The Key To A Successful Online Store

trust is a paper

Image: birgerking via flickr

I often get asked ‘what is the number one tip to being successful with ecommerce?’ the truth is there is no one single key to winning at online retailing, there’s a mix of many different elements which are all important.

If I had to be pressed for an answer though I think I’d go with trust.

Some might argue that for ecommerce it’s important to have the right platform, lots of traffic, great products and they would be right, but trust is the one factor which ties everything else together.

Without it you won’t last long and once you have it many other factors can perhaps be less than perfect yet you still get the sale.

Why Is Trust So Important?

Trust is everything, if I don’t trust you then I don’t buy your products, it’s as simple as that. (Tweet this)

If you don’t convince me that you will look after my card details and deliver what you promise, when you promise, in the condition that you promise, then I’m going to find someone else who I do trust to do this.

When we are operating in a world where the competition is literally 10 seconds and a couple of clicks away, we really have to work hard at building the trust level between us and the customer, as much as we can, wherever we can.

In traditional bricks and mortar retailing trust is also important but they have some inbuilt advantages to help with this which we as online retailers don’t get.

For example, if I’m looking at buying a new pair of shoes I can go into my local shoe shop and see the shoes before I purchase, I can try them on and if I decide to buy I can pay cash or use my credit card without the store ever getting access to my details. I also know that in all likelihood the store will still be there tomorrow if I change my mind or if the shoes are faulty, I can walk back in and ask for a refund.

When we move the same transaction online the shopping experience is completely different.

As a customer I’d have to trust that the shoes look like the ones in the picture, which by the way is on a website that is run by somebody I’ve never met and probably never will. Are my credit card details going to be safe? Can I return them if I want? Will the website be still online tomorrow?

Even with this basic example of a transaction you can see why establishing a trusting relationship with a customer is crucial before a sale can be made.

The Elements of Trust That Can Make or Break Your Site

Many people probably think about trust with regards to ecommerce along the lines of ‘Well I hope my card details don’t get stolen!’, that’s definitely an important consideration, running a secure operation is absolutely vital, but I’m talking more than just looking after somebodies private details.

The basic elements of trust for an ecommerce store include:

  • Ensuring payment details are handled safely and securely
  • A terms and conditions statement
  • A privacy policy statement
  • Warranty / refund policies
  • A physical address listed

Most of these are actually legal requirements as well so it goes without saying that it’s a good idea to get them covered!

Moving on from these basic trust factors you should try and establish trust with everything you do or say on your site, some important considerations are as follows:

Design – Does your store have a professional looking design?

Now I realise something like design is subjective, however a site which looks amateur without even a basic level of ‘design’ is going to ring alarm bells for at least a few of your sites visitors. Online stores which have a nicer design subconsciously make us believe that the site is more trustworthy, even if that has no basis in reality.

Pricing – Too cheap or too expensive can cause concerns.

If something is too cheap then we ask ourselves why? this can be a red flag that says maybe this is a con. With pricing though too expensive can also break the trust, for example if I know something should cost around £100 but this site lists them at £175 then I’m going to be suspicious of all the other pricing whether I have some preconceived ideas of an items value or not.

Product Descriptions & Pictures

No pictures equals no sale, likewise poor quality images are not going to entice me to buy. If you have got some high quality images showing the various features of the item I’m considering then I’m going to be far more inclined to trust that they show a good representation of the physical product.

Product descriptions also need to be good, if you spend time writing genuinely useful product descriptions then I’ll see this as a sign that you are more trustworthy than the competitor who uses basic descriptions written in bad English.

Testimonials & Reviews – What do they say about your site?

This is a difficult area to get right. We’ve all seen pages of ‘suspicious’ testimonials, the ones which look like they could well have been made up, do you have a testimonial page that looks like this? If yours are real then a little tip I’d make is to publish them warts and all, i.e. don’t fix spelling mistakes or bad grammar, leaving them looking genuine will add some credibility to this part of your site.

Using a 3rd party review site for your business can also massively increase the perceived trust levels for new customers. Collecting lots of good reviews will help and even if there is the odd neutral or negative one this can often help make things look more believable. Don’t ever fake these though, fake reviews can be found out and they will destroy your credibility and trust faster than anything else.

Supporting Content / Blog

Spending time writing good quality content that supports your customers buying decisions or helps customers use your products better can really go a long way to building up trust. It’s another one of those factors which subconsciously shows customers that you really care about helping them, these sections of a site can also help customers remember you over the many competitors who aren’t doing this.

Enhanced or Easy To Use Policies

We have already discussed how many policies are legal requirements for an ecommerce business but how about going further than the average? You could put together a brief summary of certain policies written in plain English and position these above your long winded legal versions. Going to this trouble and clearly explaining what will happen to customer’s orders in certain scenario’s will go down well and make you stand out from the crowd.

If you are confident in your products and service then why not extend customers refund periods or offer to cover shipping to return an item, in my experience the odd extra expense incurred by these decisions will be more than covered by the increased trust levels and conversion rates.

Final Thoughts On Trust

It’s my opinion that everything you do for your customers on your site should help to establish the trust levels between you both.

If you’re thinking of making a policy decision ask yourself if this will increase trust or break it? Are you able to rework it to ensure you meet your business needs whilst still making things seem fair for your customers?

As mentioned, if you have someone’s trust then they will be much more forgiving of the odd error or oversight however if they don’t trust you then you don’t get the sale.

Based on that is it time you relooked over your site to see if there is anything which could be breaking your customers trust? If not, are there any areas which may be reworked to increase the trust further?

If we’re honest I think we all know that there are areas for improvement still, I know I have them!

Which factors makes you trust or distrust a website? I’d be interested to hear your views in the comments.


  1. I completely agree with the sentiments in this article.

    At the end of the day this can all be wrapped in in one word, and this is Branding!
    You brand should envoke trust, and trust should be a key component of your branding mission statements. Alot of young companies tend to focus on the techie and costing side of the business, rather than buidlng from the solid foundations. In order to build a successful business you need solid foundations, and these will come from your core values. Without a set of core values you will not be able to set a moral compass for your business. Without a moral compass, you can’t build trust!

    • Hi Gary,
      Thanks for the comment. Yes branding is very closely related to trust, a strong brand should spark a sense of trust towards the company. I agree that a lot of new businesses focus on product and costs and it’s easy to see why they do this initially however as a business progresses trust ‘should’ become the centre of virtually every decision made.

  2. Trust is one of the most important thing, but as you mentioned there are many other elements too. Trust is the bedrock, without it there is no business, but you have to be unique and attractive someway too. There must be a reason for your customer to buy your product, lowest price (sometimes the worst choice), wide range of products or simply your product is the best solution for the customers’s unique problem.

  3. Very informative post, Thanks for sharing such information. Online store is the place where customers can browse our products and services easily, and the products present there should be properly displayed and elaborated.

  4. I agree that trust is a core element for ecommerce sites.

    I would add to the list a good social network site. You want customers to see feedback from other customers both positive and negative. The social media networks adds an element of independence from merchant customer feedback forms that can be bais to ‘gaming’.


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