7 best payment gateway and online payment systems 2024

We review the pros, cons and costs of the most popular online payment gateways, to find you the best deal on the perfect small business payment system.

Our Research

Our expert team of writers and researchers worked to identify the best payment processing and merchant account providers by focusing on the factors small businesses care about most – value for money, including fees and hidden extras; security protocols and fraud protection; customer support, and ease of access across platforms including mobile.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
Heleana Neil

Startups.co.uk is reader supported – we may earn a commission from our recommendations, at no extra cost to you and without impacting our editorial impartiality.

If your business needs to accept online payments from customers, you’ll need a payment gateway to process the transactions.

Our team of researchers found that Worldpay is the best payment gateway for SMEs for 2024. For small firms without an in-house tech team, it offers top-notch support and strong security tools if you encounter an issue.

While many of providers will claim to be the “most affordable” or “the most feature-rich”, our in-depth research into this category will cover the good and the bad of the top providers, helping you save time and make the right choice for your small business.

Best payment gateway providers at a glance:

  1. Worldpay: Best for selling personalised goods
  2. PayPal: Best for selling internationally
  3. Stripe: Best for clothing stores
  4. Amazon: Best for new businesses under one year
  5. Shopify Payments: Best for Shopify stores
  6. Opayo: Best for creative sectors
  7. Cardstream: Best for service industries

Don’t overspend – you can click any of the links above to compare payment gateway fees and setup costs for the size and needs of your own business.

Today’s poor economy places a significant burden on small business owners. An increasing number of customers expect a fast, smooth checkout experience which is why it is of utmost importance for you to choose a service with good value for money and superior security features that can help protect you against financial losses.

You can get free payment gateway quotes with 🔍our simple cost comparison tool. This obligation-free tool only takes a few minutes to complete. It can help any business owner quickly understand the types of fees they’ll encounter, and save time when comparing payment gateway providers.

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Amazon Pay

Shopify Payments



Cheapest paid-for plan:

£19.95 per month

1.5% transaction fee for Mastercard and Visa Card transactions

Cheapest paid-for plan:

2.9%+ £0.30 per transaction (no monthly fee)

Cheapest paid-for plan:

1.5% + 20p (no monthly fee)

Cheapest paid-for plan:

2.7% + £0.30 (no monthly fee)

Cheapest paid-for plan:

£19 per month

Cheapest paid-for plan:

£27 per month for 350 transactions

Cheapest paid-for plan:

£18 per month for 350 transactions

Best for:

Businesses selling personalised goods

Best for:

Businesses selling internationally

Best for:

Online clothing stores

Best for:

Businesses younger than one year

Best for:

Shopify stores

Best for:

Creative sectors

Best for:

Service industries

*Pricing is correct as of March 2024

What to look for in a payment gateway provider

When choosing a payment gateway provider for your business, your best choice is to go for a secure, trusted brand with favourable transaction charges to maximise your profits. The best payment gateways from our research include WorldPay, PayPal, and Stripe – although the ideal solution for your business may vary depending on the type of transactions you process.

You’ll also need to open a merchant account to house your funds when they come in. Business overheads are high amid the cost of living crisis, and certain providers have dramatically increased transaction fees since the UK left the EU, so it’s vital that business owners save where they can.

We’ve reviewed the top providers for key features including transfer time (how long it will take to get your money), hidden fees (what you’ll be charged on top of your subscription fee), and security (how the provider can protect you against payment fraud).

1. Worldpay: best for businesses selling personalised goods

Worldpay checkout

Image: Worldpay.com. Worldpay’s payment gateway gives customers a traditional looking checkout screen with multiple payment options

Worldpay is the best gateway for businesses selling high-value, customised products. The provider scored highest in our research for customer service thanks to its many support channels (email, live chat, and 24/7 phone help), making it simple to access ecommerce troubleshooting if you are a retailer with a complex purchasing process (such as a jeweller).

Selling bespoke goods often means dealing with high-value transactions. Worldpay’s trusted status means it has strong security features including PCI DSS compliance (an industry standard for protecting card data) and a Risk Management Mechanism (RMM) to block suspicious activity and protect against financial losses.

