Today I’m going to blog about my Nootropics payment processing experience for my small business. Particularly finding a good nootropics payment processor. For those who don’t know, nootropics are a particular subset of the herbal supplement industry that focuses on mental acuity: memory, concentration, and focus.
The industry is hot, with a 13% CAGR set to carry it beyond a $5 billion market valuation by 2026. But payment processors still have a cool outlook on nootropics (and herbals in general) because these supplements are not regulated or FDA-approved. Their sale can require a high-risk merchant processor in order to collect debit and credit card payments.
How it All Started: My Personal Health Journey
You might say that my own personal journey with Nootropics began when I was a child diagnosed with ADHD. I always seemed to have trouble concentrating, especially in school. Like many children, I was funneled into a routine of Ritalin for a number of years.
Although it helped me concentrate, it also made me irritable and unable to fall asleep. So of course, per the usual dictates of Western medicine, drugs were prescribed to deal with the side effects of other drugs. By the time I entered high school, I was taking a daily cocktail of meds. At this time, there wasn’t much of a natural supplements industry outside of organic food consumers and attendees of clothing-optional multi-day music festivals (don’t knock it until you try it).
Today, of course, the natural supplements industry is valued at $40 billion. There are supplements for everything you can think of—blood pressure, sexual health, emotional well-being, sleep cycles, and concentration…which is where nootropics come into the picture.
Most people don’t have ADD or ADHD, but even still, nootropics can still help them concentrate, learn, and retain information. But for individuals who do have cognitive or concentration issues, nootropics are a godsend—one that was unfortunately nonexistent when I was younger. I made it all the way through college and five years into my working career before the side effects of Ritalin became more serious.
Turning a Corner Toward Herbal Supplements
Hypertension (that is, high blood pressure) already ran in my family tree. And one potential side effect of Ritalin (although many doctors will swear it off) is elevated blood pressure. In my early thirties, I suddenly needed to add BP meds to my regimen—even though I hit the gym three times a week and ran about 3 miles every other day. Seemingly, I was active, fit, and healthy, but something was off inside.
I felt like it was time to examine some alternative healing modalities. I still didn’t know anything about nootropics, so I looked into mechanical and meditative cures like yoga, Tai Chi, and acupuncture.
Although these things may have helped me to a certain extent, the way that they really set me on the right path was by exposing me to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I met with homeopathists to discuss what types of herbal mixtures could facilitate my concentration and memory. I was skeptical at first but open-minded
The results were actually quite amazing. Within one year, I was totally off every single medication, including Ritalin. I felt healthier, revitalized, sharper, and just generally more alive. My primary care physician was floored. And I felt I had been called upon to spread the gospel of herbal supplements—particularly nootropics.
This was not just a product I had found by analyzing hot-selling items on Amazon. It was a product that had personal meaning for me. I felt that I could save other people from going down the pharmaceutical path and all its side effects.
Called to Spread the Word: Nootropics
I’d always had a bit of a creative entrepreneurial side. This was my chance to merge financial opportunity with personal meaning. I spent six weeks in Asia meeting with contacts suggested by my own homeopathists and acupuncturists.
During this time, I settled on a proprietary blend of supplements that could aid in concentration and memory. Although I can’t give away the exact formula, it does include ginkgo biloba, ginger, rosemary, and senega root.
Returning to America, I secured a manufacturing facility and arranged for packaging. I knew how to do online marketing, so I started building ad campaigns and copywriting my website pages. I even arranged a few appearances on different health and wellness podcasts to promote my nootropic supplements.
Finding a Payment Processor For My Nootropics Brand
One of the last steps was where and how I was actually going to sell my products. Well, that answer was determined when I had begun chatting it up with the lady behind me in my weekly tai chi class. She told me she owns a small business. In fact, she and her husband are beekeepers and sell their home-curated honey at local farmer’s markets around town on the weekends.
She told me she used to accept only cash and checks, but realized no one carries cash anymore, and even less available are personal checks. “Those are payment methods from the stone age,” she added. She decided to start accepting debit and credit card payments through a popular payment services company. It allowed her to have a mobile terminal with her so she can sell on the go at their weekly markets and beyond.
