If you run an e-commerce website, security is likely one of your primary concerns. Is this obvious to your users? To turn more traffic into sales, an online store needs to convey a sense of safety and security – before, during and after the purchase. By offering a secure shopping environment – and sending out the corresponding signals – you will most likely get a better return on your marketing budget, in addition to improved profit margins and customer satisfaction.
It is definitely worthwhile to take a look at your website from the user’s perspective – particularly the first-time user. Try answering these two questions:
- Would you buy from your store if you saw it for the first time?
- What would you look for to make sure it is reliable?
Web design, copy, graphics and underlying technology are all factors that may affect our first impression of a website. And as always, the first impression is what really matters. Naturally, the appearance of security is just that. It must also hold up to closer scrutiny. Everything from the smallest detail to the overall design could be critical to a user’s decision to finalize his or her purchase. In this article we will cover some of the most important parts.
- Design and content: your overall design, copy and images are the most important aspects of making a good first impression. To be perceived as credible it is, for example, important to avoid lots of misspellings or missing product images.
- Technology: there has been an increasing focus on underlying technology such as encryption lately. A growing percentage of online shoppers are aware of these security features.
- Checkout: statistically, two thirds of all online shoppers abandon their shopping carts for various reasons, making it the greatest drop-off risk by far. Some shoppers abandon their carts when asked to provide credit card details, something that can be avoided altogether.
- Post-purchase considerations: consider the lifetime value of your customers and make the safe and secure impression last. Moreover, a good reputation will generate additional customers. To reinforce the positive impression, try offering incentives for the customer to review your products, on your own site and/or external websites.
Content and design: what does a safe online store look like?
We are all different when shopping online, and some of us are more careful than others when determining whether an online store is trustworthy. The ultimate solution would be to include every little detail that might bolster confidence, but since our preferences are a little different this is of course easier said than done.
However, there are some tried and tested steps that have been shown to work well in general. Also, what simplifies the matter is that you only need to implement these changes once to improve the impression of your store permanently. Here are our hands-on tips on how to project a secure environment in terms of content:
A common way to verify that there is a real and credible business behind the scenes is to have a look at the About Us page. Consequently, it’s important to provide a genuine and comprehensive presentation of the company. Adding a personal touch could improve it further: Pictures of the owner and staff are reassuring because they mimic the experience of a physical store. If you happen to actually operate a physical store as well, photos of the store add even more weight to your About Us page. Clearly displaying your company’s physical address also helps.
Contact information on all pages
A phone number and an email address should preferably be accessible from all pages on your website, e.g. in the footer or a sidebar where the user expects to find it.
Try displaying your phone number prominently with an invitation to call if the customer has any questions. It’s quite unlikely that you will get lots of calls, but just providing the option adds much to your store’s credibility. A live chat is also an alternative, which – for better or worse – lowers the threshold for the customer to actually get in touch.
Spelling and grammar
Lots of misspellings and grammatical errors look sloppy and could raise the question if your business is careless in other areas as well. Everyone makes mistakes, but make sure that your most important pages are flawless.
Meet the customer’s expectations
A store that sells expensive luxury items but uses a design that says SALE in big red letters will give the wrong impression, but the opposite may also apply. That doesn’t mean that you should use a sub-par design if your prices are low, but your users will likely have a greater tolerance for big red letters.
Always use product photos
Since you can’t touch and feel the product when shopping online, excellent product photos will have to suffice. Using your own photos instead of the ones provided by the manufacturer is often the best option.
Many e-commerce platforms support user reviews, which add authority to your product pages. Even if some user reviews are negative they should not be removed or edited. Product pages with only five-star reviews tend to look suspicious rather than trustworthy.
Always clarify that the customers’ email address is not shared or resold. Even participation in your own newsletter has to be voluntary.
Return policy and warranty information
Warranties and returns are already heavily regulated. Since you really don’t have a choice in the matter, why not use it to your advantage by highlighting this mandatory information in your marketing?
Evaluate security badges
Security-related badges and certifications are practically never free to use, but it is possible that they could boost your profits enough to cover the costs and then some. A trusted payment solution is another form of security badge.
Your company in search
Does googling your company and/or store name paint an accurate picture? Although this is not directly related to your own site, some users might take a detour via Google to ensure that your company is credible.
Technology: when to use encryption
Certain technical details affect both actual security and the users’ sense of security. Encryption is one such detail: sometimes it is an absolute must, while it plays a more psychological role in other cases. The standard used to secure the transfer of information between a website and its users is known as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). When a site uses SSL encryption, the URLs start with HTTPS instead of HTTP, and a green icon next to the browser URL to indicate that the site is secure. What it actually means is that the information sent between a website and its users becomes impossible – or at least very difficult – to intercept and modify.
