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The Definitive Guide to Payment Gateways

Here at Checkfront, we are pleased to work with some fantastic payment gateways to create a simple, streamlined experience for users and their customers. But we also get a lot of questions about payment gateways; what they are, why they’re useful, and what’s necessary to know when you’re comparing two providers. That’s why we’ve written this comprehensive guide; it’s meant to cover a lot of the information you’ll be bombarded with when you’re shopping around, and give you the tools and knowledge to make smart decisions about a major factor of your business. We encourage you to read through the whole thing; but if you want the shorthand version, start with these questions:

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Cheatsheet: 10 Cash-Saving Questions to Ask Your Payment Provider

1: Do you support my home country and currency?

It is vital that the gateway operates in your country. Even if you have a foreign merchant account, restrictions may still apply; there are many regional gateway options, so make sure you’re comparing things appropriately. more…

2: Do you offer integrated checkout?

Customers and business owners alike prefer to have their checkout process as safe and seamless as possible; being able to embed the payment page on your website is a major feature that many merchants prioritize. more…

3: What are your policies about refunds, chargebacks, and customer support?

These offerings can vary widely from company to company. Some of them offer it packaged along with your subscription; others will charge extra for certain perks. These factors must be taken into account while you compare different gateways. more…

4: What are your security standards?

All companies which process, store, or transmit consumer credit card information must comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and your chosen payment gateway should adhere to this at the very minimum. They may also offer advanced fraud protection, either for an extra fee or included in your service, and it’s important to pick a gateway with a good reputation and know how they will keep your data secure. more…

5: What is your payout policy?

A payment gateway doesn’t continuously put cash into your bank account; there’s no point in doing hundreds of deposits per day. You’re paid out in a batch on a regular basis, but the time frame for payouts can vary from every few days to once per month! If you want a regular cash flow, look for a service which will pay you out every week or so. more..

6: Do I need a Merchant Account?

Depending on the size of your business, you may need a dedicated merchant account; some gateways also only work if you have one. They are great for larger businesses and you have more control over your money, but the application process involves a credit check and can be lengthy and expensive. There are alternatives, like aggregate services (Paypal, Stripe) which can be good choices for smaller companies. more…

7: Do you offer re-billing services/Can I store customer card information?

Re-billing is the ability for merchants to store credit card numbers, even temporarily, so that they can add to a customer’s invoice without taking their credit information again. This is very useful if, for instance, you want to take a deposit on a rental and then have the full payment rendered on the rental date. more…

8: How much does your service cost?

You are going to pay a variety of fees for any payment gateway worth using. The exact makeup of those fees will vary from company to company; most charge a per-transaction fee, and others require a monthly subscription on top of that and other types of fees. Some optional charges are for things you may really need, like rebilling and customer support, so make sure to assemble a full list of what you need and get an idea of what it’ll all cost when you’re comparison shopping. more…

9: What are the terms of your contract?

This especially pertains to merchant accounts, which will have more paperwork than aggregators. The payment gateway is dealing with highly sensitive information that’s really important for your business; you should always, always know how the gateway uses that data, and how easy it is for you to take it with you if you wish to cancel the service. more…

10: How easy is setup?

Some gateways are easy: put in some information, connect it to your back-end application, and off you go. Others will only work with approved merchant accounts, or require that you log into their website to issue refunds. Take a look at the support documents for the service and do some research into what other people think of the gateway. more…

 

Want the full scoop?

This ten minute read can save your business a lot of money and headaches:

  1. 10 Cash-Saving Questions to Ask Your Payment Provider
  2. Introduction
  3. Why is it a Good Idea?
  4. Features to Look For
  5. Demystifying Merchant Accounts
  6. Re-Billing: What to Look For and Why
  7. Costs
  8. Other Questions to Consider

Running an online business has never been easier; no matter what you’re selling or where you are, you can connect to the global marketplace with just a WordPress site and a few key plugins. But while the resources have been streamlined, you still need to pick the right ones that will work for your business and further your success. You need to pick a website provider that will allow you to add inventory with ease; you need to have a customer-friendly, clean design. And you need a payment gateway to process your transactions. But what is a payment gateway exactly, and which one should you choose to help run your online business?

When you go to a physical store and use your credit or debit card, the clerk will usually swipe it through a point of sale (POS) terminal. These automated machines facilitate the transaction, ensure the funds are available, and transfer them to the merchant—but keep your data private. In simplest terms, a payment gateway is the online equivalent of POS machines; it provides a way for retailers to take customer payment information securely, ensuring that the data is passed from the buyer to the merchant and the bank without getting compromised.

 

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Why is it a Good Idea?

Streamlined Cashflow

Running an online business means that you don’t deal with physical cash in the same way that a brick-and-mortar store does; if you sell products online but are only able to take payments in a physical form (such as checks), then your cash flow is going to be very inconsistent and occasionally may run you into trouble. If a customer makes online reservations for your accommodation or tour online, you could end up waiting weeks or more for their payment—and if they fail to show up, then you’re eating that cost. If you run a service which charges customers on a recurring basis, you need their information every time you take a payment. With online payment options, you’ll get your cash flow at the same rate as your sales—a much better situation for your bank account! For businesses which operate based on bookings and scheduled events—like those who might use Checkfront—this aspect is absolutely vital.

Improved Security

Taking credit card payments online is all well and good, but why use a payment gateway, specifically?

Some people dismiss payment gateways as being too much of a hassle, but here’s the thing: if you try to do it yourself, you’re taking on the responsibility of collecting, storing, and properly processing credit card data online. If your server crashes, or your website is hacked, or even if you simply mistype some crucial code, all of that information could be made vulnerable or possibly lost. It’s a nightmare that no business owner should have to endure! Payment gateways take care of all of that stuff for you, and make online transactions much quicker and more secure. Online shoppers know the risks of giving their credit card data away too willingly, and having a third party gateway will give them peace of mind.

Checkfront defaults to a ‘reservation-only’ mode; you can still use the software without a payment gateway, but you won’t be able to take any payments whatsoever. We have over twenty different payment gateways that can integrate into Checkfront, so you’ve got lots of options for which service should handle your transactions. But that brings us to the big question: how do you choose a payment gateway that’s right for you?

Features to Look For

Payment gateways seem complicated in part because there’s so much diversity in what is offered, how much it costs, and how your money is managed. Furthermore, every business is different; some operate entirely online, while others have a physical storefront. Some process thousands of online transactions per month, and some only deal with a few dozen. The different gateways are a reflection of the incredible diversity of their clients.

That said, there are some core features that you should look for when shopping around for a payment gateway. Some will be more important to you than others, or not relevant at all, but these are the vital components that you should keep in mind when you’re comparing services. Consider the type of payments you need to take, and pick a system that’s flexible enough to handle them; some businesses will only need a simple gateway setup, and others will need more advanced options.


Currency Support

currencyThe web has connected the world in unprecedented ways, including financial interactions. You can buy almost anything you can imagine online, no matter where the retailer is located—and vice versa. But this universality means that you’ll have to deal with a variety of different currencies. Here there are two separate but intertwined considerations when it comes to payment gateways: which currencies the gateway accepts, and which currencies it will pay out—that is, the countries in which it will work.

A gateway may only work for merchants based in the USA, Canada, the UK, but can process payments from accepted credit cards no matter where that cardholder lives; many companies also offer currency conversion, so that international shoppers will see prices listed in their home currency instead of the default USD. Some gateways are US-only and will only accept US dollars. Before you take a look at anything else, take note of which payment gateways will work in your home country—otherwise you’ll be doing comparisons with something that you’ll never actually be able to use!


Integrated Checkout

Have you ever gone to buy something, only to be redirected off of the store’s page to a pay site and prompted for your credit card details? It’s a disruption to your online shopping experience, visually disconnecting you from the goods you’re buying and the merchant who’s selling them. People are wary of redirected pages, especially when it comes to giving their credit card details online, and they may change their minds if they fear that they’re not paying via a secure path.

That example involves a hosted checkout page, and it’s a common choice for smaller businesses and one of two types of checkout page options you will run across. It’s quite easy to implement and requires very little technical knowledge; however, if you do choose to go this route, you should be able to customize the look of the hosted page so that it mirrors your own website. Customers are more likely to convert if they have a streamlined, cohesive purchasing experience; but even if they know your business is trustworthy, they may still be unsure about submitting their information to an unknown payment gateway page.

Customers are more likely to convert if they have a streamlined, cohesive purchasing experience.

This is where integrated checkout comes in, and it’s the preferred choice for many businesses and is relatively easy to implement on a page or in an app like Checkfront. Integrated checkout options keep the checkout process entirely on your site, while still being extremely secure; it looks professional, it feels more trustworthy from a user experience standpoint, and it smoothes the process. Gateways like Stripe, 2Checkout, and Authorize.net all offer this service.

This is an important point when it comes to cloud-based services, and one that many people often forget. You’ll want to consider whether your chosen payment gateway will play nicely with other add-ons that help you operate your website. Using a booking system with a disconnected payment gateway is asking for headaches you don’t need. Check our list of supported payment gateways for Checkfront, and if you don’t see one you want to use then drop us a line to ask about it; we may be able to include it in a later update to our system.

Technology

Payment gateways are all about taking a customer’s money, but sometimes it’s not just as simple as that. Do you have a storefront with a physical POS terminal? If so, look into options that will play nicely together. You shouldn’t have to deal with two separate payment systems with separate fees and separate policies. Some companies, like Moneris, offer point-of-sale services as well as online options, so all of your payments are being processed in the same place by the same provider. If you’re going to be using mobile devices heavily, get a gateway that integrates with your mobile operating system; if you operate with a lot of coupons, you’ll want something that can calculate those changes automatically without a lot of trouble on your end.


Refund Options

Do you offer refunds to your customers, just in case? Then make sure to pick a gateway that will do them for you. Checkfront offers options for refunds in the back end of our system, but some payment gateways don’t connect to that part of the app; in these cases, you will have to log into the payment gateway site, issue the refund, then go back to your Checkfront account and manually square up the invoice with the refund. Having a refund cycle that’s connected to Checkfront makes all of this far easier; luckily, most of the popular gateways like Stripe, Quickpay, and eWay offer this connectivity. Look for integrated or in-app refunds offered as an option.


Security and Reputation

Part of the appeal of a payment gateway is the increased security for you and your customers. You’re dealing with a very important and very sensitive aspect of your business, and a data breach could destroy your reputation. Payment gateways need to be secure; they should be willing to explain how they protect you and your customers, and ideally they should conform to web security standards like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) at a minimum. Does the gateway hold on to customer credit card data? If so, for how long and why? Go to bat for your customers’ security and make sure their money (and yours) is in the right hands.