Keith Donovan, founder of Startup Stumbles, says:

Security is non-negotiable - our customers trust us with sensitive information, so we owe it to them to take security seriously. Only use a provider that offers top-notch encryption, fraud monitoring, and data protection. Similarly, seek out stellar support. I’ve found that responsive customer service can make or break your experience.

Visit Startup Stumbles

What’s good about Worldpay?

As well as receiving superb support, there are a lot of benefits to choosing Worldpay if you sell personalised goods and care about offering top-quality customer service. Its huge market presence means it has a wide range of processing options available to cater to every customer need, including:

  • Digital and mobile wallet payments (stores payment information for contactless purchases)
  • FastAccess funding (allows businesses to transfer refunds to customer cards, typically within 30 minutes)
  • Gift cards (allows customers to redeem their gift card balance for online purchases)

Another advantage to Worldpay is its pricing. Worldpay offers some of the most flexible plans for small businesses, including one (Worldpay eCommerce) that comes with no monthly fee. This is ideal for small businesses seeking to keep overheads down.

What’s bad about Worldpay?

The Worldpay payment gateway needs to be built into your website’s backend as an API-hosted payment gateway. API gateways mean customers can stay on the merchant’s website throughout the checkout experience, an advantage for businesses.

However, APIs are decidedly more complicated to set up than a hosted gateway (where the customer is simply redirected to a third-party page). This means you might find you need to hire a third-party developer during the initial setup period if you’re not super tech-savvy.

  • WorldPay claims to have supported customers with 100% uptime in the past 12 months
  • Supports every major credit and debit card, along with various regional alternative payment methods including
  • Enables businesses to automate payments for subscriptions or recurring charges, simplifying payment collection
  • Compared to competitors, Worldpay has fewer options for customising the payment experience or branding checkout
  • Worldpay does not offer a guaranteed uptime for merchants
  • Can take 3-5 working days for merchants to recieve the payout after a transaction is made

Worldpay fees and costs explained

  • Monthly fees: Worldpay eCommerce plan (no monthly fee), Business Gateway plan (£19.95 per month), Corporate Gateway plan (bespoke)
  • Transaction fees: Worldpay eCommerce (1.3% +20p), Business Gateway (10p), Corporate Gateway plan (subject to transaction volume)

Worldpay vs. rival payment gateways

We’ve highlighted Worldpay for its phone support. While rivals like Stripe and PayPal also offer phone support, this is usually only available during working hours, while Worldpay is open 24/7 for queries in the event of an issue or emergency.

Worldpay offers robust security. It emphasises a compliance-driven approach, adhering to specific regional regulations and industry standards, while competitors like Stripe rely on internal tools that do not have the same industry certifications as Worldpay.

In terms of pricing, Worldpay’s Business Gateway plan is pricier than its competitors, including PayPal and Amazon Pay (the latter lets you accept payments for free).

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

2. PayPal: best for businesses selling internationally


Image: paypal.com PayPal’s checkout page is stripped back and minimalist, giving customers a clear and simple form to input their card details

PayPal’s hosted payment gateway (known as the Payflow Gateway) is the ideal option for businesses selling internationally. PayPal is a widely trusted brand and has more than 220 million users worldwide. This can alleviate concerns about legitimacy from customers unfamiliar with your website to build trust  especially for international transactions.

International buyers (including the EU) can pay with major credit cards like Visa and Discover, as well as online banking platforms and local digital wallets (like Alipay in China). Plus, PayPal’s reputed payment dispute process for buyer and seller (which includes guaranteed Protection Against Unauthorised Transactions) boosts confidence for both parties.

What’s good about PayPal?

PayPal is a fairly priced option for small businesses as it won’t blow your software budget. Crucially, it has no monthly fees attached and competitive transaction fees, making it one of the cheapest payment gateway options overall.

Another financial bonus is the brand’s Instant Transfer feature which facilitates fast payouts. Our testers were able to transfer money between the designated PayPal wallet and their bank account – and debit card within 30 minutes.

