered firewall protection.

The most important part of any online purchasing experience is the ease of the ordering process. Through the use of features like a shopping cart, purchasing all items in the cart and creating an account to remember purchasing information all contributes to customer retention. When a consumer chooses to buy their goods online, a typical order processing form will entail entering credit card and billing address information as well as a shipping address and shipping options.

Each of these functionalities is ultimately governed through virtual merchant software to ensure a seamless and painless experience. The software is often available in one of two formats, either hosted or in-house. As a hosted solution, the virtual merchant service maintains the payment portal and allows you to edit its look and essentially create your store on their servers and databases. As an in-house solution, you install the software onto your own website servers and integrate the merchant application into the existing website. Both offer inherent benefits from customization to reliable management, but it ultimately depends on a company’s overall needs.

Many virtual merchant services exist that cater to both online and offline business presences, though many that specialize in online retail offer more features and functionalities. These service providers offer virtual terminals to create a fully-functional payment gateway for processing purchases and creating a fluid shopping experience. Companies like Flagship Merchant Services, Merchant Warehouse and National Bankcard all stand out as among the most popular of options due to their low merchant account fees and comprehensive virtual merchant services.