Always do outside research on potential gateways; when you type the company name into Google, does it auto-suggest words like “scam” or “complaints”? Read reviews online—both from professionals and users. The big companies will have a mix of positive and negative reviews, but you can always find horror stories from bad companies and it’s best to avoid becoming one yourself. Check out what other users are saying on social media outlets like Twitter; these public spaces often act as impromptu customer service outlets, and you can see how the company responds to questions and complaints.


Payout Policy

Payment gateways act as an intermediary between the customer’s bank account and your own, ensuring that the money is available and that the transaction is successful. But the money won’t actually land in your account until the transaction is settled by both the issuing and acquiring bank, and that can take time to process. Payment gateways hold on to batches of money and pay out to you on a regular basis—this can be a daily occurrence, like with Authorize.net, or it can be a weekly payout like with Stripe. Depending on your business model, you may want to go with a delayed payout so that the gateway can offer in-app refunds quickly and easily. But make sure you know the gateway’s payout policy; some hold on to your money for up to a month, and you don’t want to grind everything to a halt while you wait for that cash to become available.

Support

Don’t underestimate the importance of customer support when looking for a payment gateway. This is going to be a major part of your business, and if something goes wrong it could bring things to a screeching halt. As we talked about above, doing research into other users’ experiences with your chosen gateway will prove invaluable. Some companies only offer a certain level of service for their smaller-size pricing options; others will offer comprehensive support for everyone. You want a gateway service that will be able to work with you to fix things when they go wrong.

Demystifying Merchant Accounts

If you’ve looked into payment gateways even a little bit, you’ve probably run across the term “Merchant accounts”; there are lots of companies which offer them packaged along with their gateway services, and others which warn that you must have a merchant account before you can set up a subscription. What the heck are they talking about? What is a merchant account, and why is it different from the one you already have as an established business? Why do some gateways need a credit check whereas others are just sign-up-and-go? What is the meaning of all this?

Internet merchant accounts are a very important part of payment gateways, but they can be confusing unless you untangle them and understand the role they serve (and what they do not do). So here’s a breakdown.

A merchant is a special bank account that holds the funds from debit and credit card sales. Separate from the business owner’s actual bank account, funds in the merchant account are held there until the end of the day, when they are transferred to the owner as a batch—otherwise, the business would be depositing money hundreds of times per day. Whenever you pay with a debit or credit card, your money goes to this intermediary merchant account.

While there is a lot of confusion and questions about payment gateways, merchant accounts can be more complicated. There are two types of merchant accounts: dedicated and aggregate. A dedicated merchant account is one that belongs only to you; the money inside is solely yours. With an aggregator, everyone’s payments are processed by the provider and the cash goes into a big pool.

Why a Dedicated Account?

With a dedicated account, you enter into a legal agreement with the issuing bank or company and must usually undergo a lengthy credit check and application process. The most basic consumer protection policy states that a cardholder is entitled to get their money back if the good or service they purchased is not delivered. The payment processors risk losing money every time they handle a credit card transaction on your behalf, because they must cover the cost of chargebacks and credit issues. So getting a dedicated merchant account takes some effort, including gathering your financial statements, submitting an application (sometimes with an application fee), and convincing the underwriters that you are not a risky investment for them.

Should you get a dedicated merchant account? That depends. If you’re only processing a few dozen credit cards per month, then the lengthy application process and the myriad of fees, contracts, and terms of service may not be worth it; it’s better to go with an aggregator (see below) for a low volume of credit card sales. But if you do a lot of business online, a dedicated merchant account gives you way more control over your money. One of the biggest advantages is the incredibly quick payout rate—usually less than two business days—which is very convenient for those who need or want the cash as quickly as possible.

Some gateways offer a merchant account along with their payment processing services; others, like Authorize.net, have a list of verified resellers that they work with very well. With this setup, you are charged based on the volume of your sales and the type of business you operate, and there are usually tiered options or negotiable rates you can customize, to a degree. Always read your account contract very carefully and know exactly what you’re being charged for and what sort of rates you’re getting, and why.

Why an Aggregator?

The other type of merchant account is an aggregator. These accounts are like a big central pool, which you share with the other companies using the service. Instead of a bank taking on your risk and processing payments on your behalf, companies like Paypal and Stripe do that for you—think of them as a proxy, of sorts. It’s much easier to get connected to an aggregator; while you still need to give them some information about your business, you’re not going to be denied because of a short credit history. You typically pay fewer fees, have a more generalized contract, and can get set up far faster.

With an aggregator setup, your money is still paid out to you, but it typically takes a little longer—anywhere from five business days to one entire month! That said, aggregators like Stripe and Paypal offer flat per-transaction rates, and rarely have setup or monthly fees on top of that. For merchants who only process a few hundred transactions per month or so, they are a lightweight, cheaper option, with straightforward fee structures and very little hassle to set up.

Merchant Accounts

  • more control over your money
  • dedicated account which only belongs to you
  • quick payouts
  • close relationship with issuing bank
  • tiered discount rates based on processing volume and risk level

Best for:

Companies that process lots of payments each month

Aggregators

  • payments go into the company’s large pool
  • slower payouts
  • fewer fees and application requirements
  • relatively easy setup
  • limited customization of services

Best for:

Smaller companies and startups


Other Key Questions to Ask About Merchant Accounts and Payment Gateways:

- do I need to have one set up independently of the gateway, or do I need to have a merchant account bundled with the gateway?

- are there specific providers I must choose in order to use this gateway?

- what’s the application process like?

- what are the requirements for standard accounts?

- how much does the account cost—both upfront, and over time?

- is a merchant account actually advantageous for my company’s size and operational volume?

Re-billing: What to Look For and Why

If you need to set up automatic recurring billing, or want to take a temporary deposit that will be refunded at a later date, then you’ll need a payment gateway that offers these options. One of the most commonly asked questions from Checkfront users is whether they can store credit card numbers so that they can add onto a customer’s invoice or charge an initial deposit and then take full payment later, without having to take the customer’s credit card information a second time. The answer is yes; this is absolutely possible, and many merchants specifically seek out gateways that support re-billing. But some gateways will charge extra for this option, and you want to make sure that your gateway will tokenize the credit card data to make sure it’s as secure as possible.

Tokenization is the process by which sensitive data is transformed into something that has no external value or exploitable meaning, but can still be used by the applications, people, and processes that need it. A great real-world example is casino chips; they are passed between player and dealer or player and player just like real money would, but they have no value outside of the casino. If $2000 worth of casino chips are stolen, the casino hasn’t actually lost that amount of money; they’ve just lost the tokens that represented the cash.

tokensWhen it comes to credit card data online, tokenization is advantageous over basic encryption because there is no mathematical relationship between the original number and the transformed one. With straight encryption, there’s a specific code that transforms a 5 into, say, a % sign, and a 34 into a 67. But the problem with this is that codes can be broken with enough time, energy, and brute force. Tokenization, on the other hand, just substitutes one value for another, usually by random number generation. The number 3447 on a customer’s credit card could become 8910 for one transaction, but 6622 for another. Businesses can use the tokenized numbers to generate their reports and maintain their records, just like a gambler can use casino chips in place of actual money. In both cases, the tokens are transformed back into their original form when payout occurs.

How does this relate to payment gateways? A good one will tokenize your data, making it more secure. But with this increased security comes a slight drawback: since you’re not storing customer credit card details—just the randomized tokens—it can be very difficult to set up a rebilling cycle or add a payment to a customer’s card without taking their information a second time. If you want to have these billing options, you will need to pick a payment gateway that gives you this ability—Stripe, WePay, Authorize.net, and a few others all offer it.

Costs

Payment gateways are going to cost you money; this is a fact that no one can deny. If you resist the notion of paying for the service then you’re going to end up with a very limited setup that will not offer you the full range of options you need and deserve. Paying for a gateway service is worth every penny, but the payment options are very different from company to company and can often become confusing to a newcomer. Here’s a small rundown of the different types of charges you may see, and what you should expect.

 

 

Expected Fees:

Discount Rates and Transaction Fees

A common discount rate is 2.9% + 30¢ per successful transaction.

This is the bread and butter of payment gateways, and one of the major things you’ll be comparing when looking for your right fit. Virtually every gateway we’ve ever seen makes their money by charging you a small percentage of each transaction they process for you. This is usually called a merchant discount rate, and it’s typically between 2-5%. Additionally, most gateways will charge a flat rate of a few cents on each transaction—typically under fifty cents. This commission is split between your merchant account provider, payment gateway, and credit card provider (or any combinations therein). The rates vary greatly depending on your chosen company and setup.

Stripe, for instance, will charge you 2.9% + 30¢ per successful transaction, no matter what. eWay, a popular Australian service, charges different amounts for different plans; their base plan charges the same 2.9% + 30¢ as Stripe, and their highest-tiered package charges 1.8% + 10¢ per transaction (plus a larger monthly fee). The merchant discount rate gets smaller as your monthly sales increase.

With some gateway companies, the buck (or 2.9% of the buck) stops here; they make their money on each transaction they process. But things aren’t always that simple, and if you just go with the cheapest discount rate then you may find yourself with a very poor match. There are other fees that are regularly charged, depending on the complexity of the service and the features you’re going to be using.

Monthly Fees

Almost all payment gateways have a monthly fee structure. It’s not uncommon to see multi-tiered levels of fees; the more services and functions you use, the more you’ll probably pay. Aside from the baseline monthly administrative/maintenance fee, you may be charged for optional services like fraud detection, auto-billing, and the level of customer support available (see below). Monthly fees may also vary depending on the size of your business and how many transactions you process per month; eWay, for example, offers two tiers of monthly plans, with varying discount rates, free transactions per month, and other offerings depending on the size of your business.

ImportantIf you are going to use an internet merchant account, then you will most likely pay a monthly fee to cover it. Companies like eWay and Authorize.net will bundle a merchant account and payment processing together, or offer to sell you each separately. Gateway plans that include merchant accounts are going to be very differently priced, so make sure you’re comparing the right things when you shop around.

Set up fees

When you sign up for a service, they may charge an initial setup fee—especially if you’re creating a merchant account with their assistance. This is a one-time charge, ranging from as low as $49, and while it’s important to take into account when calculating the most efficient gateway for you, don’t let this setup fee trip you up too much; monthly rates and transaction fees are going to be more important in your math.

 

 

Possible Fees

This section covers things that are valuable comparison points for you to use when shopping for gateways, as some of them will charge you and others will not.

Chargeback and Refund Fees

Some gateways (not all) will charge you if you need to refund a customer’s money, or if the customer/bank yanks the payment back from you. The latter situation, which is called a chargeback, tends to incur more fees because they often happen due to fraud, technical or clerical issues, or identity theft. In those cases, the bank is responsible for the money, so they will charge merchants with steep fees as penalty for these situations. But chargebacks aren’t always your fault, and they happen sometimes; unless such situations are vanishingly rare for you, it’s worth searching for a gateway provider who doesn’t penalize you for refunds or chargebacks.

