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Reassuring your web site visitors increases online sales

The Internet is a now a tangled web. There are many dark alleys and dangerous places. The average surfer is becoming increasingly aware of issues relating to web bugs, email taps, phishing and other forms of hacking - the list goes on. Some studies have shown that consumers are becoming so nervous, they are reducing or ceasing online purchases.

It is becoming more difficult to convince our visitors that we are not there to fleece them. Sure, we all want to make profit, but for most of us, not at the expense of basic business ethics. I guess you can't blame people, there are many among us that will forego all decency in order to turn a dollar. It doesn't seem to matter the size or stature of the online business, corruption is rife throughout the online world - just as it is in the physical world.

How can you reassure your visitors that you have good intentions? These tips aren't about the nuts and bolts about hi-tech security technology, more about reassuring your visitors through simpler means.

Trades associations and security seals

If you belong to any sort of respected trade association with a solid member code of ethics, flaunt the relationship on every page. The same goes for images that your security vendor (for example in the case of SSL certificates) may provide you. This will show people from the very first page they land on that you take security seriously. The use of third party security seals has also proved to help reassure visitors and boost conversions.

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Article - what all ecommerce merchants need to know about PCI compliance

Images and credibility

Not so long ago, a professional veneer on your site would convince many visitors that you are in fact professional. If you are in the process of developing a site for your business, don't take this as being the case any more. No longer can a designer take a Photoshop image CD and make a small operation look like a Fortune 500 company - people aren't that stupid. 

Use some originality where you can if you are going to use images. I suggest use photos of "real" humans; the staff in your business, tasteful shots of yourself etc. If you have a presentable bricks and mortar location, include a couple of shots of the building. If you're needing to purchase stock photography that hasn't already been used a million times by others, I suggest Big Stock Photo - great images for as little as a couple of bucks each. 

Show a commitment to visitor privacy

Another way to gain the trust of web visitors is with the introduction of a Privacy Statement. It is a declaration to your visitors about what your site contains. The privacy statement also declares what type of information you gather from your visitors and how you use it.

If you have read a Privacy Statement, you may feel that you need a team of Californian lawyers and a huge bank balance to draft one! Actually, you can make them up free of charge using a number of generators available on the web. The generators take you through the process, step by step, with explanations of the various sections that you should complete.

You will be asked to supply the following details:

  • Type of data collected from hit counters and server logs (and why)

  • The use of cookies on your site (why you use them)

  • How you secure the information that you gather (is it stored on the server etc.)

  • Public forums and discussion boards (warn visitors about revealing personal information)

  • Advertising arrangements (do your advertisers use cookies with their banners?)

  • Whether you have external linkages from your site (many visitors don't realize that they are clicking on an external link until they have been redirected)

  • Options for visitors to unsubscribe from lists.

  • How visitors can contact you

If you are able to collect the above information before beginning the statement generation, it will make the whole process a great deal more efficient.

It will take approximately 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

A privacy statement not only puts your visitors mind at ease, but also adds professionalism to your site. A reassured visitor is more likely to purchase something from you.

Please note, a privacy statement is a legal document - think carefully before implementing one.

One of the best places generate your own Privacy Statement, free of charge is at the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) site:

http://www2.oecd.org/pwv3/ 

Implement a  company profile page

Whether you are a one person operation, totally reliant on cyberspace, or a traditional bricks and mortar organization; visitors have a natural curiosity of what goes on behind the scenes of your business - especially before they purchase. A company profile page will establish a great deal of credibility for your online representation.

A company profile or "about us" page shouldn't contain too much hype. It needs to give visitors a sense of who you are, where you have been and where you are heading as a business. "We're No.1" just doesn't cut it. Your company profile page should express your stand on customer service, product/service quality commitments and any important affiliations you have with other well known companies.

Clear terms of sale

Ensure that you have a page that clearly lays out your terms of sale and service. Be a little careful that the language isn't too technical or "thou shalt", this may scare potential purchases away. If possible, develop the terms so that the client can see that while you are protecting your interests, you care about their interests as well.

