Chargebacks 101: The Real Costs You Need to Know About

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Being able to accept credit cards, though not an absolutely necessity, is a very important aspect of running an e-commerce business. In most European countries, credit cards are still the most popular online payment method, with studies having shown that offering multiple payment methods, including credit cards, directly affect your conversion rate. Despite all of the positive aspects to offering the option for your customers to pay by credit card, there remains a significant obstacle that online merchants need to be aware of: chargebacks.

Chargebacks are a form of consumer protection provided by issuing banks. They occur when banks forcibly reverse a transaction, returning funds to a consumer after they have disputed the legitimacy of a payment appearing on their credit card statement. The associated fees charged to merchants can be as much as 100 USD per chargeback, which is a costly burden to bear for entrepreneurs and small-to-medium sized enterprises or SMEs.

Chargeback Lag

Some of the key challenges associated with chargebacks arise from chargeback lag, the time between the date of the transaction and when the merchant is notified of the dispute. Although most chargebacks are initiated close to the original date of transaction (60 to 90 days), cardholders are legally permitted to file a dispute up to two years after a transaction, making lag time extreme and unpredictable.

Due to the delay in reporting, SMEs don’t have a clear picture of their financial health. The lag distorts true company performance and the losses incurred are only felt months later, limiting the merchant’s ability to respond to the cause of a chargeback in real-time and to adjust their business strategy accordingly.

Fraud

Chargebacks are often associated with fraud, and for good reason, as 58% of chargebacks are due to fraud. Online fraud is responsible for 100 billion USD in losses per year, and most of that is caused by chargebacks. The process begins when a cardholder files a dispute with their issuing bank regarding a specific “erroneous” transaction. Most of the time, the bank reaches the conclusion that the transaction was fraudulent and reverses it, returning the funds from the merchant to the cardholder and fining the merchant the associated fee.

Though fraud is the most common reason for a chargeback, there are a few other possibilities:

  • Technical: Due to a bank processing error, non-sufficient funds or an expired authentication, the transaction was not properly completed.
  • Clerical: The cardholder was erroneously billed in duplicate, was billed the incorrect amount, or was mistakenly never issued a refund.
  • Quality: The cardholder claims the product purchased was never received as promised.

The fines associated with chargebacks can cost a small merchant thousands of dollars per month alone. Because online credit card sales are card-not-present (CNP) transactions, they’re considered more risky than card-present transactions like those at the point of sale. As a result, merchants are often held 100% liable for any online fraud that may occur.

The effect that chargebacks have on a business is actually much worse than just the cost of fines. On top of the fines, merchants are also losing the revenue from the original transaction, the money invested in making the sale, the price of merchandise and the shipping costs involved in getting the product to the customer.

If shouldering these expenses weren’t bad enough, chargeback lag means that merchants need to absorb the losses long after the transactions were made — for instance, the amount of revenue earned in January can’t be accurately counted until April once a chargeback has been reported. This also means that a merchant is unable to respond to the cause of chargeback until 2 to 3 months later. In the case of fraud, this makes it very difficult to identify the vulnerability that enabled the fraud to occur.

Chargeback lag means that merchants have to spend months dealing with the fallout from chargebacks, distorting their financials and creating long-tail losses. This is a key reason why fighting fraud is an integral part of running an e-commerce business.

Preventing Chargebacks

Preventing chargebacks is a significant component of fighting fraud. The first step to preventing chargebacks is to anticipate them, by being aware of the following warning signs that your company may be being targeted by fraudsters:

  • Chargeback rate higher than 0.5%
  • Decline rate higher than 1%
  • Refund rate higher than 1%
  • High affiliate turnover
  • High shopping cart abandonment

These are all signs that cybercriminals may be attempting to perform fraudulent transactions at your web store. Keep a close eye on that chargeback rate – if it reaches 1%, you could be facing more fines and jeopardise your ability to accept credit card payments.

Friendly Fraud

Unfortunately, even the best anti-fraud technologies and practices won’t protect you from friendly fraud, which accounts for 41% of all chargeback fraud. Friendly fraud occurs when the cardholder knowingly performed the transaction, it was processed successfully, and the product was delivered as promised, and yet they filed a chargeback dispute nonetheless.

