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Empowering Your Payment Ambitions: A Guide to Choosing the Optimal Fuel for Success

By Jacob Omaits, Software Engineer

November 24, 2023
 ·  8 minutes
Two cyclists in a race. One in a white and black jersey with black helmet and the other with a green and black jersey with white helmets. The cyclist with the black and green jersey is in the lead.

TL;DR: Winning market share is difficult. You and your team are racing daily to end up in first place. To be successful, you must invest heavily into your technology. There are some key technical aspects of any integration you should carefully consider. Don’t put low octane fuel into your carefully tuned race machine!

Why it Matters

Being successful in business and racing share many similarities: A strategy is first developed, followed by investments into products, crew and technology.  In racing, despite perfection in each of these key areas, you will quickly stall your ambitions by overlooking something as simple as the quality of fuel used to power your machine. Your ambitions and capabilities should be reflected by the solutions you use to power them. Building the F1 car is the hard part; choosing between $10/gallon race fuel or $3/gallon convenience store gasoline is a no-brainer.  Also, in business, when you explore your payment processing capabilities, there are several key considerations that are often not easily quantified, or in some cases identified. Teams outside of the tech organization would be wise to have the tech team weigh in on each of the key criteria outlined below. Those within tech would be equally wise to ensure their business partners have a thorough understanding of the unseen, technical impacts of the systems they may be integrating.

The racing quote above is very applicable to the world of commerce. Fuel your ambitions with a high quality solution that won’t slow you down.

Selecting a new payment technology provider

Selection criteria for a new payment  provider greatly varies; based on who you ask. The finance team may be very focused on the pricing model, settlement times, reconciliation, payment methods, etc. The technology team, naturally, will be mostly interested in the tech and user experiences of the products that make these things happen.  Though tech teams may not have final decision making authority in awarding a contract, and organizations likely won't choose a solution based solely on its tech offering, these days, it has become obligatory to ensure technology investment aligns with the overall tech strategy of an organization. 

Investing in top talent, cutting edge tools and architecture makes little sense if that will quickly be hamstrung by a dated payment platform. The next section lists and breakdowns some key tech considerations for selecting a payment technology.

Key technical considerations

Engineering Integration Efficiency

Depending on the scale and complexity, integration of a new payment technology will likely be complicated. This can be mitigated by selecting a provider with a simple, intuitive API and a robust acceptance solution. Each day spent getting to parity with your current solution is pure expense. Each day saved on maintenance and feature development after going live is incremental cost savings. 

It can be difficult to measure engineering efficiency based on specs and promises. Instead, carve out some time for a brief proof of concept (POC): Two weeks of validation will go a long way to ensure you are making an informed decision. Even better, attempt this POC without any provider involvement or, if possible, awareness. This will quickly reveal how intuitive and simple the solution is, as well as how much emphasis the provider has placed on user experience.  You'll likely also reveal how much time your team will spend in meetings and on calls ironing out details – ideally, that number should be as close to zero as possible. This will help identify a provider that understands their user (you) and works in a manner consistent with engineering best practices.

For implementing the POC, keep it simple: Assign some simple objectives (e.g., PCI compliant card acceptance, multiple partial capture, refunds, etc.), and timebox each solution. Carefully log the effort expended on each step and share this with your business team.  Most engineers love this sort of exercise! You will gain tremendous insights that:

  • Will help extrapolate future cost savings, and estimate integration timeline. 

  • Will get you a clearer picture of how your engineers will spend their day-to-day on the integration. 

  • Your business partners will appreciate – showing the lengths you have gone to provide input into the total cost of ownership.

Total Cost of Ownership

When determining the total cost of any integration, the natural instinct is to begin adding up the line items – this is indeed a critical first step.  Once those costs are well understood, the real work begins. What new features does this provider enable you to achieve? What is the incremental revenue as a result of that? What about the toil that your team is now subjected to? These are some questions whose answers will tell you more about the overall appeal of a solution.

Some examples:

  • Is there a single point of contact for store and online? If not, expect to manage multiple relationships. Of course, that means restating, rehashing, and likely more meetings. 

  • What about reconciliation? Are all channels cleanly represented in a single view? Or has the provider acquired one solution and hastily bolted it to their stack?

  • How about compliance software updates? Does the provider take this burden off of your plate? Or will you be burdened with future code changes to bring your integration up to par with changes on their end?

Product Confidence 

In some cases, providers may purchase solutions to replace aging products. Oftentimes, the old solution is sunset and the merchant is expected to expend their own engineering effort to shift their usage to the new offering.  While this is not completely avoidable, you should strive for very little toil of this nature since it will likely yield no financial gain. 

