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Stripe Makes Buying Easy — But Can It Beat PayPal?

By Robert McGarvey| 08/06/15 – 03:52 PM EDT

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — $5 billion. That is the value of four year-old payments innovator Stripe which, in a recent venture round, won funding from among others American Express, Visa, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins, a roll-call of votes that matter in payments.

If your dream is to make a fortune selling on the Internet, be it online or mobile, you want to know about Stripe. And probably about PayPal - its Braintree subsidiary at least.  That is because they are in essentially the same business – facilitating payments at online and mobile merchants.  They are how to ring your digital cash register with real money.

And for consumers, both Stripe and PayPal loom as comparatively trusted ways to shop at small merchants that may seem iffy if only because of their smallness.

Even though they are a lot alike, probably you want to know first about Stripe, because buzz about it is the loudest even though it is a diminutive company with some 276 employees in what the company calls an old trunk factory in San Francisco’s Mission District. It also says it processes “billions of dollars” a year in payments, but it is stingy with details, other than noting that Twitter, Salesforce, Lyft, and several more hot companies use Stripe.

PayPal, by contrast, has around 13,000 employees, and it has offices in San Jose, Luxembourg, Singapore, Nebraska, Arizona, India, Texas, and a lot more places. Its market cap is around $50 billion, now that it is a separate company from eBay.

But tiny Stripe looms as this space’s diminutive X factor.

What exactly is up? Call this a tale of three problems. The first is that the world is filled with would-be online merchants who bump into a cold reality: it just is not easy to gain acceptance as a Visa or MasterCard merchant. Not when you are tiny, have no track record and also have no bank account balance.

The other is that it has not always been easy for small vendors to insert code into their websites that let them take payments. You would think this simple. It is theoretically cut and paste, but nothing is simple when existing code interacts with new code and often the result is a mess.

The third is that shopping cart abandonment — would-be buyers who take a hike before tapping “pay now” — is through the roof when it comes to mobile commerce. People are searching for goods on mobile; they just aren’t buying. And most experts believe the holdup is the friction involved in transacting on a small screen.

Enter Stripe.

“Stripe is a pay button — it makes it easy to buy, online and also mobile,” said Joseph Bizzarro, CEO of Vizant, an advisory firm focused on payments. Set up a Stripe account and, at many merchants, said Bizzarro, buying is as simple as tapping “buy now,” even on a mobile phone.

But Stripe also has tackled the other two pain points. “Stripe will get a merchant live as quickly as possible,” said Oren Levy, CEO of Zooz, a company that helps its business customers route their payments for maximum efficiency and lowest costs. Zooz, said Levy, is very familiar with both Stripe and what he called its arch-rival, Braintree. He chose his words carefully: “You cannot say one is better than the other. They both do a wonderful job.”

The last Stripe plus? “They are very quick to onboard small merchants,” Levy added.

Then there is the intangible, and it is this that may explain Stripe’s soaring reputation.

“Startups love Stripe,” Levy said. “That’s a main reason for the explosive growth.”

“Allowing users to make payments right on the website — and it being easy to set up — has done wonders for conversion rates [customer purchases] on my websites and those of my clients,” said Luke Miller of Miller Marketing. “PayPal still takes you off-site to complete transactions, and that actually causes a lot of attrition in your conversion rates. Stripe is just a superior user experience overall.”

“Stripe was by far the best choice for our needs as a small business,” said Jonas Weigert, CTO at Lawnstarter.com. “There were other options, such as Braintree, but we loved the simplicity and support behind Stripe. Whether you’re a small business or a large eCommerce site, Stripe handles everything extremely well and their fees are fair.”

Speaking of fees, Stripe charges 2.9% plus 30 cents on a transaction — discounts are available for high volume customers — and the company says it “has no setup fees, no monthly fees, no card storage fees.” Braintree pricing is identical.

And yet Stripe is winning the buzz and the merchant applause.

Has Stripe reinvented payments? Nope, snorted Bizzarro. “In the end, it’s all old legacy systems behind it,” he said.

But, he conceded, “they have made payments very, very easy.”

And, for now, that just may be good enough to grab the pole position in the still fluid payments sweepstakes.