There are a number of reasons this could happen. Perhaps the customer was confused by the transaction description or legitimately couldn’t recall making the transaction. Unfortunately, in most cases, friendly fraud is a deliberately dishonest tactic for consumers to receive goods without paying for them; in other words, it is theft.

There is little merchants can do about this and the cardholders often succeed in this fraudulent tactic. While merchants can dispute chargebacks, it is a difficult and lengthy process and only 21% of chargebacks globally are decided in favour of the merchant.

Achieving a Balance

Chargebacks are a reality in e-commerce. While you will never reduce your chargeback rate to 0%, you can reach a balance between chargebacks and sales. Many anti-fraud techniques and know-your-customer policies do reduce chargebacks but can also create friction in a customer’s path to purchase that lowers your conversion rate and, ultimately, your revenue.

The key is to reduce your chargeback rate to a point that maximises your sales while keeping your losses to a minimum. Especially for entrepreneurs and SMEs running on slim profit margins, the importance of controlling your chargeback rate cannot be understated. Follow these tips to reduce your chargeback rate:

  • Ensure that your business name as it appears on your customers’ credit card statements matches your advertised business name and is clearly recognisable.
  • If you’re selling physical goods, make sure that the customer’s shipping address matches the billing address of the card they’re using to ensure that the card is not stolen.
  • Enforce additional customer verification procedures such as Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode.
  • Automatically flag unusually large transactions for manual review before completing the transaction.

These are just a few ways to control fraud and reduce chargebacks. More tips on the subject can be found in these other helpful articles from the DalPay Blog:

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Everything You Need to Know about Selling in France

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In the Everything You Need to Know series, we take a look at a specific e-commerce market to help you decide whether you should expand online sales across borders. As a provider of comprehensive payment processing services, we at DalPay specialise in cross-border commerce and have first-hand experience facilitating business in over one hundred markets worldwide.

Online marketplaces vary significantly around the world in a wide number of ways, such as their level of economic development, shopping habits, preferred payment methods, access to technologies, legality, logistics, etc. Because of this, there are a great many factors to consider when choosing which international markets to expand to. This series is designed to provide you with all the information you need to choose which countries are a good fit for your business and to begin selling across borders.

Unless otherwise noted, figures in this article are sourced from:

The French e-commerce market is one of the largest in Europe, behind only the UK and Germany, and is ranked the 6th biggest worldwide. Nearly all of the more than 55 million internet users in France buy online and 1 in 5 of them buy from merchants across borders. While the growth rate slowed in 2014, it has remained fairly steady despite economic turmoil.

Merchants considering selling in France are on the verge of tapping into one of the most promising cross-border markets in the world. E-commerce already accounts for 8.34% of the country’s GDP and the French Economic Federation, FEVAD, predicts online sales to reach EUR 62.4 billion by the end of 2015. So to help you get started, we’re going to take a closer look at the market trends and the realities of selling online in France.

Quick Figures

  • Total population: 64.3 million
  • Internet penetration: 85.75% (55.4 million)
  • Mobile penetration: 119%
  • Online shoppers: 33.8 million
  • E-commerce sales: EUR 51.1 billion
  • M-commerce sales: EUR 1.4 billion
  • E-commerce annual growth rate: 20.3%

Cross-border e-commerce is the fastest growing segment in France, so now is the time to enter the market. 1 out of 4 online merchants in France participate in cross-border e-commerce, and French consumers are accustomed to purchasing from retailers in Germany, the UK, Belgium, the US and China.French consumers on average spend just over EUR 1,500 annually (this is 50% higher than what Germans spend), with an average transaction size of 81 euros.

French consumers are tech-savvy and globally-minded. Mobile penetration is high at 119%. Travel and tourism is the most popular e-commerce product category for most French shoppers. Language is also a key driver, with sizable French populations also in Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Africa and the Caribbean, which increase the value proposition of implementing a French-language website.

What You Need to Know

Preferred payment methods

The most widespread online payment method in France is CartesBancaires, a French credit card that can also be used as a debit card, representing more than half of the total credit card market share. Payment cards account for 57% of all online payments, followed by e-wallets with 25% and bank transfers with 9%. While there are a wide variety of alternative payment methods available to consumers such as Allopay, Sofort and Ukash, alternative payments are relatively unpopular in France and cash-on-delivery is still a common solution for shoppers with security concerns about online payments.

