Selling products online is one of the best ways to operate a small business; you don’t need to pay rent for a storefront, and you can court customers from all over the globe. But in the world of e-commerce, merchants tend to be suspected of fraud until proven innocent; the average online shopper knows very little about the technical realities of site security, and tends to trust gut instinct when assessing the safety of a website. It’s up to you as the business owner to create an atmosphere of trust on your website—or risk losing out on a lot of sales.
While it’s now a fundamental part of our lives, people are still (understandably) wary of paying for stuff over the Internet; there’s something disconcerting about typing your credit card number into a form and sending it off to god-knows-where, and scammers grow in sophistication at the same pace as the security measures designed to stop them. After over thirty years of the modern Web, we’ve come to understand just how easy it is to get your identity stolen, and we tend to approach any unfamiliar requests for payment with immediate suspicion. The trustworthiness of your site will be a major factor in the success of your online business; here’s how to start establishing that trust.
Security stickers in your browser window
There’s a reason why professional security companies hand out stickers or signs for their clients to display; more than free advertising, it lets everyone know that the building isn’t a sitting duck. Few thieves are willing to risk tripping an alarm system, and customers feel more secure when they know that business owners have taken precautions to ensure everyone’s safety. Similarly, storefronts that aren’t well-maintained are ripe for robbery and will scare away potential foot traffic; an attractive and clean business is much easier to trust.
When you run an online store, the same rules apply: have a clean facade, and advertise your security measures. Put some work into your site design by hiring a professional, just like you’d hire an architect to build a physical store. When it comes to security, there are lots of different ways to prove that your website is well-made: the Better Business Bureau, Trust-e, Norton, McAfee Secure, and more. Having a badge from these sites certifying that you’ve passed their guidelines is a huge step towards building trust with customers. In fact, the Baymard Institute found that these ‘trust marks’ were the top indicator for whether or not a customer felt secure on a new website.
Use a trusted payment gateway
If you’re accepting payments, do yourself and your customers a favor and use a recognized payment gateway like Stripe, Paypal, or Authorize.net. These companies exist to facilitate highly secure payments for online businesses, and customers are far more likely to complete their purchase if they know their credit card information is being processed by one of these systems. We wrote a lengthy post on choosing a payment gateway, so that’s a good place to start if you’re unsure about which one will work for you.
Be a person, not a stock photo
While proof of security badges were the top indicator of trust in the Baymard survey, it just barely edged out another indicator of trust: clearly displayed contact information. Part of the fear of online fraud comes from the fact that you can pretend to be anyone on the Internet; if you’re operating your business anonymously, it sends up a red flag that you might not be who you say you are. Fostering trust involves making a personal connection, so don’t hide your contact information or use bland stock photos of strangers to represent your team. Put your face and name onto your website, have a clearly displayed contact info page, and answer emails personally instead of using an auto-reply.
Have good policies and be proud of them
While privacy policies are important, your sales policies are even more vital to consumer trust. As a business, you curate a certain image for customers in an effort to get them to buy, and form a relationship with them based on that image. The biggest test of that relationship comes when a customer must return or cancel something they’ve bought—and, as Psychology Today reports, it’s a test that many businesses fail. Don’t try to hide your cancellation policies in the hope that it’ll discourage customers from trying; it will tank your reputation, especially online. If you can’t take cancellations after a certain time or can only deal with returns within a few weeks of purchase, state it in several places on the booking form before the customer hits ‘Buy’. If you offer guarantees, be clear about exactly what is and isn’t on offer. Being upfront about these booking policies encourages that social trust, and makes returns much easier to deal with when they do happen.
Take advantage of social proof
What do you do when you come across a restaurant you’ve never heard of before? You ask your friends and Google around, of course; with billions of people using the web 24/7, it’s highly likely that someone else has eaten there and left a review. Just as you look to others for proof that that new sushi place won’t give you salmonella, so should your customers get reassurance that others have been happy with your product. If you have a Facebook fan page or a Twitter account, connect them to your website so new visitors can see that real people—maybe people they know—have successfully purchased from you in the past. See if any of your previous or existing customers are willing to leave a testimonial on your site, or act as a case study to show how your products helped them. Social media is becoming a benchmark for identity verification nowadays; it’s very difficult to fake a well-connected Facebook account, and it helps reassure new customers that you do not exist in a vacuum and have helped real users just like them.
Establishing trustworthiness can make or break your online business; as a recap, here’s how to ensure your customers will be comfortable shopping on your website:
- Bring your site up to third-party security standards, and show you’re verified by trust providers like eTrust, Better Business Bureau, or Norton
- Use a trusted payment gateway
- Don’t hide behind stock photos; put a face and name to your business and establish its physical location, if it exists
- Clearly outline how you will (and will not) use any consumer data you collect, and don’t engage in shady practices like selling information to third parties
- Have an upfront and very clear return/cancellation policy
- Use social proof to establish yourself in multiple places online