How Confident Are Your Consumers?

How confident are your consumers? Apparently not very.

A new study by NetEffect Systems revealed last week that almost 67 percent of all e-commerce transactions are canceled before completion. Study after study has revealed that many people just can’t get over the final hurdle of typing in their credit card number online. Heck, any informal survey of friends and relatives will turn up a significant number who absolutely refuse to buy on-line.

Why? Trust and confidence, friends trust and confidence.

While most folks think nothing about handing their credit card to a waiter (except in the rare circumstance where that waiter has been spotted watching QVC back by the wait station and seems to grin when spotting your platinum card), plenty of sane, rational, well-meaning people turn into crazed paranoid conspiracy theorists when confronted with online credit-card entry.

Why? Why won’t they do it? The answer, I think, lies in the whole realm of what I call “confidence cues.”

In the consumer’s mind, a confidence cue is what we rely on to tell us whether or not it’s safe to buy. Cues that build confidence might be a snappy, well-decorated lobby, a nice smile, or a firm handshake. Cues that destroy confidence usually involve Hawaiian shirts, gold chains, and apparent chest toupees. Walking into an unfamiliar buying situation, we rely on these cues to tell us whether the seller is going to disappear as soon as the transaction’s over or will be around for the long term.

Even over the phone, I’d venture that most of us feel that we could tell if someone was shady or not from the tone of their voice. Once we decide, we hand over the plastic.

On the web, none of these cues exist. In the analog world, a well-decorated, expansive building is usually the tip-off that a company is successful. In cyberspace, anyone can have a nice looking site. In the analog world, you have visual and auditory cues to go off of to determine whether that used car salesman is pulling a fast one on you.

On the web, you’ve only got the words and pictures on the screen. In the world of print, high-quality paper and four-color printing means that someone had enough cash to produce the thing (implying that they’re a legit company). Online anybody can slap up a pretty picture.

So how do people know if a site’s legit or not? Two new studies may shed some light on the subject.

First is a study called “Beyond Concern: Understanding Net Users’ Attitudes About Online Privacy” authored by AT&T. Surveying over 380 people, they found that while people were generally okay with providing some information, most had real problems with providing credit and social security card numbers. They generally felt comfortable with providing an email address, but not with providing a phone number.

The survey also looked to answer how people made a decision about when to provide information. Forty-eight percent reported that they’d be more likely to provide personal info if there was a law that regulated how their information would be used. Twenty-eight percent said that a privacy policy would help them decide. But 58 percent reported that a privacy policy AND a seal of approval (such as the one from BBBOnline) would convince them that it was OK to provide personal data.

Interesting stuff. And even more compelling when combined with the results of a survey conducted by Cheskin Research & Studio Archetype/Sapient back in January. They, too, looked at what inspires consumer confidence in web sites and discovered some of the same things.

First off, brand is huge. Not surprisingly, most consumers trusted sites that were associated with well-known brands. Secondly, good navigation, professional design, and technical perfection were clear indicators of a site to trust — badly designed sites that crashed their browsers were low on the list. Finally, having some sort of third-party seal (like the BBBOnline seal) went far to help people feel more confident.

The implications of both these studies for e-marketers are huge. Why? Because if people are going to buy from us on an ongoing basis (remember “relationship marketing”?) they’re going to have to trust us. It’s time we realized that it’s not about the tech, it’s about the experience and the relationship.

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