At of start of 2019 and all of 2018, 2017— yes for the past few years— we’ve had (and still have) only TWO online payment methods available locally for your online store. Both accept local and internationally issued credit cards with no restrictions. They are First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) based in Bermuda, and WiPay, a Trini company. These two solutions are bona fide mainstream options, easily accessible and require NO workarounds or ratchify to obtain or implement.
That may sound hard to believe and difficult to accept. As Trinis we’ve long been accustomed to having to hack something or pass some change to make it work. So the fact that there are options just for us, that we can use out of the box, is an alien concept. So much so that you still insist on hacking PayPal in spite of these two options being available; I keep getting calls, emails, blog comments, asking about PayPal. And I’m begging you, FORGET PAYPAL, erase it from your mind, it doesn’t work anymore in T&T, we no longer need it.
WIPAY: The Affordable & 'Poor-Man's' Solution
That sounds harsh I know but I use it as a figure of speech just to convey the point. Technically it’s more the budget-friendly solution. It’s especially for those of you so lovesick with your bad PayPal tabanca that you want to ‘heng’ yourself.
WiPay is our Trini version of PayPal but only with the basic features. The good news is that it’s the basic features are what’s essential and, hopefully, it should just be a matter of time for the premium features to appear.
Free to sign-up, free WordPress plug-in- PLUG 'N PLAY
WiPay is free to sign up for both personal and business accounts and there are no ongoing fees. except the standard transaction fees so no transactions = no fees. There is a verification process for businesses, they need your company registration docs etc. to prove identity, and you need a business bank account, i.e. your company must be registered either as a sole trader of limited company with a bank account in that name.
There is a free WiPay/WordPress plug-in that you can download after sign-up, then upload and ‘plug-in’ to your WordPress powered online store. It’s easily configured with just two fields: your WiPay account ID and a secret key generated from your WiPay profile and there you go— you’re ready to accept credit cards online. So easy a caveman can do it!
Note that this WordPress plug-in only works with the Woo Commerce shopping cart. To be clear for those of you not familiar with platforms, use a real world perspective and think of WordPress as your business location where customers visit you in your office to learn about your services. Your office is fitted out with signage when you walk int he door, filing cabinets with your info organized neatly etc. Say you want to sell some products that go with your business, you then need to add some shelves to display your items. Woo Commerce would be the shelves and all other elements for sales like bill book, cash register etc. Got it?
Also noteworthy is that Woo Commerce is owned by Automattic the company that created and owns WordPress. Incidentally, Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, has our own .TT domain extension for his personal website https://ma.tt/. Cool ent?
Technically you can set-up your online store yourself
For those of you computer savvy enough, there is no reason why you can’t set up your own WordPress store yourself. In theory you should be able to do a decent job on your own. However it’s like doing some handyman work on your house— there’s as much you can do yourself before you have to call a plumber, you know, someone who knows what they’re doing :).
Use WiPay with or without online store
WiPay has an feature like PayPal that allows you to request money from anyone by simply sending them an invoice. They then pay the invoice online via credit card. This is particularly useful for companies who want to advertise their products without prices on their website. This way they can use their online store as a catalog only and handle the payments separately.
There is the possibility of an integrated set-up, with no pricing where customers click a ‘Request a Quote’ button instead of ‘Add to Cart’. In the back-end of Woo Commerce the company can provide a quote that the customer can actually pay, which generates an actual order. This is a really neat feature and I’ll be rolling out a couple of sites with it soon.
Keep earned USD with WiPay
WiPay has a feature that detects when non-TT issued credit cards are used for online payment and those payments are shown in your WiPay account under your USD balance next to your TTD balance. You may withdraw your USD funds to your local USD denominated bank account.
While withdrawing the TTD balance from your WiPay account to your bank account is as simple as clicking Withdraw and entering the amount, the USD withdrawal process is not that sophisticated yet. Word is that the automatic process is coming soon but for the time being, you’ll have to email a request to their support department. Like I said, basic features for now.
WiPay is all over the Caribbean
WiPay has full presence in most Caribbean islands and settles in many Caribbean currencies. They are a growing company and have come a long way since inception. They are behind the implementation of the CourtPay system allows for payments to be made by Linx at National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) operated kiosks, in cash, or with credit cards or online. This system required actual parliamentary approval via ‘The Payments into Courts Bill 2018’ which was passed in the T&T Senate. Bottom line, from both public and private knowledge about them, I’m generally confident in WiPay.
