In the previous posts, we talked about some of the e-commerce formats that have emerged over the years. Regardless of their approach, any company that sells online faces some common hurdles. One of these hurdles is gaining the customer’s trust.
When a customer walks into a retail store, they see people, often people that they know. They can see and handle the products. They know that the store is probably going to be there tomorrow or next week and if they have a problem with their purchase, they are going to be able to come back and talk to real people to solve the problem.
Online shopping is different. Customers don’t see people; they see images on a computer screen. They can’t see or try on the product. There is no guarantee that the person on the other side of the website is not a crook just waiting to steal your credit card information or that the company will even exist tomorrow. Because of this uncertainty, e-commerce sites have had to find ways to assure customers that shopping on their site is safe.
One of the fundamental requirements of e-commerce is using a secure server for any transfer of financial or personal information. Many customers look for the “https” or the padlock icon that appears in the status bar, indicating that their information is being transferred via a secure server. There are also 3rd party companies, such as VeriSign, that certify the trustworthiness of e-commerce sites. When customers see these indications, they know their information is secure and won’t be intercepted.
Another important 3rd party verification comes from product reviews and testimonials. Customers know that the company is going to say only good things about their products, but that other customers are likely to tell both the good and the bad. Many e-commerce sites have picked up on this and prominently feature product reviews alongside the company’s description of the product, seeming to follow the old Reading Rainbow adage, “but don’t take our word for it…”
Return Policy & Guarantees
Many customers are hesitant to buy online because they are not sure if they will like the product or if it is the right size, color, etc. Because customers cannot handle the product or try it on, there is a higher level of uncertainty than in physical stores. (Though some sites are introducing ways to let the customer virtually “try on” the product before purchase – more on that in a future post.) Many e-commerce sites try to alleviate customer’s worries by having liberal return policies or satisfaction guarantees. They remove the risk of buying by assuring the customer that they can always return the item if they aren’t satisfied.
E-commerce sites have learned over the years that they have to have these and other indications of trustworthiness in order to build customers’ confidence so they feel comfortable with the purchasing process. In the next part of our series, we’ll discuss other innovations in helping customers be confident about the product itself.