Testimonial pages

There is no more powerful form of marketing than a testimonial. If you have clients who have written to you who have been very happy with the service you provide, ask them whether you can reproduce their comments, offer them a bonus if need be. It's not hard to do, for example:

"Hi X,

Thanks for your positive comments - they really spur us on! I'd like to ask you a small favor. Would you mind if I added your feedback to a testimonials page? I could ensure that they were anonymous if you'd prefer. I most certainly wouldn't publish them without your express permission. If you would be happy for me to do this, as a way of saying "thanks!", we would provide you with... etc.."

Testimonials are gold; never underestimate their value. Of course, it's better to be able to have the persons name in full on your site; but give them the option of anonymity. If they have a well presented site, ask if you can publish the URL. Be sure to keep the note they send back where they have provided permission in case it's contested later. 

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Before someone will purchase your offerings, they will want to be assured that their purchase will be supported with good after-sales service. It is very important that at every available opportunity, you encourage people to contact you with their questions. Often they will send you a question when they already have the answer just to test you out, so ensure you respond to them rapidly. If possible, include telephone (I'm told some people still use telephones) and fax numbers on your company profile page along with a map of your street location.

Live chat software can also build confidence in your potential clients. Even if your live chat service isn't 24/7, just the fact that potential clients can see you have that in place will go a long way towards reassuring them.

Communicating - get it right

It's all well and good to respond to client inquiries quickly, but if the presentation of the response is littered with spelling mistakes and gross grammatical errors, what type of impression do you think that makes? Use an opening salutation, structure the body of your response well and be sure to provide a human name in your signature; not just "X sales team". Learn more about email etiquette in online business.

Credit card numbers

People become very concerned with the concept of a total stranger having their credit card number, in particular in relation to online business. Consumers think nothing of handing over a number to a sales clerk in the physical world, because they can usually see what the clerk is doing with the card. Many consumers also don't know that in most ecommerce transactions, the merchant never sees the entire card number - only the payment processing gateway does. If your card processing arrangement operates in this way, make it clear on your site. A simple statement in your shopping cart pages can do the trick - to complement the use of seals mentioned early.  For example:

"Concerned about security? We never see or store your credit card number - all payment processing is entrusted to our partner, X - the world's leading .. etc.."

Live Chat Software

- Boosts sales, a great marketing tool -
- Helps to reassure your visitors -
- Makes ecommerce more "human" -
- Track visitors on your site in real time -

Learn more about the benefits of using live chat software in your online business, read a review and try out a free service!

Shipping tracking

Are you able to provide your clients with shipping tracking numbers for their purchase? If so, promote this - it's an extra reassurance that they have some control over what's happening with their online purchase.

Satisfaction guaranteed or 100% money back.

Refund - the word that sends shivers down the back of any retailer. Nevertheless, the offer of a refund on goods and services will be the deciding factor in many purchases and also lends to your credibility. The offer of a refund tells a customer that you are confident in your product and that you have represented it properly. 

While the offer of a refund may not be viable in some cases, it should be a part of your business policies wherever possible. And if you use the strategy, flaunt it! Don't tuck it away in the fine print for fear that people will actually take advantage of the offer. Research carried out into refund offers shows that:

a) The offer increases business through increase in customer confidence.
 
b) People usually won't take up the offer, even if the product doesn't totally meet their expectations. They just want to know it's there.

Have you ever been in a busy marketplace in the physical world? People use all sort of tactics to get your attention and your dollars. In the virtual world it's much the same. We need to employ special strategies to attract search engines, to structure our pages and the sales cycle to hold the interest of our visitors. 

Add honesty, integrity and transparent business processes to your arsenal - then flaunt it!

It will pay dividends.

Related learning resources:

Live chat software - benefits, review and free trial

Security seals and certificates

Basic Ecommerce web site development

Email Etiquette

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources
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