Stripe Review from a Non-Developer

  • Responsive customer support
  • Easy to implement
  • Stripe is for non-technical biz owners too

This is the abridged story of a business owner who went from not accepting credit cards, to Stripe, to a traditional merchant services provider, and back to Stripe again…

Stripe is missing the boat on its home page.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, Stripe is a simple solution for facilitating credit card transactions on your Web site. No merchant service application hoops to jump through. No bank bureaucracy. No PCI compliance requirements. And no more solely relying on PayPal for generating revenue!

Take a look to the left. “Payments for developers” is a nicely targeted message – a highly recommended ideal for statement – but it also functions to exclude what I think could be a very lucrative segment for its blossoming business.

Intentionally excluding visitors is a non-intuitive approach to increasing your conversion rate. By doing so, you eliminate the people you don’t want from entering your sales funnel – so you can focus on the people who are ideal for your solution – but you have to be very careful about whom you’re excluding.

I’m not a developer (although I can make a nice mess of a Web page with PHP and MySQL), and I nearly overlooked Stripe as a viable option for the Copyhackers business because of how Stripe is being messaged on its primary landing page. “Full-stack payments” and “An API that gets out of your way” simply do not resonate with me.

The only reason I didn’t completely overlook Stripe was because I spent some time reading all the incredibly positive feedback about it on Hacker News. And I learned, quite by chance, that our WordPress backend from WooThemes provides a dead simple integration option for Stripe.

In other words, I had to work pretty hard to become a Stripe customer. I effectively converted myself (Patrick C., now where is my affiliate fee?). ☺

Let me back up a smidge…

I am not just a pretty face and infrequent guest blogger on 🙂 I’m also Joanna’s business partner, responsible for ensuring that people who visit our site can complete their purchase without event. Or put another way, in addition to my day job with Adobe, I am the Copyhackers Webmaster.

Prior to Copyhackers, Joanna and I created, which was designed and built from scratch. But for the Copyhackers business, we decided to use the WordPress platform due to the incredible number of customization options, available plug-ins, and its CMS-like features.

From the launch of Copyhackers back in October 2011 on Hacker News through to August 2012, we forced everyone to purchase via PayPal. Despite all its shortcomings and customer service nightmares, there were no adequate alternatives. And that was fine… for a while.

We didn’t see the value in applying for merchant services through our bank, largely because we’d heard it was tantamount to a colonoscopy (no disrespect to proctologists!). And from a customer service perspective, Copyhackers customers appeared to be happy paying via PayPal.

Over the summer, I had been reading all kinds of fascinating posts about Stripe, including this post from Patrick Mackenzie (patio11 on HN). While the discussions bordered on being a little too technical for me, the idea that we could accept credit cards without any lengthy process or probing applications was extremely compelling. I was sold (interestingly, not by Stripe’s own Web site).

So I signed up for Stripe’s email announcement list, and everything changed when Stripe launched its beta program in Canada.

As I mentioned, we chose WooThemes’ WooCommerce for our WordPress-based cart and checkout, and as luck would have it, I stumbled across an integration solution for their customers who also use Stripe.

Here’s how the integration went…

I signed up for Stripe (2 minutes), downloaded the Stripe plug-in for WooCommerce (< 1 minute), and installed it on our WP Engine test server (also < 1 minute). In no time after that, we had successfully run several test payments through Stripe (thanks to the test keys!) — and after one more solid round of QA we were set to offer credit card payments in addition to PayPal.

Total time required: 1 hour.

And what happened next? It took exactly six minutes for the first Visa purchase to occur. Joanna and I were elated!

But the story doesn’t end there.

To our horror – talk about an emotional rollercoaster – the experience turned sour as we saw multiple declines within the first day (approaching 50% declines, in fact). So far as we could tell, these declines were for valid cards (as we even tested our own credit cards). One customer made a $900 purchase for a Web site review and received notice that after 4 failed attempts to pay, there were now 4 pending charges on her Visa for $900 each.

Elation turned to extreme frustration. We thought perhaps Stripe might not be ready for prime time in Canada.

As we’d hoped, things improved over the days that followed as far as declines were concerned — and those 4 pending charges for $3600 resolved themselves within 72 hours (luckily for us the young lady still became a Copyhackers customer!). But Stripe’s bank transfers were muddled and they had to wire transfer funds to us, triggering a very steep $15 fee per day from our bank.

To Stripe’s credit, they were incredibly responsive to our emails and they took measures to ensure that our revenues were not impacted by their technical issues or bank-imposed fees (thank you, guys!).

We loved Stripe’s ease of implementation. We especially loved accepting credit cards. But with all the problems we experienced, I felt it necessary to look for a back-up solution should new issues arise.

Cue the request-for-a-quote form submission to a merchant card services and gateway provider, Beanstream – who came highly recommended and they operate out of our home town, Victoria BC.

Here’s how that entire interaction went…

1. One call and several emails about the application process and fees.
2. An unsuccessful visit to the bank to open a business account (required by Beanstream and similar providers).
3. Securing a business name in British Columbia and registering the business with the province.
4. Back to the bank to open the business account, as they wouldn’t do it the first time without the name registration.
5. Fill out ~18 pages of application forms… then print, scan, sign, and email back to Beanstream.
6. Several emails to confirm details on extensive application.
7. Question from Beanstream about PCI compliance of WP Engine, our WordPress host. Huh?
8. Request a dedicated IP address from WP Engine.
9. Learn that WP Engine’s shared servers are not PCI compliant (I’ll bet you can see where this is headed).
10. Decision time: Move our site from WP Engine, pay a much higher monthly fee to WP Engine for a dedicated server, host our checkout page on Beanstream’s server, or pinch myself to wake up from this nightmare?

Total time required: 3 weeks. And we’re not even finished yet.

To Beanstream’s credit, they were also incredibly responsive and friendly — not to mention the fact that their per transaction fee was slightly less that Stripe’s (for us, anyway). But they are unfortunately stuck in a system that is PAINFUL. Problem is, many people don’t notice because they haven’t experienced EASY.

So all of a sudden, the pain we experienced dealing with initial card declines and then wire transfer fees fell into perspective.

Stripe, we’re yours. We know there’ll be growing pains and that’s okay… please continue to communicate with your customers so that we can communicate with ours when there are problems.

Which brings me back to Stripe’s home page messaging.

Your customers are not just developers. They are business owners like Joanna and me, who are using WordPress and other out-of-the-box CMS and e-commerce solutions.

We’ve experienced the pain of traditional credit card services and we have a story to tell. You should try to tell stories like ours on your site.

Your home page should absolutely connect with developers, but not to the exclusion of non-technical co-founders – because as it turns out, I did not have to write a single line of code to start accepting credit card payments.

You’re definitely onto something big.