Security and Support

You want a reputable, strong payment gateway service that will take care of all the security issues so you don’t have to; you also want a place to turn if something goes wrong. Some companies will charge you for different levels of security and customer support; they may have a baseline option available for free or cheap, but limit your support to business hours and only via email; more expensive packages will include 24/7 customer support and increased fraud detection. As with the monthly fees section, these fees tend to accompany merchant accounts and other more complex setups. Make sure to ask about what sort of customer support is available to basic subscribers, so you aren’t left at the mercy of Google searches to fix a fundamental part of your business. ALL payment gateways should be PCI-compliant, at the very least; they should only charge for security features on top of that.

Recurring Billing and Data Tokenization

We covered this in detail above; if you want to be able to take several payments from a customer (or add something to their existing order) without taking their card information each time, you may end up paying for that service. Gateways like Authorize.net may also offer data tokenization as an extra add-on to your existing service, instead of just automatically encrypting your information that way.

International Usage

As we mentioned above, one of the great things about an online business is the ability to find customers in every corner of the world. But if you have an eye on the international market, first make sure that your gateway won’t charge you every time you do a currency conversion, or that they’ll accept your home currency without extra fees.

Hidden Fees

If we tried to list every possible fee and charge that you may come across, this document would probably be a textbook! There may be hidden charges on top of the major fees to pay attention to, and you should keep an eye out for words like ‘bundle’, which indicates a bunch of fees lumped together that you may not realize you’re paying. Some common hidden fees include charges for monthly administration (on top of your monthly subscription), unscheduled withdrawals, currency conversion, and batch processing fees. We won’t go into each of these, but simply reiterate that some business owners will find that they need these extras and others won’t, and that a payment gateway which lays all of its costs out on the table is more likely to let you customize your experience with them so you only pay for what you need.

 

 

 

Other Questions to Consider

Do I need to be PCI-Compliant?

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS, or sometimes just PCI for short) is a set of rules that ensure that all companies that process, store, or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment. The major American credit card companies each started their own security requirements before combining them into one central set in 2006. All merchants, regardless of the number of transactions they process, must comply with the PCI standards for their size of business. Most small-to-medium businesses will fall under the umbrella of PCI level 4, processing fewer than 20,000 Visa e-commerce transactions per year.

That said, you may not need to rush out to apply for approval from the PCI standards council; it all depends on how you’re dealing with credit card numbers. If you’re running an online-only business and are using a payment gateway to process all of your transactions, then the responsibility will fall on the gateway to adhere to the standards. For Checkfront users, there isn’t much to worry about; we are <link>fully PCI-compliant, and all payment gateways run through our app, so your business website is likely fine.

PCI compliance is a vitally important point to consider when looking at a payment gateway; it is the first line of defence for both you and your customer against thieves and hackers. ALWAYS make sure that your selected payment gateway is PCI compliant, and check their requirements; some will require that the site using their service is PCI-compliant as well, especially for integrated checkout options.

What will my customers see on their credit card bills?

This is something that many business owners may not think of initially, and while it may not be a dealbreaker it’s still good to know in advance because it pertains to your customers’ experience. Some gateways will show up on credit card bills under the company name, such as “2Checkout” or “Sagepay”; if a customer isn’t familiar with the gateway or didn’t realize you were using one, it can be extremely distressing to see a charge from an unfamiliar place! If you know about this ahead of time, you can let your customers know how the charge will appear on their bills. That said, it’s preferable that your business name is the one they see, and many gateways will give you that option; like with integrated checkout pages, it helps give the customer a seamless, professional buying experience online.

What are the policies for international businesses with a US merchant account?

Many payment gateways are based in the United States, and operate in US Dollars and accounts. This can be frustrating for international merchants, who can find themselves limited in their choice of payment gateways. Some businesses have bank accounts or merchant accounts based in the United States; this may allow them to use certain US-based services, but it’s not a guarantee. You may incur extra fees to use a gateway if you’re based in a different country; it just depends on the company and its policies, so if you’re in this situation you should ask before signing up.


How hard is it to set up?

When you purchase a payment gateway, what’s the process for integrating it into the rest of your business? If you need to get a merchant account (as discussed above), how do you connect it with your bank? Are there clear instructions on how to set up the gateway on your website, and can you run test numbers through it successfully? Always look at the support documents and read instructions; if something seems like a real hassle to set up, then you may want to move on. The goal, as always, is to decrease your headaches and increase your business volume.


Who owns my data?

Whether you’re collecting credit card data to be used in continuous billing, maintaining a private merchant account, or using an aggregator service, you’re going to be dealing with quite a lot of customer data—not just their credit card information (or encrypted equivalent) but records of payments, orders, refunds, and other important transactions related to your business. You should know before you sign up for anything exactly who owns that collected data, and to what extent. Always, always ask about this; you should have full control over your transaction histories and be able to do with it what you wish.

How easy is it to cancel the service?

We know you’re only just starting on the journey of finding a payment gateway, and it may seem pessimistic to be thinking about leaving before you even reach your destination. But whenever you are paying for a subscription or long-term service—especially one that deals with something as critical as your income and customer credit card data—you should know how to cancel your subscription if need be. It’s not just for cases of poor decision-making; even if you do all of your research and sign up with a gateway you like, sometimes situations change and you need to move on in order to grow your business. You may need to give the company a certain amount of notice before you leave, or ride out the rest of your contract (or buy out the remainder). No company wants to see a customer leave, but the good ones will have an open and honest policy about how to do so if you choose to move on.

 

Using Checkfront with Squarespace

Squarespace is an increasingly popular website creation platform, with lots of different options for both personal and commerce pages and dozens of appealing themes and design options. Many people have chosen Squarespace because of its fully integrated commerce setup, which includes retail-friendly templates and built-in Stripe connectivity. But if you’re running a tour, hospitality, or rental business, don’t fret; you can use Checkfront on your Squarespace website, fully integrated and beautifully laid out. Adding Checkfront to your Squarespace website is very easy—you don’t even need a special plugin like you do with WordPress or Drupal sites.

 

1. From your dashboard, go to Manage → Add-Ons, and click on the “Website Integrations” tab.

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2. Click on the “Droplet (Any Website)” button. The Droplet is a widget that creates code that can be dropped into any website to create a Checkfront booking window. You can select a few different options to put your categories into tabs, change the font and background colors, and even apply special discount codes for bookings that come in from this droplet. When you’re satisfied, click “generate code” and copy all of the code that pops up.

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3. In your Squarespace dashboard, click “Add a Page” or navigate to the page where you want to drop the widget.

4. Click on the small + sign on the left of the page, which will open up the Insert Point menu; scroll down and click on the “code” button (more detailed instructions on insert points can be found here: https://help.squarespace.com/guides/about-the-code-block#toc-add-the-code-block).

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5. Paste the Checkfront code into the popup box, click ‘Save’, and save the entire page. It’s as easy as that!

For more information about Squarespace, check out their guide here.

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Checkfront Opens Doors in Victoria, BC

PropertyFile

It’s been a great year at Checkfront and we’ve tripled our team in a few short months. We’ve opened a second office in beautiful Victoria, BC, just a short swim across from our home base in Vancouver*. This new location houses our product team where they are responsible for building and maintaining our online booking system.

Our new office is located in the heart of downtown at 517 Fort St, in one of the city’s historic buildings close to the harbor and sea plane terminal. We’re pleased to be a part of Space Station, a unique and innovative office space solution that gives us a chance to work alongside other local tech companies including Tiny Mob Games and SendWithUs. We have access to a multitude of meeting spaces, a cappuccino machine, and one of our walls is a gigantic whiteboard—what’s not to like?

If you are in Victoria and want to come and say hello, we’d love to introduce you to the people behind our product.

Checkfront Inc
330-517 Fort Street
Victoria, BC, Canada, V8W 1E7
(250) 999-2209

*(we do not recommend that you swim to our new office. That water is cold and our Checkfront-branded yachts are still in the design document phase.)


Choosing a Booking System

It’s admittedly difficult for us to give unbiased advice on finding a good booking system, as we run one—and we love our product. That being said, we will refer customers to other systems if we sense that our software won’t be a good fit. Like any good relationship, both parties need to be happy, or things generally end in tears.

No matter which booking system you choose, we want to help, so we’ve compiled a short list of considerations and questions you should be asking of any potential system or piece of software. Keep these concepts in mind during your search for a booking system; it will help make the process as pain-free as possible, and hopefully guide you in the right direction.

Features

shutterstock_183277097Unfortunately, finding a booking software that meets the needs of your business can be a tiresome process. Booking systems have a wide range of features, and almost-identical business will have very different needs.  It’s a good idea to map out what you think you’ll need beforehand, and ask lots of questions before spending too much time integrating things.

First of all, be wary of booking systems which require upfront costs to get started; you should be able to try the system before paying for it. We’ve all had the experience of paying upfront for something we then regret; sometimes you have to swallow your pride and eat the cost. But make no mistake: your booking software is a big deal for your business. Some systems claim to support every setup and business type known to man, embodying the old adage “jack of all trades, master of none.” You deserve the chance to see if something will work for you, because it will fundamentally alter the way your business runs. Take your time, read reviews, and don’t lock yourself into anything until you’re sure you’ve found a winner. That said, be realistic; it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find a 100% perfect system that addresses every last one of your issues and leaves chocolates on your pillow. In business, as in love, the name of the game is high standards tempered by pragmatic expectations.

Any booking system should include these basic features:

- A sensible inventory management system that can handle bookings (as opposed to just items for sale). You should be able to itemize every tour, rental, or rental you offer, and be able to adjust inventory without much fuss. You should also be able to easily add, modify, and delete items from your inventory, without erasing existing sales records. And the customer should be able to browse your site and pick their desired booking without getting confused.

- A calendar synced with the rest of your website, to help you keep track of bookings. If you’re going to offer self-service booking software on your website, you’re going to get business outside of business hours. If your booking software just takes the payment and isn’t connected to your calendar to fill in the dates, then you face a massive headache of trying to pencil in all of the bookings yourself–and isn’t that the sort of annoyance you’re trying to avoid?

- A user friendly interface. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it could make or break your business! Make sure you know exactly what your customers are going to see, and make sure it works as advertised. People don’t have a lot of patience to struggle with an interface.

- Customer support. This sort of software needs to be customised to some degree, and you may run into confusion or problems. You should be able to get assistance from the company that made the program; trying to Google around to solve your problems gets old really quick.

- Integrations into other tools you use. Your software shouldn’t be closed off from the rest of the internet; you should be able to use social media, review sites, and other plugins right within the system. It makes life much easier for a business that’s even partially web-based.

Offerings

Let’s have a look at what options exist for managing your bookings:

Do it yourself

It’s not uncommon for us to see businesses using a combination of unrelated tools to manage bookings. This can include Google Calendar / Outlook, MS Excel, E-mail forms, Paypal Buttons and the humble sticky note. This is occasionally (lovingly) referred to as a frankenstein booking system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an option for you.