PayPal does also offer an API solution, PayPal Payments Pro, which allows you to combine your merchant account with your payment gateway to accept payments directly on your website.

That means customers won’t be taken to a third-party site to checkout, drastically speeding up the buying process. Don’t worry, they won’t need to create a PayPal account to send you payments – Payments Pro can integrate with Payflow Gateway to permit guest checkout.

What’s bad about PayPal?

PayPal does have some hidden fees. When selling abroad, you’ll be charged an additional 1.5% per transaction for international payments; a common, if irritating, surcharge for global sellers.

Perhaps more frustratingly, our product testers discovered that PayPal does not refund the transaction fee when customers return their purchases. Square, on the other hand, does not have a chargeback fee and will refund your transaction fee when a customer makes a return.

  • Excellent for mobile use if your customers are ordering through apps
  • Accepts every major credit or debit card and permits bank transfers as a payment method
  • For Instant Transfer, PayPal charges a fixed fee of 1.5% of the total transaction to merchants, up to £10
  • PayPal does not provide an uptime guarantee for merchants

PayPal fees and costs explained

  • Monthly fees: no associated monthly fees
  • Transaction fees: 2.9% + 30p for UK domestic charges (+1.5% for international sales)

PayPal vs rival payment gateways

PayPal’s name is one of the most trusted on this list. Many of your customers are likely to already have a PayPal account and will instantly recognise this payment option when at the checkout, which is unlike the lesser known options Opayo or Cardstream.

Another bonus is that PayPal also transfers payments into your account instantly, which is a big bonus if you need to deliver a time-sensitive product. Worldpay offers a similar service, but with brands like Amazon, the funds can take up to 3-5 business days to appear in your account.

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

3. Stripe: best for clothing stores

Stripe payment gateway

Image: Stripe.com. Stripe’s payment gateway also gives customers a preview of their purchase and a digital receipt for full transparency and trust

Stripe’s payment gateway is an ideal solution for online clothing stores, which typically deal with a high volume of transactions and disputes. This is because it gives you access to sales data and reporting via the customisable Stripe Dashboard, a mobile and web app that allows you to manage refunds and returns (two common occurrences for clothing shops).

Stripe also integrates seamlessly with several top ecommerce platforms used by clothing stores like Shopify and WooCommerce. Having a familiar shopping cart is a great way to build trust with customers, minimise cart abandonment rates, and simplifying inventory admin for your business.

Josh Neuman, founder of Chummy Tees, says:

As the proprietor of an online apparel store, I've found robust reporting to be crucial. Costs naturally factor significantly for small outfits operating on tight margins.

Visit Chummy Tees

What’s good about Stripe?

Stripe’s USP is its ease of use. Stripe is a full-service payment provider, which means it offers users both a payment gateway and a merchant account. This means you’ll avoid the need to manage two separate accounts for payments processing, another great tool for simplifying admin and setup time.

Stripe also gives business owners the option of using its customisable hosted payments page (designed using code), or the website integration, Stripe Payments (added to ecommerce websites with the click of a button).

This means it’s suitable for any technical skill level, and you’ll avoid having to consult a web developer (unlike Worldpay, which requires a certain level of tech know-how to use).

What’s bad about Stripe?

What users save in time with Stripe, they will lose in money. While Stripe has an average transaction fee of 1.5% + 20p, business owners will also encounter a lot of hidden fees that can accumulate rapidly for businesses with a high volume of transactions.

International payments will incur a hefty penalty (an additional 2% fee applies if the transaction involves converting the payment to a different currency). There is also a charge of up to 8p if you want each transaction to be checked by Stripe Radar, the brand’s fraud prevention tool.

Finally, if you need fast payouts, Stripe is not a great option because it can take up to a week for money to be deposited into your business bank account. PayPal is much faster (30 minutes in comparison).

