Social Psychology in eCommerce: The Gravity of Trust

Andrea Peterson Trust Quote

The Ultimate Value

Trust is a vital concept when it comes to social psychology in eCommerce. Trust appears wherever risk, uncertainty and dependency exists, and is something online shops strive to earn from their shoppers. Consumers trusting an online retailer is important in establishing transactional behavior.

It is a weighty concept that is often taken for granted because we believe we understand it, despite the range of definitions it carries. To consumers, doing business with an eCommerce merchant represents a step into the unknown thus creating positive trust-beliefs will help result in positive intentions (sales) from consumers.

According to findings in “The Science of Shopping Cart Abandonment” by Charles Nicholls: 74.6% of new shoppers will not return after abandoning a shopping cart, and so persuading shoppers to complete a purchase on their very first visit is of utmost importance for long-term survival, and why nurturing initial trust is so crucial in this step of the journey.

As Andrea Petersen stated in her Wall Street Journal piece:

 

“It seems that trust equals revenue, even online.”

 
Click Here To Find Out How InstanteStore Uses Features Like Abandon Cart Revovery To Help Our Merchants Sell More

Understanding The Role Of Trusting Beliefs

Each party of an eCommerce transaction looks to eliminate risk and uncertainty by finding ways to increase trust. We acomplish this by building beliefs about the beneficial characteristics of the vendor. These characteristics can be applied to beliefs about the competence, benevolence, integrity and predictability of an online store.

1. Belief in competence is when a shopper believes that the merchant possesses the ability to deliver goods or services as promised, whether it is in terms of volume, delivery time, pricing or quality. Shoppers also want to know you are an expert who has the necessary skills to provide a convenient solution, and that you are dynamic– able to meet challenges that arise without excuses.

We see this come up a lot in the world of eCommerce. Belief in your competence leads to a positive action towards your business, and that trust carries so much weight that when broken it leads to anger, frustration and reputation damage within the online community. On the flipside, if that belief is reinforced by actual competence, the goodwill generated has the potential to spread like wildfire, leading to more belief and further positive actions.

2. Belief in benevolence is when a shopper believes the merchant is caring, morally conscious, responsive and is capable of goodwill towards him or her. A merchant that cultivates the belief of benevolence would not have the perception of taking advantage of the shopper by feeding their fears (eg. the fear of missing out), rather is one that acts in their best interest, that the service is not a scam, and is always willing to communicate matters with the client.

3. Belief in integrity is when shoppers trust that a merchant is honest, credible and reliable in their dealings by being truthful and upfront about things like pricing and delivery times rather than forgoing the truth in order to make sales. Merchants that demonstrate integrity accept the responsibility of the good-faith placed upon them and is the standard bearer of fulfilling promises and ethical obligations, like keeping client information secure.

4. Belief in predictability doesn’t actually have positive or negative values associated with it. It means that a shopper has the belief that your actions are consistent enough to the point that he/she can predict your behavior in a normal transactional situation, regardless of whether your actions are good or bad.

A customer may have high belief in the predictability of Amazon to fulfill delivery of an order within 5 days. A high level of belief in predictability would also forecast that a confirmation email and invoice will be sent immediately after purchase. Having belief in the predictability of an online merchant also means that the merchant’s readiness to handle a client’s needs will never alter over time.

These four beliefs complement each other and often one lead to another depending on the buying stage of a customer and what their current relationship is with your brand (fresh, has heard of you before or has conducted business with you before). The most important one is always the one that addresses the current fear of a customer and facilitates positive behaviors.

If a customer fears being scammed, then their integrity belief is the most important. If the customer fears getting a bad deal like paying a higher markup price, then benevolence belief takes precedence. Fear that credit card details might be inadvertently stolen during the checkout process will rely on the competence belief that your technical ability to prevent such theft will address this issue.

Belief in these characteristics leads to trusting intentions, which is when a customer shows the intention of relying on the merchant despite being unable to control the merchants actions. The amount of belief a shopper has will affect their readiness to perform trust related internet behaviors compared to traditional shopping instances, since online shoppers have less control over their experience such as handing over sensitive personal information, or not being able to immediately determine the quality of a product or service.

