Technology’s Role in Building Trust for Retail Ecommerce Brands, Pt. 1

Establishing Trust Through Social Proof, Transparent Communication, and Customer Service Tools

Building trust through the use of digital technology is a significant challenge that many online retailers and ecommerce brands struggle to get right. According to an article on building digital trust published by professional services firm Deloitte, “Gaining a customers’ trust—not just in a business’s products and services, but in its core purpose and principles—is fundamental to an enterprise’s success.”

When it comes to establishing trust with technology, most retail ecommerce brands should heed the words of the legendary Steve Jobs: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” While there are many actionable ways via technology to build customer trust in ecommerce, it is critical to remember that trust is something hard to win yet very easy to lose—especially in the digital ecommerce space.

Yet, if done correctly by online retailers, technology can be effectively leveraged to exponentially enhance trust, which ultimately translates into more conversions, repeat sales, and loyal customers with a higher lifetime value.

The key to building trust touchpoints with technology is for ecommerce brands to deeply understand the customer journey and experience, especially as it intersects with the technology. Tech-driven business models, such as those that power online retailers and ecommerce, must have a human-centric focus that emphasizes bringing both technology and people together.

To be deemed trustworthy, ecommerce brands must understand all aspects of the online store experience that inspires customer confidence (another word for trust) while avoiding mistakes or missteps that ultimately undermine that trust. A great place to start involves three essential areas of trust—driven almost entirely by technology—that can dramatically increase the confidence placed by a customer in an online retailer’s website:

  1. Establishing social proof
  2. Appearance, communication, and transparency
  3. Effective use of customer service tools

Below is an exploration of each of these trust touchstones as seen from a technology standpoint. It highlights actionable ways for ecommerce brands to leverage them to transform uncertain prospects into customers and ultimately, brand advocates.

1. Establishing Social Proof

The psychological concept behind social proof is relatively straightforward. The term was first coined by psychologist Robert Cialdini in his groundbreaking book Influence: Science and Practice, originally published in 1984.

Social proof is based on the “herd mentality” instinct of people, which translates to strength in numbers. When a person is unsure of how to behave, they look to what others are doing and mimic that behavior. This is especially true when shopping online, where potential customers don’t have the ability to evaluate a product in person like in a brick-and-mortar store.

When social proof is intelligently and persuasively applied—through the effective use of technology—to online shopping and ecommerce brands, it can be a very powerful tool in a retailer’s arsenal to improve ecommerce marketing results. A few robust ways that technology can be leveraged to demonstrate social proof, thus creating trust and confidence in an ecommerce brand, are discussed below.

Reviews and Ratings

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, once said, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

Research increasingly shows that a majority of online shoppers use reviews to determine both brand reputation and what businesses to engage with when buying products and services online. A study conducted by eMarketer in 2019 found that the trust of 93.7% of digital shoppers in a brand increases because of positive reviews. Likewise, research conducted by the Harvard Business School concluded that a 1-star increase in a Yelp rating increases revenue 5-9%.

Based on these numbers and numerous other studies that back them up, online retailers and ecommerce brands should focus on using technology to make it easy to leave reviews on websites as well as encouraging user engagement with these reviews. These reviews should also be displayed in prominent positions on ecommerce websites. Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center found that displaying reviews can increase conversions by 270%.

Furthermore, the Pew Research Center indicated that the frequency with which people read online reviews is also correlated with how often they shop online. Roughly two-thirds (67%) of weekly online shoppers say they nearly always read customer reviews before buying new items. Therefore, it is certainly in the best interest of an online retailer to give these shoppers all the reviews and social proof they want.

Social Media Platforms

Not only should it be easy to post reviews to an ecommerce brand’s website, but online retailers should also use technology to make it as easy as possible for customers to post positive reviews and testimonials on all relevant social media marketing channels.

An extremely effective way to accomplish this is by offering customers incentives for sharing positive reviews on social media. A surefire tactic for using technology to do this while also supercharging a brand’s social proof is for an ecommerce site to establish a paid customer loyalty membership program.

A brand should also make it a goal to have a legitimate presence on the full range of social media channels that appeal to its target audience. This not only allows customers to post comments or reviews to these channels but simultaneously builds an audience of many brand followers on these platforms—another highly effective way for an ecommerce organization to increase its level of social proof.

Lastly, online retailers should also consider running social media competitions that generate high-quality social proof while also engaging audiences. An example might be running a competition in which a retailer asks people to post photos using a specific product offered by the brand.

Display Customer Satisfaction Results, Testimonials, and Trust Seals

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) is a customer experience metric that measures happiness with a product, service, or support interaction. The data is normally gathered through a customer satisfaction survey. An example of a CSAT survey might be a simple rating on a scale of 1-5 to the following question: How satisfied were you with Company X?

It is also a great idea for an ecommerce organization to reinforce its social proof by also displaying customer testimonials, trust seals, and certificates on an ecommerce website.

2. Appearance, Communication, and Transparency

To fortify trust on a technology-driven ecommerce platform, it is crucial that factors related to appearance, communication, and transparency be given heightened consideration.

The first thing customers notice when they arrive on an ecommerce website that critically impacts their perception of confidence in both the brand and technology is the “load time.” It has been shown that loading speed directly impacts customer conversion rates. Furthermore, a painfully slow website, or even worse, one that fails to load at all, leaves a terrible impression or appearance when it comes to trust and reliability. Customers will likely be hesitant about entrusting that site with their payment details.

