Nonbanks such as PayPal and BillMeLater are aggressively pursuing the Internet payments business, and the e-check—essentially a debit against the customer’s checking account that travels over the Automated Clearing House (ACS) network—is another low-cost payment alternative to the (very expensive) credit card. Although credit cards remain the overwhelming payment method of choice for online purchases, merchants are demanding a less-expensive, cost-based payment system. Another assault on the primacy of the credit card comes from “instant loan” companies such as BillMeLater, which allows the shopper to provide a Social Security number and date of birth so that so that the transaction can be approved and the customer is billed (surprise!) later. Merchants that have signed on with BillMeLater include eToys.com, Ross-Simons, Earthlink, 1-800-flowers.com and the ShopAtHome Network.

Banking Strategies May 2004