Generally speaking, if you don’t do a whole lot of bookings, then an e-mail form on your website supported by a calendar on your backend may get the job done. If you can manage the amount of emails that come in and keep track of everything, you’re pretty much set. You generally know when this setup has stopped working for you: if overbookings are becoming a problem and e-mails / phone calls are getting overwhelming it may be time to consider a different approach. And if your competition offers online bookings, then they may very well be getting the business that should be yours.

Pros:  Cheap, easy to set up, and likely using tools that are already familiar to computer owners.

Cons: Limited features, relies on human capability, and doesn’t scale up as required to handle increased sales.

Desktop Software

There are more traditional booking systems, which exist as software installed on your computer. In some cases, a client / server setup links multiple desktop clients to a central reservation system, but this connection only occurs behind the scenes: customers can’t access it remotely. Desktop systems can be a good choice in places where internet connectivity isn’t available or is unreliable; many business owners also feel more confident knowing that their software is installed directly on their hard drives, instead of mysteriously floating in the cloud. Unfortunately, desktop software can be very expensive, and you need to buy the entire program up front. With this sort of setup, the only computers that will affect your bookings are the ones you directly control; so while a server outage or hacking attack won’t faze you, a computer virus or hard drive failure could cripple your entire business and compromise vital information.

Ideally, you should make sure that your desktop booking system has some sort of integration into your website. But be warned: the combination may be clunky, if it’s offered at all, as desktop programs just can’t anticipate the near-infinite number of possible website designs, and thus will not be able to adapt as needed to your site.

Pros: No Internet connection required; not vulnerable to online issues.

Cons: High up-front costs and no customer connectivity. You need to be physically in front of the computer in order to access your records.

Build your own

Build vs buy: it’s an age-old question in software. Building your own booking system has the potential to be the best possible fit; you can design a system that meets every need of your business. On the flip side, you could end up spending more time building and operating the system than you do on your core business.  Even basic booking systems get complex quick, and feature creep can be crippling.

With that said, if you find you are making too many compromises with potential booking systems then it may be time to roll up your sleeves and build to spec. If hiring an outside firm, make sure they understand your industry, have good communication with you, and have excellent references. Building custom software is just like building your own home; you want your contractor to be a partner in progress instead of a frustrating burden.

Pros: It’s whatever you want it to be. You own it.

Cons: Can be very expensive to build and maintain, and impossible to merge with other systems.

Cloud / Software-as-a-Service

Yes, we’re guilty of buzzword bingo. It seems these days that every website promotes themselves as “in the cloud”, to the point where it’s easy to lose track of the true meaning behind the phrase. Essentially, cloud software takes the requirements of traditional software and makes them available to you on demand. This is also known as Software-as-a-service (SaaS).

Cloud software vendors are responsible for maintaining and updating the software. New features roll out regularly—ideally at no cost — and you can access the program from computer with an internet connection. The basic idea behind a cloud booking system is that it centralizes your data; customers can book from your website and feed into a central reservation system in real time. The entire thing can be downloaded and integrated into your website with minimal tinkering required, fitting as easily as a key into its lock–in fact, ready-to-use software like this is often called “turnkey software”.

A good cloud offering will include an open API should you wish to build onto it, and be able to integrate mobile apps, site plugins, and third party systems like Paypal or Stripe—without these, it’s simply a website within your website.

Pros: Turnkey, cost effective, and communicates with other relative services.

Cons: You don’t own the software. Limited ability to customize core features.

Pricing

Selecting a service that fits with your business model is very important.  It’s probably the first item on your checklist that you should consider before heading down the path with a booking system. You could find the greatest booking system in the world, but if it doesn’t meet your budget or scale with your business, you’ll likely end up replacing it.  Look ahead to your busy season, and make sure the pricing is within your budget. Here are some of the most common pricing breakdowns for online booking software; desktop or custom-made systems are usually just bought upfront.

Commission

Commission-based pricing is a traditional model and easy one to understand: when a booking is made, you pay a percentage of proceeds to the software manufacturer. Rates can range widely from 1% to 25%.

The key question to ask here is: are you paying a revenue share to your booking system for customers that would otherwise already arrive on your website?  Moreover, are you paying a commission on repeat business? Paying commission on net new business is one thing, but paying on existing business is expensive.

User Fees

Some booking systems offload the commission or transaction fee by way of a service fee to the customer. It’s a bit like a commission in reverse: instead of the booking system taking a percentage off of your advertised price, they will instead add the fee to the customer’s final total, along with applicable taxes.

The key point to consider here is that, whether you’re charged commission or a user fee, this is increasing the price of your service. These pricing plans don’t necessarily mean that the software is useless or should be avoided, but it’s good to find out if your competition charges a booking fee, and if customers are more likely to call you if they know there is no service fee associated with your business.

Volume Plans

Most cloud/SAAS platforms operate on a pay per use model. This means you pay based on how much you use the software, and it’s often bundled in plans which give you several options to fit your needs. Mailchimp charges per message delivered; Dropbox’s billing is dependant on how much storage you use; and Checkfront charges based on how many bookings you run through the system. With pay-per-use, your software-expenses-to-increased-business ratio is much smaller; subscriptions can be cancelled if need be, and may therefore be cheaper than upfront software purchases in the long run. But if you don’t get the volume, you may end up paying for something you’re not using. It’s important to have an established idea of your customer volume in order to ensure your investment won’t go to waste.

Free

Free booking software does exist.  There are open source, ad supported, and flat free systems out there.  Many of these put the responsibility of hosting and maintenance onto you, the business owner, and updates and customer support may be very bare-bones–in some cases, you will end up asking Google many of your troubleshooting questions. Be sure you have someone technical available to manage a free system, and always check to see that the software is actively maintained and securely retained by its owners. These sorts of programs can be very easy to exploit, and a security breach could spell disaster for your business.

Support

Getting support when you need it is critical.  Self service support portals are great, but when push comes to shove, can you get the answers you need in a timely matter? What’s the turnaround for support? Are you charged extra to get answers to your questions, and is there support available in your timezone?

Other Questions to Ask

Who owns my data, and can I take it with me when I leave?

Your historical booking data and customer records are important to your business.  We’ve encountered countless customers who have had their data held hostage by a booking system–sometimes by design or policy, other times just by the fact you can’t export the data in a friendly format. It can be due to a poorly designed system that doesn’t play well with others, or a calculated way to amass your data (and potentially sell it to third parties). Make sure that you know exactly who will own the data you collect, and what the terms of the contract are in this regard.

Do you have other happy customers like me?

Make sure someone else in your industry is using them and check to see if they are happy. Go to Google and type in the company name; does the word “scam” or “complaint” come up in the auto-suggestion list? There are hundreds of ways to find real reviews from pissed off customers; don’t become another horror story.

Can I accept payments online?

Buying and reserving things online is no longer a newfangled fad; it’s a fundamental part of everyday life. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to book a service and being told that you must call to give your credit information, or are routed to an unfamiliar payment site. Customers know which payment systems are secure, and are more likely to book if they can pay through Paypal, Stripe, or other secure merchants.

Do you integrate into my website?

More and more bookings are done online. Customers want to be able to book at a time convenient to them, and filling out a form that promises you’ll get back to them soon just won’t cut it. An integrated platform looks professional, feels trustworthy, and streamlines the user experience. If the booking software can operate entirely within your website, it will become a seamless part of your overall online presence and heighten a customer’s sense of security and trust.

Do you integrate into the tools I use to run my business?

Your booking system shouldn’t be a silo. It should happily integrate into the other tools you use on a daily basis–calendars, social media profiles, mobile apps, accounting software, whatever you use. Your goal is to streamline your business by making bookings easier to make, track, and implement; if a system will force you to manually input all new bookings into your POS back end calendar, or add new customers to your email lists one by one, then it may be more trouble than it’s worth. Of course, no single software is going to be perfect for everyone’s needs; here at Checkfront we get requests from our clients asking for compatibility with things we never even imagined we’d need when we launched. But tool integration is a key part of making your booking system a central, vital part of your business and website.

Conclusion

So what should you take away from this post? Are you feeling overwhelmed with the different varieties, pricing options, and ideal features? We know how you feel; it’s a big decision, but if made right it can totally transform your business. Our FAQ and Support sections are great resources if you have questions or want to know if Checkfront is right for you. We’re not the best thing for everyone, but we’re a great fit for most companies, and if you have questions, we want to hear them!

Try Checkfront for Free Today No Credit Card Required

California Dreaming – Online Booking Boom in the Golden State

Checkfront California Customers Map

If all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, you’re probably California dreaming. And why not? With dozens of accommodation, tour, rental businesses and wineries across the state, Checkfront is helping to lead the way in customer driven online bookings.

Just like the great California Gold Rush of 1848, business owners in the tourism and rental industries are flocking to Checkfront to bring their online booking presence into the 21st century.

Checkfront’s body of clients in California cover a wide range of business types from SWS Mountain Guides at the northern end of the state, to Rec Golf Cart Rentals in the south.

Technology has come a long way since the Gold Rush days and California is home to some of the top tech companies in the world. As our lives become busier and busier, the need to operate a business while on the go is becoming more and more important. Just ask the good folks at Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma, db Autosportif, University of Surfing and San Francisco’s very own Local Tastes of the City Tours, all of whom are utilizing Checkfront’s iOS app for managing bookings and even processing credit card payments while out of the office.

The incredible support we received in the initial set up of our Checkfront reservation system was crucial to the success of the project

With more than a quarter of smartphone users in the US owning an iPhone, it only makes sense that many Checkfront clients are also utilizing Apple’s Passbook facility, which allows a user to add their booking confirmation to the Passbook app on their phone. As the user approaches their destination, their booking automatically pops up on the screen ready for check-in.

Db Autosportif are an example of one such business and their partnership with Checkfront is continuing to flourish.

“Checkfront has really managed to take an element of our business off our minds” said Danielle Stroble.

“Now that our customer can complete the reservation process directly through our website, we can focus on our relationship and provide the best experience for the client. The incredible support we received in the initial set up of our Checkfront reservation system was crucial to the success of the project, allowing us to move forward with our launch much more smoothly.”

Posting prices in the booking window has much improved the communication with prospective customers, saving time spent on the phone and engaging in negotiations

Facebook, who also call California home, is another platform that Checkfront has integrated with in recent times. In fact, businesses can not only embed their booking portal directly into their company website, but they can also embed one in their Facebook Page too. With all these amazing features at their disposal, it’s no surprise that Checkfront’s customer base is buzzing with more bookings than ever before.

B. Bryan Preserve are a great example of a company which fully utilizes the technology and features available through Checkfront with their Point Arena based African wildlife reserve.

