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February 8, 2008

The Next Evolution of Social Media

If you aim to establish your site as a serious ecommerce player, here are 3 things you need to do:

  1. Create and put up a privacy policy.
  2. Process orders on a secure server.
  3. Get 3rd party verification to increase credibility. Each is easy to do – but many ecommerce newbies underestimate their importance.

These 3 elements are important because they help build trust at the most critical point of the visit -at the point where the visitor is about to complete a checkout and convert into a customer.

1. Create and put up a privacy policy

If you don’t have a good online privacy policy, it’s time to get to work! Clear and easy to read privacy policies are essential in building customer trust. They essentially tell the customers what you will do with their information. A good privacy policy will therefore calm any customer fears in that area.

A lot of visitors read the privacy policy in detail before they decide to submit any of their information.

If you want to be considered a credible online business, an excellent privacy policy is a definite must. Some of the interesting findings of the a survey of internet users and trust by Stanford University include:

  • Americans appear to place greater trust in sites that provide valid content and respect privacy than their European counterparts. Americans gave much higher credibility rankings to websites that offered privacy statements, sent emails to confirm transactions, indicated the source of site content or provided credentials for its authors.
  • Women attached greater credibility to websites with privacy policies, email confirmations of transactions and contact phone numbers than men. Notice the emphasis on privacy policy? Web users are getting more and more concerned with privacy and many will refrain from buying anything from a website unless a privacy policy is stated. If you don’t have one, here’s how to create one in 20 minutes. Just visit the Direct Marketing Association’s website and fill in the form to have a privacy policy customized for you. Privacy policies should be clearly stated and conspicuously posted. We recommend that you link to one in your footer. You might also want to test the effect of linking to your privacy policy at the bottom of your sign up form such as in the example below.

2. Allow secure ordering

We used to run a site that offered customers only one way to order – PayPal. PayPal has a trusted name and allows credit card and echeck transactions. Morever, millions of Americans have PayPal accounts. So is PayPal enough? As an experiment we offered credit card processing on our own secure server in addition to PayPal. We were astonished by a whopping 20% increase in sales!

The conclusion: If you’re just starting out and offer only Paypal as a quick and easy payment system – get a merchant service and a secure server ASAP.

A merchant service is an online credit card processing facility. You can sign up for a merchant service through a variety of different companies. The largest is Authorize.net, But you can’t approach them directly, you’ll need to go through a reseller of their service.

We use e-online data. They are a reputable Authorize.net reseller and we’ve been very satisfied with them.

Once you get a merchant service, you need to set up a shopping cart software that can process credit cards and is compatible with your merchant service. (Most shopping cart software programs that are sold or open source are compatible with Authorize.net.

To protect your customer’s sensitive credit card information you need to run your shopping cart software on a secure server.

A secure server is recognizable by the fact that domain names running on it start with https rather than http. To set up a secure server, you need to buy a secure server certificate and install it on your server. Don’t let

the technicalities of this bother you. Your web hosting company should be able to do this for you. You can purchase a low cost secure server certificate from Free SSL.

A secure server requires a little bit more of an explanation. A secure server runs on a technology called SSL. Basically SSL is a protocol that encrypts any communication between a server and a client. The communication is therefore not readable for anyone outside this relationship. It’s secure.

Use 3rd-Party Verification

A very effective way of convincing your visitors of your credibility and top-end security policy is by having outside independent entities vouch for you. You can show this on your website through seals of approval from these organizations.

Outside reinforcement will convince your visitors that you have put in an effort to earn their trust. Research into approval seals shows that online business that do use this method of reinforcement have higher conversion rates, lower shopping cart abandonment and a higher amount of loyal customers.

Well-established providers of approval seals include:

  • Truste (focus on privacy issues)
  • ValidateSite (focus on accurate corporate information)
  • Thawte (focus on security)
  • BBBOnline (focus on handling of complaints)
  • Bizrate.com (gathers and shows ratings of users)

If no vulnerabilities are found, the site is marked with a hacker-safe certification seal.

Author:  Jennifer Osborne writer and marketer for Search Engine People.

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