It’s a Matter of Trust

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The combination of pandemic and moving to a rural community has increased the amount of shopping I do online, but even before those events I found myself depending more and more on ecommerce. There are things I love and hate about online shopping, but as I know I’m not always a “typical consumer”, I asked my friends to weigh in as well. It turns out that their feedback was remarkably consistent.

Give People What They Want

Of course, a site must have good basic usability or visitors won’t stay long enough to make that first purchase much less form any loyalty to a business. A good search function is a must. Correct categories and attributes of products in the product catalog are essential for ensuring customers can find what they want.

However, most of the feedback I got was about something a little more intangible – trust. A lot of businesses focus on payment processing , security, and usability. Yes, those are very important, but I didn’t hear a single person complain about these! So I guess businesses are getting that right. What I hear people criticize or praise about online businesses comes down to ethics. If you want your customers to trust your brand, focus on improving these three key concerns of consumers: 

  • Returns
  • Product Data
  • Quality
Couple Viewing Phone

A Simple and Comprehensive Return Policy

Buying anything online is a leap of faith. You can’t touch, smell, try on, or weigh the product in your hands. Sometimes it just isn’t what the customer needed or expected, or it arrives broken or incorrectly fulfilled. Whatever the reason, easy and prompt return processing is mandatory for customer trust.

Here’s what customers want from a return policy.

  • I can return the product for any reason.
  • I have a reasonable period of time to return the product.
  • My refund/credit is processed quickly. I don’t have to wait days or weeks for some warehouse to process the product back into inventory.

If I’m shipping the returned product:

  • I can reuse the packaging the product came in.
  • I can print out a return shipping label from the website.
  • I can drop off the package at a convenient location close to me OR the package will be picked up from my house.

If I’m dropping the returned product off at a store:

  • I can print off the return paperwork from the website.
  • I can drop off the product at a storefront near me.
  • I don’t have to wait in line or explain anything at the store.

Honest, Accurate Product Data

Complete and reliable product information is so important to help customers make the right choice, minimizing returns and frustrations. This can be particularly challenging in open online marketplaces where multiple vendors sell, as product information may vary widely between vendors.

Some of the product data issues that cause the most frustration are:

Incorrect or variable sizing – You order a swimsuit top for a D-cup, but when it arrives, it clearly would be tight on a B-cup bosom! Or that skirt described as floor length is clearly nowhere near the floor on a 5’8” person.

Misleading or missing information – You unpack the silk tie you ordered but it’s clearly polyester. Or the product says “assembled in the US”, but the actual country of origin is China.

Optimistic compatibility claims – I need a battery charger for my Pentax camera. After extensive searching, I order a product that claims it’s compatible with my camera model, but when it arrives it’s obvious the battery won’t even insert into the charger. Don’t give a “compatibility range” if there are outliers. Be specific.

Generic product description or reviews – You have the same description for a dozen different products. Or the product reviews you show are for an entire family of products, not the specific one I’m looking at. I don’t really want to read reviews for a rash guard if I’m looking at swim shorts.

Box delivery

Quality Products

Quality is a subjective measure. I’m not expecting Mercedes quality at Kia prices, but I don’t want to pay for a Kia and get a Trabant, either. Products should be fit for their purpose and be of the expected/advertised quality. Nothing causes customers to lose trust in a brand faster than opening a package and experiencing immediate disappointment.

One common complaint about clothing and home furnishing products bought online is extremely poor quality fabric and/or construction. Tee-shirts so thin they rip on the first wear. Dresses with sagging hems. Buttons that fall off the first time a garment is washed. I’ve even bought pants that had one leg longer than the other!

Expired, old, or fake product is another concern. I once bought a kit of makeup online and when it arrived, the product was clearly expired. Dried up mascara, lumpy lipstick. Even though the brand was high-quality, the product was unusable.

Companies that reliably deliver the expected quality will earn devoted customers, customers who extoll their brand to their friends. Just last week, I had a friend raving about how wonderful her favorite (ethical, sustainable, high quality) clothing retailer is, and based on her excitement, I had to go take a look! I’m sure I’ll be back now that I’ve found them.

What really stands out from my highly scientific survey of friends and family is that everyone, young and old, male and female, rural and city, is devoted to online shopping. In-person retail shopping, once considered a fun activity to do with friends, has devolved into a frustrating experience that most people would rather avoid. Yes, we shop locally for the stuff that just doesn’t ship well. I’m unlikely to start buying horse food or concrete blocks or tires online, but if it can fit in a package bin, we don’t want to battle traffic and parking lots and deal with crowds and lines and hot asphalt and understaffed stores to get it. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still picky shoppers! Focus on the three key differentiators above if you want to keep customers coming back.

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