I was chatting with a friend, Niall, during the week about selling online and when I asked him what the number one decision-making factor was for people purchasing online he said “confidence”. Now this was interesting as just a few hours later Piaras and his colleagues in Edelman were releasing their annual Trust Barometer. Have a quick flick through this and you’ll see that trust in business is at an all time low:

This is not surprising given the perceived lack of accountability in Irish public and corporate life; but there is perhaps a strong collateral effect on other businesses as a result of the banking sector’s failures. Trust in all corporate messaging, including their websites, is at rock bottom. Confidence in online systems has probably also been affected of late as a result of the privacy and data protection issues associated with lost and stolen laptops and website breaches.

Here are some things that I believe can help to rebuild trust and confidence online, in particular when it comes to asking customers to submit their personal and payment details online:

UPDATE: You’ll find a completed version of this list over on Bloggertone – a collaborative blogging platform – click here to read the full list.

1. 3rd Party Security Seals or Certificates, such as the Verisign logo, are important in reassuring customers that any data input is securely protected by a recognised independent vendor. Make sure that the seals are visible, clickable and present from early on in the sales process.

2. Phone numbers and contact details should be clearly visible. Some websites actually hide these when all the research indicates that the majority of people won’t purchase on website they are not familiar with unless they can easily find and get a response from such contact details.

3. Make sure there are no surprises such as terms and conditions that were not visible up-front, hidden charges that don’t appear until the payment screen, or unclear delivery costs. We don’t like surprises and don’t trust websites that use them to get more cash sneakily out of our wallets.

4. Provide product ratings and reviews, since we are more likely to trust what other customers say more than what your literature says about the products you sell. We spend less than 1% of our time actually making the purchase, and the rest is spent researching and finding out what others think.

5. Get blogging. Employees are the most trusted source of information (in Ireland at least) on a company. Get your employees out in front of your customers by having them write company blogs with personality. They are believable and will help to provide a more human, and hence trustworthy, face to your business.

6. Rank well in Google. According to the Edelman survey, Google and other search engines are more trusted as sources of information than company websites. Searchers use Google results to help inform their decision-making process. If a website appears on the first page of a search results then there is an assumption that if “independent” Google rates it, it must be okay.

7. Implement a professional and functional design. Don’t scrimp on the graphic design. Think about it. Would you be less likely to purchase from a salesman in a shabby suit with stains on his tie? Don’t make it too “slick” either as very few of us are sold on hyperbole (except Apple customers of course!).

8. Eliminate errors as there is nothing that will undermine confidence in a site more than technical errors. If these guys cannot get some basics right, how do they expect me to give them my credit card? I’m including spelling mistakes in here – a pet hate of mine, but smacks of lack of attention to detail on the smaller issues, so once again why would I trust you with the bigger things?

9. Clearly display the returns policy. No one likes the hassle of having to return items, but there is an inevitability about it that all online sellers need to be clear about. It will give me lots of confidence if you highlight to me what the steps are in case I need to send an item back.

10. Provide comprehensive product information. This is especially relevant for clothing and used goods. The more information – including descriptions, specifications, imagery, video and even 360 degree views -  that you provide the more likely I will be able to decide that this is the right product for me. Scant information doesn’t help me make a decision and at worst could lead me to think that you’re trying to hide something.

11. Engage with negative feedback on social media and discussion forums. We are all using these as sources of information and there are opportunities for businesses to address customer complaints and turn them into positives by being seen to be responsive. Damien has an excellent post on how transparency and responsiveness can really help to rebuild trust when an online crisis happens.

12. Build offline awareness since customers increasingly rely on multiple sources of information to support purchase decisions. While we are certainly less trusting of traditional advertising; features and articles in traditional media are still seen as reliable. Advertising is not dead and, together with general awareness in the media, can help to both build visitor numbers to your website and increase conversion rates.

13….

Okay. I’ve run out of steam. Blame the “Non Drowsy” Sudafed that kept me up all night. What else should I include in this list? Help me get to 20, leave a comment and I’ll update the list.