Building Online Trust: Factors and Tips

Trust is the core of any business, on- or off line. Just as people generally have a good grasp of evaluating the trustworthiness of brick and mortar retailers, they're learning to size up online business as well. First of two parts.

Building trust online is anything but easy. After all, trust is a pretty subjective thing — something you gain over time by getting to know people in person.

But while online shopping will always remain impersonal, there are things online sellers can do to build a sense of trust with their buyers. In an eye-opening new study just published in The Industry Standard [,1283,829,00.html], Cheskin Research [] found 28 factors that affect trust. They can be grouped under six broad headings:

– Seals of approval. This includes symbols like VeriSign and Visa, designed to reassure visitors that sites have established effective security measures. Industry Standard writer Maryann Jones Thompson says “known as ‘security brands,’ these seals of approval testify to the safety of a merchant’s site, its technology and the network behind it.”

– Brand. This comprises a company’s implicit promise to deliver specific attributes, based on a company’s reputation and visitors’ previous experience with its products. This concept of branding includes online and offline brand recognition, portal or other marketing affiliations, community building and the sense of a site’s breadth of product offerings, Jones writes.

– Navigation. Yes, the ease of finding what a visitor is looking for matters — a lot, the study finds. Navigation — and trust — is aided by understandable terms, the consistent placement of a navigational systems, clear instructions to help shoppers make their way through a site, and easy terms to describe site content.

– Fulfillment. How clearly a site indicates the way orders are to be processed, its return policy and how well it explains the way customers can seek recourse to problems evoke either trust or doubt. The assurance that a customer’s personal information will be kept secure and private is a key attribute of fulfillment.

– Presentation. Just like in your grandfather’s business. Ways in which the look of a site communicates meaningful information are of prime importance to establishing trust. On the home page, a site’s purpose must be clear to the first-time visitor.

– Technology. The study found that visitors evaluate technology largely in terms of speed and function. How well does a site’s technology operate, and how quickly does each page load?

Davis Masten, a principal at Cheskin, tells Jones that what surprised him about the study was the power of the online symbols. “TRUSTe and other symbols like it have got more power than comparable offline symbols, and that surprised me,” he says.

Next week: Which brand symbols work — and which don’t.

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