Practical Ecommerce

A Matter of Trust (Part 2)

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen R. Covey.

Last month I shared seven simple tips for helping ecommerce merchants overcome what Web Marketing Today founder Ralph Wilson has called the “most significant sales barrier” in online retail; namely, the problem of establishing a basis of trust that the seller will deliver on their promise to ship quality products in a timely way.

Arguably, establishing and reinforcing this basis is the single most difficult task to accomplish for the online retailer that wants to improve its real conversion rate by decreasing cart abandonment. And because dozens of separate factors can influence the perceived trustworthiness of an online store, it requires a concerted effort over time to find and patch all the leaks that are likely present in any retail website.

Here are some more projects to consider.

Obtain Membership in the Better Business Bureau, Become Accredited, and Then Advertise That Fact

Like them or hate them, the Better Business Bureau is the best-known general consumer advocacy group in the United States, and is the only one with nearly universal consumer logo brand recognition. Membership in the Better Business Bureau demonstrates a willingness to work with customers to resolve disputes and concerns quickly and professionally.

It actually isn’t easy to become an accredited online business. There are costs and waiting requirements that can be onerous. New startups would find the process particularly frustrating, as one requirement for accreditation in the BBB is that you be in business for at least one full year.

Even after becoming accredited, the valued “A” rating isn’t automatically conferred. A clean trade record is important, but a weighed factor in the BBB grade for a business is, again, time. A business has to have existed as a going concern for several years to earn the full possible grade on the BBB website.

Knowing this, start the process early, but don’t expect that the results are going to be immediate. This is one of those projects worth doing, but the gratification of being a top-ranked business isn’t going to come overnight.

In Your Trade Community, Become a Joiner

My online retail business specializes in selling cremation urns, cremation jewelry, and other memorial products directly to consumers. The funeral industry (like all industries) has a number of trade groups, and we make a point of holding membership and participating in the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA).

We attend the annual meetings, advertise in their online directory, and make a point of featuring their logo and link on our website. By promoting our membership and activity on our site we communicate to our customers that we’re engaged professionals in our industry. Even when a customer doesn’t know a particular trade group or association, or know much about your particular industry, the mere fact of membership in trade groups in general is a positive indicator of professionalism, and it can be a trust-builder.

If nothing else, consider the costs and benefits of joining (and then advertising) your membership in the local chamber of commerce. Online businesses frequently overlook local business chambers on the grounds that their clients are from a national stage, but every community knows what a chamber does and recognizes that membership is a mark of professionalism.

Have Liberal Returns Polices and Offer a 100 Percent Satisfaction Guarantee

Companies like Zappos.com and Amazon.com have raised the bar on what counts as an adequate effort in the areas of satisfaction and returns in a fundamental way. In all your online transactions you will be compared explicitly or implicitly with the experience of shopping at Zappos.com and Amazon.com. The question will be: Was it better or worse?

At Stardust Memorials, we offer free standard ground shipping on all our purchases, but we also offer free returns (we send a pre-prepared FedEx label via email to customers who request it). Our view is that this isn’t “exceptional” – it has come to be seen as “standard” in terms of what a consumer can reasonably expect.

With the exception of products that have been personalized or engraved, we take back any purchase for any reason. We will refund the purchase price of the item or exchange it for another product per our customer’s instructions. And, again, we pay that return shipping cost.

We advertise our willingness to act on this promise in the checkout process and back it up by actually doing what we say that we’re going to do when asked. This builds buyer confidence in the purchase like nothing else can.

When It Comes to Shipping, Set Reasonable Expectations – And Then Do Your Best to Exceed Them

One of the most pressing concerns that your customers are going to have as they complete the checkout form is getting an answer to the question: “When can I expect the package?”

We make a point of repeatedly communicating our shipping options and policies throughout the site, and we make a special effort to highlight them in the checkout pages. We also have a page devoted to shipping and delivery, complete with a shipping map, on our site.