The reserve offers accommodation and daily tours to its guests through Checkfront’s seamless booking portal on the company website.

“Posting prices in the booking window has much improved the communication with prospective customers, saving time spent on the phone and engaging in negotiations”, said Judy Mello.

The iOS app on both the iPad and iPhone has proved invaluable when managing bookings on the go, as well as Checkfront’s integration with Google Calendar for viewing bookings without being logged in to Checkfront.

Integration with the popular payment gateway Stripe has also enabled the reserve’s customers to serve themselves and allow the staff to spend more time looking after the animals and running day to day operations.

I paid for the first year of Checkfront in the first 24 hours of use, without having to pick up the phone

It’s a similar story over at the University of Surfing in San Francisco. Being a popular attraction in the Bay Area, the company phones were constantly ringing off the hook. There must be a better way? Well there is, and business owner Matt Cole came across Checkfront via a simple internet search. He took the 21 day free trial for a spin and hasn’t looked back.

“I paid for the first year of Checkfront in the first 24 hours of use, without having to pick up the phone…” said Matt. “We haven’t answered the phone in something like seven months!” he went on to joke.

Like many business owners these days, Matt offered Groupon based discounts which inevitably led to a dramatic increase in the volume of incoming sales calls. Thanks to Checkfront’s built in voucher redemption system though, Matt was able to record a message on the company voicemail pointing customers to the website where they could quickly and conveniently redeem their code in order to purchase a surfing lesson.

And there you have it. As California has moved from Gold Rush to Urban Rush, Checkfront continues to embrace new technologies and move to the forefront in online booking facilities, providing our customers with exciting new innovations and profit boosting self-serve tools.

Get More Time for Watersports with Online Bookings

Rusheen Bay Windsurfing

On the west coast of Ireland, Galway’s rolling hills open up to Rusheen Bay, a scenic inlet that’s ideal for learning flat water sports like kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and windsurfing. If you look out over the bay between April and September, you’ll likely see the Rusheen Bay Windsurfing School leading instructional sessions for kids, families, corporate groups or hen/stag parties.

Considered one of Ireland’s most popular windsurfing schools, Rusheen Bay recently recognized the benefits of offering online bookings. Prior to the 2013 season, the school booked sessions via a PDF form that customers printed and mailed back with a cheque. “It was a little Stone Age,” comments Danny Mulryan, Director/Owner of Galway Bay Watersports Ltd., which runs two watersports schools: Rusheen Bay Windsurfing and Paddle on the Prom.

Like any other fundamental shift in business processes, the school had its hesitations. “We started off with the fear that an off-the-shelf booking system would never work for our business,” says Danny. “But the virtually instant support from the Checkfront team has educated us that their system can be easily adapted, or on some occasions our way of thinking was changed to make our new system work.”

What used to be a nightmare of forms, cheques and lists of outstanding payments has transitioned to an online booking system with iPhone alerts via Checkfront’s mobile app. “The bookings are updated seamlessly, paid in full and require about 5% of the previous admin time,” says Danny. Rusheen Bay also uses Checkfront’s PayPal add-on to collect payments. “Over 25K of revenue in three months and we never had one problem,” he says.

Although Checkfront customers span many industries across over 58 countries, they have at least one thing in common: Support is a key factor in successfully implementing any online booking solution. “Checkfront’s support is A1,” says Danny. “We have enjoyed working with the support team. They are keen to take feedback on board for future development and also seem to take a personal interest in helping the smallest of customers.”

Hawaii’s Ecotourism Industry Chooses Checkfront

Hawaii Map

With dozens of Hawaii-based customers, Checkfront celebrates the diverse mix of ecotour operators and vacation rental companies. The Hawaii Ecotourism Association defines ecotourism as “nature and culture-based tourism that is ecologically sustainable and supports the well being of local communities.” Hawaii’s islands have a natural abundance of adventure and eco-friendly opportunities like no other.

This article highlights just some of the customers who trust Checkfront for online booking and reservation management.

Big Island

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We outgrew our spreadsheets with the increasing demand for our services and high service level expectations from our customers.

Eka Canoe Adventures offers sailing and snorkel tours off the Kona coastline aboard their historically accurate 40ft Hawaiian double-hulled sailing canoe, Wa’a Kini Kini. They invite guests to paddle, sail or simply kick back and relax as the Eka Canoe crew shares generations of knowledge through the Hawaiian art of storytelling.

“We outgrew our spreadsheets with the increasing demand for our services and high service level expectations from our customers,” said Sarah, when asked about the company’s decision to work with Checkfront.

If the open ocean is your playground, you’ll be torn between a manta ray snorkel adventure, sunset sail, historical sail or a Kealakekua snorkel. With this variety of tours, it’s easy to see how a business like Eka Canoe Tours benefits an online booking solution like Checkfront.

If you’re on the Big Island and taking in an Eka Canoe adventure, you’ll need somewhere to stay. Jade from The Hilltop Legacy and Oceanfront Legacy has two beautiful private vacation rentals with amazing views and a short five-minute walk to the many shops, restaurants and museums that downtown Hilo has to offer.

So far, you’ve had an adventure on the tropical seas, and relaxed in some of the most beautiful accommodations that Hawaii has to offer. But what about doing something truly unique? Bet you haven’t planted a Koa Legacy Tree before! Hawaiian Legacy Tours is the only place in the world you can do such a thing.

Take the three-hour Grand Tour to plant your very own tree, visit lush nurseries and learn about the historic Umikoa Trail. Along the way, you’ll enjoy stunning, panoramic views of the Hamakua coast. As you share a fulfilling experience with your family in surroundings like these, it can be easy to forget that you’re benefiting the planet.

Located on the slopes of Mauna Kea, this historic site was once the personal koa forest of King Kamehameha the Great, the first King of Hawaii. Fortunately, some of the old growth koa trees still thrive. These rare trees grow in Mauna Kea and are being utilized as a seed source for all Legacy Trees.

Maui

The sun is shining and the surf is up… It’s time to hit Maui! The second largest Hawaiian island, Maui is a hotbed of activity for vacation goers and extreme sports enthusiasts. Sherry and her team at Lahaina Accommodations have been in business on Maui for over 20 years. They offer friendly prices to accommodate anyone who is planning a Maui vacation with a variety of stunning  properties, walking distance to all of Lahaina’s historic district and the beach. “I wish I had explored booking systems earlier,” Sherry comments.

 

John Browne from Maui Beach Boys attributes his business’ 2013 growth to providing his inventory online. “Using an online booking system tripled my profits last year,” he says.

Maui Beach Boys is one of Maui’s first surf schools. Maui Beach Boys’ instructors are fun and friendly, and promise to teach you to surf on your very first lesson. Go on, you know you’ve always wanted to try it…

Using an online booking system tripled my profits last year.

 

Oahu

Over on Oahu, marine biologist Barbara Whitman Howell, of Under the Sea Hawaii, has incorporated Checkfront into her business strategy and is open for bookings. If you haven’t experienced the breathtaking sight of a whale breaching, or had the opportunity to swim with sea turtles, this might be the activity for you.

Speaking of dry land, who loves a good museum or historical tour? At Pearl Harbour Tours you’ll find both.

“We provide a wide selection of tours, from Pearl Harbor’s museums and memorials, sightseeing at the islands beaches and lookouts, to an entertaining look into the ancient beginnings at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Content Management System (CMS) integration with Checkfront was effortless and helped us to launch quickly,” says Alex.

Eric from Hawaii Turtle Tours makes use of TripAdvisor to follow up with automated review requests sent out from his Checkfront account. He uses the Checkfront plugin on the company Facebook Page to take bookings directly through the popular social media website.

Kauai

Kayak Kauai offers a wide range of services from surf to turf. John and Minguel Godinez set up shop in Kauai and widely explored the Hawaiian Islands after a remarkable paddle from Seattle to Alaska. During that five-month expedition, they logged more than 1,000 miles while they paddled, talked, and argued about starting Kayak Kauai. They founded the company four years later after a few more island adventures.

If you’re itching to get out on the water, the wonderful folks at Kayak Kauai will ensure you do it safely while maximizing the potential for fun, fun, fun in the sun!

 

Electronic Document Signatures with RightSignature

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070810-RightSignature-540

We’re happy to announce our latest integration with RightSignature. RightSignature is a fast and convenient way to to get documents signed without waiting on paperwork. Customers have several options when signing a document including signing directly on their smart phone.

Our RightSignature add-on allows you to present a digital copy of your terms of service, booking wavers, agreements or other documents you require a real signature on. Customers will be asked to sign a document at the time of booking and it will be stored digitally along with the rest of the booking details.

Collecting digital signatures significantly reduces your administrations, streamlines your booking process and centralizes your data. Signed agreements are one click away when viewing a booking on Checkfront and all documents are stored in a secure cloud environment.

Signatures can be legally binding and are compliant with U.S. and International e-Signature Laws The Federal E-SIGN Act, UETA, and other laws around the world define legal e-signatures.

Setup

To enable RightSignature, you first need a RightSignature account. You can sign-up for a free trial at rightsignature.com.

You’ll want to create a template to use with your bookings. See creating templates in RightSignature for a video tutorial.

Once you have your template ready to go in RightSignature head back to your Checkfront account. Goto Manage / Add-ons and search for RightSignature. To connect the add-on click Activate and follow the authentication instructions.

Once connected you’ll need to select the template you created in RightSignature within the add-on setup.

When a new booking is created customers will be asked to sign the configured template. When the document has been signed it will be attached to the booking. Clicking on the link in the invoice will allow you to view or sign the entire signed document.

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Merge fields

Your template should only have a single signatory, however you can (currently) also specify an additional CC field to copy the document to the end customer.

The following table contains fields merged in from the current booking. Note these fields must be present in your booking form.

To set it up, simply create “merge fields” in the RightSignature template builder matching the field names in the left column. These will automatically be filled on generation.

code Unique id of the booking
summary Details of booking
total Booking total
date_desc Descriptive date of booking
customer_name Full name of customer
customer_address Customer street address
customer_city Customer city
customer_country Customer country
customer_region Customer state / province

Hitting the Open Road with Online Bookings

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Customer Spotlight: Blacktop Candy’s

Take a moment and imagine Route 66 stretched in front of you for miles, blue sky overhead. For many, this is the roadtrip of a lifetime. Now imagine the opportunity to make the historic trip in a meticulously restored American classic car.

Whether in a teal and white 1955 Chevy Bel Air hardtop, a maroon 1967 Chevy Camaro, a red 1964 Corvette Stingray convertible – or another of Blacktop Candy’s upgraded classic cars – you can make the road trip of your dreams in an unbelievable classic car. Blacktop Candy’s, based out of Cary North Carolina, is an American classic car hire company that’s owned and operated by former U.S. Marine Scott Shinn.