Communication—what is said or not said—also impacts trust. This is why ecommerce brands should not only focus on good communication during the process of making a purchase but should also stay in touch with the customer after the purchase and always be reachable. This is all part of building a great customer experience journey with trust as its primary foundation.

Because product shipping isn’t always speedy, some customers—especially if an ecommerce platform has a worldwide audience—get anxious paying for something they have not received yet. This is where technology can significantly enhance communication and trust by keeping a customer updated with notifications.

To build trust and confidence in ecommerce, it is critical to be reachable 24/7/365. Being reachable is one of the foundational rules for successful ecommerce. Support channels should be used to respond to requests or queries at all times. Chatbots can even be implemented to provide first-line assistance to customers before communication with an actual person.

Follow-up communication is essential to building trust and conversions. It can even be successfully used for customers sitting on the fence. For example, shopping cart abandonment emails can be sent to customers that have come close but have not completed a purchase. These communications reminding shoppers of their intentions can also include social proof from other customers, such as testimonials, to help close the sale with one final blast of trust.

Honesty and transparency also greatly affect the trust or confidence that customers have in a specific ecommerce site. An insight from technology research powerhouse Gartner sums it up best:

Customers hold brands to a higher level of expectation, resulting in brand trust declines. As such, 83% of consumers refuse to do business with brands they do not trust. To build trust, brands must focus on exhibiting transparency, warmth, honesty, and reliability.

So, how can retail ecommerce brands ensure their platforms and technology are meeting or exceeding these standards? Below are a few actionable tips for ensuring a smooth, reliable, and transparent experience for customers shopping on an ecommerce platform:

  • Write compelling but accurate product descriptions that are mistake-free and consistent throughout
  • Prices and fees should be clearly displayed without surprises—hidden charges are a great way to undermine transparency and honesty
  • Always provide an ongoing price breakdown, including total, during both the shopping and checkout processes
  • Ensure there is proper compliance to regulations for both payment methods and privacy requirements—compliance failures are a sure way to lose customer confidence and trust

3. Effective Use of Customer Service Tools

Customer service tools and technology play an enormous role in building customer trust in ecommerce. Some areas that online retailers and ecommerce brands should pay careful attention to include process automation, forecasting with data analytics, emotions analytics, vision-powered self-service, and blockchain technology.

Process Automation

When it comes to ecommerce, process automation of workflows is extremely helpful in building trust with customers. The fundamental purpose behind process automation is to manage the increased demand of online orders more quickly, more accurately, and in a manner that safeguards employees and customers. It is about avoiding human error while increasing the productivity of operations to ensure happy customers.

Examples of process automation that can increase customer trust in ecommerce include personalized email marketing with targeted campaigns, tracking of orders, gathering feedback after a purchase, and automated tools for identifying and reaching out to customers with negative reviews across different platforms.

Forecasting with Data Analytics

The use of data analytics—descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive—to identify and forecast customer behavior can form the foundation for many targeted marketing campaigns or intelligent suggestions to customers on what they might like to purchase or view with heightened confidence. These can be further enhanced through machine learning (ML) algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) tools.

According to one major technology provider, 75% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that knows their name and purchase history. When combined with relevant data from a customer’s social media posts and online reviews, AI-driven predictive analytical tools can track, predict, and personalize an entire customer’s journey with great precision.

Emotions Analytics

Another area related to predictive analytics is emotions analytics (EA). EA software collects data on how a person or customer communicates verbally and nonverbally to better understand mood or attitude. Brands can leverage EA to identify what are the unique expectations of the customers and create a customized and personalized experience for them.

The Tempkin Group, a customer experience research firm, conducted a study that found when individuals have a positive emotional association with a specific brand, they are 8.4 times more likely to trust that company, 7.1 times more likely to purchase more, and 6.6 times more likely to forgive a company’s mistake. It is easy to see why an ecommerce brand could benefit from using EA as part of its customer service tools.

Vision-Powered Self-Service

Computer vision technologies such as object recognition, facial recognition, and image to text can add significant value and trust to an ecommerce company’s self-service platform. These tools deliver visual, interactive self-service that pushes the boundaries of traditional digital tools. The same is also true for voice capabilities such as “voice search” on mobile.

Blockchain Technology

The emerging and disruptive blockchain technology that has been driving cryptocurrency and non-fungible token (NFT) transactions will likely have applicability in the future to retail ecommerce brands. Blockchain has provided an unprecedented level of trust and transparency for consumers and purchasers using a “digital ledger” to immutably record transactions. Cijoy Olickal, a blockchain expert at Chain Advisors, said, “Blockchain changes the entire way we think about trust.”

As can be seen, technology plays an outsized role when it comes to building trust for retail ecommerce brands. Trust offers brands a distinct competitive advantage—an untapped differentiator in ecommerce.

Online retail brands that prioritize forming relationships based on trust and transparency with consumers will likely gain market share over the next several years. Because the online world is mostly faceless, ecommerce brands must continually assure customers of their trustworthiness while building loyalty that will allow their businesses to flourish. As mentioned, the three best places to start establishing trust using ecommerce technology are through the effective application of social proof, transparent communication, and customer service tools.

Continue reading with part 2 and part 3 in this series!

The JBS Quick Launch Lab

Free Qualified Assessment

Quantify what it will take to implement your next big idea!

Our assessment session will deliver tangible timelines, costs, high-level requirements, and recommend architectures that will work best. Let JBS prove to you and your team why over 24 years of experience matters.

Get Your Assessment