How the payment ecosystem works

How the payment ecosystem works

Learn more about who is involved in the Web Payments ecosystem, how they interact with each other, and how you can participate.

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Appears in: Web Payments

Let's see how the payment ecosystem works with Web Payments.

The anatomy of Web Payments #

Web Payments comprises multiple web standards:

  • Payment Request API: The Payment Request API enables fast and easy checkouts through a native browser UI. It provides a consistent checkout flow while reducing the need for users to enter their shipping and payment information on every checkout.
  • Payment Handler API: The Payment Handler API opens up the ecosystem to payment providers by allowing their web-based payment applications to act as payment methods on merchant websites through the standard Payment Request API.
  • Payment Method Identifiers: The Payment Method Identifiers defines how strings (https://google.com/pay, https://apple.com/apple-pay, and so on) can be used to identify a payment method. Along with standardized payment method identifiers, it allows anyone to define their own payment method with URL-based payment method identifiers.
  • Payment Method Manifest: The Payment Method Manifest defines the machine-readable manifest file, known as a payment method manifest, describing how a payment method participates in the payment ecosystem, and how such files are to be used.

How the payment request process works #

There are typically four participants in an online transaction.

PlayersDescriptionAPI usage
CustomersUsers who go through a checkout flow to purchase item(s) online.N/A
MerchantsBusinesses selling products on their website.Payment Request API
Payment Service Providers (PSPs)Third-party companies that actually process payments, which involves charging customers and crediting merchants. Alternatively called payment gateways or payment processors.Payment Request API
Payment HandlersThird-party companies which provide applications that typically store customers' payment credentials and on their authorization provide them to merchants to process a transaction.Payment Handler API
The typical sequence of events in processing a credit card payment on the web
The typical sequence of events in processing a credit card payment on the web
  1. The Customer visits a merchant's website, adds items to a shopping cart, and starts the checkout flow.
  2. The Merchant needs the customer's payment credentials to process the transaction. They present a payment request UI to the customer using the Payment Request API. The UI lists various methods of payment specified by the Payment Method Identifiers. The payment methods can include credit card numbers saved to the browser, or payment handlers such as Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and similar. The Merchant can optionally request the customer's shipping address and contact information.
  3. If the customer chooses a payment method like Google Pay, Chrome launches either a platform-native payment app or a web-based payment app. This step is completely up to the payment handler's implementation, based on the Payment Method Manifest. After the customer authorizes the payment, the payment handler returns a response to the Payment Request API, which relays it to the merchant site. (If the payment is push type such as bank transfers, cryptocurrencies, the payment is already processed when the merchant receives the response.)
  4. The merchant site sends a payment credential to a PSP to process the payment and initiate funds transfer. Usually, verifying the payment on the server side is also required.
  5. The PSP processes the payment, securely requesting a funds transfer from the customer's bank or credit card issuer to the merchant, and then returns a success or failure result to the merchant website.
  6. The merchant website notifies the customer of the success or failure of the transaction and displays the next step, for example, shipping the purchased item.

Caveat: PSP Reliance #

If you are a merchant and want to accept credit card payments, PSPs are an important link in the payment processing chain. Implementing the Payment Request API does not remove the need for a PSP.

Merchants usually rely on a third-party PSP to perform payment processing for convenience and expense reasons. This is primarily because most PSPs maintain compliance with PCI DSS, an information security standard that regulates the safety of cardholder data.

Because achieving and maintaining strict PCI DSS compliance can be expensive and difficult, most merchants find that relying on a compliant PSP avoids going through the certification process themselves. Some large and financially robust companies, however, obtain their own PCI DSS certification specifically to avoid such third-party reliance.

It's especially important when you are handling a primary account number (PAN) as a payment credential, that is the number embossed on the card. Handling one with JavaScript requires PCI SAQ A-EP compliance.

Thus, delegating payment processing to a PCI DSS-compliant PSP both simplifies the merchant site's requirements and ensures payment information integrity for the customer.

Next up #

Learn about the Payment Request API's fields and methods in How the Payment Request API Works.

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