So, I attempted to follow in my fellow lover-of-all-things-holistic friend’s footsteps and applied for the same payment processing company. If she’s using it, it must be good. But, I was wrong. As it turned out, this was my Achilles heel, and I found it out a few days before my nootropics were set to release. I was scheduled to appear on a podcast where I’d be offering a special introductory coupon code, and hoping for a high volume of orders that day.
While this popular “shaped” payment company (not a circle, triangle, or rectangle) does facilitate storefront, mobile, and online payments, it turns out they do not offer merchant services for high-risk payment processing. And would you know it, companies selling so-called smart drugs (or any other kind of supplement) need to get a nootropics payment processor that services high-risk merchant accounts.
Consumer Lawsuits and MLM Business Models
You might ask: what could be so high risk about herbal supplements? Unfortunately, for starters, there are some bad apples in the bunch. And sometimes those bad apples are not individual purveyors of supplements, but corporations.
For instance, there have been certain brands that were faced with lawsuits over concerns about health risks in some of their dietary supplements. Incidents like these have corroded consumer trust and the trust of financial institutions—such as payment processors.
Another related concern is that some supplements are connected to multi-level marketing business models. These MLMs are a type of sales pyramid (not necessarily a pyramid scheme) whereby customers are encouraged to sell the product to family and friends, build a team of sales reps underneath them, and enjoy a revenue stream of sales commissions. The end result of the MLM model is sometimes pushy and disingenuous modes of operation.
Subscription Models and Cancellations
This brings up yet another concern with supplements in terms of credit card processing. Many of these supplements operate on a subscription model. Where a customer will provide their credit or debit card to the company and automatically be charged every month for the product.
Though I had not gone as far as setting up an online store yet with subscription offers, it is a booming industry nonetheless that I was sure I would be looking into soon enough. Once I got the ball rolling and made sure I had lots of satisfied customers who would want to be on repeat order setups.
In any case, if a customer decides they no longer want to continue receiving a product and they can’t get a hold of the sales rep who sold it to them (possibly hoping that the customer won’t cancel their order after all), then they’ll initiate a dispute with their bank or credit card company.
The end result of this is a chargeback, where the transaction is reversed in the payment landscape, behind the scenes. Since there are multiple players in this transfer of funds—the customer’s bank, the merchant’s bank, the card issuer, the card network, and the payment processor—it can create an avalanche of fees and penalties, most of which get passed on to the merchant…who not only loses a sale but also has to pay up to $200 in fines.
Why Chargebacks Are Common in Nootropics Payment Processing and Other Herbal Supplements
As it turns out, every type of business can be subjected to chargebacks. But nutraceuticals are frequent offenders for a variety of reasons. One is that the customer may not recognize the name of the company on their bank statement. Especially if it’s different from the product they purchased—a fairly common occurrence, especially in sexual health supplements.
Another is frustration with the company or the sales process. Or frustration with the product itself—in particular, promises that did not materialize. And some of these chargebacks are the result of something called friendly fraud, which is essentially where a customer orders something, receives it, and then claims that they didn’t.
In some cases, they really didn’t—and there are fulfillment best practices to mitigate these incidents. But in other cases, they did, and they are unfortunately lying, giving themselves a free trial of the product.
Overzealous Marketing Language and Unfulfilled Promises
Returning to the subject of unfulfilled expectations, the nootropics industry and the broader nutraceutical landscape are unfortunately populated with such incidents. This is often due to some of the marketing language used by vendors.
For instance, there are nootropics out there that promise to reverse mental aging and even cure Alzheimer’s and dementia. While I’m sure it’s possible, it’s not something that’s substantially verified by research. And even if there is specific research (some of it truly amazing) that shows certain herbs can reverse mental aging or alleviate serious conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s, that does not mean that the proprietary blend offered by a company will do so.
This overzealous marketing language can create some consumer expectations that may or may not materialize. Resulting in chargebacks when the product subscription is canceled by a frustrated customer, or even when a one-off order becomes the inspiration for a chargeback. Incidentally, this ties into another concern aside from high chargebacks, and that is the regulatory landscape of herbal supplements.
No Federal Regulations
Many of these supplements, including mine, are not tested or approved by the FDA. I’ve done my due diligence to make sure that my ingredients are sourced from quality purveyors. But you don’t know if the same is true about every pill on the market.
Some of the ingredients may be sub-par, totally placebos, or even (in some cases) dangerous. Even for the ones that are processed and sold in good faith, there may be little oversight in the quality control department to ensure that each bottle and each pill carries a uniform amount of effectiveness.