Internet users are increasingly aware of encryption technology and some online retailers have opted to fully encrypt their sites. Another factor driving implementation is that Google recently announced that encryption is a (minor) ranking factor. To use SSL properly you need a valid certificate, which is not a free service but not overly expensive either. It might be worth considering for some online retailers, but for the time being it is probably an unnecessary expense.
A situation that really does require encryption is when processing credit card numbers and other sensitive information. However, the payment service provider and not the store itself usually handle this.<
The possibilities to rank higher in Google with the help of HTTPS are also negligible. According to Google, it’s a factor that affects less than 1% of the searches globally. This could change over time, but for now the effect is unlikely to be significant.
Performance and stability
Other technical aspects are not directly related to security, but may still have psychological effects. For example, an online store that loads slowly or displays incomprehensible error messages can easily cause hesitation. In addition, there is always a risk that the users get tired of waiting and take their business elsewhere.
The checkout is key to a secure shopping environment
When the shopping experience feels safe and secure in general, the most important part remains. The payment process is where the security requirements are truly vital. Of all the steps in your sales funnel, the final parts generally have the most drop-offs by far. A compilation of several independent studies shows that about two-thirds of all shopping carts are abandoned. There are several reasons why customers abandon their shopping carts. The biggest one is unexpected shipping charges, but others are rooted in security concerns. For example, many purchases are interrupted when reaching a step that requires credit card information.
Payment by invoice is an option that removes this obstacle altogether, as it minimizes the amount of information required from the customer. At the same time you likely want to keep the credit card and bank transfer alternatives, since many customers still prefer them. In any event, offering multiple payment options – which do not require more information than the customer is willing to part with – will help you make more sales. In summary:
- Simplify buying: Too many steps to the actual purchase – or steps that don’t make perfect sense – are obstacles that must be addressed. The checkout process should be linear, obvious and make the customer feel secure
- Use a checkout process that suits your niche: Customers are generally more inclined to provide personal information in some circumstances. For example, you may be more than willing to part with detailed personal information when buying a new computer (for warranty purposes), but perhaps less so when buying a beach towel. This is not to say that the buying process should be less linear and obvious, only that in certain situations it could actually be plus to require some additional information.
- Mobile security: A large and increasing amount of online shoppers use smartphones, meaning that the checkout must be just as easy to use on a mobile device as on a computer. Since a smartphone is generally perceived as less secure than the PC, it is even more important to offer alternatives to credit card payments.
- Logos, badges and copy: Padlock icons, recognizable security badges and text that simply points out how safe your store is should not be underestimated. Again, the fact that the customer’s personal information is in safe hands is not necessarily obvious and may have to be explained. Also try telling the customer why filling out certain fields has advantages, e.g. that an email address is required to get a receipt and tracking information.
- Actual security and encryption: Of course, the checkout should not just be perceived as safe, but actually be safe. Encryption of sensitive customer information is a must, but as we mentioned earlier, the payment service provider normally provides this.
Another, more general aspect to keep in mind is that there is a certain contradiction between the number of additional security features and the amount of completed purchases (i.e. the conversion rate). A typical example is registration requirements to place an order. While this certainly adds a layer of security, it inevitably results in some drop-offs as well.
It’s important to strike a balance between perceived security and usability, but this should be possible without compromising on the actual security.
Post-purchase follow-up strategies
A satisfied customer, who feels secure and will happily return to your store, is always the desirable outcome. This highlights the importance of following up on all orders. The first practical measure is automated order confirmations, which is something that all online shoppers expect today. Additional information about the ongoing process, like an order being packed and prepared for shipping might also reinforce a sense of trust.
If a problem is encountered, such as an ordered product being out of stock, it is often easy to avoid dissatisfaction by informing the customer personally. We all make mistakes and most of your customers are likely understanding if you simply explain the situation. Online shoppers have also come to expect comprehensive tracking information with their orders. This is usually a simple service to integrate directly from your distributor.
Summary: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Some rather simple details that ensure your users that you take their safety concerns seriously will most likely result in improvements to your bottom line. In other words, working on the security aspect is very rewarding relative to the effort you put into it. Even aside from the immediate benefits, other positive effects will manifest in the longer term.
Your store’s reputation is of course one of the most important long-term considerations – and by extension, customer lifetime value. As long as the difference in pricing is small, most shoppers are willing to pay a little more in a store that feels safe and secure. For a newly established business, for which a handful of customer reviews can have a deciding effect, it’s also worthwhile to go the extra mile in terms of customer service.
Safety and security are closely associated with service and support, which is easy to reach and perceived as such. While the safety features on your site are important for getting new customers, it’s no guarantee for being perceived as a safe alternative in the long term. To quickly sort out any issues and respond to customer inquiries in a timely manner is what creates confidence in the long run.