Organizations in all industries are seeing a decline in consumer trust. We have moved away from traditional sources of expertise and turned to the web as a vehicle of verification. These days, we trust our peers more and look to the recommendations, reviews, and experiences of fellow shoppers before making decisions or purchases.
However, false reviews and filter bubble awareness have sullied that space, warned brand and content strategy consultant Margot Bloomstein, author of the upcoming book Trustworthy.
“Why don’t we all see the same reviews?” she asked. “Why should the choices of friends influence the ads and news we see? Isn’t it safer to just turn inward and go on gut instinct? That skepticism and cynicism can bog down brands trying to engage consumers. Why should they bother with your blog or even open marketing emails if you’re just pushing the latest and greatest?”
In this kind of environment, building trust with customers is key—especially since trust is the first principle of conversion, according to Alex O’Byrne, co-founder of Shopify Plus Experts We Make Websites. Luckily, there are various steps you can take to establish trust on your clients’ ecommerce sites or your apps, to reassure and engage customers. Below are ten ways to start.
1. Make a good first impression
We Make Websites co-founder Alex O’Byrne pointed out that art director and graphic designer Paul Rand once called design, “the silent ambassador of your brand”, and so trust begins with making a good first impression.
“In the age of mobile, that means ensuring that the website looks beautiful across all device sizes,” Alex explained. “It should be fast, with easy-to-absorb content, inspiring imagery, and simple navigation.”
Next, the website needs to showcase your products in an informative way. That means clear imagery from multiple angles (more on that below) and product descriptions that outline everything a customer might want to know about the product, including care, delivery, returns, and guarantee information.
Of course the site also needs to be fast. Web performance is a hot topic right now, if your client’s site is slower than Amazon, it’ll impact credibility.
2. Use trust signals
If your client’s business is not a household name, one of the biggest challenges you have to overcome is the site visitor’s fear of buying from a smaller business, advised SEO consultant and trainer Danny Richman.
“Use clear trust signals such as third-party reviews [for example TrustPilot and Feefo], security seals, free returns, and a physical location on your contact page to reduce any perceived risk,” he suggested. “Even adding a picture of the client or their team to the ‘About Us’ page can provide some extra reassurance.”
Also use subconscious trust signals like well-written copy and high-quality images. “Visitors instinctively know that an unscrupulous company is unlikely to invest in good design,” Danny explained. “Once a client knows that they have a product people want, at a price they are willing to pay, they should invest as much as they can afford in creating the best possible online experience.”
Alex O’Byrne added that humans are social animals that trust the opinions of others, and suggested using social proof like customer reviews and recent press to convince visitors of the business’ worth.
Ultimately, the more transparent designers are (this also includes the attribution of stock photos and colophons for content), the more likely we are to trust them as legitimate.
3. Show off the products
People tend to rely on engaging visuals to help drive their purchases, found Amanda Loftis, digital content creator, copywriter, and graphic designer.
“No matter what you’re selling, good-looking photos help build trust and credibility,” she pointed out, and recommended really focusing your efforts on making your clients’ products look great. “Since online buyers might not have the option to experience your products in-person, it’s important to draw them in with great product photos.”
Even if you don’t have the resources to set up elaborate photoshoots to showcase your clients’ products, Amanda suggested you should at least make sure product photos are clear, crisp, and well-lit. Bonus points for lightly stylized shots of products next to a plant or another beautiful prop!
5. Show empathy for your users
He explained that this means understanding what they need and offering helpful and easy-to-find tutorials, help docs, and even educational material that will help users to not only use an app like a pro, but also to succeed in their roles.
“If we want to build empathy into the UX of our products, we have to imagine and visualize ourselves and others using the product, day-in and day-out,” writes Marcela Sapone, CEO and co-founder of home service startup Hello Alfred, in her article Designing UX for Trust.
“We have to consider where and when we’d use the product and if our designs hold up,” she explains. “What value have we created with this micro interaction to earn the right to a users’ valuable time and attention? Also, if we’re repeatedly asking a customer to provide the same information he’s already submitted several times, we’re not being empathetic. Can we display his saved preferences — at the perfect time in the right context — and earn goodwill instead?”
5. Follow usability principles
Building trust with users and clients is the most important task designers face. UX designer Rachel Anderson advised that the first principle that designers need to follow to create products that users trust is to recognize that usability and accessibility are the foundations of building trust through design.
“Users will only trust systems they can understand,” she explained. “We can facilitate this by offering translation options, minimizing technical jargon, and conducting user research. If we understand our users, they will understand us.”
The second principle is to be clear in your messaging. “Tell users exactly why a page won’t print or load and ensure privacy, prices, and policies are absolutely clear.”
Finally, Rachel recommended “creating with kindness”, which means avoiding dark patterns, not forcing decisions, and giving the user freedom and control. “Remember, users will trust products that help them accomplish their goals,” she stated. “As designers, we have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to build trust by designing products and systems that are usable and accessible for everyone. Now that’s what I call ‘pixel perfect’.”