No credit card? Pay with WiPay account online, top-up offline
One of WiPay ‘s selling points is being the savior of the un-banked— those who don’t have credit cards for whatever reason. These individuals can sign up for a personal account and add funds by going to any Lotto booth in T&T and purchasing a voucher, then using the voucher-code to ‘top-up’ their WiPay account. You, the online store can upload an additional plug-in that enables the ‘Pay with WiPay’ option that will pay for your purchase from your WiPay balance.
This feature is available throughout the Caribbean with their own top-up locations depending on the island. In theory this is a great feature but in practice I’ve had reports that there were some Lotto booths in both Trinidad and also over in Tobago who were unaware of WiPay and were surprised to be approached to buy a voucher. Hopefully this has been rectified. Hopefully.
Funds security, credit card fraud etc.
WiPay is not a financial institution and as such has to satisfy many Central bank regulations to operate. This is also clearly stated in their website’s footer and always visible on every page: “WiPay is not a financial institution and does not hold money on the users behalf. The funds are held within the framework of existing regulated financial institutions.” Technically, though your funds are with WiPay, they actually sit in a bank account. Should, heaven forbid, some calamity strikes that impedes WiPay’s ability to operate, your funds are secure.
On the fraud side, both you and the cardholder are protected via the transactions being handled through First Atlantic Commerce who happens to be WiPay’s payment gateway provider.
WordPress websites with FAC and WiPay
First Atlantic Commerce (FAC): The Robust/Premium Solution
If you’re not on kicks or playing dollycook then First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) is your solution. It’s for serious business, the rare kind in T&T with a vision, a plan, and the guts to follow through. Not that anyone who opts for WiPay isn’t serious, but the fact that WiPay is free and you can walk away easily, makes you an easy prey for the ‘trying a ting’ Trini syndrome.
Cost to sign-up, cost to integrate, WordPress plug-in available
You have to go through one of our local banks to get FAC. Known banks that offer it are:
- First Citizens Bank (I’ve worked with on many integrations)
- Republic Bank (same as above)
- Scotiabank (I still avoid like the plague)
- CIBC (My first integration in progress)
I heard that RBC Royal Bank does but I don’t know for sure. They’re circling the drain in my opinion, their staff has a more serious case of hookworm than the other banks.
Banks have monthly maintenance costs for FAC
Like I said WiPay doesn’t have any ongoing costs, they make their money off the transaction fees like PayPal. Our banks however charge a monthly fee for the FAC service, typically around $100 USD/mth. I’m sure they have a justified business reason for it but in my opinion they’re just being the bloodsucking parasites that they are; transaction fees are not enough for them.
Choice of one-time integration cost or annual fee WordPress plug-in
There is only one option with Forward Multimedia, and that is a one-time integration fee with 3 months post-launch support. There are WordPress plug-ins available from my competitors but they require annual renewals. I’m indifferent to the pros and cons of such, I’m concerned with what I do. I won’t offer such a plug-in as that’s a headache I prefer not to have.
Robust Merchant Portal
FAC provides an online training session to use their robust Merchant Portal which is part of every integration. You can log into the portal to see full transaction listings in real time, check error codes, generate reports, issue refunds and reversals and much more.
Bear in mind that FAC is a totally different level from WiPay and a different business model. Funds in your FAC account transfers automatically daily and their merchant portal is very sophisticated.
FAC runs like a Swiss watch, Trinis run like a sundial
First Atlantic Commerce is a well oiled machine properly run and runs like clockwork. They don’t EVER drop the ball, they’re always on point and an absolute pleasure to work it. If a local payment gateway provider was to ever emerge, the only thing they’ll be able to compete with FAC on is on price, they’ll NEVER, EVER, EVER, NEVER be able to compete on service. There is not a Trini organization that exists that can compare with FAC, and never will.
Online store platforms that support WiPay & FAC
So far I’ve only mentioned WordPress/WooCommerce which is just one of many website platforms that support both WiPay and FAC. The support is by virtue of WordPress being ‘open-source’, meaning it’s open to access where developers can modify and provide customized solutions at will. So in theory and practice, ANY open source platform can be integrated with either WiPay or FAC.
WordPress platform with Woo Commerce shopping cart
With Woo Commerce if you go to Payment Methods in the Settings area you’ll see PayPal available by default but not WiPay nor FAC. Plug-ins (pre-written ready-to-use coding) or manual coding by a developer is what adds the option in the back-end where you simply click and enable.
The fact that WordPress plug-ins exist for both WiPay and FAC is what makes the platform an easy choice as the coding already exists which means the cost will be relatively affordable. For other open source platforms a developer would have to code from scratch making it more expensive for you, especially if it’s not so popular.