  • Supports a wide range of payment types and over 135 currencies
  • Dropshipping firms can facilitate direct payments between third-party businesses and your customers
  • Strives for 99.999% uptime (translating to an annual downtime of only 5.25 minutes)
  • Settlement delays commonly reported - an issue if your business does not have a steady cash flow
  • There is no contractual obligation for Stripe's uptime guarantee, so you won't get compensation in case of a service failure

Stripe fees and costs explained

  • Monthly fees: no associated monthly fees
  • Transaction fees: 1.5% + 20p for domestic charges

Stripe vs. rival payment gateways

Stripe is a competitive provider. With no monthly fees, it outstrips Opayo and Worldpay in terms of pricing flexibility, but slow payouts and expensive hidden fees mean it’s not a good option for those with tighter budgets. PayPal is more generously priced overall.

It’s worth noting that Stripe also does not charge its customers for security compliance. While Worldpay asks for an upfront fee of £29.99 for this privilege, Stripe is certified to PCI Service Provider Level 1 – the most stringent level of certification available in the payments industry – at no cost to the merchant.

Want to learn more about Stripe? Read our dedicated Stripe review for all its hidden costs, pros, and cons.

4. Amazon Pay: best for businesses younger than one year

Amazon pay

Image: pay.amazon.co.uk. Amazon Pay is a recognisable checkout page that many of your customers will already be familiar with

We recommend Amazon Pay to very new businesses that are under one year old and haven’t had time to build up much brand awareness. Gaining customer trust is one of the biggest hurdles for new companies and Amazon’s reputable brand name should give you a boost in credibility to help overcome initial customer hesitation while building a loyal customer base. Plus, the Amazon Pay website has a list of downloadable marketing assets – including logos and banners – that you can easily add to your sales channels to use as trust signals.

What’s good about Amazon Pay?

Amazon Pay is a great option for giving customers faster checkouts, something guaranteed to bring down your cart abandonment rate. The platform can recycle any debit card or delivery details your customers saved to an Amazon account (something the majority of Brits will already have set up, unlike a PayPal account).

Business owners will also rate Amazon for its speedy setup time. You can sign up to Amazon Pay through Amazon.co.uk without having to be a seller on the platform. As long as you have a professional account with Amazon, you’ll be able to add its hosted gateway to your website in a few clicks.

That does of course mean that, without an API solution, you won’t be able to tailor the checkout page with your own unique branding. But the Amazon name is a big reason to choose Amazon Pay, so this shouldn’t be too disappointing for SMEs.

What’s bad about Amazon Pay?

As you’ll have worked out, Amazon Pay and PayPal are very similar products. However, PayPal comes out on top when it comes to seller protection, while Amazon Pay tends to favour the buyer.

Through Amazon Pay, your customers get access to the popular A-to-Z guarantee, a program designed to protect customers in case of issues with their order delivery and returns.

For businesses relying on a third-party seller to deliver a product, the onus will fall onto you to refund the item, including shipping costs, in the event of a missed or late delivery. PayPal, in comparison, fully funds all chargebacks for a flat rate cost of £15.

  • Integrates with over 200 ecommerce platforms including Shopify and Wix
  • Amazon is fully PCI-compliant and offers 2FA (two-factor authentication) as an additional security layer
  • Accepts every major debit and credit card as well as bank transfer and the Amazon.co.uk store card
  • Can take 3-5 business days for funds to arrive (PayPal Instant Transfer takes 30 minutes)
  • Doesn't support PayPal purchases which could affect your sales opportunities
  • Amazon Pay does not have an official uptime guarantee

Amazon fees and costs explained

  • Monthly fees: no associated monthly fees
  • Transaction fees: 2.7% + 30p for domestic charges

Amazon Pay vs. rival payment gateways

PayPal is Amazon Pay’s closest rival and they are running a close race. Both providers mean you’ll be associated with a big brand and you’ll have access to 24/7 customer support.

Amazon and the standard version of PayPal also have no startup costs, nor do they have monthly fees or a termination fee. PayPal has the lower transaction fees, but only by a small margin (Amazon’s are 0.2% higher).

That said, if you’re selling internationally, PayPal is the better option. While Amazon is accepted in just 16 countries and takes 12 currencies, PayPal is available in more than 200 countries and supports 25 currencies. This will be an important factor to consider for international clientele.

