Today's e-commerce environment is very competitive. The e-commerce market is continuously growing not only in the U.S., but also worldwide. Recent e-commerce statistics from Statista show that e-commerce sales in the U.S. totaled over $158 billion in 2019's fourth quarter. Statista also reported that online sales make up one-tenth of total retail, and online retail makes around 5% of the annual e-commerce revenue in the U.S. Globally, online retail sales totaled $3.53 trillion last year, with projected revenues of $6.54 trillion by 2022.
Indeed, online shopping is the trend nowadays. Young consumers (i.e., Generation Y and Generation Z) particularly prefer to shop and interact with retailers online, because they grew up in the digital era. Many consumers ask for their peers' suggestions on social media sites or look at online reviews before making a purchase. E-commerce today has become a social commerce environment.
The fast-growing and competitive e-commerce and social commerce market provides both opportunities and challenges for SMBs. On the one hand, you can advertise and sell your products online via multiple channels, such as your brand's website and social media sites, to customers in different parts of the world. Positive electronic word of mouth (eWOM) over social media can also help you strengthen your brand name, acquire new customers and grow your business.
On the other hand, there is vast competition in the market. Today's consumers can easily compare products and prices online and read reviews to see what actual customers think. To thrive in such a competitive environment, you really have to build online trust for your brand with customers and maintain positive customer relations.
Trust is the cornerstone of customer relations in the e-commerce market. Compared to in-store shopping, consumers encounter more uncertainty when they shop online for several reasons:
- Some consumers are concerned about credit card security and privacy issues when they give out their personal information online.
- They can't physically see or touch the products. Sometimes, the products they receive are not quite what they expected.
- They need to wait for the products to be delivered to them after placing an order.
Because online shoppers face these uncertainties, they only want to buy products from the online vendors they trust. But how do you build online trust with customers? Based on my research and consulting experiences, I would like to make the following suggestions.
1. Protect your customers' data security and privacy.
I conducted focus group interviews with online shoppers and asked them how they determine whether to trust an online vendor or not. The most popular answer to this question concerned security and privacy issues. Consumers want to make sure that their personal data, especially credit card information, is closely guarded. They don't want their credit card numbers to be stolen.
Some consumers only shop on sites they know are secure. To protect your e-commerce website and customer data, you can use a trusted e-commerce platform, adopt cybersecurity software, and train your employees on best practices for cybersecurity and privacy. [Are you looking for a trustworthy platform to host your online store? Check out our picks for the best e-commerce platforms and shopping cart software.]
2. Reduce uncertainties and live up to your customers' product expectations.
Provide detailed, accurate information about products and delivery time to make sure your customers' expectations align with the product they receive. For example, you may want to provide details about materials, size and care instructions for clothing items. For electronics, you could provide instructions for using the features and functions.
In addition, the picture must present the product as accurately as possible. If the picture of the product is enlarged to show detail instead of representing the actual size of the product (such as a pendant), you should note this on the product page. You may also post product videos on your company website and social media sites for some product categories, such as tech products and electronics. Videos can give your customers a better sense of the products' features and how to use them.
3. Foster positive electronic word of mouth for your company, brand and products.
Today's consumers rely on each other's opinions to make their online purchase decisions. As I discussed in this article, consumers may look at business review sites to evaluate the company or product ratings or ask their social media friends for product recommendations. Many consumers would rather trust their friends and other consumers' opinions than advertisements and promotional materials. Thus, you have to foster positive eWOM for your company by providing high-quality products or services, engaging with your customers, and offering effective customer care via customers' preferred channels. Positive online reviews and ratings can help you build online trust with consumers.
4. Enhance your website design.
Consumers feel that poorly organized sites are not trustworthy, so you want to make sure that your company website is professional, up to date and well organized. It should be easy for your online customers to navigate your e-commerce site and find the products they need. You need to present your products in an organized way and provide accurate, current information on them. Check your website regularly for dead links and remove them to ensure all the information customers find on your site is up to date.
As discussed in a business.com article by Chris Christoff, you also need to reduce friction on your e-commerce website and provide a seamless checkout process for your online customers. Recent statistics show a shopping cart abandonment rate of over 69%. As Christoff suggested, you can increase your site speed, offer multiple payment options, improve your website design, simplify the sales process and make your site mobile-friendly. With a well-designed website, you can generate leads, increase sales, and build trust with customers by giving them a painless online shopping experience.
5. Work on your content marketing.
You can create and distribute relevant and valuable content to increase your brand awareness and credibility, attract new customers, and engage with your existing customers. You could post informative content such as research articles, infographics, webinars, videos and podcasts on your business's website and social media. Videos are a particularly good way to teach your customers how to use your products.
The content of your posts needs to be original, up to date, informative, educational and relevant to your audience. With credible content, you can demonstrate your thought leadership in your industry, enhance your company's credibility and build your audience's trust for your organization. Never plagiarize articles from other organizations' websites; you need to respect other companies' copyrights and the original authors' intellectual property. If your audience finds out, it will be a big breach of trust. Strong original content can definitely help you build online trust with your key audience.
In conclusion, trust is one of the most important factors of customer relations in the online environment. It's imperative for your e-commerce company to build online trust with your target audience by protecting your customers' data security and privacy, making your customers' expectations real, fostering positive eWOM, enhancing the quality of your e-commerce website, and utilizing content marketing.