How is a gateway different than a shopping cart?
Shopping carts are what your customers interact with on your website. The gateway is responsible for transacting sensitive payment information to your processor.
Gateways are "in the background", whereas a shopping cart is the "customer-facing" technology that sits on your website. Typically, the shopping cart is what will dictate how your online store looks/feels. Usually, the gateway is "invisible" in that it acts as an intermediary between the shopping cart, and your processor.
A gateway and a shopping cart differ in that the shopping cart will populate and calculate the merchandise that is to be purchased by your customer, as well as the billing information to complete the payment. It must be programmed (by the merchant) with your company's inventory, prices, taxes, etc. It will dictate what information your customer is asked, how it displays the info, and how it interacts with your website.
In the background, when the sale is completed, the gateway takes only the billing information from the shopping cart and passes that through to the issuing bank for an approval or decline response. When a customer makes an online purchase the flow of the transaction is:
shopping cart → gateway → merchant account → issuing bank. Then once the issuing bank has a response, it all happens in reverse, and the approval/decline is passed back through.
Typically, merchants first choose their shopping cart, based on their customer-experience needs. Then, based on the integrations offered with the shopping cart, they'll choose a compatible gateway, and finally, a merchant service provider.
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