Defining the Different Types of Merchant Accounts

In the payment processing industry, every merchant is classified into a specific “merchant account type” category, based on how they collect card information and conduct transactions. To learn which category your business is classified under, we have defined the characteristics of each merchant account type in this article.

There are two main merchant account type categories, “Swiped” and “Keyed,” which reflect the basic methods used to capture card information. Within these main categories are sub-categories, broken down according to the business environment and processing technique.

“Swiped” or, “Card Present” merchants directly interact with their customers face-to-face and capture card information by physically swiping cards through a terminal or point-of-sale system. The sub-categories within this group include:

  • Retail Merchants: “Retail” merchants typically conduct business in a storefront or office where they interact with their customers face-to-face and physically swipe cards through a terminal or Point-of-Sale system.
  • Restaurant Merchants: “Restaurant” merchants require the ability to add tips to their charges (Note: Restaurants that do not process tips are still considered “Retail” merchants in this industry). Using a special tip function, they authorize a customer’s card for a certain sale amount and then settle that authorization with an adjusted price to include the tip amount.
  • Wireless/Mobile Merchants: “Wireless” or “Mobile” merchants need to accept and authorize cards wherever they are located, which is usually on the road. Using a portable wireless terminal, these merchants process on-site, real-time transactions at their customers’ locations.
  • Lodging Merchants: “Lodging” merchants (e.g. Hotels, Motels, and Bed & Breakfasts) authorize a customer’s card for a specific sale amount and, depending on the customer’s length of stay, will adjust and settle out that authorization a day or more later to include additional fees such as taxes, etc.

“Keyed or, “Card-Not-Present” merchants indirectly collect their customers’ card information, and, depending on the business environment and technology used, can process transactions in various ways. The sub-categories within this group include:

  • Keyed Face-to-Face Merchants: “Keyed Face-to-Face” merchants eventually meet their customers in person to deliver the product or provide the service, but they don’t actually collect card information with the customer or card present. Generally, they take orders over the telephone, via fax, mail, email, or the Internet, and then manually key-enter card information into a terminal, software, payment gateway, or other point-of-sale system.
  • Mail Order/Telephone Order (“M.O.T.O.”) Merchants: “M.O.T.O.” merchants rarely, if ever, meet their customers face-to-face. Instead, these merchants collect orders and card information over the telephone, by mail, fax, or via the Internet, and manually key-enter transactions through a terminal, software, payment gateway, or point-of-sale system. Then, once payment for an order is confirmed, the product is shipped for future delivery.
  • Internet or E-Commerce Merchants: “Internet” or, “E-Commerce” merchants conduct all business through a website, so all card information is collected and transactions are processed online, in real-time, using a payment gateway that’s built into their website’s shopping cart. So, once the order/sale is confirmed, the card is charged instantly and the product is shipped for future delivery. (Note: This merchant type does not apply to businesses that only market on the Internet, but do not immediately process payments via their website, upon order confirmation.)