These behaviors are actions like sharing sensitive information, adding products to cart or making a purchase by completing the checkout process, and are a natural consequence of their trust in or beliefs about the online store.

Facilitating Trust

Rather than allowing customers to bumble haphazardly through the trust-intention-action process, there are of course things merchants can do to guide them through it to assure them that their beliefs are in safe hands and their intentions will have positive results.

Privacy Policy

A privacy policy lets your customers know that you are ethical when it comes to collecting their personal information (integrity). As such they are more likely to be open to sharing their personal information with you (intention). When a customer is more willing to share information then they are naturally more likely to act on it (behavior).

Not having a privacy policy in place on your online store can help you lose customers while being upfront about how you collect, store, and share personal data will allay the fear customers have about how their data is collected and used. They tend to be long walls of text filled with legalese that in a way discourage people from reading them.

Twitter has a very clear and well formatted privacy policy laid out which you can find here. Making it easily accessible for the average user shows transparency, which is a concept closely related to being trustworthy.

As the saying goes: those with nothing to hide hide nothing.

Trust Seals

Trust seals & SSL certificates suggest that a site provides technical security for payment forms to prevent middleman interventions or network eavesdropping.

Koray Özpolat at the University of Rhode Island hypothesizes that the four factors surrounding the effectiveness of trusts seals are cart value, retailer’s sales volume, shopper experience and number of other trust seals displayed:

Cart Value

Trust seals are more effective towards the completion of higher value shopping carts.

The value of a shopping cart simply means how much the total value of the products in the cart amounts to. Higher value purchases are more risky and thus entail a higher level of risk-aversion thus providing information pertinent to security and privacy helps reduce perceived risk.

Retailer Size

Online retailers with a smaller sales volume benefit more from the presence of the trust seal than larger online retailers.

This is tied-in with an online store’s reputation. Someone who has never shopped on Amazon.com would have less concerns about the ability of the company to protect their information, becuase it is a well established marketplace that has served millions of customers worldwide. As such smaller eCommerce sites would be required to take even greater measures to address these concerns. Customers would naturally feel less comfortable shopping at your store if it is new or relatively unheard of.

Past Experience

The effect of trust seals diminish the more frequently a user shops at a particular online store.

It means that trust is being developed over time, and with the benefit of having completed successful transactions before, the need to be convinced of trustworthiness is gradually eliminated as the customer updates his or her perception of the merchant.

Varied Trust Seal

The impact of trust seals on completing the checkout process has diminishing returns as the number of displayed trust seals increases.

In other words, displaying all the trust seals you can get your hands on won’t do much to convince your customers to make a purchase past the first few unique or synergetic ones, such as a seal that addresses security together with seals the address identity and privacy. Having multiple seals that address the same concerns is pointless.

In terms of shopping cart abandonment, the research found that the optimal number of seals to display is only 2 and that there is a reverse effect (u-turn) on trust with an increasing number of seals. Hence it is crucial to avoid information overload when displaying trust seals as it may cause confusion or skepticism.

What’s interesting is a particular result from a study published by Christian Holst suggesting that the perception of security is more important to online shoppers than its actually technical security ability. The trust seals are often nothing more than certification of a site or company about its customer relations or business practices, whereas SSL seals are what suggest technical security on the site.

Image: Baymard Study

There are many places you might display your security certifications and credentials, on your front page, on a product page, or on the footer, but the most important location to build trust is at the checkout process, the page where a customer will enter their payment details. It is at this point that a person has the most alarm bells going off, so it is here that it becomes of utmost importance to build confidence in the ability to protect one’s privacy.

Interaction with Customers

It should be standard practice by now for an online business to be engaging with customers, both individually and as an community. From a trust perspective, it also manages to convey that you are a merchant possessing the positive belief characteristics mentioned above, that it is benevolent, competent, honest and predictable. These positive traits solidify customers trust which lead to positive trust behaviors.

Interaction can occur through any channels your site has available, such as social media, email, phone, video calling, or even a support system on the site itself. It involves customer service, feedback, marketing and general socializing.

A great example of customer-facing eCommerce is Dell’s built-to-order model, which was once a thing Alienware did. With this model they were able to build stronger and deeper relationships with their customers.

