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The best payment gateways and online payment systems

Startups reviews the most popular online payment gateways and their providers to help you to compare and to choose a secure payment system that has a price to suit your small business. (Last updated February 2021)

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These days, it's important that a retail business has as many sales channels as possible. Thankfully, it's super-easy to set up an online shop – all you need is an ecommerce website builder and a good payment gateway provider.

If you've yet to choose an ecommerce website builder, have a read of our ecommerce website page for guidance. For more information on the best payment gateway providers, stay here.



If you want to take online card payments, you’ll need a payment gateway. A payment gateway allows you to accept payments through your website. It adds another purchasing channel to your business, increasing the potential for more sales.

Not only do payment gateways allow customers to pay securely through your website, they provide a smooth, trustworthy user-experience. Customers should feel reassured that they’re inputting their payment information into a safe portal. 

With a range of payment gateway providers out there, it’s important to get to know the market to find the best fit for your small business. Our comparison tool is the simplest way for small businesses to find out which payment gateway provider they should trust with their online sales. 

It uses simple questions to pair business owners up with payment gateway providers, significantly reducing the amount of research they need to do. It even allows them to save money by comparing payment gateway fees from several payment providers.

Or, you can read on for a full run-down of the UK’s best payment gateway options for small businesses, including pros and cons, costs, and key features, to help you find the one that works best for you.


Top seven payment gateway providers at a glance

Payment gatewayBest forStarting price
WorldpayPopularity and familiarity£19/month
PayPalTransfers2.9%+ £0.20 (no monthly fee)
StripeFull service2.9% + £0.20 (no monthly fee)
Amazon PayEase of use2.7% + £0.30 (no monthly fee)
Shopify PaymentsSpecialist gateway provider2.2% + 20p (with basic Shopify package)
Sage PaySecurity£20.90/month
CardstreamCustomisation£18/month for 350 transactions

1. Worldpay: The UK’s number one payment gateway

 

worldpay screenshot

Worldpay is the UK’s most popular payment processing company. It currently processes around half of all payments taking place in the UK – and has some of the most flexible plans for small businesses. However, dealing with Worldpay is like dealing with any large provider. Customer service will be hit and miss, especially if you do have account issues… but its payment gateway product is solid.


Worldpay pros

Ultra-secure payments

Flexible price plans

All major cards accepted

Pay by link capabilities save time

Worldpay cons

Variable transaction fees

Not a complete ecommerce package

Hit and miss customer service


What's the Worldpay payment gateway like?

Flexible – Accepts over a hundred currencies as well as all major debit and credit cards, even PayPal

Comprehensive – Comes complete with an online merchant account which acts as a checking account for card payments

Secure – Worldpay takes your online security very seriously, and comprehensive fraud screening protects you and your customers

Pay by link – Worldpay enables you to send payment links to customers, meaning you don’t need a website to take online payments, and can save time on chasing invoices

Worldpay fees: What'll it cost me?

PackagePrice
Pay as you go2.75% + £0.20
Fixed monthlyFrom £19/month, plus 2.75% (credit cards), or 0.75% (debit cards).

Is Worldpay for me?

If you’re in the market for a flexible offering (with no joining fee), Worldpay could be for you. With advanced fraud protection, 24/7 customer support and a prolific reputation, you, your business, and your customers should be in safe hands with this payment gateway.

Its commitment to security and its ability to integrate with a range of ecommerce website builders and invoicing software doesn’t make it cheap, but as a trusted brand with a fairly decent customer service reputation, it’s probably worth the investment. 

Just make sure you’re aware this isn’t an end-to-end ecommerce solution, and you may need to team up with a third party ecommerce platform like Wix or BigCommerce in order to get online.

Would you like to know more about Worldpay? Read our dedicated Worldpay review!


2. PayPal: Best for fast transfers

 

payflow payment gateway

You may remember PayPal from such hit ecommerce websites as eBay, where it made checking out more pain-free than we ever thought possible. But PayPal is just as user-friendly for businesses as it is for customers.