Finally, we set an automated order confirmation email with a statement of our policies and links, along with a delivery confirmation email when we process the package, along with a tracking number. By communicating our policies upfront we help our customers set reasonable expectations about when to expect their packages.

Having said that, a great way to “wow” customers is by exceeding those expectations – and we try to do that whenever we can. If the customer expects the package in three days and it gets there in two, you’re going to hear from those happy customers in your shopping experience surveys or on your Facebook page.

In all your online transactions you will be compared explicitly or implicitly with the experience of shopping at Zappos.com and Amazon.com. The question will be: Was it better or worse?

Regularly Respond to Both Positive and Negative Reviews

On the topic of shopping surveys, tools like Bizrate, Reseller Ratings, Yelp, and Shopper Approved make it easy for customers to express both their satisfaction and their dissatisfaction with their purchase experience. Even traditional social media channels like Facebook can be a platform for a customer’s review of her interaction with your company.

Getting a positive review can be thrilling and that occasional negative review heartbreaking, but in both cases it is important to see these reviews as opportunities to communicate with that customer and to the larger review readership.

It’s overkill to comment on every review, but online review tools make it fairly easy for the merchant to add comments to the occasional review, and a few appreciative words of acknowledgement for praise, and an expression of regret and understanding when things go wrong is valuable.

Ignoring reviews (positive or negative) is a missed marketing opportunity. But more than that, it’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you’re taking an active interest in your enterprise and that you’re actively reading and considering the comments you receive. This is a confidence-builder for customers.

Use Social Media Appropriately and Regularly

It is relatively easy to create business social media channels on places like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and so on. It is also relatively easy to create a blog on your site. And because of the relative ease of doing this, almost everyone in online retail does it.

That can be a good thing. Or it can be a bad thing. Social media outlets are tools, and the value that they bring depends on how those tools are used.

To make a pointed example of it, a Facebook business page can communicate professionalism, interest in customers, industry engagement, product awareness, and be media savvy, but it sends the opposite message when the channel gets created but is then ignored.

If you’re going to commit to having social media pages then it is critical that you actually use the medium to communicate fresh and appropriate content on a regular basis. If that is simply not something that you’re prepared to do, then the very existence of the channel itself is going to potentially do you more harm than good as a poorly maintained and rarely updated social channel communicates the opposite message as the one you want to send.

Consider creating a simple “editorial calendar” for your company, and weave that calendar through your regular work calendar so that you are regularly reminded to take a few minutes each week to update pages. It can be as easy as adding a weekly reminder that Monday morning is “Twitter Monday” and Wednesday morning is “Facebook Wednesday” and so on. Take five minutes to freshen-up than channel with some new content.

You might feel frustrated that you’re creating channels and content and not getting many readers … this is normal. Keep in mind however that people who seek out those channels are often people looking for verification that you’re “for real” and are close to making a purchase. So the visitors that you do get are frequently your best prospects. Show them that you can be trusted.

Consider PayPal and Checkout by Amazon as Alternate Checkouts

No matter what you do, there are going to be a few potential customers who will simply not get comfortable enough with your site to fully commit to the purchase. In many cases, the concern that they have is the potential for credit card fraud.

One way to address this is to offer an alterative checkout route from the basket so that customers can complete the transaction by sharing their personal information only with PayPal (PayPal Payments Pro) or Checkout by Amazon and not with your proprietary payment processor via your own checkout page.

In these cases it is best to allow for checkout through these alternative routes from the basket itself, rather than requiring users to first go to the standard checkout page and then to find their way to the PayPal and Checkout by Amazon routes as alternatives.

Related to this idea is that of allowing a “guest checkout” option in the checkout process. The challenge with this option is that it still requires that the customer fully commit to allowing your own processor to conduct the transaction, though at least it does not require that the customer create a formal account as part of the process.

Although in general there is real truth in the idea of eliminating any potential roadblocks in the checkout process to increase conversion, allowing for a wider range of checkout and payment options is a worthy area for the added complexity.


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