What is a Virtual Terminal?

Tablets and smartphones are ubiquitous in this day and age, but they have yet to completely inch out computers, and laptops still hold many advantages over mobile devices. This is even true in the case of business management, where the computer often has far more storage and power to process databases, inventory tracking, and the like. It only makes sense that one should be able to use a computer to accept credit card payments.


Virtual terminal merchant services are a Web- or cloud-based version of physical credit card point of sale (POS) machines. They allow a vendor to input credit card information into payment forms on a computer, which then can be used to process an electronic transaction such as a mobile payment. It is similar to the types of forms you might see on a mobile commerce site like Ebay or Amazon.


In the past, mobile payments would be processed using a phone to call in to a processor for gaining transaction approval. In the modern era, virtual terminal merchant services are used to instantly approve transactions over the web. Sometimes these services are done via manual entry, exactly like would be done when making an online service. More common, however, are systems that use a credit card reader that plugs into the computer, either via the charger, headphone jack, or via a USB port.


The downside of virtual terminal merchant services is that as of yet many cannot accept signatures from the client. This is in contrast to mobile processing services on a handheld device, which usually take a signature via the touch screen. However, with more and more computers these days featuring touchscreen technology, this may be rectified sooner rather than later. For now, the user simply uses a checkbox or similar functionality to agree to use a typed name as a virtual signature.


The technology is advancing, but with full computers incorporating technology pioneered by handheld devices, it seems likely that virtual terminal merchant services will continue to advance and could become the ideal means of managing one’s business in the near future.