Today, its payment gateway – named Payflow Gateway – is widely trusted, with over 220 million users worldwide. With variable transaction fees, its online payment system is nice and budget-friendly for businesses with ambitious sales – though less so for those with smaller targets.


PayPal Payflow pros

It's easy to pay with PayPal

Simple setup

A reliable payments solution

Robust fraud protection

Mobile-optimised site

International cards accepted

PayPal Payflow cons

High fees for low sales

The free version comes across as basic


What’s PayPal’s Payflow Gateway like?

Easy to use – An easy to use and flexible payments service that lets you tailor your online checkout to create the best shopping experience for your customers, including tweaking the layout to your brand’s desire

International – Sell products abroad and get paid from all over the world

Safe – An extra secure online payment solution with encryption and strict PCI compliance

Flexible – Supports all the main credit cards (including Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and even American Express)

A team player – PayPal Payments Pro integrates well with all main e-commerce platforms

Super speedy – The question on everyone’s lips – when do I get my money? – is where PayPal really is head and shoulders above the rest. Once you make a sale, you’ll be able to see the funds in your PayPal account almost instantly. By contrast, with many other payment processing providers you can expect a settlement time of two to three days

PayPal fees: What'll it cost me?

Fee typeCost
PayPal’s transaction fees2.9% plus 20p per transaction

Is PayPal for me?

PayPal’s online payments system is flexible and intuitive enough to work wonders for small businesses and start-ups, even first-timers.

And don’t worry, your customers don’t need a PayPal account to use PayPal Payments Pro – software you can integrate with Payflow Gateway to create a customisable online payment solution.

Payflow Gateway is especially perfect for international businesses (or any with their eyes set globally), as it accepts a whopping 26 currencies in over 200 markets.

Want to learn about some of PayPal’s other offerings? Check out our dedicated review of PayPal Here, the company’s card reader.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive payment service provider that can provide physical card machines and POS products for your brick-and-mortar shop – as well as stellar ecommerce solutions – why not check out our reviews of Payzone UK and First Data, as these could be great options for you.


Startups has partnered with a number of payment gateway suppliers that provide payment services for small businesses. You can find out which one of our partners is best for your business, simply by heading over to our questionnaire and answering a few basic questions. The questionnaire tells us what we need to know to pair you with the right providers. In 2020, over 1,500 businesses found their provider through us, so why not give it a go!


3. Stripe: The best full service payment provider

 

Stripe payment gateway

Stripe is a full service payment provider – that means it includes your payment gateway and your merchant account – and is the go-to for creating your own customised payment system. Despite being trusted by huge brands including Deliveroo, Booking.com, and ASOS, Stripe is designed for businesses of all sizes, and gives you the option of a hosted payments page or full website integration.


Stripe pros

Clear pricing with no hidden fees

Intuitive platform

Recurrent payment option

Live sales reporting

Great fees for EU cards

Some tech know-how needed

Stripe cons

Unfavourable rates for non-EU cards

Up to seven-day settlement delay


What's the Stripe Online Payment System like?

Extra speedy – Digital wallets, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, give customers an extra speedy way of paying with Stripe, and you can save time with automated dispute handling too

Powerful – Stripe supports handy features like mobile payments, subscription services and one-click checkouts

Robust – Billions of pounds pass through this platform each year, in hundreds of currencies. Take payments from over a 150 currencies and receive them in pound sterling

Safe – Stripe offers secure payment processing with added authentication to protect you from fraud or costly chargebacks

User-friendly – Stripe’s handy dashboard enables you to gain a 360 view of your payments. There's even a mobile dashboard so you can check sales performance on the go

Clear – Even the pricing structure is as flexible as the software: you can choose to pay for the stuff you really want – and cut out any fluff

Nearly complete – You’ll just need your own website and shopping cart to get selling online

Stripe fees: What'll it cost me?

Payment methodFee per transaction
EU cards1.4% plus 20p
Non-EU cards2.9% plus 20p

Is Stripe for me?

