Comparison Websites for Merchant Processing: A Fragmented and Noisy, But Viable Market
As competition in U.S. acquiring continues to intensify and acquirers continue to focus on lead source management as a primary competitive dimension, the Internet is of increasing importance. Comparison websites are a source of leads from the Internet and present a merchant with information about acquirers, links to multiple acquirers’ websites, and/or a single application process to receive merchant processing quotes from multiple acquirers. There are many merchant processing comparison websites and the market is very fragmented. A significant proportion of such comparison sites are content-light, including only links to acquirers’ websites and not positioning themselves as a merchant advocate or as a value added provider. On the other hand, many of the sites are relatively feature rich, and it is these sites that are the subject of the remainder of this analysis. If you search the web for any number of terms that a merchant seeking an acquirer would use – for example, “merchant services,” “process credit cards,” “credit card processing quote” – at least one merchant processing comparison website will, most likely, be in the top ten or twenty search results.
There is quite a lot of noise in the market. There are many comparison websites that have poorly designed and even poorly functioning interfaces which presents a challenge for the well-managed comparison websites in that it undermines the credibility of comparison websites as a mechanism to find an acquirer. The well-managed comparison websites add functionality and value to their sites by providing merchants with a single application process to receive quotes from multiple acquirers, displaying merchant testimonials regarding the comparison site, advertising statistics on average savings of merchants that use their services, identifying the names of the acquirers that provide the merchant account, and providing explanations of how their economic models work. In some cases there are even reviews and profiles of acquirers. Figure 1 below shows examples of how comparison websites demonstrate features and functionality on their sites.
Figure 1: Examples of Merchant Processing Comparison Websites and Demonstrations of Features and Functionality
Source: Company websites and First Annapolis Consulting research and analysis.
As indicated in Figure 1, some of the comparison sites indicate the names of acquirers that are providing the merchant accounts to their customers through a single application process on their website. For the most part, the acquirers named on the comparison sites tend to be small acquirers and ISOs. In fact, top 20 largest acquirers in terms of bank card volume are named infrequently. For example, the comparison site Ampyourcashflow.com indicates that the merchant account providers are Capital Bankcard, Cardaccept, Cash Advance New York, First Data, Jackson Capital Group, MerchantBrokers.biz, North American Bancard, Total Merchant Services, and WorldPay. WorldPay and First Data are the only top 20 acquirers and North American Bancard and Total Merchant Services are among the top 30 largest acquirers while the remaining acquirers/ISOs on the list are small. Buyerzone.com also lists the acquirers and ISOs providing the merchant accounts including Cardaccept, First American Card Service, Titan Merchant Services, First Data, Premier Merchant Processing, Sage Payment Solutions, National Bankcard, eMerchantPay Corporation, Sigman Business Solutions, and Data One Payments Solutions. In this case, the small acquirers and ISOs are also predominant.
These comparison websites act as a lead source for acquirers and are compensated by an acquirer when the merchant signs up with the acquirer. In the acquiring market, competition has led acquirers to become more aggressive in the lead sources they use, and merchants have become more focused on finding the best pricing. This pattern suggests that there may be a supply and demand match for this type of business model. However, the better managed comparison websites have a battle to fight to prove that they are credible in a market where there are so many similar sites that appear to be content-light shells that do little more than provide links to a handful of ISOs’ websites.
For more information, please contact Lacy McDonnell, Senior Consultant specializing in Merchant Acquiring, firstname.lastname@example.org
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