5. Shopify Payments: best for Shopify stores

Shopify payment gateway

Image: help.shopify.com. Shopify’s payment gateway boasts a very modern design with less elements than messier gateway pages like Worldpay

For obvious reasons, Shopify Payments (Shopify’s specialist payment gateway for merchants) is the best choice for Shopify users because it keeps your payment gateway under the same roof as your website tools. This also means you’ll pay nothing in transaction fees and you’ll enjoy Shopify’s vast range of hardware and ecommerce tools.

If you already have a Shopify account, it is very quick to add Shopify Payments into the backend, so you won’t have to faff around with signup (it could take days to set up a Worldpay payment gateway, in comparison). Just navigate to “Settings”, “Payments”, click “Activate Shopify Payments”, and fill in the relevant information to start accepting payments in minutes.

What’s good about Shopify?

Shopify is a popular ecommerce website builder in the UK because it offers everything you need to start selling online, including:

  • Using attractive templates to build a slick checkout page
  • Managing refunds and chargebacks for disputes
  • Viewing and managing all orders within the Shopify admin panel
  • Accepting major debit/credit cards and alternative methods, including PayPal
  • Generating reports to track payment activity and transaction fees

On top of this, Shopify Payments is also fully PCI-compliant and offers built-in fraud prevention tools so you don’t need to worry about storing your business information and customer payment details together. Shopify can save this data securely to mitigate the risk of fraudulent transactions or cyber attacks.

What’s bad about Shopify?

Naturally, we recommend Shopify payments to Shopify sellers because the gateway is specifically built to cater for Shopify merchants.

If you do choose to move away from Shopify Payments by integrating a third-party payment gateway provider to your Shopify website (and we advise you don’t), you’ll lose out of many of the admin benefits listed above and you’ll have to start paying transaction fees that can range from 0.5%-2%.

  • Shopify's ecommerce add-on Shop Pay allows customers to save their payment information for future purchases securely
  • Built-in fraud analysis tool conducts in-depth checks including whether a registered card address matches a billing address
  • Costs £10 in chargeback fees if a customer successful appeals for a refund
  • Shopify Payments often freezes payments for any suspicious activity which could impact your wider sales volume
  • Shopify Payments does not provide instant payouts. Your first payout will take at least seven working days to be processed

Shopify fees and costs explained

  • Monthly fees: £22 per month for an ecommerce website
  • Transaction fees: none with the Shopify Payments app

Shopify Payments vs. rival payment gateways

Shopify, alongside Opayo, is the only brand on this list that does not have associated transaction fees. It is also easier to get set up with than many other brands. Any level of tech know-how will allow you to get started because all users have to do is click a few buttons. In comparison, Worldpay requires users to install its software as an API.

The one area that Shopify falls down is website hosting flexibility. You’ll have to use Shopify to host your store if you want to use the Shopify Payments gateway. In comparison, PayPal lets businesses add its payment gateway to their website regardless of the host platform.

Want to learn more about Shopify? Shopify offers a free two-week trial, allowing you to test the product before you buy. Read our full Shopify review to find out more. You won’t need to give your credit card details to try it out.

6. Opayo (formerly Sage Pay): best for creative businesses


Image: elavon.co.uk. Opayo’s payment gateway is customisable with no Opayo branding and the option to add your own logo to the page

We’ve highlighted brands like PayPal for their trusty logo that reassures customers. But the best way to build trust and brand awareness is to have a payment gateway that matches your own unique branding and design. Opayo is a fully customisable gateway that allows business owners to create a checkout system that suits the feel of your website  ideal for craft stores or design agencies with a strong brand identity and voice.

Opayo has two service plans. Opayo Hosted boasts certain branding elements like logo and colours within the checkout interface, while Opayo Self-hosted is an API or white-label solution (meaning it lets businesses completely remove the Opayo branding and replace it with your own for a consistent user experience if you have the coding know-how).

Anh Nguyen
Anh Nguyen, founder of online shoe store 365 Crocs, says:

You'll want the gateway to match the look and feel to your own brand. Don't settle for a one-size-fits-all checkout flow. Make it feel like home for your customers!