Stripe is a great online payments solution for small to medium businesses that operate in a range of industries, especially across Europe – in addition to offering a full stack pay-as-you-go solution, it offers favourable rates for European cards. 

Its ultra-clear pricing makes Stripe ideal for low-volume businesses who simply want to keep an eye on cashflow and avoid nasty surprises. Even better is the fact that Stripe pays out in two days – one of the quickest transfer times – making it even easier to manage your money. 

Plus, if you run a subscription service (like a magazine), you’ll like Stripe’s recurrent payment features.

But beware – while this platform has plenty of helpful guides, and offers a hosted payments page for those that aren't too tech-savvy, those that make full use of its API will get the most out of its platform. 

Want to learn more about Stripe? Read our dedicated Stripe review.


4. Amazon Pay: Best for ease of use

 

Amazon Pay

Many of us will know how easy Amazon makes the whole checkout process – over 310 million of us to be exact. And if that’s what you have in mind for your own marketplace, Amazon Pay is a great option.

It cuts down on admin both for you and your customers by recycling the details you and your customers have already provided in Amazon accounts, so people can sail through the purchasing stage.


 

Amazon Pay pros

A trusted brand

Quick checkouts

Customer details are verified

Good integration with sites

Amazon Pay cons

High fees for low sales

Three to five-day settlement times

Doesn't accept PayPal


What's Amazon Pay like?

Generous – Amazon Pay has bags of ecommerce tools to help you sell your goods

Open – Amazon Pay enables you to complete transactions on your own site

Fierce – Sophisticated fraud detection technology helps shield you from bad debt, while Amazon’s free A-to-Z guarantee protects your customers

Sales-boosting – You can also help grow loyal customers with recurring payment options

Secure – Because Amazon customers have a trusted login, it’s easy for you to verify their accounts

Custom-fit – It's easy to customise using free plugins

Amazon fees: What'll it cost me?

Amazon Pay comes with no hidden costs, lock-in or monthly fees. In fact, with this online payment system you only pay for the transactions you make:

Fee typeCost
Processing fee2.7% + 30p

Is Amazon Pay for me?

There's no doubt that Amazon Pay is a good option for small businesses. Riding on the back of Amazon's brand, you can instil an element of trust, ensuring more people make it to the end of the checkout process. In addition to its traditional checkout, Amazon gives you the option to embed ‘buy now' buttons into your website, and set up recurring billing.

One thing to mention is Amazon won't allow customers to pay with PayPal, however there are ways around this if your customer has a PayPal cash card. But with Amazon Pay enabling customers to pay simply by logging into their Amazon account, it's certainly a way of ensuring customers check out before they've had the chance to change their mind!


5. Shopify Payments: Best specialist payment gateway

 

Shopify payment gateway

As well as providing a payment gateway, Shopify is a popular complete ecommerce system in the UK, offering everything you need to start selling online.

Just bear in mind that if you choose to move away from Shopify Payments and integrate a third party payment gateway provider into your Shopify website, payment gateway fees will be less favourable!


Shopify Payments pros

The full ecommerce package

Free 14-day trial

Very affordable prices

Over 100 customisable themes

Abandoned cart recovery

Shopify payments cons

Exclusive to Spotify customers only

Costs more to integrate your site with a third party payment provider


What's Shopify like?

Free trial – Shopify is one of the only online payment gateways to offer a 14-day free trial, so you can try out this ecommerce platform before you buy

No credit card needed – You can join Shopify without a credit card

Full-fat – Shopify is an all-you-can-eat full ecommerce package, and has all you need to get up and running

Cheap – Shopify is one of the cheapest payment gateways, and ideal for small businesses on a shoestring

Shopify fees: What'll it cost me?

Shopify’s transaction fees are all you’ll pay – including for web hosting, a shopping cart, a blog and an SSL certificate.

Fee typeCost
Transaction fees2.2% plus 20p (with the basic package), 1.6% plus 20p (with the advanced package)
Monthly fees£23 (basic),£234 (advanced)
Fee to use an external gateway (only applies if you don’t use Shopify Payments)2% (basic), 0.5% (advanced)

Is Shopify Payments for me?

