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Who's got the look: does your online shop exude credibility?

by Tim Rimington | February 7, 2012

Although reported stories of consumers being ripped off online appear to be falling, it's fair to say that online shoppers are still wary of who they deal with especially if they're visiting an online shop for the first time. So what type of things do online shoppers look for in a website, and what drives them away?

Without getting too sidetracked, there's a whole gamut of reasons why shoppers stay on a website and plenty more why they leave. Anything from outdated design to a lack of product information can contribute to high page-exit rates, whereas something so seemingly simple as the omission of a telephone number can be the root cause of poor credibility.

Who's got the look?

I'll start with the analogy of a traditional shopping strip or mall. On one side you have a brightly-lit, freshly painted shop with clean carpet, sparkling windows and well-stocked shelves. Sales staff look sharp, they're helpful and they're knowledgable; they welcome customers as they walk through the door, and they promptly answer the telephone.

On the other side of our shopping precinct the contrast couldn't be more stark. Our sharp shop's closest competitor has already been in business for a few years. The carpet's begun to look worn, the shopfront is in need of a fresh lick of paint, and unmotivated shop staff stand idle behind the counter, allowing customers to walk in and out of the store unacknowledged. Shelves aren't well-stocked, and regular customers are beginning to notice the new competitor who's opened across the street.

This is no fantasy comparison, it's happening right now in a shopping strip near you. It's also happening online. Your online shop needs to look fresh at all times, appear "well stocked" and clearly display contact information and friendly shipping/returns policies.

Here's a simple checklist to ensure that your own online shop has the building blocks of sound credibility:

Fresh, Modern Design

First impressions count. Customers arriving at your shop for the first time will judge your business by its appearance. An outdated design and haphazard cart functionality will lose you credibility points, as will poor content presentation and lack of content such as text and images. Read these articles to learn more about the importance of product text and product images.

Easily Accessible Contact Information

A prominently displayed business hours phone number and street address will add weight to credibility. Toll free numbers are a bonus. Customers need to know that they can contact you with minimal fuss in the event of a problem or if they have a question. No phone number raises questions about the legitimacy of your business.

Returns & Shipping Policies

What happens if an order goes missing in transit? What if goods arrive damaged? While merchants can't generally be held responsible for the way shipping companies handle items once goods have left the warehouse, your customers still need to know that you have systems in place to address such things. First of all, offer transit insurance at checkout. Clearly state shipping rates and options, and include terms and conditions that are written in a friendly tone. It's all about superb customer service.

Credit Card Transaction Security

Almost all major card and online merchant facility providers now state that merchants must include security and returns policy information for customers. This simple rule is in place to help weed out dishonest merchants. Different levels of card transaction security are offered by merchant providers, but it's wise to state on your website precisely what that entails. For example, does your shop offer a SSL certificate to help add weight to security? What level of encryption is provided?

If you're unsure about what to include on your card security page speak to your web provider for guidance, but you should definitely display something to set minds at ease who may otherwise feel uneasy about shopping online. As already stated, many merchant providers now insist on it.

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