Visit 365 Crocs

What’s good about Opayo?

Budget is a key reason to choose Opayo. Opayo’s Flex package costs just £32 per month, which makes it a great fit for side hustles that don’t take more than 350 transactions per month (unfortunately, beyond this plan its pricing is more opaque – you’ll have to contact its helpdesk for a quote).

On top of this, Opayo guarantees that businesses won’t pay any transaction fees for their first 350 sales each month great news if your customers typically make small, single purchases and you don’t want to lose out on the profits.

Opayo also offers 24/7 customer support (although this is only available over the phone, not by email or live chat) to address any issues businesses might encounter. Plus, the brand has a 100% uptime guarantee, reassuring for business owners.

What’s bad about Opayo?

Obviously if you invest in the Opayo Self-Hosted package you should have some technical expertise when it comes to coding. Making effective use of advanced customisation features may require you to call in external help from developers.

It’s best not to chance things as, if you’re unsure about what you’re doing, custom development can introduce the risk of bugs or compatibility issues that can disrupt the payment process and scare away repeat customers. For businesses with simpler needs, using a payment gateway with basic customisation or pre-built integrations (such as Stripe) might be sufficient.

Brand recognition is an issue. When compared with Amazon and PayPal’s payment gateways, Opayo is not as well-known, potentially impacting trust levels for businesses targeting new customers.

  • Integrates with Sage accounting software so you can easily view and measure your financial incomings
  • Fully PCI-compliant for top-notch security features
  • Opayo operates in multiple countries and supports various currencies, enabling businesses to cater for international payment needs
  • Support calls to the Opayo helpline cost 2p per minute, meaning it is potentially expensive to fix an issue
  • If you want to take more than 350 sales per month, you'll need to spend £10 more to upgrade
  • Funds can take 3-5 working days to clear your account

Opayo fees and costs explained

  • Monthly fees: £32 per month for Opayo Flex
  • Transaction fees: 12p per transaction (after 350 transactions)

Opayo vs. Rival Payment Gateways

Opayo’s zero transaction fees for the first 350 sales is a huge bonus for SMEs. As an easy method for preserving profits, it outpaces Worldpay (2.75% + 20p) and PayPal (2.9% + 30p), helping you retain more of your sales revenue and stops profits from fluctuating.

However, entrepreneurs also get no transaction fees with Shopify Payments, which costs £10 less per month. As Shopify Payments can only be used if you have built your store using Shopify, Opayo is the better option for merchants selling through any other website host.

7. Cardstream: best for service sectors


Image: Cardstream.com. The Cardstream payment gateway lets customers choose from multiple payment methods including PayPal

Cardstream is the ideal option for service-based businesses, such as accountants or leisure firms. Like many other payment gateways, Cardstream can integrate with accounting or invoicing software to send invoices electronically via a nifty “Pay Now” button. While providers like PayPal and Amazon Pay stop here, Cardstream goes further.

We particularly like the Pay By Link feature that allows customers to pay by credit and debit card using any secure link; and the Recurring Billing function, which enables automated payments for subscriptions. So, if you’re a personal coach or sole trader, you won’t have to annoy customers and clients by chasing them for payment each month, you can simply set up a prearranged, recurring schedule to do it for you.

Chris Demetriou, co-founder of Archimedia Accounts, says:

For payment gateways, the cheapest option isn't necessarily the best - focus on overall value. Service providers need to both invoice clients and accept online payments. Choose a gateway that enables recurring payments and allows customers to pay invoices online.

Visit Archimedia Accounts

What’s good about Cardstream?

Security is a vital consideration when it comes to payment gateways, and Cardstream has taken steps to ensure it offers a wide array of tools to protect your business and customer data in equal measure. Features included in its defence arsenal (all at no additional cost to the business) are:

  • Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) to verify the identity of a cardholder during a transaction
  • 3-D Secure to ask customers to confirm a transaction with the card issuer before purchase
  • PCI-compliance for an industry recognised level of security

Another benefit to using Cardstream is its white-label offering. Like Opayo, merchants can customise the platform’s API to implant their own branding materials within the checkout page. However, this does require a degree of software expertise to get right.

