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I’ve been looking at options for ecommerce: shopping carts, merchant accounts, third-party credit card systems, Paypal and similar systems. It’s a mess, the web is full of cheesy sites pretending to review ecommerce tools. Most have some agenda, or their own services to sell. It’s almost impossible to figure out what any particular suite of shopping cart, merchant account, gateway, broker, and bank will cost.

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If you don’t want to pay a lot of up-front fees to do electronic cash, Paypal is almost the only game in town. But they have a terrible reputation, the terms of service (TOS) are huge, incomprehensible, and change on a weekly basis. They have this sleazy trick of presenting innocuous click-through ads at every login, then presenting a click-though agreement to changes in your TOS in the same format as the ads. In fact, since I refused to accept a change in the TOS about six months ago, my Paypal account is in limbo. I can’t use it until I agree to the half-dozen ever more egregious revisions to the TOS that have been applied since I first balked. Of course Paypal didn’t invent this sleazy behavior, lots of banks write credit card contracts which include a clause allowing them to change the TOS on a whim. On the other hand, there’s a long-standing body of banking and consumer protection law limiting the banks abuse of their customers.

Paypal, although a bank by any meaningful measure, is somehow sidestepping all the banking and credit regulation, inventing new rules on a whim. I’ve had a paypal account for years as a buyer, and I’ve never had a problem with them, but I’m terrified of trying to do business with them as a seller. Paypal may be the cheapest service for a small seller, but it’s kind of a lottery, you save a few bucks every month, then sometime down the road, they might suck your bank account dry, leaving you to bounce checks across the country.

Now that eBay,, and Paypal are all sleeping together, there’s a monopoly in the virtual flea market. There’s just nowhere else to sell stuff that has the customer traffic of eBay/Half. They’re providing special positioning for sellers that use Paypal, and directing buyers to Paypal in obvious and subtle ways. This smells a little like the bundling practices that got Microsoft in hot water worldwide.

So, we still don’t have a merchant account to do credit card business. Next time I’ll look at the integrated storefront, shopping cart, third-party billing systems.