In today’s eCommerce market, people can purchase practically anything online, sometimes for very small payments known as micropayments. Usually defined as a transaction less than a dollar—and occasionally even a fraction of a cent—a micropayment can be used to buy everything from digital products like eBooks, movies, and songs, to services like video editing.
As the Internet continues to offer more digital content and services, and financial technology or “fintech” continues to advance, micropayments are becoming a more relevant and secure way to do business.
But just how do micropayments work and what can they be used for in your business model? In this article, we’ll offer several examples of micropayments, the benefits of using them, and strategies for implementing micropayments in your business payment systems.Learn More
What are Micropayments?
A micropayment is a small transaction, usually performed online, for small items or services like freelance gigs, royalties, tips, pay-per-click advertising, and other physical or digital goods. It’s even been suggested that micropayments could be used to pay for individual online articles on publications like the New York Times.
Originally coined in the 1960s by technology futurist Ted Nelson, micropayments were conceptualized to pay for individual copyrights for online content and create low cost networks rather than advertising-based models. Although the World Wide Web eventually did develop into an advertising model, businesses began using Nelson’s idea of micropayments to let customers make small transactions.
Just how small a transaction needs to be in order to be considered a micropayment depends on the business and payment processor carrying out the exchange. Some companies view micropayments as any transaction under a dollar. Others consider five-dollar, ten-dollar, and even twenty-dollar exchanges—like the monthly subscription fees on Patreon—a form of micropayment.
How do Micropayments Work?
Consumers can make micropayments in three different ways: pay-as-you-go, prepay, or post-pay. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
This method simply charges a customer’s credit or debit card a small one-time payment for every article, service, or virtual item. This method has some advantages since it encourages consumers to make impulse buys for low cost digital goods.
However, making impulse purchases doesn’t encourage consumers to come back and keep buying from the same merchant. More importantly, the transaction costs that come with these micropayments (which are often higher than the micropayments themselves) often do not make this method very cost-effective.
If you’ve ever used physical or online gift cards, or paid a subscription fee to a micropayment processor, you’ve used a prepay micropayment model. Prepay allows a consumer to make micropayments on items like app downloads or on-demand movies using the virtual currency on a gift card or in a digital wallet.
Since prepay aggregates or combines all of a customer’s future micropayment purchases into one large sum that’s paid upfront, it makes the transaction costs and processing fees worth the expense. Using physical gift cards to make micropayments also enables consumers to buy from brick-and-mortar stores and not just online. And since this virtual or cryptocurrency can often only be redeemed at a certain provider, customers have more incentive to return to that business.
With post-pay, consumers pay after they’ve made a certain number of micropayments. Merchants keep track of a consumer’s transactions and then bill them all in a single amount. Consumers that take a subscription approach to this model may be billed a standard amount at the end of each month in exchange for unlimited access to digital items and services from that provider.
Post-pay enjoys the advantages of both pay-as-you-go and prepay. Like pay-as-you-go, post-pay encourages impulse buying from customers. And since customers pay for all of their micropayments in one large amount, the transaction fees are more manageable.
However, merchants still need a micropayment system that tracks all of a customer’s micropayments and combines them in order to manage transaction fees. Some customers may also not make a lot of micropayments in a month, making transaction costs a problem.
Examples of Micropayments
If you’ve ever downloaded a song from Amazon or purchased a low cost eBook, then you’ve made a micropayment. Leaving tips via online delivery apps like DoorDash is another form of micropayment. Streaming platforms generate revenue not only by getting subscribers to pay an access fee but also by allowing them to purchase movies on demand through micropayments.
However, micropayments can have several other use cases. For instance, if you create a new account with Venmo and link your bank accounts to this mobile payment service, Venmo will make a micropayment of under $1 into your bank account and then make an equal withdrawal to verify ownership.
In addition, if you offer freelance services through websites like Fiverr or Upwork where clients only need to pay small amounts for temporary projects, these micropayments are stored in a digital wallet by Upwork or Fiverr (after they collect their fees) and then distributed to your account once the wallet collects enough micropayments to pay out.
Google Ads uses a similar method with bloggers and other content creators like YouTubers. These creators monetize their content on a Google platform and gradually accumulate income through ad views and clicks. Once these micropayments reach a certain threshold, such as $100, payment is issued to the content creator.
Why Do Businesses Want to Use Micropayments?
