Con Solutions: Payment Processing

One of the challenges we had this year was how to process credit card registration purchases. As an Internet focused con we decided to do what seemed natural: use our online site to process at-con credit card purchases. We purchased and set up some Apple iBooks and placed the computers at our registration desk. At these “kiosks” people would use the web browser to navigate to our registration site, add their registration, then use Paypal to pay for their credit card purchase.

In theory this should work out fine–the reality fell far short for reasons we couldn’t have known (but now do).

Apparently Paypal does not like if a number of purchases come from the same IP address range. In other words–if too many people use the same computer to pay for their items, Paypal assumes this is fraud behavior (regardless of any other evidence).

As a result we’ve had a number of issues where Paypal has nullified registration purchases. No matter what we submitted as a statement of proof, they still decided to reverse the charges. The most annoying part of this process is they appear to not even get input from the buyer before making their determination! Many of the people who’ve had their registration purchases reversed attempted to contact Paypal over this, but there does not appear to be any way for them to do so through the Paypal interface. Even those who actually called Paypal weren’t easily able to get them to understand that the charges were valid.

The worst element was that we are still wading through this situation over a week after the con ended. So we still don’t know if we’ll be receiving money from some people who attended the con, and we’re in the unenviable position of having to contact people to have them “re-pay” for their attendance. As anyone who has run an event knows–you don’t want to be in a position where you don’t know your operating budget or funding levels–and while we’re doing fine and will get through this, it’s still a huge hassle.

So, what does this mean for us? We’re ditching Paypal for credit card processing. We will be purchasing a credit card swipe system that is compatible with the iPhone for usage at the con next year, and setting up a merchant account for the online site. Yes, these will both cost us a monthly fee, and also cost money for hardware purchases–but quite frankly, they are absolutely necessary.

While free sounds good, it’s often more costly than it’s overall worth.

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