Imagine that a customer is purchasing some goods or services from your small business. You tell them their total—whether it means ringing up their items or sending an invoice—and then ask how they’ll be paying.
They ask if you accept credit cards. How do you respond?
If your immediate thought was, “Nope, definitely not!” rest assured that you aren’t alone. Research estimates that 55% of small businesses don’t accept credit card payments from customers.
However, it’s important to recognize that it’s one of the most popular forms of payment out there. In fact, 33% of consumers indicate that a credit card is their preferred way to pay for any type of purchase.
It makes sense. Credit cards are convenient, as they don’t require consumers to carry around wads of cash. They’re mindless, as customers simply need to swipe rather than count change or bills. And, on top of all of that, they increase purchase power—because people have the flexibility to spend more money than they have at that exact point in time.
But despite the fact that they’re an obvious choice for a lot of consumers, many small businesses are still resistant to credit cards.
There are some definite downsides to letting customers pay with credit, but that doesn’t mean that those drawbacks automatically outweigh the positives. This post explores the advantages and disadvantages of accepting credit cards, so that you can make an informed choice about what’s best for your business.
Advantages of accepting credit cards
If you’re like most business owners, you instantly get hung up on the potential drawbacks (yes, like the associated fees) of accepting credit card payments—and we’ll get to those pitfalls a little later.
But let’s start with the positives first. Credit cards do present a lot of advantages for not only your customer, but for your small business as well.
1. Accepting credit cards improves convenience for your customers
As previously mentioned, many customers prefer to pay with cards. While one 2018 survey of 1,222 consumers shows that debit cards reign supreme as the most popular method, credit cards are a close second. If you add debit and credit cards together, 80% of customers prefer to pay with plastic.
In contrast? Only 14% specified a preference for using cash.
A lot of this comes back to convenience. Paying with a card offers a far more streamlined experience than needing to dig change out of their pockets or fill out a check.
That’s important, because convenience is top of mind for many modern consumer—especially as younger generations join the ranks and painless online shopping experiences become the standard.
If you look at just online shopping in particular, 26% of online shoppers will abandon their shopping carts because the checkout process was too complex and another 6% will leave if there aren’t enough payment methods available. This makes it obvious that convenience is a demand that today’s customers expect to have met—and that holds true whether they’re shopping online or in-store.
Credit cards aren’t only convenient because they’re slimmer in your customers’ wallets, but they also streamline the payment experience, which as the above statistics prove, is a delicate time in the customer journey. Credit cards allow them to get what they want when they want it, with very little effort on their end.
That simplified experience is powerful, but it isn’t all that’s at play here. Many customers view using credit as more than just a convenience. They actually see it as an advantage, as they’ll earn rewards points for their purchases.
Believe it or not, credit card rewards are a major motivator for shoppers. When asked what features were most attractive in their credit card, 55% of survey respondents said rewards. That made it the top-ranking feature—even above seemingly more practical things like payment options and interest rates.
In short, accepting credit cards is not only a way to simplify the payment process and foster greater loyalty with your customers, but also to make them feel like they’re achieving something even greater (i.e. potential for rewards) by spending their money with you.
2. Accepting credit cards can lead to more sales
That increased level of convenience means that more of your customers are actually willing to open their wallets and pay.
Why? Well, the reasoning is simple enough: They don’t have to worry about having the cash on hand. As long as they have their credit card in their back pocket, they’re able to make a purchase—and they don’t even have to worry about how they’ll actually pay for it until much later.
The research is there to back these sales boost up. One survey found that 83% of small businesses that accepted credit cards saw an increase in sales. 52% of businesses surveyed made at least $1,000 more per month, and 18% made at least $20,000 more per month.
Fees are some of the biggest credit card concerns for small business owners, and it’s a valid worry. However, there’s the obvious potential to more than makeup for what they pay for accepting credit card payments.
3. Accepting credit cards can increase your profits
Obviously, you don’t need to be a math whiz to figure this one out: more sales equals greater profits for your business.
However, it’s not only the quantity of sales that gives your business a boost—it’s the value of each of those sales. Plenty of research proves that customers actually spend more when they’re paying with credit cards.
Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer. If you walked into a shop with $50 in your pocket that you can spend, you’d carefully make every single decision with that budget in mind. You’d evaluate your options. You’d check every price tag. You’d mentally add the cost of items as you picked them out.