The end result of these potential quality issues can become lawsuits, and in some cases, larger class action lawsuits. Generally speaking, companies like Visa, Mastercard, and the payment processors that service these cards do not want to get involved with legal complications that can become a backdoor to trouble.
So for all these reasons, nootropics payment processing will often need to search for payment options that are different from typical payment methods like Shopify, PayPal, Venmo, Square, and Stripe.
What is High-Risk Merchant Processing?
Nootropics merchant accounts for payment processing fall into a general category called high-risk merchant accounts. High-risk merchants are in industries that are subject to a high chargeback rate. The product may be on the cusp of legality or fraught with regulatory complications—such as cannabis, CBD, and herbal supplements.
There may also be a greater likelihood of facilitating illegal activity such as money laundering or fraud. And lastly, the legality of the entire business may vary from state to state, creating a puzzle of permissibility that is just too confusing to manage, especially as legislation is subject to change.
In case you’re wondering, other high-risk merchant businesses include adult entertainment, gambling, bail bonds, diet products, credit counseling, and subscription services. High-risk merchants could also be so-labeled because of concerns that are specific to their business…for instance, bad credit history, a high history of chargebacks of fraud, or a limited payment processing history.
There are high-risk payment processors that can help these merchants accept payment. But as you might guess, there are a few drawbacks to such an arrangement. The cloud to the silver lining of finding a payment processor (if I can reverse the expression) is that fees will often be higher to offset risk.
A payment processor may even require a merchant to keep a rotating balance on hand called a rolling reserve. This is essentially a security deposit that is periodically replenished as its funds are released back to the merchant. The payment processor needs this amount of money on hand to satisfy any fees and fines from chargebacks.
ECS Payments to the Rescue
So this is basically what I was looking at just 72 hours away from the release of my product. I had to act fast, with limited options. Square was certainly a no-go. Stripe, Paypal, and all those other super popular payment platforms and mobile apps were also a no-go. They all could not facilitate my so-called “high-risk” business.
These payment processors are actually something called a payment aggregator, bundling their merchant customers under their own merchant ID. Because of that, they don’t want to work with anybody that can “stink” up the party. So they are surprisingly exclusive about what types of business they’ll work with.
Thankfully, another friend of mine suggested ECS Payments. A payment processor who he had been working with for a few years already. He was also in the supplements business for fungal treatment (interestingly enough) and sells a unique powder of turmeric and several other herbs that can do wonders for anyone with athlete’s foot. But returning to the story at hand, he suggested I give his account manager a call, and I did.
I was happy to find that this sales rep was familiar with the herbal industry and some of the payment processing pitfalls. She explained some of the ways ECS Payments could facilitate collecting payments and answered all my questions about fees and payment structure. Because I found ECS to be so transparent, I was willing to move forward quickly…after all, time was of the essence.
How ECS Helped Me Get Started With Nootropics Payment Processing
ECS very quickly helped me set up not only a mobile payment processing terminal but also a mobile card reader from my phone just in the nick of time. I went on that podcast with confidence and actually received dozens of phone calls and emails asking to make a purchase.
I made a few thousand dollars in the first week of my product introduction. Fast forward to today, I am still selling that same product and several spin-offs—including ones geared toward men, women, children, and seniors.
I wouldn’t get to where I am today without ECS. I’d probably be at some mall kiosk hawking my nootropics like a caveman. Taking cash payments only, please.
How ECS Has Helped Me to Expand My Career and Payment Processing Solutions
Since my nootropics launch all those years ago, I have since launched a second business. Though I still find it related to the nutraceutical industry, this new business, however, is not considered high-risk. I was focused on creating a place where people can go to heal physically through eastern medicine in a different avenue.
In 2017, I opened my rejuvenation spa and center for healing. With top-of-the-line practitioners, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We do not sell nootropics at this location, but my clients at the spa know where they can find them. Just a few doors down, to be exact.
Since eyeing the possibility of a brick-and-mortar business, I knew I needed to first have a physical stationary POS system integrated with my website for the checkout process. ECS was quick to provide me with ready-to-go POS terminals and seamlessly integrated my payment gateway to the website and card reader.
Through this new business launch, ECS has also helped me explore payment processing methods outside of traditional credit card transactions. One of those modalities is ACH Subscriptions. ACH payments are bank transfers, not credit card payments since they use checking and routing numbers instead of card numbers.
