Establishing Trust in the Global E-Marketplace

The success of a small business on the Internet depends on building trust — and I’m not talking about secure servers and privacy policies, either. I’m talking about what Merriam-Webster OnLine defines as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” I’m talking about you and your offerings on the Net.

It comes down to this: Your customers understand that you will satisfy their needs, and you understand your customers well enough that you will continue to develop satisfying products and services. Is your business trustworthy, and is this quality conveyed on your web site?

Small-business-buying hubs that focus on inbound business processes, selling hubs that focus on outbound processes, and workflow hubs that focus on administrative processes all win us over by communicating value and beliefs that are reflected in every transaction we have with them.

Because there is no face-to-face contact and no previous knowledge of the other participant, trust is central to these transactions. And if these companies were to transport their business models worldwide, trust would become even more critical.

But most sites, including the ones mentioned above, don’t know how to service cross-border customers. Of sites surveyed by Forrester Research, 46 percent turn away international orders because they do not have processes in place to fill them. Wired Magazine claims that 75 percent of Internet users will be non-English speakers in three to five years, yet only 30 Fortune 100 companies have internationally localized web sites. Common global transaction barriers include an inability to handle direct international orders, language and cultural differences that hinder basic communication, and global mismatches in Internet technical adoption and infrastructure.

Yes, these are serious obstacles. But even if the back or front end of your site isn’t ready to accommodate global customers, you can still begin developing trust. Trust needs to be addressed right from the start when mapping out your global strategy. Fortunately, it’s a readily available local resource that can be transported globally at once, whether you are located in Chicago or Geneva. Customers from varied cultures know what will gain their trust online and look for these traits when deciding to solicit or contract new business.

Make a Commitment

Sounds simple. But how do you make an online commitment that shows your willingness to invest in a relationship with cross-border customers? After all, isn’t commitment what trust is all about?

Let’s take a look at MAC (Make-Up Art Cosmetics) for an excellent example of establishing trust by way of a noticeable commitment. If you go to the company’s site, here’s what you’ll find:

    “Welcome to the MAC Website. At this time we are only able to ship to addresses in the U.S. and Canada. To search for the location of the MAC store nearest to you, click on our worldwide store locator. Enjoy your visit. Take in the site. Discover all about MAC. Thank you.”

What MAC is doing right is not pretending to promise something that it can’t deliver. It doesn’t wow customers with great graphics, content, and marketing tactics. It doesn’t boast of its worldwide presence only to leave the customer at a loss when the program won’t accept a foreign postal code. Instead, right now, a Japanese consumer can use the store locator and find a shop in Shinjuku-ku — and she’ll be sure to check back at the site to see when she can buy online. It’s clear MAC is preparing to sell the world and is instilling trust right from the start. And you can bet that MAC is strengthening its relationship with its customers in each and every interaction — whether off- or online.

Make Short-Term Site Space Commitments

To show your cross-border customers that you are prepared to serve them, commit some site space to developing the relationship. Try these site innovations:

  • List some of your best American customers to show credibility and your commitment — especially if they are big names, such as IBM, Microsoft, and Dell, that know how to go global and develop trust along the way.

  • Design a banner on your site that announces a site for your first foreign target market. You’ll be promising that you’ll invest the time and trouble to translate your site into a different language and culture.
  • Create a click-through area in which you can start to establish an offline relationship with your international guests and show that you’re looking forward to serving them online in the future. Maybe even be gutsy enough to set up a live chatroom for them.

Offer a Long-Term Outlook That Makes Continuous Lasting Impressions

For some businesses, of course, nothing less than full-fledged multilingual capabilities from day one will do. Kirk Knight, VP of strategy and business development for San Francisco-based Best-of-China.Com, which creates e-commerce solutions for international trade with China, feels that the only way to convey trust and attract global customers to your site is to provide links in the customer’s language.

“If you try to skip this in an effort to get your site up sooner, you’ll curse your myopic decision. We built our systems from the ground up to support multiple languages and use relational databases to load the appropriate content for each user. This makes it possible for us to have a single price list visible in English, simplified Chinese, French, German, Spanish, etc. depending upon the language choice of the customer. It helps our business customers expand their markets rapidly,” he said. It also leaves a lasting impression for the visitor.

Clearly an enterprise such as Best-of-China.Com, whose very essence is international trade, can do no less. The bottom line, though, is to do what you can. Even relatively simple measures can reflect your long-term intentions and set the stage for trust. By opening communications and establishing your credentials early on, you can make the world your market and your site a safe place to do business.

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