What Gives Shoppers the Creeps?

“Hack Attack!” blared the cover of last week’s edition of The Industry Standard. A series of denial-of-service attacks temporarily shut down web sites such as Yahoo, eBay, Buy.com, and Amazon earlier this month, following on the heels of a theft of 300,000 credit card numbers from CD Universe in January.

The bad news is that this publicity is making people more skittish about doing business on the Internet. The worse news is that they were already scared to close the deal online. There are some things you can do, however, to alleviate the problem.

Forty-Six Percent Halted the Sale

According to a study by The Strategis Group released several months before the recent security disasters, some 46 percent of online shoppers have halted an online purchase out of security concerns. Translation: With all the recent publicity, a really big problem has become a huge problem.

Janet Reno recently called for a five-year plan to deal with threats to Internet security. Hmmm. That used to work for Soviet tractor production, but I’m not sure that’s timely enough to suit the Internet economy. But I digress.

So, what is it specifically that gives people the creeps? Is it the absence to date of Janet Reno’s five-year plan? No. Is it the threat of credit card abuse by the end user? Not for the most part, as only 35 percent cited end-user abuse as a reason.

How about interception in cyberspace? BINGO! Some 64 percent of those who have halted an online transaction cite fear of having their credit card information intercepted as a reason for bringing the sale to a screeching halt.

Segmentation Is Difficult

Unfortunately, the data from The Strategis Group indicate that demographic segmentation for security is a difficult challenge. Education has little impact. The correlation with age is unclear, although there are some indications that young adults are less worried about security. Income and time of usage don’t seem to determine attitudes toward security, either. The figures do seem to indicate that women are more concerned about Internet security than men, but not dramatically so.

Confidence Takes Time

There was one bit of good news in the Strategis study. If you compare the percentage of Internet users who have halted an online transaction for security reasons with figures from 1997, you see a 14 percent drop. This is probably due to the fact that people are getting used to it; with experience, there is less fear of the unknown. Absent screaming headlines about hack attacks and cyberterrorists, there is a natural tendency for security concerns to gradually fall.

What to Do?

What should you do? Well, cooling your heels for five years while Janet Reno takes care of the problem is one option.

If that doesn’t suit you, here are some suggestions:

  1. Reassure the customer. At the point of transaction, leave nothing to chance. Make it clear to the customer that the transaction will occur over a secure connection and that all credit card and other payment information will be used only for the purposes intended. If your site is not well known, telegraph in every way you can that your company is sizable and reputable. Displaying a “good surfing” seal of approval, such as the TRUSTe seal, doesn’t hurt either.
  2. Guarantee the transaction. Guarantees can be persuasive. You may need to get some insurance, but it’s probably worth it.
  3. Provide a toll-free number. No matter what measures you take, some people just won’t do business online. Provide a toll-free number, a mailing address, or whatever you need to do to close the deal. Once they trust you, they’re more likely to try online purchasing.

And finally, unless you’re making steel in Magnitogorsk, forget about five-year plans. There’s no time to waste in taking prudent security measures and conveying to customers how safe it is to do business with your company.

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