6. Make the ecommerce experience accessible
For the 15 to 20 percent of people who have disabilities, trust is a crucial part of using sites and apps, highlighted Devon Persing, a senior UX developer specialized in accessibility at Shopify.
“If a user has difficulty using a product because of a disability, they may feel a loss of trust in that product or brand,” she explained. “Using semantic markup and code standards is important for accessibility, but so is the impact on usability. Ambiguous messages, unclear instructions, complex custom controls, reliance on visuals, and inconsistency may be barriers.”
Devon also pointed out that accessibility is often considered a technical problem, but that it’s a product problem. “It starts with planning, then continues through design, development, and feedback from users. Making accessibility work part of each stage of the product life cycle is crucial, and so is getting—and acting on—feedback from users.”
To start with, check out these resources:
- Accessibility for Teams: This site is US government-focused, but provides a great overview of how accessibility fits into different product roles on a team with examples and tools for each role.
- Accessibility, Usability, and Inclusion: The W3C’s overview for how to include people with disabilities in workflows.
- Seven tips for user testing with users with disabilities: A great intro to doing usability testing for accessibility.
7. Show vulnerability
Brand and content strategy consultant Margot Bloomstein recommends that, in order to engage customers and establish trust, you should use a mix of vulnerability and validation.
“Vulnerability is a buzzword,” she admits, “often shared in earnest tones among words like ‘empathy’ and ‘authenticity’. But how can you practice vulnerability in design?”
Margot suggested to first tone down the polish. That doesn’t mean you should embrace typos, but to go ahead with the soft launch: share and label sites, new products, and apps in beta, so your users know the team behind the brand is working to create something better for them.
“Even Shopify does this, such as when it first launched multilingual support. Was it perfect? No. But was that a reason to delay—or an opportunity to launch and gather input?”
Beyond beta launches, Margot recommended embracing language that speaks simply and in the first person about decision-making processes. We’ve decided to delay the release engenders interest, sympathy, and support in a way that due to shipping issues, the release will be delayed never can.
8. Validate customers’ beliefs
Another way to establish trust, meet customers where they are, and move them to your client’s offering is to validate their beliefs, emotions, and lived experiences.
“You can play a role in rebuilding the trust of your consumers not by ignoring the negative experience they had, but by acknowledging and validating their beliefs,” Margot Bloomstein explained. “Consider how America’s Test Kitchenbegins many educational articles. Though the research powerhouse is eager to bring its latest discoveries to home cooks, many articles start by acknowledging their frustration (‘We’ve all been there.’, ‘If you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place.’). In How to Use a Digital Thermometer and Never Overcook Meat Again, the shared experience is right in the title; the secret to success resolves in the subtitle. The Test Kitchen builds on those bad experiences, using common vocabulary and readers’ current mindset as a point of departure for new ideas and further reading.”
Education drives empowerment, Margot concluded—and by empowering users’ confidence, your client’s brand will reap the reward in greater trust.
9. Build trust over the long term
The two elements most often missing from a discussion about building trust online are time and team communication, found user experience expert JD Graffam.
“A lot of folks talk about establishing trust through a user interface by designing things that feel human, sound human, and convey transparency,” he said. “This is good, practical advice, but in real life, we know that trust takes a long time to establish and very little to undermine. More than a decade ago, my wife and I learned about the 5:1 ratio for a healthy relationship. This principle applies to establishing trust in anything, not just marriage—it’s just as true when you run an online business.”
You have to stay focused on every interaction you have with your customers over a long period of time, JD suggested. “It’s way easier to screw up than it is to get right. This is easy for founders and small teams to handle, because a founder or small group of people with shared values will naturally act consistently.”
10. Be consistent in how you communicate a brand and its values
JD Graffam also recommended that, as a business grows, it must invest in internal communications around its brands and values.
“A growing team must know what the business stands for, otherwise they won’t consistently represent it,” he warned. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a designer, customer support person, marketing specialist, developer, or contractor—everyone on the team needs to know what the brand stands for, so they can treat the customers consistently. Consistency over time is the key to earning trust.”
“Building any business takes time, because earning the customers’ trust takes time. Consistency takes time. I run several SaaS businesses, online stores, and two agencies. In each business, I take the long-term approach. Once trust is established, it lasts decades, way longer than it takes to read an email, tap a button, and enter some payment details. If you’re like me and want to build a generational business, then take the time and spend the energy it takes to earn your customers’ trust. Don’t screw it up by being short sighted.”
Trust is the first principle of conversion
In today’s world of misleading privacy practices and fake news, establishing trust on an ecommerce site or app has become crucial. If you get it right and earn your customers’ trust, it can give your conversions a powerful boost.
First impressions and the professional quality of the site’s/app’s design are essential factors, just as their performance and security will reassure users. Don’t forget to show empathy to your users, and make your experiences usable, accessible, and consistent. But remember to be patient,too—building a trustworthy image takes time.