Scott’s business venture began after he took a trip west on Route 66. As Scott stopped and talked to travelers from around the world, the same theme kept emerging: “Wouldn’t this be an awesome journey in a classic car… just the way it would have been 50 years ago?”

It didn’t take much research to realize that no such opportunity existed unless you already own an expensive classic car and are willing to pull it out the garage and drive it cross-country. So Blacktop Candy’s was born and now travelers worldwide can drive the same historic road in the same classic cars that took the the Okies west and returning WWII veterans east.

Checkfront provides seamless integration with my website and required very little development cost to set up.

Scott’s primarily serves international clientele so it’s vital for Blacktop Candy’s to offer secure, reliable online bookings. For this reason, Scott uses Checkfront as the booking engine. Clients can choose their car and trip (west or east), then secure their reservation online with a credit card.

According to Scott, “Checkfront provides seamless integration with my website and required very little development cost to set up. There is not an “exact fit” product for my business, but with the help of very responsive customer support, we put together a forward facing solution that is professional looking and performs exceptionally. And, the price is right!”

About Blacktop Candy’s
Travel enthusiast world-over migrate to the U.S. annually to experience the unparalleled freedom and nostalgia of driving Historic Route 66. Blacktop Candy’s offers Route 66 Holiday travelers the unmatched opportunity to make the 2541 mile road trip in a meticulously restored and carefully maintained American classic car.

Take the driving tour of your dreams behind the wheel of a pristine vintage American car! Our self-drive road trips ensure you get the American driving tour you’ve always wanted!

Visit Blacktop Candy’s online: http://blacktopcandys.com

When There’s No Time to Waste Parking at the Airport

airport_parking

For many of us, airport parking can be stressful. Does the lot provide a shuttle, and will it leave in time for you to make your flight? Which lots are full, and which ones have availability? How much will it cost, and will you have the right amount cash?

ExpressPark, based out of Philadelphia, answers all of the above questions with their online Checkfront-run reservation system. You can reserve your airport parking spot in advance with a deposit of only one day. Because ExpressPark accepts all major credit cards, there’s also no hassle when you leave the lot.

ExpressPark’s North lot went live with Checkfront in September of 2012, with the other two nodes (South lot and SmartPark) following shortly after. If online reviews are any indication, ExpressPark’s booking solution has been a success:

The ability to make a reservation in advance has eliminated the only stress we ever had parking at ExpressPark.

“The ability to make a reservation in advance has eliminated the only stress we ever had parking at ExpressPark. We have been parking at ExprressPark for years and we were always a little worried they would be full when we arrived at the airport, but not anymore…”

“I have used ExpressPark North many times. First time with the new reservation system this time. I like it a lot.”

“This was our first try at your place. All things were excellent, we shall return to north lot esp. because of reservation policy and great service.”

“I made a reservation because I had a very early flight. The van was ready when I arrived at the lot and the driver was very courteous. When I arrived back from my trip and got my luggage I called the phone number on the card and the van was there in less than 5 minutes. Would use [ExpressPark] again.”

“With all the hassle at the airport, ExpressPark gave us one less thing to worry about. Quick and easy reservations online (good rate), Easy pickup at parking lot and quick pickup on return. Staff was very nice. Will use again.”

“This is the second time we have used the ability to reserve a parking space. It’s easy and you get a better parking rate. We have told our friends about it too.”

The ability to take reservations has also benefited ExpressPark from an operational standpoint. They can staff at levels that coincide with the number of reservations arriving or leaving on a given day and time, and can plan their shuttle trips to minimize their customers’ waiting time.

About ExpressPark

ExpressPark_transport

Start your trip off with ease using ExpressPark, the best-kept secret for airport parking at the Philadelphia International Airport. In business since 1998, ExpressPark is located next to the airport, directly adjacent to the runways on the south side of the airport in Tinicum Township, Delaware County.

We offer conveniently located airport parking at sensible, low daily rates. There are only a few tried and true things you can be sure of today. Tried and true things are the ones that count! The good news for our customers is ExpressPark is one of them. ExpressPark, Inc. is a sister company of Smart Park Inc., winner of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Customer Service Excellence Award 2007 and the Friends of the Delaware County Women’s Commission Employer of the Year 2007. In 2010 ExpressPark received the Smart Growth Award from the Delaware County Transportation Management Association for its sustainable building concepts of its newest location, ExpressPark – South Lot. This year 2013 Delaware County Chamber of Commerce Small Businesses of the Year Award given to both Expresspark, Inc. and Smart Park, Inc..

Visit ExpressPark online to make a reservation: http://www.expresspark.net

Urban Pirates Set a Course for Success

UP-Fearless

Customer Spotlight: Urban Pirates

Baltimore’s #1 Trip Advisor Activity Company Boosts Bookings by 40%.

When you’re growing your tour business, efficiency is essential in maximizing profit and expanding your market. The difference between managing a labour-intensive booking model and automating your bookings is significant.

Urban Pirates have found their buried treasure in automating and mobilizing their booking systems with Checkfront.

Ranked #1 by Trip Advisor in activities in Baltimore, Urban Pirates runs regular Family Adventure cruises and Adult ‘Bring Your Own Grog’ voyages as well as hosting frequent corporate group events, birthday parties and family reunions aboard their ship, the Fearless. In 2009, Urban Pirates welcomed 18,000 passengers aboard but found that their phone and hand-written form booking model was labor-intensive, expensive, and would require additional staff to scale their operations. Adam Sahhar, aka General Manager, aka Capt. Peppercorn, agrees, ”Booking automation is essential to grow the business. In particular, the repetitive calls inquiring about the ships availability can now be easily answered by the customers themselves through our online booking page and it gives them the ability to book it simply online. Our crew can now focus their efforts on customer engagement and promotion of the business.”

Our crew can now focus their efforts on customer engagement and promotion of the business.

When Urban Pirates adopted Checkfront in 2010, they processed 22,000 passengers. Checkfront enabled the reservation desk to stay open 24/7 and in turn delivered 8,000 new reservations using fewer resources. Guests who chose not to speak with an agent could conveniently complete their reservation and would receive confirmation via email. Since 2009, the adventure cruise company has grown their business by 40% without increasing labor costs.

About Urban Pirates

Sailing the waters of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor since 2008, Urban Pirates is owned and operated by Cara Joyce who was determined to bring local families and tourists an amazing swashbuckling adventure in Baltimore’s beautiful inner harbor. Inspired by her children’s love for all things pirate, and her love of gatherings with good mateys, she and her crew created a unique and engaging experience fit for buccaneers of all ages. In 2012, Urban Pirates celebrated their 100,000th customer and took out over 35,000 passengers in 2013.

Visit Urban Pirates online or on Facebook.

High Tech Multi Property Management On The Remote Coast

staytofino-blog-post

Customer Spotlight: StayTofino

Multiple properties and multiple booking calendars?

Managing bookings for your vacation rental properties doesn’t have to be cumbersome, especially when you’re always on the go. Just ask Jason Watts, owner/operator of StayTofino. Jason uses Checkfront with iCal to manage booking calendars for StayTofino’s seven properties so that even when he’s out in the office, he’s able to access his calendars and reservations on his mobile devices.

StayTofino manages and rents short-term vacation rental properties in Tofino, one of the most scenic locales on Canada’s west coast. Since Jason leads a busy life, and is regularly away from a solid internet connection, he often relies on 3G service to conduct his online business. For this reason, he requires the ability to manage bookings from a mobile device, and a booking solution that can synchronize with multiple calendars.

The number one reason we chose Checkfront is the excellent customer service.

Jason chose Checkfront as the booking platform for the new StayTofino website. “The number one reason we chose Checkfront is the excellent customer service,” says Jason.

Functionality was also a key criteria. Jason uses iCal, a portable calendar format that is supported by most calendar software, mail clients, and smart phones, to synchronize StayTofino’s booking calendars with Checkfront. He then uses his iPad to manage bookings when he’s away from a wireless connection by tethering the iPad to his iPhone. Qbix Inc.’s Calendar Plus app gives Jason individual access to all of his bookings at a glance.

Developer-Friendly Platform

Bully Creative designed and built StayTofino.com, and integrated Checkfront with the new site. According to Jesse Campbell, a founding member of Bully Creative, “As a web design consultancy, we’re constantly challenged with integrating new and different technologies at the demand of our clients and their audiences.

“Checkfront was a natural choice for us on the Stay Tofino project. Leaning on the API, we were able to boil in some features that added usability without sacrificing the design we hoped to achieve. Integrating the booking portal went really smoothly, too. We felt supported throughout the process, and the end product is a solid implementation of the tools and resources they’ve made available.”

About StayTofino

StayTofino provides expert vacation rental property management with your best interests and convenience in mind. You have choices when it comes to promoting your vacation rental property in the Pacific Rim area. StayTofino delivers results that you can count on, advertising your rental home across a large network. We focus on peace of mind for you, and an amazing rental experience for our guests.

For more information, visit StayTofino.com or http://www.facebook.com/StayTofino.

Payments with Authortize.Net CIM

We’re happy to announce support for Authorize.Net CIM (Customer Information Manager). Authorize.Net is a popular payment processor for credit card payments. CIM allows you to rebill a customer without the need to re-enter the credit card. This means you can add items post-booking and charge the customer as needed.

Screenshot 2013-10-02 10.33.05

CIM works by tokenizing the customers credit card. When a booking is created and payment is applied Checkfront stores the payment token (not the actual credit card details). If you need to adjust the amount later or add a new item to a booking Checkfront will send the token to Authorize.net and re-bill the customers credit card.

Please note you need to subscribe to CIM separately with Authorzie.net. Authorize.net charges an additional $20 per month for this service, however there is no additional charge from Checkfront.

If you aren’t an Authorize.net customer this feature is also available with our Stripe and WePay integrations.

Setup

The Authorize.net CIM module is currently a seperate add-on in Checkfront than the standard Authorize.net gateway.

If you are currently an Authorize.net / Checkfront customer you’ll need to deactivate your the existing Authorize.Net module in Checkfront, and configure Authorize.Net CIM with the same credentails.

You can setup Authorize.net CIM in your Checkfront account under Addons / Payment Gateways / Authorize.net CIM. You’ll need to supply your API credentials and activate the addon.

Please refer to our Authorize.net setup guide for further setup instructions.

To learn more about Authorize.net CIM see Payment Data Tokenization on Authorize.net.

Customer Spotlight: the Pointhouse at Sargent Bay

pointhouse

Do you capitalize on a potential customer’s website visit by turning their clicks into bookings, regardless of whether they used their smartphone, tablet, PC or Mac to find you? Does your mobile booking experience reflect the great service your business provides on a daily basis?

Responsive Website Design and Booking System

It’s no secret: More consumers than ever are using mobile devices to book accommodations, tours and rentals. But mobile devices – particularly smartphones – introduce unique display and checkout issues for operators who offer online bookings. When the Pointhouse at Sargent Bay redesigned their website, they addressed these challenges by deploying a responsive layout and sourcing Checkfront for the booking engine.

