Ipsos MORI Thinks

Trust in e-commerce

STUART WOOD Director, Global Shopper and Retail

In traditional retailing, trust is built up through personal experience of a shop; a physical store is a tangible entity, you can browse, touch and sample things, you can physically see the store’s popularity and other people buying (so this builds re-assurance). Most of the time you will actually walk out of the store with your purchase, you can speak with staff and have a direct channel for resolution should things not be to your liking or you need to return a product.

But e-commerce is flourishing. It provides ultimate convenience by giving us 24/7 unrestricted access to products and services, no matter where we are, AND we can have these things delivered to our homes or accessed immediately.

But with the transaction being more remote, trust becomes a bigger issue. Unlike bricks and mortar retail, even basic trust (as discussed earlier) involves a leap of faith, as we are often paying over money in the hope that the product actually exists and will arrive at our door in a matter of days, as agreed.

This is especially true when someone is shopping for a particular item or brand for the first time. Their danger antennae are on full alert:

  • How can I know the products will be as good as described/pictured?
  • Will I receive them in good time (or at all)?
  • Are the payment methods secure?
  • How will the retailer treat my personal data?

Of course, trust is also a function of size and familiarity, so once a retailer becomes well-known and we deem them trustworthy, trust becomes less of an issue. Amazon is benefitting massively from this. But how do new players or lesser known websites communicate trust during that all important first encounter?

Websites can (and most do) build in signals of their trustworthiness into their website design and functionality. Trust signals are features or qualities of your site that inspire trust (and reassurance to buy) in the mind of the shopper.

These are seven of the most important:

1. Ratings and reviews

Ratings and reviews are critical as they provide evidence of satisfaction from prior customers: 93% of consumers say product reviews influence their purchase decisions and 85% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendation.83 The quality of reviews and the number present are important, a high number of reviews indicates the site is well used, so another good sign.

However, negative reviews are also helpful for consumers, as a negative review provides the worst-case scenario for a product. They also aid in maintaining the credibility and authenticity of both the product and the site by providing balanced and candid information.84

Amazon product reviews are the most popular and trusted. Shoppers will often go to Amazon for reviews even if they intend to purchase the product elsewhere.85

2. Contact details

Despite the predominance of online purchasing, people still want the trust that comes from a physical location and tangible ways to make contact. A business should display its physical address (and ideally a map and directions), phone number and email. If it’s a small business it’s a great idea to show individuals and real pictures. These steps turn a faceless e-business into something more familiar, more tangible and more akin to a traditional store you might use.

3. Social media

Building social plug-ins into your site is another useful layer of trust. Social sites are where people spend their time and connect with their friends and peers. If you connect with potential customers this way they are more likely to trust you and your messaging.

4. Multiple payment options

An e-commerce business needs to provide multiple ways to pay, as shoppers prefer to pay in different ways depending on their preferences and desire for payment security. Even if a payment method is rarely used, offering a wide variety of payment options builds trust as it shows consideration. These kind of broader considerations echo Pettit’s concept of interactive trust, elevating a brand beyond just functional levels of trust.

5. Third party badges and certifications

A third-party trust seal helps to communicate that a website is legitimate. These come in many forms: the secure padlock symbol beside the site URL, trust seals, SSL certificates (small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organisation’s details when installed on a web server; these files activate the padlock and the http protocol and allows secure connections from a webserver to a browser) and third party branded endorsement. All of these elements reinforce trust, even if shoppers don’t truly understand the technical implications –
the badges evoke a perceived sense of security.

6. Be transparent with shipping costs

Unexpectedly high shipping costs are the biggest reason for cart abandonment. Be transparent with shoppers on shipping costs (and manage expectations regarding delivery) as early on as possible in the transaction process: do not hit customers with high delivery costs at check out.

7. Ease of return

Ease of return is a big factor for online shopping. If customers don’t like a product, it’s faulty or doesn’t fit, they need to feel that returns are easy and free. Warby Parker (selling eyeglasses) was a pioneer in making e-commerce work for categories that have always relied on physical trial and professional advice in store. Their breakthrough was in shipping multiple pairs for a customer to try and only pay for the one(s) they keep.

Building in heuristics to signify trust

Online, shoppers must make quick decisions, so trust is a key issue. As humans we look for familiar shortcuts or signs of trust to know who we can put our faith in. In order to gain that first sense of trust, businesses can easily build these signals into their website designs and functionality. However, trust is, of course, more than just skin deep. While these signposts of trust may help consumers to click that final ‘purchase’ button, ultimately businesses need to deliver on their promises to gain and maintain trust, or everything above is simply ‘lipstick on a pig’.

Trust: The Truth?

We decided to write this report because we wanted to test if the prevailing narrative matched the data. The ‘truth about trust’ is that trust is complex, and takes many forms (many of these forms are not in crisis or decline). Without some degree of trust society simply would not function…