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Flexible Payments

There are many companies selling goods or services on the AWS platform, and all have to solve an important question: How do I get paid? As with most elements of cloud services, AWS has you well covered; if anything maybe a little too well covered considering the rather large array of options and solutions they make available.

That list is rather long, but most fall beneath the umbrella of the AWS Flexible Payments Service (FPS). You’ll find that FPS has a long list of sub-offerings, but at the start you can break it down into two basic options: The FPS web service and Amazon Simple Pay.

The FPS web service boils down to a set of APIs that allow you to integrate the FPS service into your site or web app, which gives you the ability to implement a fairly wide variety of payment options. Customers will experience a co-branded Amazon FPS user interface, which means they’ll jump from your site or application to a site that’s co-branded by you and Amazon when it’s time to pay.

Customers pay via the co-branded UI and you receive an authorization from Amazon, usually called a token ID, which you can use to initiate the payment. Once you’ve got the token ID, you can set up a variety of payments, including a one-time payment, a reserved payment, or a subscription, as well as options for settling payments, canceling transactions or providing refunds. Amazon receives the money from your customers and deposits it into your Amazon Payments account where you can do with it as you like. You can track payments off your Amazon account page, or receive instant payment notifications. All in all, it’s a very robust service.

The Talk Market is an AWS customer that’s a great example of FPS in action. The company has recently brought a hosted shopping channel to the web, where small and large e-tailers can promote products via video. The Talk Market has been using Amazon FPS since 2008 to build and direct a seamless channel between its customers (the vendors) and their customers with a fee taken out for Talk Market. Vendors sign up and The Talk Market automatically provides them with a credit card processor that drops their sales revenue into their Amazon account. Everything is managed by FPS.

Implementing FPS definitely requires the help of a developer. Using the FPS APIs requires a working knowledge of your site or web app code as well as XML and another web-capable programming language (like Java, JavaScript, or Python among others). Developers need to build the routing relationship with FPS as well as a secure key relationship (which controls security between the user, FPS, and your operation). Amazon has provided quite a bit of developer resource material, including lots of Quick Starts and code samples as well as the FPS Sandbox, developer forums and FAQs.  If you’re getting the feeling that this isn’t something you can learn in a weekend, you’re right. Expertise and customization are a necessary requirement of FPS since it has to be customized and requires additional code depending on which services of FPS you’re using.

For people who can’t afford expert programming help, like small startups, there’s Amazon Simple Pay. If you need to sum this up quickly, it’s FPS but with Amazon handling everything for you in the background. All you really need to do is add a “pay” button to your app or site that links the customer back to AWS. After that, it’s in Amazon’s hands. The transaction is handled on its servers and the user is then directed back to your site, but without any kind of token. Amazon has completed the entire transaction and simply drops your money into your Amazon Payment account. Amazon Simple Pay is a great starter service, though many businesses will quickly outgrow it.

But wait! There’s more! One of the best add-on options for an FPS implementation is Checkout by Amazon (CbA). This is a checkout interface option based on the FPS platform that you can add to your site with some code snippets. When customers decide it’s time to pay, they click on “checkout” at which point they’ll go through either the inline or standard CbA experience, depending on what you’ve implemented. Both options ask the customer to log into their Amazon account, but inline lets them access shipping and payment options from inside your own checkout experience. In standard, they’re presented with a separate pop-up window that’s very similar to the Amazon checkout page (including branding). This lets them choose from the payment and shipping options they have stored in their Amazon accounts. CbA also offers a full payments service that handles all the details, like shipping charges, sales tax, refunds, and more with payment reporting. There’s even a mobile version, Checkout for Amazon Mobile that lets people shop off tablets and smartphones.

Sound like a lot? It is. And we still haven’t covered everything. You’ve got many other options available, including Fulfillment by Amazon, (an Amazon-run warehouse and shipping service), TextPayMe (send payments via text message), Amazon Payments for Nonprofits, Simple Pay Subscriptions, and many more. While Amazon has done a fairly good job making most of these services accessible individually, they’re still difficult to combine into a payments solution that’s right for your particular business.

You can start with Amazon Simple Payments, but as your business grows, you’re going to need something that’s more suited to your individual needs. When you get there, it’s time to work on an FPS strategy. That means deciding how you want FPS implemented, which options should be available to your customers, what you’ll need in the way of transaction reporting, how to maintain FPS as your site or application evolves, and any additional features you might need that only third-party partners can provide.

Without careful planning, FPS can become difficult or seem insufficient. Then you’ll be looking for another solution that’s likely to be less robust and cost more, when FPS could have fulfilled your every need and then some if you’d had the proper planning in place. At 2nd Watch we use Flexible Payments on our own 2W SharePoint offering to provide seamless payment options for our users. When it’s time to get serious about a payments solution, we can help you, too.

-Kelly Sale, Senior Developer