We’ve come a long way since the early days of e-commerce. Back when AOL was king, the major challenge of online retail was simply convincing people that the Internet was a safe place to shop.
People have become savvier over the years, replacing their vague uneasiness with more specific concerns over how their sensitive information is handled. The challenge for a new company is convincing people that smaller online businesses are just as safe to shop as Amazon.
With that in mind, here are five ways to make sure your site gains loyalty and trust from visitors:
1. Put a Face to the Name
There’s no question that face-to-face interaction with a customer is a major advantage when building trust. While you can’t send a friendly employee to customers’ doors, you can make it easy for them to interact with a real person. Prominently display a customer service phone number, email, or chat window on your site. This reinforces the human element of your online store; for example, HomePerfect.com replicated the customer service of a local hardware store with its service model.
It’s important to make sure people know they’re not alone on the customer side — give them power in numbers. Showcase user reviews and ratings. If a person knows others have purchased from you — and been happy with the results — he’s more likely to do the same.
2. Remember Content is King
While a website can’t let customers physically touch products before buying, it has a wealth of multimedia options at its disposal. In-depth reviews, video tutorials, and installation instructions are just some content pieces you can produce to make up for the lack of a tactile element.
When travel website CheapCaribbean.com decided to do a redesign, one of its main focal points was incorporating quality content. Cheap Caribbean added user reviews, high-quality photos, and a Q&A section to the site. The company also spent a great deal of time concentrating on the overall look and feel of the site, making sure the experience was attractive and easy to navigate. As a result, it saw a dramatic increase in the number of both new and returning customers.
3. Stay in the Goldilocks Zone
If you’ve been to Manhattan’s Chinatown, you probably remember how the shops in that district looked: filled to the brim, with purses lining every wall and a bevy of jewelry crowded under glass. While you may get a good deal on a Pradda handbag or the latest iFone, you’re more inclined to pay cash.
A badly designed website can give off a similar feel for a first-time visitor. Make a website too complex, and it will be difficult for a customer to find what he wants; at worst, it will look like you’re hiding something. Make it too sparse, and it looks like a fly-by-night operation, ready to close up shop at any time.
The truth is, for an e-commerce site, the Goldilocks zone is actually a fairly wide target to hit, but many smaller, drop-ship companies miss the mark by hiring inexperienced web developers and not following up on the design. It only takes a little time to envision what you would want to see as a customer; if you act on those instincts, chances are high you’ll stay inside the zone.
4. Make Them Feel Safe
You already know that it’s important to keep customers’ information safe, but it’s equally important that visitors see the steps you’re taking to do so.
One easy way to do this is to run your site over HTTPS with a valid SSL certificate. For you, this means your customers’ activity is protected against interception by a third party. For your customers, this means a green address bar and a padlock in the corner; this padlock icon is a small but significant symbol proving you take customer security seriously.
Another way to foster trust is to outsource the handling of payments and account information to a major provider like PayPal, Google Wallet, or Amazon Payments. You don’t have to worry about storing sensitive information, and the customer doesn’t have to be wary of entering his credit card number on another website.
5. Let It All Hang Out
This holds true for all policies. If customers have to hunt to find shipping prices and return policies, they may give up and shop at a familiar store instead. No one likes unpleasant surprises; though you may secure an initial purchase by hiding less-than-ideal information, it’s not how you keep people coming back.
It’s important to make sure people know your solution is the best available — and the one that deserves their trust. By following these steps, you can ensure a long, healthy life for your e-commerce site.
Michael Doberenz is the co-founder and Chief Data Scientist of EchoVantage, a company that delivers a new approach to marketing analytics. Trained as a classical mathematician with a master’s degree focused on the actuarial sciences, Michael leverages more than 10 years’ worth of software development experience producing high-load, high-availability applications for the next generation of analytics platforms and services. Connect with Mike on Twitter and Google+.