Building Trust – E-Commerce Stores

Very often as we complete store reports and consult we find online stores that have made modifications and other development tasks which clearly inhibit the ability to gain the shoppers trust. You can pay thousands of dollars to develop an online store and get the very best SEO, but if your store does not enlist the shopper’s trust you are dead in the water.

Overall Internet users have become more sensitive and aware of the factors which are considered “trust” violations. Surfers are quite skilled in identifying a “bad site” and are reacting accordingly. No longer do droves of Internet users mindlessly click ads or provide personal information, those days are gone. We are in the dawn of a far more savvy Internet user.

Some mistakes we see are in fact very common and very out of date, others are just plain lack of foresight. Today we will cover some of the most common trust reducing metrics we have found in the stores we have analyzed. You may well know that we develop and optimize Zen Cart, so some factors will be directly related to the Zen Cart software, but most of these store trust issues are very common in other e-commerce platforms.

  • If you are using a shared SSL or none at all, you are sending a message of distrust to your shoppers. Even full PayPal or other off site processing accounts should make use of a private SSL. Customers don’t even want to provide their email address without one. Honestly for the cost involved there is no valid reason not to use a proper secured protocol for your users.
  • If you are using a private SSL, the battle does not stop there. Many times we visit a site and the secured pages include outside non-secure links or elements. Shoppers have no idea that these links or elements are generally just part of your template, and they don’t care either. They only know the lock is showing broken and they feel unprotected.
  • Let shoppers know you have installed an SSL to protect their transaction and what to look for to assure it is working. This is really not necessary as most know already, but it sends the message that you personally have taken steps to protect them.
  • Collect as little information as possible on checkout. Shoppers do not want to answer unrelated personal information questions. Questions of this nature only lead them to believe you are somehow hording and using their information for other means.
  • Enhance your checkout with helpful tips and notes to let shoppers know where they are in the checkout process and that they are on track. This includes a clear shipping policy for rates and delivery. They should know their shipping choices in the very beginning of checkout, as sites like eBay and such have burned shoppers with inflated shipping charges and they are very wary if they do not know the shipping cost before the begin to checkout
  • Send ALL customers a receipt from YOUR store’s domain email address and provide tracking or an update of shipment to EVERY customer without fail. Sure your processor will send them a receipt, but lack of your own receipt does not build any trust and makes you look less than professional.
  • Do not under any circumstances allow your product catalog or checkout to have an unbranded template or theme. Shoppers have been abused by the entire affiliate sales phenomena and are very wise to such changes. I highly recommend you do not even redirect to a different url for anything, but if you must the template/theme must remain branded consistently throughout.
  • Do not monetize your store or link out to sponsored ads and such. They have come to your store to make a purchase from you, not to be fed off to another site. Not to mention you are screwing yourself out of sales by letting them click away.
  • If you use an off site processor like PayPal, you must return shoppers to a checkout success page. Otherwise you leave them wondering about the transaction and this is not likely to produce a return sale or referral from the shopper.
  • Trust seals can be very costly. Most are pretty effective in gaining a trusting relationship from a shopper. However, if you are using a seal of any kind and have faked the resulting certification page… The shopper is leaving. For example, I see the PayPal verified seal on sites all the time that goes nowhere, no link at all. I have also seen such verification services lead the shopper to a self hosted page… Shoppers are not this dumb, they click these items as they already know what to expect on the other end. If you can’t install or afford a proper verification result, then use none.
  • Open your visitors experience with a mission statement or store information, do not hard sell them as soon as they load the page. Nothing is worse than that jewelry salesperson who stalks you around the store, and shoppers not only hate this, but realize good products do not require this type of technique.
  • Provide good product images. Shoppers understand the color issue with monitor compatibility, but the do not want to see disclaimers regarding your product description or image. Statements such as “delivered product style may vary from image and description” do not exactly illicit trust.
  • Cross selling is a very valuable tool if you understand suggestive selling and are keeping the shoppers needs in mind. Sell only related products to a customer, and only a few items as shoppers really do get confused as to what they “need” to buy in addition to the selection for compatibility and such.
  • Your contact information, preferably a toll free number MUST be easy to locate. Contact pages are adequate, but a large font top side toll free number tells the shopper you are a “real” business.
  • Never, ever send emails of any kind related to your store from a non-domain email account. How cheesy is it to buy something and receive a follow up email from the store owners GMail account?
  • Provide an address for your store on your contact page, even if it is home based. Shoppers are very aware that many people work from home, but failing to do this only tells them you are hiding something. You do not trust them, why should they trust you. Even a PO Box is better than skipping this trust factor.
  • Lastly, and you would really think this is the most obvious of all… Do not sell products you don’t believe in or know well enough to provide customer support for.

Building trust is a highly effective sales tool, regardless of the fact that its the right thing to do. Shoppers are not alone in looking at these trust metrics, search engines use many of the above mentioned elements to score your trust within their ranking system as well. If you are not sending a message of trust to your shoppers, you are running a dying business as it will never build the referral and return sales you need to succeed.