But why would one choose a not so popular platform? Well it depends. One of the main reasons I’ve experienced with my clients relates to the point-of-sale system they’re using that they need to sync their physical store inventory with their online store, but that’s a separate article.
Other popular mainstream blogging platforms that add a shopping cart like WordPress are Joomla, Drupal, Then there is top tier E-Commerce platform of Magento and several lower tier but popular ones like Open Cart and PrestaShop. Rounding out the options would be hosted solutions like Shopify and Big Commerce.
I’ve only done integrations with WordPress and Magento. It’s also helpful that on the list of most popular platforms worldwide for e-Commerce. they are the number one and two.
Magento platform with WiPay & FAC
If WordPress was a car, I’d liken it to a Toyota. A Toyota is not off-limits to any Trini and it’s branding and reputation is robust. Magento would be like a BMW and I can draw many comparisons using this analogy and I’m sure you know the difference between a Toyota and BMW, I doubt you’ll mix up the two.
Magento is also open source and since it’s the number two E-Commerce platform worldwide (it reigned as number one for years till WordPress finally eclipsed it), it’s a matter of course that FAC especially would be readily integrated. I have a few clients on the Magento platform with FAC.
I haven’t done any Magento/WiPay integrations, but I have tried once but it didn’t work. In theory it’s possible but there were issues with my client’s template that would have cost too much to rectify at the time. But the main reason is that I don’t push WiPay for Magento as I’m of the opinion that if you’re going hardcore with an expensive platform like Magento, you can afford the optimal solution of FAC.
Magento now owned by Adobe may get more user friendly
Magento is a bit scary, especially with their latest totally different Version 2. Magento as a company has changed hands a few times and the most recent was last year in 2018 when it was acquired by Adobe for $1.68 billion USD. It’s been anticipated that Adobe will re-engineer Magento aggressively and it’s already started.
One such improvement I’ve been hoping for is the re-introduction of a hosted shopping cart solution. It was tried before by a previous owner under the brand Magento Go but it didn’t take and was discontinued. However, I’m seeing that it may reappear in some form or fashion via Adobe’s Magento Cloud platform, so fingers crossed.
While I will monitor what’s happening with Magento, I see myself mostly recommending WordPress for E-Commerce projects in 2019.
Magento websites with FAC
Shopify Hosted Shopping Cart with FAC plug-in
Though I like the concept of hosted shopping carts like Shopify, I can’t recommend Shopify as the processing fee is almost 5%. That’s in addition to the minimum $29 USD/mth for their basic plan which makes the overall net cost of the service very expensive.
Their pricing plan pages lists the credit card processing fee at 2.9% but that rate is if you’re using their Shopify Payments gateway which is not available to us in T&T. There are Shopify/FAC plug-ins available from other web companies in T&T at a cost of almost $2,000 TTD per year. Add that cost to the $100 USD/mth for FAC from local banks which makes you pretty much bankrupt from the get-go,
Bottom line, I recommend Shopify only if you’re a US based Trini and can open a Shopify account as a US person.
Other open source platforms/hosted shopping carts
You’ll just be wasting your time if you’re entertaining any platform other than the mainstream WordPress or Magento. Sure there are many other popular ones like Open Cart, Zen Cart, PrestaShop etc., but in my opinion they all have the same standard features one would expect from a shopping cart. if you’re unsure, just stick to WordPress and you can’t go wrong.
E-Commerce outlook in Trinidad & Tobago for 2019
On the record I’m sticking with my position of WHATEVER. Off the record I’m mildly optimistic as I’m aware of some developments developing that I can’t mention. Given the stature of the players, it’s going to be a big deal and even a game-changer, and I always predicted this would happen, the same way I predicted that a local aggregator will come which came in the form of WiPay.
On the merchant side there is no surge, trend or uptick that’s a signal for anything. It’s the same interest from individuals and businesses still there moving poke-a-poke in typical Trini fashion. We’ll see new online stores trickling slowly but no flood as it’s virtually impossible given that it takes time to build, test and launch an E-Commerce website.
So just keep doing what you’re doing and let it unfold, don’t fight it. Be assured that I’ll let you know when something significant happens.
There are ONLY TWO bona fide online payment solutions available in Trinidad and Tobago for your online store. If there are any others then they must be keeping it a secret, in which case they’re not intended for you. So by all means contact your bank, contact WiPay , contact Forward Multimedia, contact cement… get a move and do something, the E isn’t going to Commerce itself.