A Better Sales Process for Your Customers

A Better Sales Process for Your Customers


“Usability” is a catch-all word that we throw around to describe why the Apple iPad is better than the Motorola Xoom, or why WordPress is easier to use than Typepad (in our opinion). It looks and feels better, it’s more intuitive, and our expectations – aka our mental models – are satisfied when we engage with it.

Similarly, the checkout process of any e-commerce site runs the risk of poor usability, which can ultimately affect whether a customer completes a purchase or not. Last summer, we performed a major overhaul of the PhotoShelter shopping cart which was designed to make the process of shopping easier. This included things like:

  • Dynamically indicating that items were in the shopping cart.
  • Batch adding of items.
  • Product “packages” for offering discount on bundled items.

The proof is in the pudding. We saw a 200+% increase in successful checkouts since the release, so we empirically know that improving usability translated into a better bottom line.

But we were unable to affect one key component: the actual payment mechanism. There are two main categories of payment types: 1) integrated and 2) redirected.

An integrated payment solution  is the one you’re most familiar with from online shopping. You click “checkout,” enter your credit card number, and the authorization and success message occur within the website. This is ideal because it eliminates steps, maintains branding, and matches the expectation of the user (imagine if you went to the Gap, were ready to pay, and they told you to go across the street to the deli to complete your sale). Our integrated payment solutions include Netbilling and Authorize.net, two trusted companies that can provide you with a merchant account. The downside is that there are monthly charges associated with these offerings, and so they are only appropriate for high volume sellers, and not transient sellers.

PayPal is a redirected payment mechanism, whereby your customer must be bounced over to PayPal to complete the transaction. PayPal offers a free account option which is great for most photographers who don’t have regular online sales. But the problem comes at the POS (point of sale). When your customer tries to pay, they are redirected  to PayPal. And although your customer doesn’t technically need a PayPal account to complete the sale, they make it really difficult to understand that.

In the redirected payment scenario, your customer does not enter billing information into PhotoShelter. Instead, they are prompted to "Continue to PayPal."

The customer then waits a few seconds for the page to redirect.

Although they are not required to have a PayPal account, the most prominent field on the page is a login box, which can scare away potential customers.

Because most of our photographers use PayPal, most of our photographers’ customers encounter this issue. And quite honestly, it sucks from a usability perspective.

So we were psyched to find Stripe, which is a cool start-up offering an integrated solution. Here’s the dealio:

  • No sign up fee
  • No monthly fee
  • 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • 7 day wait before disbursing your funds

An integrated payment solution allows your customers to enter their billing information within your website. They never leave your website during the entire purchase process.

The day we launched this offering, dozens of photographers switched over to Stripe (including me), and started selling. Photographer Jon Longo shared his experience:

“Setup was straight forward. I like the fact the there was no waiting period prior to processing the first transaction. I am not real keen on the 7 day waiting period but its really not than big of a deal. I was using paypal before and never had any issues with them directly but I can tell you for a fact that I have lost a large amount in sales because people think they have to have a paypal acct to purchase.  I would think that this happens with other photographers as well.”

Waiting to Get Paid

Jon’s comment about the 7-day waiting period is relevant, and merits discussion. There are a lot of photographer sales websites out there, but many of them act as the “merchant of record” when you make a sale. This means that they collect the proceeds from a sale for you, then disburse them to you after 30-days or when you hit a certain threshold (e.g. $100).

When we were researching photographer sales many years ago, it became clear to us that cash flow was a major concern for photographers. Work could be sporadic and seasonal, and some editorial clients don’t pay for 90 days. So while a photographer’s income might be strong, they could be in a crunch for cash more often than they’d like. Therefore, collecting cash at the point of sale is hugely important to business continuity.

This is why when you sell with PhotoShelter, you are the merchant of record. Granted, Stripe holds your money for 7 days, but this is still much better than waiting for 30 days, or having to request that they transfer what should be your money. The point is that when you’re evaluating e-commerce features, make sure that you’re investigating the factors that actually affect your business, and not just the bells and whistles that are nice-to-haves.

To learn more about Stripe and how you can easily set it up on your PhotoShelter account in 3 minutes or less, visit “PhotoShelter Introduces A New Way To Get Paid”.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 9 comments for this article
  1. Bob Fisher at 11:26 am

    Actually, what you see as integrated may actually be redirected in many cases. With the needs of PCI compliance, many companies that accept online payments are using a ‘hosted gateway’, or similar solutions. The payment process is actually redirected to the website of the merchant service provider but the payment page is completely branded to look just like the site of the retailer. To the customer it looks like they never left the retailer’s website. Once the payment process is complete, they simply go back to where they were previously. It’s completely seamless to the customer. This puts the onus for record keeping and much of the PCI compliance onto the merchant services provider rather than the retailer.

    I’d be highly skeptical that Stripe is actually a fully integrated solution. The reason I’m skeptical is because then every photographer who uses it would have to be verified as PCI compliant. Not a process that many photographers are going to (a) want to go through or (b) can afford the cost to become PCI compliant. Looking at Stripe’s website, it explicitly states that information is stored on their servers and not the merchant’s. They use an API which does much the same thing as a hosted gateway. It’s essentially a redirect for payment authorisation and record keeping.

  2. Derek Fogg at 12:10 pm

    Interesting that this post should come out just after I have been highlighting the problems with the current PS checkout process to Ruby(Customer Support) Allen’s words above about Paypal have just reiterated everything I said to Ruby. Convinced loosing sales because of it. Has I am UK based Stripe is not available so alternatives need to be found or existing process streamlined or made more customer friendly ASAP.

  3. Emeric Prodiko at 1:58 pm

    So now, above the 8 to 10% transaction fee PS is taking, you add 3% more… You must have lost your mind. The good thing is that you have now publicly admitted that your usability “sucks”, so being also outside the US, I join Derek to urge you to find better solutions.

  4. Nancy C. Faria at 1:12 pm

    I looked into a PS website but didn’t go with you cause I had to use PayPal. I may have to research PS again. @Emeric-check out PayPals’ fees. They are not free. Perhaps when Stripe gets more established, they will cut down on the 7 days.

  5. David Dodds at 6:08 am

    Wasn’t George 911 Bush responsible for saying something like..’we must get this message to the world..! Oh! And also internationally.’

  6. Volker Adamietz at 12:34 pm

    Would be great, if it would work in Europe/Austria – too!!! {:-)

    Another great feature request – please bring UTF-8-Support to create correct Umlaute in German!

    Europe is not as far away you may think. ☺

    cheers, Volker Adamietz

  7. Blue Popovic at 1:31 pm

    hello Allen,

    I am considering re-joining Photoshelter…but the e-commerce usability implementation for UK customers is of concern to me. I hear Squarespace e-commerce customers are already able to use Stripe’s beta. So, what is actually the case with Photoshelter and UK customers? Thank you for clarifying that point!


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