Responsive website design automatically provides the optimal website layout based on the device that a customer uses to access the website. For example, if a customer accesses a website using their smartphone, a responsive design might incorporate mobile elements (sliders, toggle switches or select menus), scale images down to fit the screen, or increase the size of buttons so they’re easier to click with a fingertip. This approach also tends to increase a website’s performance by removing or resizing design aspects that increase load times (e.g. large images).

The Pointhouse chose Checkfront to provide booking inventory and management within their modern WordPress design. “Checkfront integrates with many different payment, service and developer add-ons,” says Heather Newman, one of the Pointhouse’s owners.

When a guest books a stay at the Pointhouse using a tablet or a smartphone, Checkfront’s booking system automatically displays a mobile-friendly layout that includes:

I feel that I have a relationship with Checkfront based on the support I’ve received and the interest they’ve taken to help us build our business. They have a great, responsive team.
  • Mobile-optimized date selection.
  • Larger buttons to choose desired accommodations and packages.
  • Tabbed navigation so the guest can view only the information they’re looking for.

These details provide the guest with a booking experience that is just as refined as the accommodations that the Pointhouse provides.

“I have had great support from Checkfront to work out the kinks particular to our accommodation business. I know I’m not fully utilizing all that Checkfront can do to help me streamline booking operations but even what is set up so far has simplified my life,” says Heather. “I feel that I have a relationship with Checkfront based on the support I’ve received and the interest they’ve taken to help us build our business. They have a great, responsive team.”

Integrated Workflows and Effective Marketing

While the Pointhouse’s relationship with Checkfront helps them manage their bookings, Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) shares some of the marketing aspect of the operation with Sunshine Coast Bed and Breakfast, Cottage Owners Association (SCBBCOA). “VRBO does a good job of catering to their target market, which is vacation rentals. SCBBCOA covers the BB end,” says Heather. A responsive website design with Checkfront integration, together with VRBO and SCBBCOA’s targeted marketing, have provided an effective combination for the Pointhouse.

About the Pointhouse at Sargent Bay

Fans of architecture and interior design as well as nature lovers will appreciate the Pointhouse B&B and Aerie guesthouse as much for the thoughtfully imaged spaces as the magical locations.

Completely rebuilt in 2012 with a new guesthouse, both the architecture and the landscape reinforce the natural beauty of the striking oceanfront setting. Vast expanses of glass, natural light and breathtaking views create an intimate connection with the beautiful Sunshine Coast scenery. The focus is on appreciating the rugged beauty of the West Coast with the five star comforts of an exclusive resort.

You can be assured of a warm welcome, local knowledge and friendly, personal service throughout your stay all the while enjoying the privacy of your own living space and intimate getaway.

For more information or to book a stay at the Pointhouse at Sargent Bay, visit www.pointhouse.ca or on Facebook at facebook.com/pointhousebb.

Checkfront Merchants Surpass $100 Million in Online Bookings

Booking-Volume

We’re happy to announce that Checkfront has reached a significant milestone, processing over $100 million (USD) in online bookings since we launched the platform three years ago.

Beyond patting ourselves on the backs, this is a great occasion to celebrate our customers’ success. It’s a pleasure to work with so many amazing entrepreneurs from around the globe.

With Checkfront, you can sea-kayak with orcas or ride a pirate ship in Baltimore. If you’re more of a night person, you can take a food tour in Bangkok or battle zombies in Vancouver. Not into Zombies? How about a helicopter tour in New York, a wine tasting in Napa, a zip-line on Oregon, or maybe a remote getaway in Tofino BC or Ipswich UK? These and many other businesses around the world have helped shape Checkfront and their growth has contributed to this important milestone.

A special thanks to our amazing support team for helping both small and large businesses bring their booking operations online. At Checkfront, we operate out of Victoria and Vancouver, BC, Canada, but we also work with talented international partners to make Checkfront the best online booking system and keep our service running smoothly.

We believe that Checkfront is a great service that can help operators more effectively run their business and ultimately grow their customer base. It’s our mission to provide a scalable, end-to-end booking solution that customers and operators alike find useful and easy to use. As of today, our customers are in 70 countries, and using 29 currencies and 14 languages. We have more than doubled our business each year since 2010.

Thanks to all of our customers for celebrating this milestone with us today. We have a lot more in store for this year and look forward to sharing our new and exciting developments as we move along together. Please continue to send us your feature requests and stay tuned through our update center.

Interested in what our customers have to say?

See the full press release below:

Vancouver BC, September 18, 2013

Checkfront, Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based booking services, announced today that the platform has reached a significant milestone, processing over $100 million (USD) in online bookings since it launched three years ago.

Checkfront is a cloud-based booking system that tour, activity & rental businesses use to manage bookings, centralize administration and sell their services online. Checkfront’s turn-key system snaps into a business’ existing website by integrating with popular web platforms like WordPress, Joomla and Facebook, and includes a built-in payment processing platform that integrates with a wide variety of payment gateways, including PayPal, Authorize.Net and Stripe. Businesses can manage real-time bookings and inventory using Checkfront’s secure back-office business management application or the Checkfront mobile booking apps for iOS and Android.

“This is an exciting milestone for us,” says Jason Morehouse, Checkfront’s co-founder and CTO. “The last twelve months in particular have been consistent record months for us both in merchant volume and new clients. We are seeing more high volume businesses choose us over commission-based providers, and emerging businesses choose us for our ease of use and small business support.

“Checkfront has grown 100% year over year. We expect continued and accelerated growth as more businesses consider cloud-based tour operator software to replace legacy systems and take advantage of mobile bookings.”

With customers in 70 countries, Checkfront supports 29 currencies and 14 languages. Checkfront’s fully-managed system includes automated updates and backups. It delivers maximum reliability by operating on a distributed network with data centers in five geographically diverse locations including the United States, United Kingdom and Asia. Their customers cover a wide range of service-based businesses within the tourism, hospitality and rental industries.

For more information about the Checkfront platform, visit checkfront.com or call 1 (800) 559-0985 / (604) 229-2633.

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Payment Processing with WePay

Wepay

We are very happy to announce support for the WePay payment processing platform. WePay is a popular payment processor currently available to US Merchants. It allows you to offer your customers the ability to to pay in part, or in full at the time of booking and fully integrates into the Checkfront back-office app.

One nice feature that WePay has is the ability to store and re-bill a customers credit card as needed. For instance if you currently charge a deposit in Checkfront, you can complete the payment, and / or add to the booking without needing the credit card details again.

WePay has no set-up fees, no minimum terms, a hassle-free sign-up process, and daily settlements. It’s priced competitively at 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction. There are no monthly fees, or extra fees for refunds.

Checkfront currently integrates into WePay by way of their direct payment method. This provides a seamless checkout for your customers, and fully integrates into the Checkfront back-office app.

Features:

  • Virtual Terminal
  • Re-billing
  • In-App Refunds
  • Integrated Checkout
  • Live / Test environments.

rebill

Setup

To enabled the WePay extension login to your Checkfront account, and navigate to the Add-ons area. From there you will see a list of available payment modules. Select WePay and click the Connect with WePay button. This will link Checkfront to your WePay account without having to worry about suppling API keys or tokens.

Make sure you have enabled payment processing, and setup any appropriate taxes and e-commerce settings under in the Manage / E-Commerce section of Checkfront.

Test Mode

It’s highly recommended that you do an end-to-end test of your checkout before putting your site live. To do so, follow the setup instructions above and check “Enable test mode”. Creating a transaction as a customer and check to see that it shows up in your Checkfront account as paid, and within WePay. If you don’t have a website to test on yet, use the hosted booking page (eg: https://yourcompany.checkfront.com/reserve/) to test.

Test Card Numbers

You can use the following test credit card numbers when testing your WePay checkout:

Visa: 4003830171874018
Mastercard: 5496198584584769

You can use a any CVC code, and an expiry date in the future. For more information see testing WePay.

* Always remember to take your account out of test mode when you are finished.

For more information see www.checkfront.com/updates or www.wepay.com

Integrating Checkfront with Constant Contact

354

We’re happy to announce integration the Constant Contact email marketing platform. Constant Contact is used by more than 500,000 small businesses to build and deliver e-mail campaigns. You can design, send, and track emails with a simple set of tools, and an easy to use interface.

E-mail marketing is a great way to stay connected with your customers. Last minute deals, sessional newsletters, and VIP offers can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

To get started you first need a Constat Contact account. There is a free trial available on www.constantcontact.com, and they offer competitive pricing based on the number of customers on your list(s).

Setup

cc

You can enable the Checkfront / Constant Contact integration in the Add-on section of your Checkfront account. A single click will request your authorization and connect the two applications. You can then select the list to subscribe customers to.

Once activated, when a customer makes a booking they’ll be given the option to opt-in to a mailing list of your choosing. If you take phone bookings you can also ask customers if they’d like to be added to your list and add them while making the booking.

You can further map specific fields used in Checkfront to custom fields in your mailing list. This can include the last booking date, special notes or other information collected at the time of booking.

You can see in the activity log, or the log view while viewing a booking when a customer has been subscribe via Constant Contact.


For more information goto Constant Contact or contact us directly for any setup questions.

Already setup? See: Six Simple Tips to Increase Your Online Bookings.

Express Bookings with Apple Passbook


We’re happy to announce integration with Apple Passbook for Checkfront, supported by our new mobile reservation interface.

Passbook is an application from Apple designed to store membership cards, tickets, coupons, and reservations — similar to a digital wallet. It’s great for customers because they don’t have to carry around hard copies and information is automatically kept up to date on their phones. For merchants it can be a big time saver and provides a great end-to-end booking experience.

How does it work with Checkfront?

When a customer adds a Checkfront booking to their Passbook, it stores the reservation on their iPhone or iPod. As a customer nears your location on the day of their booking (based on your longitude and latitude), the electronic ticket automatically pops up on their phone. Upon arrival, you can can scan, validate and check-in the customer using the built-in bar-code scanner in our native Mobile Apps (iPhone, iPad, Android). This is all communicated to your central system, in real time.

As an added bonus, if the booking is changed, the details are updated automatically in the customers phone. Your paper receipt can’t do that can it?

Passbook is made available in Checkfront as an add-on and is available to all accounts at no extra cost.

More info

Learn more about Passbook from Apple.

Try a demo of our new mobile booking interface (mobile device required) https://demo.checkfront.com/reserve/.

Learn about more updates in our v2.8 release.

FAQ

  • Do I need an iPhone to process bookings stored in an Apple Passbook?

    No. You can use our Android app to scan the barcode on the customers phone, or just type in the booking id into the Checkfront admin to locate the booking.

  • I don’t see Passbook on my iOS device.