Shopify was made for anyone who’s keen to take the hassle out of selling online.

Thanks to a combination of attractive templates, search engine optimisation tools, and – most importantly – it's in house payment gateway, Shopify offers an easy and cost-effective way for small businesses to expand their sales channels.

So, if you’re looking for a complete online payment system that includes everything you need to start selling and taking payments online, Shopify Payments is an ideal contender for small businesses. 

Want to learn more about Shopify? Check out our dedicated Shopify review. Or, give their two-week free trial a go.


6. Sage Pay: Best for security

 

Sage card processing

Sage Pay is an all-in-one merchant account and payment gateway service. It's recognised for offering exceptional levels of security, while providing small businesses right through to large corporations fair rates for processing transactions.

Its payment gateway is fully customisable, which means you can create a checkout system that suits the feel of your website, and you can even choose Sage for your face-to-face sales to keep all of your payment data in one place.


Sage Pay pros

Leading reputation

Simple checkouts

Clear, flat fees

A trusted brand

Sage Pay cons

Some tech know-how needed

Support calls cost 2p per minute


What's Sage Pay like?

Flexible – Sage Pay puts a range of payment methods at your fingertips, including mobile and online payments

In-depth – It’s a full payment solution, from start to end

Supportive – Supports all payment methods in around 30 global currencies

Customisable – You’re free to tailor your pages to your specific needs

Fast – You should see your money in your bank within two working days

Protective – The auto-invoicing function helps keep you safe (and your books in check)

Analytical – MySagePay gives you a clear snapshot of how your payments are looking

Goes the extra mile – Sage Pay’s virtual terminal enables you to take payments over the phone

Sage Pay fees: What'll it cost me?

PackagePrice
Sage Pay Flex£19.90,
Credit Card of 2.09% Debit Card of 0.74%
Sage Pay Plus£45 per month
Credit Card of 2.09% Debit Card of 0.74%

Is Sage Pay for me?

Although Sage Pay has grown over the years, it still remain favourable with small businesses. The payment gateway provider hasn't forgotten its roots, with its small business packages ideal for those getting their online business off the ground.

With its online flex package costing just £19.90/month, Sage Pay is great for small businesses that don't take more than 350 transactions per month. If you upgrade to its Online Plus package, you pay £45/month for 500 transactions – this is more on par with WorldPay's offering.

The downside to Sage Pay is the provider usually ties businesses into a three year contract. That said, the provider gives very little reason to leave, with package upgrades, reasonable rates, and decent customer service all part of the deal.


7. Cardstream: Best for customisation

Cardstream payment gateway

Cardstream is a fully customisable payment gateway provider, enabling you to make branded payment gateway screens and receipts.

Unlike Sage Pay, Cardstream doesn't tie you into a lengthy contract. And while bigger payment gateway providers like WorldPay struggle with customer service, Cardstream seems to excel in this area. 

Because it's not attached to an acquiring bank, and its solution is white label, it means there's certainly more to do when getting it set up. So, those looking for convenience may wish to choose an all-in-one solution.


Cardstream pros

Create a customised payment gateway

Independent from acquiring banks

Doesn't cost anything to set up

Doesn't set a transaction limit

Cardstream cons

Fees aren't transparent

Ties you into a 12 month contract


What's Cardstream like?

Customisable – Create your own branded payment gateway

Independent – Choose Cardstream no matter your acquiring bank

Recurring payments – Set up and accept recurring card payments

Currencies – Supports multiple currencies

Alerts – Alerts on chargebacks

Cardstream fees: What'll it cost me?

Monthly fee£18/month

Is Cardstream for me?

If you're looking to create a professional end to end purchasing experience for anyone visiting your site or social media pages, Cardstream could be a winner. As the only ‘white label' payment gateway provider, businesses can create branded payment pages and receipts, ensuring familiarity throughout the entire user-journey.

