Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Micropayments Review #1

We're two weeks into the PublicWishingWell.com experiment, so I thought I'd pass along some of our findings thus far with respect to PayPal's micropayment services:

First, let me just say that frustration would be understating our initial feelings. Understand that PayPal released its first press release regarding micropayments on August 31st of this year, so we figured the service was up and running in full, complete with documentation, well-trained support (as we've experienced with PayPal's traditional merchant services). We were, however, dead wrong.

When seeking information on the topic of signing up for a micropayments account, the only means publicly available was the email alias micropayments@paypal.com, which was very slow to respond. In fact, I used other means to actually sign up for the account before ever hearing back from that email alias. Because I had personally been in contact with a business development agent (Jennifer, out of Omaha) for other merchant services needs, I simply called her back and she sent me a promotional email with a link to sign up for a micropayments, enabled account.

The URL was a redirect that landed me back on what seemed to be the standard "create an account" first page, but I was assured it would create a mircopayments enabled account. Even after creating and using the account, however, which did charge the appropriate $0.05 + 5% fees, without actually looking at the fees charged on actual receipts, you'd never know it was a micropayments account. It's not stated anywhere, there's no special micropayments-specific instructions or documentation, and, in fact, when you click on the "transaction fees" link while logged in, you'll actually be told that the account is enable for "standard fees". Confusing.

Oh, forgot to mention, instead of simply having micropayments added to your existing business or premier account you have to get another one for micropayments, which, many of you may know, flies in the face of PayPal's own stated policy of "one personal, one business/premier account per person." When I called customer service about both the issues of not being sure whether or not my new account was, in fact, a micropayments account, and if I was violating their own terms by having more than one business/premier account, despite needing a new one to have micropayments, half of the support people I talked to tried to convince me that PayPal did not, in fact, have any such thing as micropayments, and the other half had heard of it, but had no idea.

Long story short, Jennifer, my angel, was sick for a few days, so I couldn't get in touch with her, and I grew increasingly frustrated, eventually blasting off a steaming email to Peter Ashley, the stated manager of digital content and micropayments for PayPal. Jennifer got back, returned my messages, reassured me that I was set up right, and I was on my way, albeit with no documentation. I'm complaining a bit about documentation, but in the vast majority of aspects, micropayment deployment is identical to standard PayPal services. Don't be afraid.

A great bright spot (to me), is that Mr. Peter Ashley called me back after receiving my email. I happened to be on the phone at the time, so he left a voicemail for me. We're still trying to get hooked up on a call to hash through some of this, but the basics of his message were this: He understands and agrees with the issues I've brought up (lack of documenation, trained support personnel, and apparent need to violate PayPal's own terms to use micropayments if you already have a business/premier account), and he'd like to have the chance to explain why this is. He breifly stated in his message that the micropayments "initiative" was a "soft launch" (like alpha or beta in my estimation) whereby PayPal would be set up to handle inquiries from companies like ours who have a need. They'd learn from early users what exactly is needed, how micropayments will be used, etc., then do some additional development on the services and "get ready for a prime time launch." I'll post my findings, if interesting, I guess, after actually speaking with Mr. Ashley.

Review #1 Conclusion: I was intensely frustrated by PayPal's "soft launch" approach, but now understand it. PayPal's micropayments (when you're assured you've actually got it) is every bit as easy as their standard services, and at $.05 + 5%, you can feasibly sell digital goods/services as cheap as $0.10 and still not lose money (you'd actually keep 40% or $0.04).

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