But if you’re planning on paying with credit? Beyond your credit limit (which is usually way more than you’d spend anyway), there’s no real restrictions on how much money you can hand over that day. You have tons of purchase power, because in a lot of ways, paying with credit doesn’t feel like real money.
Hence why people are far more spendy when paying with plastic. One of many studies shows that participants (business students, in this particular case) were willing to spend as much as 83% more when paying with a credit card than when paying with cash.
While it might not mean great things for your own budget as a shopper, it can be a positive for your business’ bottom line.
4. Accepting credit cards can improve your cash flow
There are plenty of challenges associated with being a small business owner, but cash flow management is one of the most frequently cited.
According to the 2016 National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Priorities and Problems report, cash flow ranked as number 25 on the list of the biggest problems plaguing small businesses.
That might not sound too pressing. But considering that it ranks ahead of things like competition from large businesses and employment regulations, it’s definitely a major concern.
The good news is that accepting credit card payments can actually improve your cash flow, because you’ll get the money you’re owed promptly—especially when compared with checks, which can take a while to clear. Credit card processing times can vary, but merchants usually have the money within one to three days.
Not having to wait on the money that’s rightfully yours makes it that much easier to know what you have, manage your business’ cash flow, and (hopefully) stay in the black.
Disadvantages of accepting credit cards
If credit cards offer so many benefits, then why do 55% of small businesses still avoid accepting these types of payments?
As you already know, this payment form isn’t all positives. Like making any other choice for your business, there are also some drawbacks that you need to be aware of.
1. Credit cards have processing fees
The fees associated with accepting credit cards are one of the biggest hurdles for businesses who are debating accepting this form of payment. According to that same NFIB report, credit card payment processing costs rank as number 38 on the list of problems facing small businesses.
Indeed, there is a cost involved with credit card payments. The exact price varies depending on things like the average transaction and the type of business. However, processing fees typically range between 1.5% to 2.9% for swiped credit card transactions, and 3.5% for keyed-in transactions (due to the greater risk).
Because of this, many business owners assume that avoiding credit card payments saves them money. But again, that’s hardly ever the case. While the associated fees can be a slight annoyance, there’s generally still a cost benefit associated with accepting card payments from your customers.
2. Credit cards mean you might have to deal with chargebacks
Accepting credit card payments also introduces a few risks for small businesses, such as the potential for chargebacks.
A chargeback happens when a credit card payment is either fraudulent or disputed by the customer. When that happens, the credit card provider can demand that the retailer makes good on the loss of that transaction—essentially covering the cost.
This has also led to an increase in something called “friendly fraud,” which happens when the purchaser requests a chargeback directly from the bank rather than working out any issues directly with the retailer (such as filing a return or requesting a refund). It’s surprisingly frequent, and eight in 10 customers admit to filing a chargeback rather than working out issues directly with the seller.
Not only does all of this mean that the business might take a financial hit for that transaction, but they also have to invest time and energy into dealing with the administrative headaches involved in this sort of dispute.
That type of hassle is enough to make business owners wary of getting involved with credit card payments altogether. Cash and checks seem simpler, and less prone to these types of issues.
3. Credit cards introduce the potential for fraud
We’ve already mentioned the growing risk of friendly fraud, but credit cards open businesses up to more fraud risks than just those of shoppers trying to scam the system and score free items. There’s the potential for real fraud as well-meaning charges for purchases that the customer never actually made themselves.
Credit card fraud has been of increasing concern for both businesses and consumers. It’s estimated that 46% of Americans have had their card information compromised within the last five years.
This rising fraud comes at a steep cost for businesses. According to one report, organizations lose 5% of their annual revenue to fraud. That means if your business has $500,000 in revenue, you could be losing up to $25,000 to fraud.
Since small businesses have fewer resources and smaller account departments, they often have a difficult time identifying or catching credit card fraud before it happens. They assume that the easiest way for them to prevent credit card fraud is to not accept credit card payments in the first place.
Cash isn’t always king: Should your small business accept credit cards?
Traditional wisdom would have you believe that cash is king, but that certainly isn’t the case anymore with a large percentage of consumers choosing to pay with plastic.
There’s no denying that there are some negatives related to accepting credit card payments. But those are generally more than balanced out by the benefits, such as increased customer loyalty and even greater sales.
While accepting credit cards is ultimately a personal choice, business owners need to be aware that customer demands are constantly evolving, which means the payments landscape is shifting as well.
Businesses who wish to stay relevant and competitive will need to keep up with these expectations—and accepting credit cards is definitely a step in the right direction.