This is interaction as well, since analyzing how your customers interact with your store (you) and understanding their shopping behavior and decisions can give you valuable data about how to better serve them. It can help you improve your design, user experience, content, and set pricing, which lead to increased shopping cart completion rates.

Reputation Building

By building a good reputation a merchant is able to bring about purchasing behaviors. Improving reputation will also improve beliefs because reputation is the anecdotal evidence/rumour that the merchant has positive characteristics, while trusting beliefs are first-hand, and as stated above, lead to intentions.

The trend now is to prominently display customer testimonials as social proof about a good service rendered, and it is standard to have customer reviews on product pages, as these constitute a secondary reputation, that of the product you sell on your store.

Brand recognition happens naturally, but should also happen through your own efforts with marketing campaigns. Consumers are also more likely to trust merchants that actively advertise their marketplace as it shows an investment in growth. It is unlikely that shoppers want to have business dealings with companies they think are in it for the short-term, as this will hamper an important part of transactions, which is after sales support.

Linking to Other Sites

Links to a reputable site can provide the extra push to assure customers that you run a reputable site. Quality outbound links suggests that you run a good company because you are good company, by way of transference.

The initial trust a shopper has for an unknown store will be more strongly influenced by a better known domain when there is a connection (hyperlink) between the two. This transference of trust can be achieved in many ways, not just by linking to other domains, but also by connections to influential individuals within online communities such on social networking sites and forums.

On online marketing forums such as the Warrior Forum, vendors and affiliates gain reputation by being active in the hyper-niche communities found within, creating trust and favourable reputations, allowing each other to cross promote their services, confident in the knowledge that each other are in high reputation standing among the public. After all, nobody wants to affiliated with shady dealers or those with a poor reputation – whether by perception or concrete.

Reputation is also strengthened when there is a link between your online store and a physical location, which we cover in the next item.

Contact Information

Having a proper channel to receive inquiries and complaints goes a long way in creating trust. It shows your users that there is a real person running things, and that you are available to be contacted should the need arise.

Some businesses choose not to disclose any contact details whatsoever, instead having a contact form to direct queries. Whether this might be a good practice for your business is something only you can determine by understanding your customer base. Others businesses are fully transparent, and it seems to work for them.

The amount of information you are willing to share is totally up to you, however a Contact page should be the bare minimum, then adding social media links, email and then live chat support as the need arises. You may also want to add business hours and your address if it is applicable.

Regular Content

Being active in updating the content of your store instils a sense of comfort whereby a customer knows that he/she is not in a deadzone. Fear of being in an abandoned site will obviously lead to phenomenal bounce rates. Updating your inventory or updating the product information helps your store stay fresh and alive.

Consider creating a content strategy for your products by mapping out time-periods for content updates. Several merchants I work with now choose to have a content cycle for individual products, which means not uploading all the content right away, but doing it over a period of time. For example uploading the product and details right away, then in week 2 adding a long-form product description or even a dedicated blog post about it, and in the third or fourth week uploading a video of the product as either a review, a tutorial, or the now very popular unboxing video format.

Even if your store features products with slow development cycles, you can work around this by generating blog content and being active on social networks about your regular operations or by events, expos or roadshows you attend. These updates also have the benefit of conveying to your customer that you are a creator and community participant, not solely a profit maker- or: Benevolent.

Depiction of internet security in relation to trust

The social psychology of trust in eCommerce is about putting yourself in your customer’s seat, figuring out where your customers will have gaps in trust, then patching those gaps up. Empathizing with your consumers and their trust needs requires taking action on providing information to ease them into a trustworthy relationship with you.

As you can see, understanding the fears and pain points of your eCommerce users is paramount in increasing conversions. Trust exists differently for different people at different stages of their buying journey.The tactics mentioned above will alleviate common fears most customers have when encountering a new online shopping store. They work in tandem by gradually reducing risk-aversion and increasing belief in not getting ripped off.

The Bottom Line:

Shoppers need to trust you to provide them with a reliable, safe and convenient service before they will ever conduct online business with you.

If you found this post useful, please consider sharing our eCommerce blog with those who will also benefit from it. Do also comment with your thoughts/examples/horror tales below, or if you want a more private conversation you can reach me via Email. Thanks!

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