Friday, 23 September 2011

Noca vs Authorize.net: Which is the best option?

Recently, Noca announced simplified online payment rates on Hacker News. These are certainly appealing and sexy. Noca also claims one can "start accepting payments on websites withing minutes". Reduced online payment transactions cost within minutes? I decided to give it a try. Here are my findings.

An attempt at Noca
The registration process was straight forward. No issues encountered. Then, I took a look at their developer's page. I followed the instructions, but found them a little rough. I send an email for clarification and received an answer within hours.

I tried to make their Iframe and Redirect solution work, but never managed to make it work. I did not find the logos very sexy, but then again, this is cosmetics. I am interested in cost reduction. So I decided to try the Lite API page generating code.

I plugged some "code for testing" in a page. This redirected me to their sandbox payment page. I filled in some information, and clicked on accept payment. I got an eternal "Processing, please wait" message. I did not like it. If the simplest implementation they are suggesting does not work in the test environment, what about production? What about customer experience? Very bad first impression so far. I sent an email to support and received a quick answer saying their engineers were taking a look at it.

I tried to make my first pages work again, in order to make a direct payment. I was redirected to an empty blank page with no message. I sent another email to support and got a response saying they took a look at their log and it seems that the issue was caused by an invalid email address. They are working on providing better error messages.

Fair enough, I did not enter a valid email address. Noca's website does mention that issues will happen if fields are not properly encoded. But, I find this an unreasonable expectation. I know that customers DO make errors and ending on an empty web page is not acceptable. I don't want to be associated with this level of service.

Revisting Authorize.net
While waiting for answers from Noca, I decided to take a look at Authorize.net again. I had visited their website some time ago and did find the AIM solution interesting, but it was a lot of work to integrate. The barrier to entry was pretty high.

However, they have now provided several development kits for PHP, Ruby, Java and C#. I tried the Java solution and within two hours, I managed to make their example work like a charm in my small test application. Obviously, these examples have been properly tested and documented.

Who has the best offer and the best business model?
I did not experience the "start accepting payments on websites withing minutes" claim from Noca, even when following their recommendations. I made further research on Noca and found this company was founded in 2009.

Every market has its sweet spot. There is only so much money you can make and there is an unbreakable minimum amount of profit one must make in order to operate it and be sustainable. The question I have is: a) does Noca have a real mean to reduce online payment costs? or b) is it only cutting on its margins hoping to grow its revenues with a larger future customer base?

In both cases, Noca needs to make its barrier to entry lower from a technical perspective. Ideally, a tested kit would be the first step. Next, a better set of error messages and a more sexy interface would be necessary. This is not very hard to achieve considering what they have achieved so far.

If Noca is strictly relying on b), then it does not have a sustainable business model to thrive, since it operates below the market's natural sweet spot. We are not in a first-to-market situation anymore. Noca will only become a major player if it has a disruptive solution to cut costs. If so, and if I was leading that company, I would talk to investors and raise cash to hire good engineers in order to provide a stronger API.

Merchant and vendors would naturally rush to Noca. No need for expensive marketing campaigns.

Conclusion
I don't care if Noca operates only in the U.S., even if my needs are international. I will always be happy to find ways to cut my costs, especially in a large market.

So far, I am not ready to rely on Noca. Even if Authorize.net is more expensive, I would rather pass the cost to the customer, than take the risk of loosing them on a bad experience or weak interface.

P.S.: For the record, I am not affiliated with Noca, Authorize.net or any other company offering online payment solutions. I am just your average software engineer.