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Friday, Feb. 29, 2008 at 1:29 pm

PayPal Should Go Undercover

By John Quarto-vonTivadar
February 29th, 2008


PayPal recently announced a streamlining of its payment flow process that doesn’t require a PayPal account to use. In other words, you can “check out” via PayPal, reap the security benefits of the merchant store not knowing your financial details, and pay for your item without having created any long-term relationship with PayPal (although they wouldn’t mind).

Adding PayPal to an e-commerce site can sometimes result in lower conversions — which makes sense because you’re being taken away from the experience you were just having at the merchant site. On the upside, some mid-sized UK merchants using this new process are reporting an increase in their monthly total payment volume, with gains of over 9% on average.

But I’ve got a different request altogether.

I use PayPal. A lot. Probably at least $500 a month of online purchases of various things that, at the time, I’m convinced I really need. It always amazes me how confusing the PayPal part of the checkout process is. First I’m on the merchant site. Then I’m off it — but not so obviously that I notice right away. It’s just a white, empty-feeling page with the merchant logo and a familiar PayPal button. Then the interface changes again to make it obvious that it’s PayPal.

In order to return to the merchant site, I have to click a small-font text link that competes with PayPal-branded buttons for my attention. At this point, I’m still not sure if the purchase “took” — that confidence doesn’t come until I return to the merchant site.

Won’t some of those e-tailers enjoying that volume increase please, please, PLEASE put just a fraction of that revenue toward hiring a bright developer to create a way to do this undercover? Its seems this could be easily resolved with a bit of (*buzzword alert*) AJAX.

Enter your PayPal user name, maybe some kind of modal lightbox pop-up to asks for my password, it goes back behind the scenes to confirm this with PayPal, then seemlessly closes the pop-up and updates my status on the merchant site to say, “Purchase completed via PayPal. Thanks for your business!”

I like using PayPal. I just don’t want to notice it. Kinda like the electricity in my home; I just want it to be there when I plug in my laptop.

What do you think?

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Comments (28)

  1. I so agree with you. You would think buy and specially size of Paypal that whole process would be one click process but for some reason they still have some functionality from 90′s.

    I wonder if they are doing it from branding/exposure point of view in order to justify certain things.

    Who knows? Even though I see your point and I agree that change needs to happen I use it often and like it :)


  2. I accept PayPal, and besides adding your logo to their checkout process, that is about all the customizing you can do.

    Right now, I want to add Google checkout as a payment option, but here again, I have NOT seen a smooth way of incorporating it into the site checkout process. I saw one site with 3 different buttons to leave the shopping cart page, one to their own checkout page, another PayPal button to theirs and a 3rd Google checkout button to theirs. I was a bit confused at first with all of this. I can imagine John R. Customer would be even more confused.

    If there is a smoother way of doing this, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR IT… or see an example of……


  3. From a usability perspective it makes a lot of sense. But looking at the situation from Paypal’s business model, and the damage they could do to their already shaky customer support, I can’t see this being a well planned change.

  4. [...] a usability perspective this makes perfect sense, and has been one of the biggest hurdles for Paypal to overcome as a 3rd part [...]

  5. I’m pretty sure you can integrate Paypal into your site without even going to their site. Look under their developer API.

  6. I completely. We have taken off Paypal from our company’s e-comm site 2 yrs. back as we found it confused the user more than helping him/her pay.

    Ben, I did go through the link you sent, but not all users have Paypal a/c, and without changing the UI too much, it is difficult to make an unsuspecting user understand the difference.


  7. Ben, I viewed the demo on the link you gave, this is exactly how I do it now, but I still think it is a bit confusing for the customer.

    I just wish there was a smoother way………….

  8. We think the idea is brilliant however from a branding perspective on Paypal’s end, it should be “semi-undercover”. The whole checkout process fully taking you to their site is unnecessary as it is a distraction from the buying experience, but if they could somehow leave the Paypal sign at the bottom and keep the user on the page, that would be simply fantastic for both parties.

  9. Would anyone of us like the fact that webmasters have access to our PayPal account? since this will be done by Ajax it means that this will be done on the merchants website and the webmasters will be able to login to our PayPal account.

    Scary, no?

  10. I’m not sure about that, Charlie. I’m seeing the webmaster at the merchant site have to install the JS to do the lightbox popup but the source for the popup to be driven by a call to PayPal and ditto with the form submission via AJAX. So tht part of the traffic is directly between customer and PayPal.

    I don’t even mind if PayPal branded it well as long as the multi-steps all occured behind the scenes so that the use of PayPal was more seemless

    And, when it comes to security, it’s Paypal that has to reassure customers that offering this sort of solution to a vendor is secure, that the vendor never has access to the customer PayPal account.

  11. John’s last point is exactly why PayPal should do the AJAX lightbox development themselves. If they had a minimal-looking custom widget that only required a login and didn’t take you off the page, there would be much more incentive to actually create a PayPal account in the first place.

    Besides, if you were buying multiple items from the same site, it seems you could pay one-click-at-a-time without having to sign in again — and the merchant would neither have nor need access to your personal records to process the transaction, since it would be PayPal’s widget.

    This sounds like an obvious win for both PayPal and participating merchants.

  12. Robert,
    You are just right! a PayPal little widget would make the life of the programmers/merchants/customers much easier, and will of course benefit PayPal themselves.

  13. Thanks, Charlie! If PayPal does end up doing this, they’ll be happy to know that both John and I accept PayPal.


  14. I think paypal spends too much time trying to force paypal down everyone’s throat. If they spent more time making their checkout process more customizable and/or more pretty, I think it would benefit them.

  15. Well paypal may be the most popular solution but it’s also the most vulnerable
    PayPal Phishing Scam

  16. I’m sick of Ebay and Paypal altogether. If Ebay didn’t try to compete with Amazon (stupid move), then Amazon would accept Paypal, but since it doesn’t – Amazon is my favorite place to shop – it makes having extra money in a Paypal account an annoyance.

  17. There are more than one version class with Paypal.. the basic is a round trip through their website, but the Pro version allows you to fully embed the flow.

  18. Doug, a link to such Pro service would be highly appreciated. I couldn’t find such thing…
    Thanks in advance

  19. Charlie,
    PayPal Pro is here
    But beware you will have heavy security compliance requirements, much like you would have with most paymanet gateway/mechant account solutions, so you are sacrificing one of the great advantages of PayPal, namely that they take care of all the security

  20. Great article thanks alot

  21. Now that’s an interesting information. I never thought adding Paypal could lower the conversions. Will have to buy a payment gateway now.

  22. I’m pretty sure you can integrate Paypal into your site without even going to their site. Look under their developer API.

  23. People want things to be simple. If they have to go sign up for PayPal and click 500 times to buy something, it’s going to discourage them. Just make a nice PayPal shopping cart that doesn’t require an account and things will be all fine and dandy. You don’t have to gouge both parties in order to make a ton of money. Provide a decent service.

  24. I am always of the view that Payment Gateway looks far more professional than the PayPal cart. Investing in a Payment Gateway will eventually result a higher ROI.

  25. As for “risk free, money back guarantee,” I’ll be happy to e-mail you one blog reader’s experience

  26. i nice post gay

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John is the co-author of the best-selling Always Be Testing and 3 other books. You can friend him on Facebook, though beware his wacky swing dancer friends, or contact him directly at

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