Here are some questions you want to ask yourself to help evaluate/sniff out the likelihood of this release/replace cycle:

  • Are they offering a conglomeration of systems? or, Is it a single, integrated product?  Stay away from providers that will require you to connect dots between their system offerings.

  • Do their APIs have a very consistent and predictable interface?

  • Does the provider have different brand names applied to each of their products and offer them à la carte? For example: different products for tokenizing cards or building settlement reports. This answer gives  a clue on if they have been acquired and cobbled together.

  • Is the provider contracting with another tech partner to build their products?

The ideal approach is to partner with a provider that offers a consistent, predictable and continuously improved product, not a provider whose product quickly stagnates and is entirely replaced.  A provider with a history of investing and improving their own products gives a rather clear signal as to how they are likely to invest into the future. It also says quite a bit about confidence in their own products. If the provider is not confident enough to invest in their own products, why should you?

Robust Feature Offering

It can be daunting trying to digest the myriad of payment methods available. There is no right or wrong answer when determining payment offerings.  Complicating that point, once you decide on your payment methods, your customer is likely to change their mind. For this reason, it is highly critical to select a provider with a payment solution that gives you the choice and ability to change on a moment's notice.  Selecting a payments solution with limited offering will eventually lead to your inability to give customers what they want. Choosing a best-in-class provider, with a focus on diversity, is good insurance against evolving customer satisfaction and global expansion. 

This also reveals the provider’s desire to be cutting edge, and that they focus on end-user wants and needs. If they are touting the addition of a mainstream payment method years after it became universally available, it is likely they will always be playing catch-up.  A simple check you can do to flesh this out is rewind the clock to a pivotal point in your company's history: Did they support “Buy Now, Pay Later” in 2020 when consumers demanded these options? How about 2018? How forward thinking are they and how likely are they to support you when you need to fight for incremental sales?

Flexibility

Payment technologies have been getting a lot of attention in recent years. During lockdown, that attention was magnified to a significant degree. Retailers raced to roll out new features which would capture sales. Speed was key and success was limited to those which had previously invested in best-in-class technology, affording them the flexibility to quickly adapt to evolving expectations.  Retailers with the capability to quickly respond to these changing needs won the day. Many large retailers were stuck on the outside, looking in and paralyzed by their own integrations – they lost sales to retailers that were able to respond to consumer demands.  Granted, 2020 was an aberration. However, less dramatic innovations in mobile or wearable technology, biometrics, etc. may have a similar impact. Flexibility ensures you are able to react swiftly and decisively.

Feature Roadmap

The feature roadmap will help reveal what the solution may look like years from now. It also can reveal how forward thinking the provider is. Lack of a clear roadmap implies a very reactionary mindset.  In this scenario, the provider will likely "wait and see" what features are expected before scoping and building. Of course, this results in a significant hurdle for you when it comes to enabling that in your own system.  You can even request to see a prior roadmap; compare that with the current state. This will help reveal how likely they are to use this roadmap to navigate going forward. If they will not share the roadmap with you, they probably don't have one or aren't confident in the follow-through.

Engineer Quality of Life

Engineers don't come cheap and are hard to find. It is important to ensure you are using them efficiently and they remain happy. Top tier engineers want to focus on building things quickly and use their time wisely. Asking them to work through highly monotonous workflows and dated integrations is a great way to push away top tier engineers, and create a culture of inefficiency with those that are left behind. In an ideal world, the Engineering Team will be able to focus on their own systems rather than spend time trying to get provider services to behave in a way that supports their work. Payments processing is a complex engineering niche. Onboarding new engineers in this space takes more time than other domains. Turnover here can be particularly detrimental to your roadmap.

In closing, the key principle to focus on is choosing a solution that enables your engineers and product team to deliver features to your users, when they want them. Choosing wrong can set you up for many years of laborious work and a team of disgruntled engineers. Helping the finance team understand the value proposition of a good solution is key.  There are many considerations beyond the technical but do not let your organization undervalue the technical considerations!

A personal note

Through my 10 years working at a large US-based omni retailer as an Engineer and Engineering Leader, I have personally experienced both ends of the spectrum. Further, I can personally attest to the struggles of using a poor provider solution and how enabling a good one can be. There was a time I was frustrated and ready to move on from the payments domain. After employing the above principles in our search for a new provider, we opted to integrate with Adyen. This renewed my passion for Payments and also allowed us to modernize our systems internally with speed and technique which would not have been possible otherwise. We delivered features at a pace which was never before possible.


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