The fees are much lower, which is an obvious perk, but the real perk is that bank account numbers don’t change. Cards can get lost or stolen, or subject to chargebacks—none of which can happen with ACH payments.
Subscription services are actually the bread and butter of my business. Because patients want to be sure they stay on top of their self-care, monthly memberships have been a hit. And nothing makes membership payments easier than recurring billing through my new online payment portal.
My secure payment portal can store client credit card information or bank account numbers for automatic recurring billing for their monthly membership. So that said, customers purchasing memberships to the healing center on a subscription basis is good for them and of course, for my business, because it builds a steady cash flow of recurring transactions. It takes the pressure and responsibility off both my staff (yes I have a whole team of front and back office employees now) and off my clients.
As I mentioned, sometimes subscription-based services, particularly those pushed through MLM marketing, can become subject to chargebacks from disgruntled customers. One way I avoid this problem is by keeping my lines of communication very open and providing customers with valuable content.
I have automated reminders about bill payments and everybody subscribed to my label is getting a daily email with health tips. Particularly about mental and emotional well-being. Little stuff like this goes a long way toward eliminating customer churn.
QR Codes are another thing that ECS Payments is helping me leverage, which has been a huge boon for expanding my business via some field-sales marketing. I can set up a booth at health festivals (or even just general community festivals) for a meet and greet in person, talking to potential customers.
If prospects are interested in signing up for a session at the healing center, they are presented with a QR code that they can scan, which will take them to a payment website. If they make a payment upfront, I offer a discount on the spot. A super strategic marketing technique by the way. Using time sensitivity really seals the deal on a large portion of my sales.
But really, not having to plug anything in or bring any equipment with me—just paper business cards with a QR code—makes attending festivals so much easier. I can also leave cards at gyms and post them on bulletin boards, which (based on tracking) has resulted in a fair number of appointment bookings and sales.
ECS Payments has also helped me with funding, for customers, and for my business. In terms of client loans, POS lending is a unique arrangement where customers can break down payments into more manageable pieces, sort of like what you see with Klarna when shopping at retailers. While subscription and one-off clients don’t typically need such arrangements, clients who are purchasing a large spa package, say for a company appreciation gift, or for Christmas gifts for their family can benefit from these types of pay-in-parts arrangements.
Then there are business loans for my expansion goals. Which ECS can also facilitate. It is an easy online application. And I received approval in minutes with multiple funding options. Or a merchant cash advance (MCA) from ECS can also be helpful in a pinch, such as a surprise expense or an immediate opportunity.
These types of advances are mainly based on credit card sales volume. While I have not had to use an MCA, knowing that I have it as an option makes me feel better about being able to meet challenges or take advantage of funding opportunities.
Did I Mention Exquisite Customer Service?
So to summarize it all, ECS is helping with payment terminals, online payment gateways, ACH payments, recurring billing, QR codes, and financing. They really live up to their promise of being a “one-stop-shop”. Not to mention, their customer service has been absolutely fantastic.
Anytime I have a question or concern about my settlements or terminals, a merchant service rep answers my phone call immediately. No monotonous, time-sucking, hold music. Just a friendly “How can I help you?” 30 seconds after I dial the number. And if I have more lengthy questions I tend to shoot them an email. Their team responds to me within the same day. Every time. Without fail.
They really know what they are doing when it comes to making their customers happy. I couldn’t recommend ECS more. And I do, I tell all my friends and families about the success story I have had with ECS. Hoping to help them out the same way my “athlete’s foot fix” friend helped me out. Shout out to Greg!
ECS is a Core Business Partner
For me, selling nootropics and operating a center for health and healing is a personal calling with biographical significance. But I wouldn’t be able to do business at the volume I’m doing if it weren’t for a payment processor—one who is willing to work with so-called high-risk merchant accounts in industries like mine.
To that end, ECS has been a real lifesaver in helping me get my products and services out to my customers. ECS has been a core partner in this venture, as much as the suppliers of the herbal ingredients, the manufacturer that compounds and packages them, and the team of healers I have on staff.
As I mentioned before, as I network with other business owners and entrepreneurs in the herbal supplements space, or any space for that matter, I am always sure to recommend ECS Payments to everyone I meet. Even if they already have a payment processor.