Practical Ecommerce

A Matter of Trust (Part 1)

“I believe fundamental honesty is the keystone of business.” – Harvey S. Firestone.

Years ago I had the good fortune to be able to take a two-day seminar in Chicago on Internet marketing and ecommerce from Ralph Wilson, the founder Web Marketing Today. Early in his presentation, Dr. Wilson advanced what he called the “five laws of Internet Marketing,” the third of which was The Law of Trust: “Assuming that your products and services are prices competitively and are of good quality, the most significant sales barrier is trust.”

We all know what he was talking about – making an online purchase is fundamentally different from making a cash purchase in a traditional brick-and-mortar store where the customer can size-up the operation firsthand, have at least a superficial relationship with a salesperson, and exchange cash knowing that they are walking out the door with the goods in hand.

I’ve spent a great deal of time, effort, and money working on the problem of establishing a basis for trust in our online store, Stardust Memorials. Here are some of the things I did.

Use a Quality Web Designer to Get a Finished Look for Our Site

This one might be the most obvious, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Just like a traditional retail outlet, the look of the site is like the look of a restaurant in which you’re considering eating. Is it clean? Maintained? Attractive? Staffed adequately? Is the branding consistent? Are the choices displayed well?

In the case of webstores all of that applies, but it goes even a little further: Is the interface friendly and organized? Do features like the search box return thoughtful results? Is the checkout process clear, fast, and appropriate?

If you’re using an out-of-the-box ecommerce solution like Volusion, 3dCart, Magento, or Shopify, then you’re likely going to be using a stock template of some sort, if you don’t pay for some additional design work. Stock templates are good places to start for many stores, but I have yet to see one work as well as it should without some sort of additional personalization – a process that takes money, time, and a good eye for design and usability.

It would not be unreasonable to expect to pay at least a few thousand dollars for the level of customization and personalization that makes a really custom-looking site out of a stock site.

Is it worth it? In the long run, it absolutely is.

Let Our Web Copy Strike the Right Tone

The design of the site is really only half of the battle. The other area that needs careful attention is the copy on the site. And writing compelling web copy isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone.

One challenge is getting the right tone – not too conversational but also not too formal, and probably not too much of it. The Internet is a visual medium and a little well-written copy goes quite the distance. Overly salesy copy typically doesn’t work as well as information-rich copy that supports the decision to buy simply by providing the relevant facts about the product under consideration.

I file this topic under the issue of building trust as much as anything for the simple reason that copy that isn’t immaculate in terms of spelling and punctuation, isn’t appropriate in terms of tone, and isn’t helpful in terms of content – isn’t going to inspire confidence in the customer.

Perhaps it doesn’t need to be said as much anymore, but the fact is that copy must also be original and if not keyword-rich, at least keyword-relevant, if it is going to add any value from a SEO standpoint.

I’ve hired copywriters for various projects and overall I’ve had a good experience with it. As with web design, you can expect to have to pay at least a few hundred dollars for copywriting services from qualified vendors you find on elance.com or a similar service, and probably more if you work with a traditional local copywriter. But it is an investment worth making, if writing web copy isn’t your gift.

A Good Set of Quality, Custom Pictures Is Worth a 1,000 Words

Far too many webstores offer a single (usually vendor-supplied) photograph of a product. When obtained from a variety of sources the outcome can be a mishmash of images of different sizes, backgrounds, lighting conditions, and so on. Not only does this make the site look odd, it communicates the idea that the merchant really doesn’t have personal experience with the products.

The cost and effort to provide quality, custom images, taken from different angles, and including relevant detail shots is hardly trivial, but it can pay-off in the end by communicating to customers that you really have experience with the products.

Embedded video can take even a simple store to a whole new level, and even a simple product tour that is little more than an elaborate slide show and the graphical text can set you apart from others and communicate that you’re taking the time to make the store customer-centric, which in turn communicates a basis for some degree of trust in the merchant.

Provide a Phone Number and Physical Address on the Website

Your customers want to know that you’re a real company, located in a real place (ideally that they can find on Google Street View!). They also want to know that you can be reached on the phone as well as via email or a ticket system. Trustworthy companies do not hide their address or phone number or make it difficult to be reached.

Having a toll-free 1-800 number adds an especially professional touch. Companies like TollFreeForwarding.com make it possible for even quite small companies to get a toll-free number for very little money.

And for really just a little bit more money you can upgrade to a really professional VoIP solution from RingCentral through their new partnership with AT&T.

And don’t make the mistake of burying the address and phone number deep in the website – put that information in the header or footer so that is displays on every page of the site.

Don’t be Nosey…

If a customer is reasonably convinced that you’re not a bad actor and can be trusted to deliver on your promises, you don’t want to raise doubts about that during the checkout process. Asking questions that clearly relate to the buying process is fine, but resist the temptation to try to gather additional identifying or personal information that is irrelevant to the checkout process.

If you want to follow up after the sale with a marketing questionnaire (tastefully and respectfully done with full disclosure that this is why you’re seeking the additional information), then that can work. But being quick to try to gather information that is not relevant to the transaction can easily break whatever trust you do manage to establish with the customer during the shopping experience.

… But Get Personal

Customers like to know the story behind your company. Consider a page that shares your history, mission statement, and ethics statement. Provide quality photographs and biographies of the company’s owners and key employees. Also consider including some photographs of your physical plant, and perhaps even a few shots of the community. Another idea is to make some room to discuss any charitable activities in which your company engages.

Seek Appropriate Accreditations and Certifications

Many of the leading comparison-shopping websites and services offer tools to gather customer feedback and reviews on the shopping experience (frequently done by leveraging the checkout page of your site). After a sufficient number of reviews are gathered, the service “certifies” or “accredits” your store and the reviews and quality scores become part of a searchable record that allows customers to know that you have a history of delivering on your promises.

At Stardust Memorials we primarily use BizRate as our review tool, but NexTag, PriceGrabber, Upfront (a service of TheFind.com), Reseller Ratings, and Shopper Approved all offer similar services. And Google has gotten in the game with a premium version of this sort of service known as the Google Trusted Stores Program.

For the next post, I’ll share seven more tips I’ve used for building a justified basis of trust in the minds of your customers.

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Kevin Meyer September 10, 2013 Reply

    Spot on. Our business (GembaAcademy.com) is a bit different in that it is aimed toward corporations, of which 40% of current customers are outside the U.S.. Creating “trustworthy” web copy for a global market is difficult as different tones and content convey radically different meaning in different parts of the world. In some markets, like India, it almost seems like the more text, the better. Others, including Japan (somewhat surprisingly considering their love of zen), seem to actually embrace website complexity. Localization can mitigate some of that, but localization in itself adds complexity – which obviously has downsides.

  2. Jordan Lindberg September 11, 2013 Reply

    Great point, Kevin! Yes, I had in mind the whole matter of writing for a USA audience (though even there one can find regional variations). But writing to an international audience is even more tricky!

    Even in the USA, there is the matter of writing to the particular demographic that is likely to purchase your product. Copy that would seem appropriate for an audience of boomers might be quite different than writing to Gen Y readers, for example.

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