    Passbook is available for iOS 6 and later on the iPhone and iPod. There is currently no support for the iPad.

  • Is there an Android equivalent to Passbook?

    There is an unofficial app called Passwallet that can be found in the Google Play store.

  • I prefer paper only. Can I disable Passbook?

    Yes, just visit your add-on section in Checkfront and disable Passbook.

Six Simple Tips to Increase Your Online Bookings

Having a booking system to both manage your bookings, and extend self service bookings to your customers is a no-brainer these days. It puts customers in the driving seat and reduces your overall administration, allowing you to focus on your business.

Consider these numbers for businesses on checkfront.com:

38% of bookings made on Checkfront happen outside of normal business hours.

37% of bookings on Checkfront are made by customers.

58% of website visitors arrive at your site to book, price & check availability.

Here are six simple things you can do to increase your online bookings, and ultimately your revenues (yay!).

1. Shout It Out

Just having a booking system won’t do. It’s important that visitors to your website immediately know that you accept online bookings, and know how to get there. Remember, the majority of traffic to your website is there to check your availability, pricing and / or book your service. Don’t make it a scavenger hunt!

Have a clear call to action (BOOK NOW!) visible when arriving at your website. Because visitors can arrive at different parts of your website, a book online button should be clearly available throughout your website — not just your home page.

2. Reach Out To Past Customers

Return customers are the least likely to need a phone call or email correspondence before making a booking. Make sure and let your existing and past customers know that you now accept bookings online. Don’t assume they will just find our next time they arrive to your site.

Tweet, and update your Facebook page: “Hey! You can now book online with us 24/7 at www.example.com/reserve/”.

If you have a mailing list, don’t bury the announcement in a newsletter. Send out a dedicated e-mail campaign that lets customers know you can now book online.

Hi Leah,

Thanks for your past business with us. We are pleased to now offer the ability to check availability, pricing and book online directly from our website!

If you book online with us in the next 30 days, use the coupon code NOWONLINE and receive a 10% discount.

Book Online Today at: http://www.example.com/reserve/?discount=NOWONLINE

3. Change Your Voicemail

If you get a lot of off-hours calls or have a call queue for your reservation number, make sure to mention you can book and check availability online, along with the website address. You’ll be surprised how much your time on the phone drops off.

“Thanks for calling MyBusiness. We are currently on another call or out of the office. Did you know you can check availability and make bookings from our website? Book online now at http://www.example.com/reserve.”

4. Reward Self Service

Taking bookings by e-mail, phone and fax is expensive. It can be frustrating for customers and expensive for your business. Consider rewarding your customers who book online with a small discount or other incentive.

A coupon code is a great way to track the source of a booking. For instance, mention a specific coupon code on your voice-mail and another one in your mailers. You should be able to draw a direct correlation to the discount offered and the money saved by automating the booking.

5. Update E-mail Signatures, Flyers and Business Cards.

You will continue to get requests for pricing, availability or just general questions via email. Put your booking page url in your signature so customers know where to go once their questions have been answered.

Anywhere you have previously listed your email address or phone number, add a direct link to your booking page. For example:

MyCompany
Book Online (Save $5.00): www.example.com/reservations

555-555-5555
info@example.com
www.example.com

Make sure to update any other media you circulate that has your phone number, including rack cards, business cards and advertisements.

6. Engage Your Customers – Regularly

Continue to use social media, mailing lists and your marketing efforts to steer customers to your booking page. Seasonal campaigns work great as do last minute deals.

Make sure you are collecting e-mail addresses (opt-in), following your customers on twitter, and encouraging them to like you on Facebook.

If someone has booked with you, send an automated follow up email thanking them, asking for feedback and providing links to connect to your social media pages.

Other helpful resources

Tracking PPC Success with Google Adwords

If you market your business via Pay Per Click PPC advertising with Google Adwords, you’ll want need to track your conversions. Obtaining Return On Investment ROI information for your online campaigns is perhaps the most important factor in evaluating the effectiveness of your online marketing initiatives.

There are a lot of resources available online to help you with Google Adwords. We do highly recommend you consult a a qualified Adwords expert, and / or do plenty of research before diving into pay-per-click. A finely tuned campaign can have an immediate positive impact on your revenues. However a poorly tuned and monitored campaign can be disastrous, and costly.

A good starting place is Getting Started with Google Adwords Campaigns at PPCblog.com.

Setting up Google Adwords Tracking with Checkfront

Setting up Adword tracking with Checkfront is easy. First login to your Google Adwords account. Navigate to Tools and Analytics / Conversions and Create New Conversion.

You can name the new conversion “Checkfront Booking”, or something else that helps you identify it. Make sure it’s a Web page based conversion (default). Clicking next will bring you to the conversion settings. Be sure that https is selected, and leave the Conversion Value blank.

The final page will allow you to email your tracking code, or view it. You’ll want to view it to obtain the conversion id. This is a unique id that identifies the conversion. The conversion id is located in the code under “conversion_id = 932993232″. Copy this number and supply it in the Adwords Setup in Checkfront.

The Adwords extension is in your account under Manage / Extend / Add-ons / Google Adwords in Checkfront.

Once activated in Checkfront, new customer bookings will be sent to your Adwords account along with the value of the transaction.

Please note the tracking status in your Adwords account will remain Unverfied till your first successful conversion.

If you don’t currently use Google Adwords, but are still interested in your conversion rates, have a look at our Google Analytics integration.

New API and Developer Tools

We are happy to announce version 2.0 of our API. This release includes significantly more functionality over its predecessor. Developers can now build applications and integrations that have unrestricted access to the Checkfront platform.

New features include:

This release also sets the groundwork for our upcoming updated plugins for WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

Open Source PHP SDK

To accompany this release, we have made available a PHP SDK as an open source project hosted on Github. The SDK is a turn-key tool kit for developers that takes care of authentication mechanisms, and provides ready access to core resources of the API.

SDKs for other languages are soon to follow including Ruby and Javascript.

Possibilities…

Technically, the possibilities are (close to) endless. Some starting ideas are:

  • Import scripts for external databases or services.
  • Custom front-end widgets and integrations.
  • Custom reports.
  • Integration into third party applications.

If you are a developer and wish to contribute to a open source SDK, please find us on Github or drop us a note.

* For more information on version 2 of the Checkfront API, please see our updated Developer API Documentation.

Version 1.0 moved to Legacy

Version 1.0 of our API will continue to be available, but we encourage all developers to build on the new platform, and update existing integrations when possible. There are no immediate plans to retire the 1.0 API.

Update: Customer E-mails and Staff Accounts

(v1.8.8) We are pleased two announce two new updates to Checkfront:

E-mail Correspondence

Till now, all internal customer communications have been by way of automated e-mails via the notification system. This has proven an efficient way to streamline invoices, receipts and follow up emails.

There is however occasion where you need to quickly email a customer a note, and or updated booking details.

You can do this now by clicking on the “E-mail” button in the sidebar while viewing a booking. This allows you to supply a note, and optionally include an updated version of their booking receipt or invoice.

For maximum e-mail deliverability, please see our SPF setup guide.

Staff Accounts

Previously you would create “Agent Accounts” to give other people access to login to your Checkfront account to create bookings, view reports and configure the system. This included three privilege levels: Agent, Manager and Administrator. Each of these had specific per-defined roles in the system.

For clarification, we have done away with the term “Agent”, and replaced it with “Staff” accounts. This has been moved from Manage / Company / Agents, to Manage / Accounts in our main navigation.

Now when you create a new Staff Account, you can individually select what parts of the system you would like them to have access to, and furthermore what actions they can preform (for example preform refunds, and add notes). This provides a much greater control over the system, and allows you to tailor the requirements of each of your staff.

Checkfront Expands Network to Asia-Pacific!

To better service our customers based in Asia-Pacific, we’ve expanded our localized cloud services to the region. This includes service to: Japan, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore.

The new state of the art hosting facility is located in Tokyo Japan, and includes all of the services available in our other locations, including: automated backups, industry leading security, and lightning fast performance.

We understand that network reliability is essential to your business. Once fully migrated, Asia / Pacific customers should see (even) faster response times when using Checkfront. This also reduces the likelihood of network related issues, and solves some access problems for customers in mainland China.

Existing customers in Asia will be migrated from the US network center within the coming days. Please note there should be no interruption in service. If you are in Asia but would like to continue to be hosted out of the US or UK, please file a support ticket.

There is no premium for for our Asia Pacific location. Pricing for this location is the same as our other facilities.

Note: you can determine what data center you are in by logging into your Checkfront console and going to Manage / System.

If you have any questions feel free to contact us.

Remember: Checkfront operates in 14 languages including Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog and Thia.

Salesforce CRM Integration


We’re please to announce integration with Salesforce — the worlds most popular CRM.

This add-on is available in your extension area, and provides the ability to automatically create new customers (or update existing ones) in Salesforce when a booking is created via Checkfront.

This will ensure your customer records are kept in sync, and you can take full advantage of the many advanced customer management tools of Salesforce.

When enabled, a new account is created in Salesforce after a booking is made. A personal contact is created under the account, along with an event that is tied to the booking date and details. You can further customize this in your Checkfront setup.


Setup

To enable the Salesforce extension, Login to your Checkfront account, navigate to Manage / Add-ons, and select Salesforce. From there, click the activate button, and use the links provided to Install the Checkfront package in Salesforce, and Authorize the API.

To test your setup, create a new booking with an e-mail address and set the status to Reserved or Paid. You should see the new data appear in Salesforce, as well as an entry and your activity or booking log.

Currently, to make use of this package, you must have an Enterprise, Unlimited or another account with Salesforce that provides API access. This add-on is available to all Checkfront users.

We’ll be adding further integrations with Salesforce, both within Checkfront, and in Salesforce. Please share any feedback you have to help us focus our efforts.

Check-in / Check-out Support

A common request to date has been support for Check-in (Arrival) and Check-out (Completed) statuses.

For starters, as of today you can modify the default status labels and colors under Manage / Layout / Statuses. While there, you may also notice there are some more options for customizing the invoice in the adjacent Invoice tab.

More notably, we have added the ability to Check-in and Check-out a customer while viewing their booking. Please note this is a new feature, and independent of the existing booking statuses (Paid, Pending, etc). Not making use of this feature will not change the operation of your system.

When viewing an invoice while logged in, you’ll now notice a “Check-In” button on the left-hand sidebar. When clicked, this will update the booking as “Checked-in” and add a note as the logged in agent. A Checked-in booking can be Checked-out by clicking “Check-out” in the same location.


When updated, an icon is added to the booking status label showing the Check-in (pin-drop), or Checked-out (checkmark) out icon. This can be seen in several reports throughout the system including the booking and availability report.

When used, you’ll have greater insight into your inventory availability, arrivals and no-shows. Look for more reports specific to Check-in and Check-out in the near future.