Micropayments offer many businesses—from startup enterprises to large companies—a number of benefits. By offering their current and potential customers the ability to only purchase the individual movies, songs, and content they want to buy, companies can attract more business and sell more products and services.
Providing their customers with a post-payment option also encourages impulse buying, particularly among consumers who enjoy purchasing downloadable games and other entertainment products for low prices.
How to Implement Micropayments
Companies that accept micropayments enable this form of payment in different ways.
A merchant or service provider may establish an account with a third-party micropayment provider that collects, stores, and distributes the micropayments. Consumers also need to set up an account with the same micropayment provider and go through an authentication process to make small transactions. The provider manages a digital wallet that stores the micropayments until they reach a certain amount. At this point, the money is paid to the recipient.
Businesses like PayPal that use a prepaid micropayment system use a micropayment processor their consumers set up an account with. Each consumer then deposits a sum of money into that account and can then draw from that account to make micropayments on small purchases like digital downloads. PayPal charges a percentage of the transaction plus a small fixed fee per transaction.
Businesses that use micropayment processors need to find systems that save them the most in transaction fees. For this reason, most micropayment platforms engage in online transactions since it makes more sense to pay a small fee to download a digital movie or song rather than pay expensive shipping and handling fees to get a physical copy.
Micropayments provide businesses the opportunity to expand their customer base by offering consumers the ability to make small payments for the items or services they want. Thanks to today’s eCommerce market, it’s much more feasible to make micropayments on digital items like movies, eBooks, and music.
However, transaction fees continue to be a problem for micropayments. Businesses that use this payment method need to find micropayment processors that can save them money while offering a good user experience.
To explore the payment processing systems available to you, check out Stax. Stax offers a #1 ranked payments platform designed to make processing your payments simpler with an all-in-one solution and subscription-style merchant services.
FAQs about Micropayments
Q: What is a micropayment?
A micropayment is a small transaction, often less than a dollar, made for small items or services such as online purchases, freelance work, or digital goods. Micropayments are typically performed online.
Q: How do micropayments work?
Micropayments operate through three methods: pay-as-you-go, prepay, and post-pay. In pay-as-you-go, customers are charged a one-time payment for every transaction. In prepay, customers pay upfront for future micropayment purchases. Post-pay allows customers to make a number of micropayments, which are then billed in a single amount.
Q: What can micropayments be used for?
Micropayments can be used for a wide range of digital products and services, including eBooks, movies, songs, video editing, and more. They can also be used in freelance gigs, royalties, tips, pay-per-click advertising, and other forms of physical or digital commerce.
Q: What are the benefits of using micropayments in business?
Micropayments offer businesses the opportunity to attract more customers by offering the ability to make small payments for individual products or services. They also encourage impulse buying, particularly for low-cost digital goods.
Q: How can micropayments be implemented in a business?
Businesses can implement micropayments by associating with third-party micropayment providers who collect, store, and distribute the micropayments. Consumers need to create an account with the micropayment provider and undergo an authentication process to make transactions.
Q: What challenges are associated with micropayments?
Transaction fees pose a significant challenge to micropayments. The cost associated with these fees can potentially exceed the micropayment itself, especially in the case of pay-as-you-go.
Q: Are there real-world examples of micropayments?
Yes, examples of micropayments include downloading a song from Amazon, buying a low-cost eBook, or leaving tips via delivery apps like DoorDash. Also, platforms like Fiverr and Upwork store micropayments in a digital wallet, which is distributed to the freelancer when a certain amount is accumulated.
Q: How do micropayment processors like PayPal operate?
Merchants or service providers set up an account with micropayment processors like PayPal, who carry out the collection, storage, and distribution of micropayments. Each customer deposits a sum of money into their account and draws from it to make micropayments on small items such as digital downloads.
Q: Why do businesses prefer online transactions for implementing micropayments?
Most businesses prefer online transactions for implementing micropayments as it is more convenient to pay a small fee to download a digital product, such as a movie or song, than incur expensive shipping and handling fees for physical copies.
Q: What future developments are expected in the micropayment market?
Micropayment systems are continually evolving with the advancement of fintech. They are becoming more relevant, secure, and efficient for conducting business, especially in the eCommerce market. However, finding micropayment processors that can offer a good user experience while saving money remains a challenge.
Contact us and learn more about how we can help your business grow and thrive in today’s digital market with efficient payment processing.