What’s bad about Cardstream?

Because Cardstream offers more sophisticated features than rivals like Amazon, its setup time is not as simple and can take time to master. Integrating Cardstream with specific platforms or software might require more technical expertise compared to the former, which means it joins Opayo and Worldpay in having a steeper learning curve.

Cardstream’s fees are considerably less than Opayo’s, with which it shares a similar flat rate pricing structure. However, once you’ve made more than 350 transactions, its fees become less transparent. Businesses with bigger sales volumes should be wary about additional charges they might incur down the line with Cardstream, such as chargeback fees or early contract termination fees.

  • Typically takes just one working day for your funds to be processed
  • Cardstream supports major credit and debit cards, as well as various alternative payment methods
  • Cardstream prioritises security and is PCI compliant, ensuring safe and reliable payment processing
  • Only available as a 12-month contract so you might want to trial other brands first
  • Compared to some widely recognized payment processors, Cardstream has lower brand recognition, potentially impacting customer trust

Cardstream fees and costs explained

  • Monthly fees: £18 per month for 350 transactions
  • Transaction fees: 9p per transaction (after 350 transactions)

Cardstream vs. Rival Providers

Cardstream’s closest rival is Opayo. The main difference lies in Cardstream’s invoicing features, which are more sophisticated thanks to its specialist integrations with accounting software that are ideal for service sectors. Opayo also only operates in Europe, while Cardstream has a global reach but this won’t be a big concern for most UK SMEs.

Both options offer a flat monthly fee, which can make them appear more expensive upfront when compared with brands like Amazon and PayPal. However, this might not be a bad thing. If you typically make fewer than 350 transactions, knowing what you will spend each month can be a good way to keep your cash flow under control.

How do I choose the right payment gateway for my business?

We’ve created a handy list of what to look out for when it comes to choosing the perfect payment gateway for your startup:

1. Security

Security is the number one concern for customers, which means it should also be yours. Given the number of high-profile cases of buyer data being stolen, it’s a good idea to thoroughly research what protections are in place to protect you and your customers from fraudsters. Check the gateway has:

  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): guaranteed security controls on cardholder information
  • Card Verification Value (CVV): checks a customer card’s CVV code to provide an additional layer of security
  • Address Verification Service (AVS): verifies the billing address provided by the customer
  • Encryption: scrambles all cardholder details so that bad actors can’t access the original information
  • Other advanced fraud protection tools: most providers have their own ways of detecting fraud for additional reassurance

2. Data portability

Who owns your customer’s data if you choose to leave your gateway? It’s very important you are able to store, access, and download the data you need to sustain your merchant services without breaking GDPR. Here are the key features to look for to ensure data portability:

  • Ensure the provider adheres to PCI standards for secure data exchange
  • Check that the provider has documents explaining how to manage and export data
  • Look for a provider with reporting functions; this will make it easy to view data
  • Be aware of export fees some providers will charge you to download data

3. Hosted/integrated gateways

Hosted gateways will redirect your customers to the payment processor’s platform. These are the simplest form of payment gateway to set up and are best suited to those who don’t have a complex purchasing process (such as dropshippers) or don’t want to hire a third-party developer. One drawback to this ease of use is that customers will have to leave your site to pay that can confuse the process and lead to cart abandonment.

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. It’s best for those with an in-house tech team or software knowledge. Most integrated APIs will also let you customise the design of the checkout page to reflect your branding.

4. Cards accepted

It’s standard for payment gateways to accept all major credit and debit cards, but double-check. If the gateway accepts American Express (AMEX) that’s a bonus – be sure to check the credit card processing fees though, as these can be higher for AMEX Other payment methods that customers might expect from your store include:

  • Bank transfer
  • Gift cards
  • Regional e-wallets
  • PayPal or Amazon Pay

5. Fees

We’re not just talking about contract fees, here. Each payment gateway charges a different amount for credit, debit, and overseas transactions – and sneakier providers will not reveal these upfront. Be sure to read up on what the charges are to avoid a nasty surprise on your next invoice. Examples of hidden fees that SOME providers charge include:

  • Statement fees (charge for accessing transaction reports)
  • Batch fee (charge for processing a batch of transactions)
  • Non-qualified transactions (all of the above providers charge for incorrect card information)
  • Chargebacks (PayPal charges this fee for processing refunds)
  • Security fees (PayPal charges for carrying out security checks)
  • Termination fees (all of the above providers charge if you terminate your agreement early)

6. Customer support

If your gateway goes down, you won’t be able to accept payment for your products, which is bad news for business. It’s important that your payment gateway provider has an efficient customer support network that can help out with any problems, at any time. Look for features like:

  • Email support (offered by Worldpay, Square, Stripe, PayPal, Amazon Pay, and Cardstream)
  • Phone support (offered by Worldpay, Square, Stripe, PayPal, Amazon Pay, Opayo, and Cardstream)
  • Live chat support (offered by Worldpay, Square, Stripe, PayPal, Amazon Pay, Opayo, and Cardstream)
  • Uptime guarantee (offered by Opayo)
Nguyen Huy, co-founder of Trendy Aloha, says:

Avoid pitfalls and carefully read reviews and evaluate factors like uptime, support response times, and ease of reporting. Hidden 'gotchas' quickly add up. Choose a reputable brand that allows your business to focus on sales, not payments

Visit Trendy Aloha

What are the most affordable payment gateways?

If you’re operating your business on a tight budget and want to keep costs to a minimum, the three cheapest providers that offer exceptional value for money are:

  • Paypal 
  • Amazon Pay
  • Opayo Flex

These providers proudly sit on the cheapest payment gateway podium because, unlike their competitors, you pay zero monthly fees. All you are charged is a transaction cost, which is less than 3% for each provider.

How we test card processing products and merchant services for small businesses

We tested 11 merchant account products and services to evaluate them in terms of functionality, usability, price, compliance, and more so we can make the most useful recommendations to small UK-based businesses.

Our rigorous testing process means these products have been scored and rated in six main categories of investigation and 25 subcategories – in fact, we covered 36 areas of investigation in total. We then gave each category score a ‘relevance weighting' to ensure the product's final score perfectly reflects the needs of our Startups.co.uk readers.

Our main testing categories for merchant account products and services are:

Compliance: the adherence of the merchant account product to relevant regulations and standards, such as data security, anti-fraud measures, and legal requirements.

Customer Support: the assistance and resources provided by the merchant account provider to users in resolving issues, answering questions, and providing guidance.

Customer Score: external customer opinion; the feedback and ratings given by customers who have used a particular merchant account. Also, the market position and reputation a merchant account holds.

Features: the functionalities and capabilities provided by the merchant account product, including online payment processing and payment gateway integration.

Taking Payments: the process and options available for accepting payments through the merchant account product.

Price: the cost associated with using the merchant account product, such as transaction fees, setup fees, monthly fees, and any additional charges.

The Startups product testing process

The Startups product testing process diagram

Next step: compare payment gateways

Now that you know all about the best payment gateways, you’re ready to nail down the right merchant account service for you. What’s next?

Answer a few quick and easy questions using our free online payment gateway 🔍cost comparison tool to receive custom quotes from the top providers, many of which are featured in this article.

You can get quotes based on your industry and sales requirements, allowing you to find the best deals, features, and support tools needed for your business.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What are the benefits of a payment gateway?
    Payment gateways are the only way for ecommerce stores to take payments, which makes them a necessity for all online stores. They can integrate with shopping carts and provide faster payment processing. They are also very useful for management and fraud protection.
  • What should I do if my payment gateway goes down?
    If your payment gateway experiences an outage, swift action and communication are key. Start by checking for any known issues or updates on the provider's status page or social media channels. Simultaneously, contact the payment gateway's support team to get insights into the problem's resolution timeline and potential workarounds. If necessary, consider temporarily switching to another payment gateway if possible to ensure uninterrupted transactions, keeping your customers informed throughout the process to maintain trust and transparency.

Startups.co.uk is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps Startups.co.uk to provide free reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.
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