Introduction: Hacks #28-44

The most common question of PayPal's merchant support staff might be, "How do I start using PayPal as a seller?"

For a buyer, PayPal is straightforward: sign up for an account and start using it to pay for goods and services on the Internet. But for merchants, PayPal offers so many options to fit each seller's needs that it can seem overwhelming when you first endeavor to sell online. Unless you plan to sell only on eBay (in which case you should see eBay Hacks by David A. Karp), here is the basic information you need to get started.

PayPal is an online payment processor; it allows buyers and sellers to make monetary transactions easily and securely. PayPal is not, however, a credit card gateway; to accept payments with PayPal you do not have to pass a rigorous credit check, install any equipment or special software, make agreements with a bank, or send in signed documents. You also do not need to gather credit card numbers from your buyers or subsequently safeguard such sensitive financial information.

Buyers using PayPal can either open PayPal accounts (which is recommended, especially if you use PayPal often) or just enter their credit cards for each purchase. Sellers who accept PayPal must have PayPal accounts, and merchants who are doing serious business with PayPal will want to have a Business account, which allows acceptance of payments funded by credit cards. There is no fee for opening or holding a Business account?only a per-transaction fee of 2.9% plus $0.30 on each payment received.

Non-U.S. account holders, and those doing business with non-U.S. account holders, might be subject to additional fees or a different fee rate.

The best way to start using PayPal to sell merchandise online is to add one or more PayPal buttons to your web site. You can do this by logging into your PayPal account (create one now [Hack #1] if you don't have one yet), generating a button with the Merchant Tools PayPal provides, and copying it to a page on your site. You can literally start offering items for sale in 10 minutes.

PayPal buttons are nothing more than HTML forms. They live on your web pages, but they direct your customers to PayPal for processing payments. All the software and complexity of processing those payments is done for you.

PayPal offers four types of payment buttons to meet the various needs of online enterprises, all at no additional charge:

Buy Now

The most basic payment button is the Buy Now button. It lets your customers easily buy a single item from your site. One click directs a buyer to the PayPal system, where they can make their payment. See [Hack #28] to start hacking Buy Now buttons.

Add To Cart

The Add To Cart button lets a buyer accumulate a group of items in a shopping basket and then pay for them all at once. You should add an individual Add To Cart button for each item you sell. When they are ready, customers click the Checkout button (also on your site) to go PayPal and complete their payment. See [Hack #45] and all of Chapter 5 to get started.


A PayPal subscription button lets your customer easily set up a subscription (a recurring payment) from the customer's PayPal account to yours. You can set the terms of the subscription to fit your business model, and you or your customer can cancel the subscription at any time without further obligation. See Chapter 6 for more details on subscription buttons.

Donate Now

The PayPal donation button is nearly identical to a Buy Now button. The wording of the payment screens, however, indicates the processing of a donation rather than the purchase of a product or service. See [Hack #40] for an introduction and [Hack #79] and [Hack #80] for ways to take donation buttons further.

PayPal is a flexible system. With your own software, you can use it to accommodate just about any business process, such as delivering digital goods instantly, collecting conference registration fees, or cooperating with an extant shopping cart system. If you are just getting started, PayPal's buttons are the way to do it. The rest of this book should fire your imagination with ideas of where to go from there.