When businesses decide to accept credit cards, they typically sign up for a merchant account that automatically bundles Visa, Mastercard and Discover together. The rates are reasonable, and competition amongst merchant account solutions provides plenty of payment processing options.
However, American Express (AXP) is usually a closed ecosystem, with many smaller merchants getting priced out of the relatively high rates that American Express charges.
This all has changed, thanks to the launch of OptBlue. In fact, this program is so successful that more than 1.5 million small businesses have signed on.
However, what is Amex OptBlue, and how will it affect your business?
An Overview of Amex OptBlue
OptBlue is a payment processing option that allows smaller businesses to accept American Express credit cards — without paying exorbitant merchant fees. Those who sign up for this program can automatically "bundle" American Express along with the other major card brands that they already accept.
American Express integration is seamless through the OptBlue program:
- Businesses don't have to overhaul their payment infrastructure.
- They don't have to change merchant account providers.
- They still receive one statement that combines all card activity (including Amex).
Better still, Amex has relinquished control of its processing fees. It now offers wholesale rates to merchant account providers. These providers then set their own prices — just like they already do with Visa, Mastercard and Discover.
Why is this important?
Because it creates unprecedented competition within the Amex ecosystem, merchant account providers are incentivized to reduce their payment processing costs in order to attract your business.
If you are a small merchant who never considered accepting American Express, you may want to revisit that decision.
Why Did Amex Introduce the OptBlue Program?
Amex was once considered an elite card for only the wealthiest of retail shoppers, but as the company began offering more mid-level card options to its customers, Amex use became more widespread.
Up to a point.
One can only shop at businesses carrying the American Express logo, and as mentioned earlier, many smaller merchants couldn’t afford the historically high fees.
By launching OptBlue, Amex is helping to close the gap:
- Customers can now shop at more stores.
- Merchants can now attract more customers.
Are You Eligible for the OptBlue Program?
In order to qualify for OptBlue, you must process less than $1 million in American Express sales. Any business that goes above this threshold must join one of the company's more established credit card programs.
Because of this stipulation, it's pretty clear whom Amex is targeting with OptBlue — namely SMB (Small and Medium Business) merchants.
Plus, if your average sale is below $150, you'll likely fall into the lowest tier of Amex's wholesale pricing. The next increase doesn’t happen until you begin selling products and services in the $3,000 range.
This is yet another indication that the company is aggressively going after SMB merchants.
Is Amex OptBlue Right for You?
If you don't currently accept American Express, joining the OptBlue program is a no-brainer. Adding the Amex logo to your website or window will help you attract more customers and more sales.
If you already do accept American Express — but process less than $1 million in transactions — joining OptBlue will likely reduce your merchant fees. Again, it’s an easy choice.