Consumers in France also value multi-channel commerce, with one survey showing 72% having opted for an in-store pickup option in 2014. Obviously it is difficult for cross-border retailers to offer this option, but most respondents also stated that free delivery is what they value most when choosing a delivery method. 84% also said that a positive delivery experience is enough to convince them to return to the same merchant for their next purchase rather than searching for alternatives offering the same product. Providing free and on-time delivery may be driver for your business to win over loyal customers.

M-commerce adoption

M-commerce is relatively undeveloped in France compared to other leading e-commerce markets, but it is on the rise with a 52% increase in 2014. Awareness is not the issue – the majority of people are familiar with the options available to them, though less than 20% of people are taking advantage of mobile shopping.

Because of the dominance of CartesBancaires, Visa and MasterCard, the mobile payments market in France is heavily reliant on the bank card system and therefore many consumers view m-payments as an extension of their payment cards rather than as an alternative to cash. However, recent initiatives have been designed to promote m-commerce, such as Ingenico Group’s mobile acceptance solution for French online retailers.

Mobile payments at the point-of-sale (mPOS) are also on the rise in France. Merchant acceptance of mPOS is now at more than 60%, with 74% crediting its acceptance to the ease-of-use of mobile payment systems. Initiatives such as NFC payments for public transportation as well as Orange Cash, which acts as a prepaid Visa card and can be accepted at any Visa contactless payment terminal,have been introduced with success.

Cybercrime report

As e- and m-commerce grow in France both locally and across borders, so does cybercrime. According to international security firm Symantec, France has the most victims of cybercrime in all of Europe. Card-not-present payments account for only 9.2% of the total value of domestic transactions but represent two-thirds of all domestic fraud, accounting for EUR 125 million in losses in 2013.

Because of low subscription costs for mobile devices, France enjoys a relatively high level of connectivity. 41% of French smartphone users were victims of cyber attacks in 2014, compared to only 28% across Europe. Additionally, France also has the highest lost-and-stolen card fraud level in Europe.

Despite the national roll-out of smart cards in order to control fraud, EMV adoption has so far been slow and there is still no universal method for 3D Secure deployment by issuers in France. Nearly half of all merchants have already adopted 3D Secure, out of concern for creating friction and causing cart abandonment. The concept of risk-based 3D Secure authentication, with only high risk transactions pushed through the 3DS route, is growing in popularity.

Legality

International merchants planning to expand their e-commerce operations into France will have to familiarise themselves with local legislation as well as, if they are based outside of Europe, the legislation of the European Union.

For example, under the European WEEE regulation, for physical products it is mandatory to register the number of items being put to market, as well as the items taken back from the market (as in the case of returns), or risk thousands of Euros in fines. Products imported from outside of the EU are subject to duties, while inter-EU deliveries are subject to the EU Directive on the VAT-system.

French E-Commerce in Brief

Pros:

  • 8 million potential customers
  • Widespread acceptance of cross-border e-commerce
  • Few competitors in burgeoning m-commerce market

Cons:

  • Alternative payment methods not widely accepted
  • Cybercrime levels highest in Europe

France offers merchants one of the most promising e-commerce markets in Europe. Especially for businesses based within the EU, expanding to France means expanding your consumer base by the tens of millions with relatively low logistical costs. Offering services in French also facilitates selling to French-language markets in Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, as well as millions of native speakers in Africa and the Caribbean.

E-commerce is becoming second nature for French consumers. As they buy more often, they spend less per transaction – a trend that reappears in maturing markets again and again as consumers look to purchasing more everyday, lower cost items online. While the average purchase value dropped by 3% from 2013 to 2014, the frequency of purchases rose by 7%, with online shoppers spending an average of nearly EUR 1000 in the first half of 2014 alone.

Expanding into a new international market is a risky venture but a very rewarding one if done right. For the latest information about how you can build and maintain a strong e-commerce enterprise and keep it compatible with legislation and buying habits at home and abroad, subscribe to the DalPay Blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest industry news.

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