In addition to being a white label supplier, Cardstream isn't attached to an acquiring bank. This means you're free to choose a merchant account provider that offers the best rates for your business. Thankfully, Cardstream has relationships with the likes of Barclays, Worldpay, PaySafe, and loads more, so the provider really does give you the best of both worlds.

Cardstream offers businesses heaps of features, including chargeback alerts and the option to set up repeat payments – all for £18/month. £18 includes 350 transactions. After 350, Cardstream charges businesses 9p per transaction. While these rates are pretty good, bear in mind that you have your separate merchant account fees to consider, too.


Which is the best payment gateway for me?

The best online payment system will make it cheap, easy and safe for your customers to pay you, from wherever they find your products. It will be secure, allow you to control your customers’ data, as well as offer a seamless customer journey that accepts all major payment cards. The best payment gateway will suit your budget and offer support when you need it.

Tips for choosing the right payment gateway for your business

When it comes to payment gateways, there’s a lot to consider and it can be hard to streamline your approach. To help with this, we’ve created a handy list of what to look out for when it comes to choosing the perfect payment gateway for your startup.

  • Security
    This is important for both you and your customers. Keep your eye out for PCI-compliance (crucial for accepting credit card payments)
  • Data portability
    Who owns your customer’s data if you choose to leave your gateway?Make sure you know how to download and move the data you need to sustain your merchant services without breaking GDPR
  • Hosted/integrated gatewayswhat’s the difference?
    A hosted gateway will redirect your customers to the payment processor’s platform (they’re easy to set up and ideal for new businesses)
    An integrated gateway connects to your eCommerce website via the gateway’s provided API (meaning that your customers will never leave your site to input payment information)
  • The customer journey
    Customers will be looking for convenience, clarity and security – things to avoid include too many steps and too many details required from the customer, as this will take too much time and increase the chances of the customer abandoning the purchase
  • Cards accepted
    It’s standard for payment gateways to accept all major credit and debit cards, but double check (and if the gateway accepts American Express, that’s a bonus – be sure to check the processing fees though!)
  • Mobile optimisation
    Phones are the future of e-commerce, and if your payment gateway isn’t geared up for smartphones, then you’re probably missing out on some serious sales opportunities
  • Fees
    Each payment gateway charges a different amount for credit, debit and overseas transactions – so be sure to swat up on what the charges are and make sure you’re not going over budget
  • Customer support
    If your gateway goes down, you won’t be able to accept payment for your products (which is bad news for business) so it’s important that your payment gateway provider has an efficient customer support network that can help out with any problems, any time

Best online payment providers UK

Our research shows that the best online payment providers for UK businesses are:

  • WorldPay – has pay-by-link capabilities, flexible price plans, and accepts all major cards; good for popularity/familiarity
  • PayPal – simple to set up and use and offers robust fraud protection; best for fast online payment transfers
  • Stripe – offers live sales reporting, clear pricing and great fees for EU cards; best full service provider
  • Amazon Pay – allows for quick checkouts and is a familiar, trusted brand; best for ease of use
  • Shopify Payments– a full, low-cost ecommerce package that's customisation to over 100 themes; best specialist online payment gateway
  • Sage Pay has simple checkouts and has a leading, trusted reputation in the industry; best for security
  • Cardstream – offers a fully customisable payment gateway page, and lots of features, including recurring payments

Compare payment gateways

Ready to nail down the right merchant account service for you? Keen to talk through your options? The simplest way to find the best payment methods for your small business is to talk directly to the UK’s leading providers today. 

You can receive quotes based on your business needs specifically, allowing you to compare options that are relevant to your requirements – without comparing quotes, you could miss out on the most suitable packages.

Now you know the kind of range on offer, would you like to filter out the merchant account options that best match your needs and budget? Try answering a few quick and easy questions using our payment gateways comparison tool to receive custom quotes from top providers.

Compare Card Payment Quotes Today. Compare and save.

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Aimee Bradshaw
Aimee Bradshaw

Senior Writer and Researcher

Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.

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