Customer trust

This is a follow-up post to Building and Maintaining the User’s Trust, published in January. In this second post, I will focus on how we can address the trust issues relevant to an E-commerce environment, which can also be applied to many different types of website environments.

To establish an initial sense of trust with the customer, it is important to give a professional first impression. Well-organised content and navigation contribute to this and influence the customer’s perception of the business. Customers will view a company’s online presence as a reflection of how they operate in the real world. A decrease in usability will lead to a decrease in the customer’s trust. It is important to remember that our interface will be ‘talking’ to the customer and persuading them to trust our site.

“Trust has been identified as a key success factor in online retailing” (Goles, Lee, Rao & Warren 2009)

Pre-purchase uncertainties

Araujo (2003) states that in order to provide trustworthiness through a website’s structure, the following aspects need to be considered:

Content – this should be suitable for a wide range of people and adapt to their differences, so incorporating cultural issues into a design is an important factor. An example of this is using additional languages to allow customers to select their preferred language to view the website’s content. All content should be free from grammatical errors and should be proofread multiple times before it goes public.

  • Product descriptions – online shoppers can’t see the physical product and won’t be able to accurately assess its true size or shade of colour, for example. As a result, an in-depth description of the product should be highly visible to demonstrate to the customer that the merchant is being open and honest about their products. This will in turn increase trustworthiness.
  • Cost and availability – clearly these are among the most important pieces of information for a potential customer. Prices need to be clearly displayed to the customer before the customer attempts to place an order; if this is not the case then the customer may get a sense that the merchant is not being open and honest with them.
  • Broken links will affect the customer’s view of the website and will give the impression that it is unprofessional. It’s important to make online interaction a satisfying experience. If the website portrays a professional image, then the customer will assume that the business operates in this manner.

Navigation – The fantastic book Information Architecture (The Polar Bear book) by Rosenfeld & Morville goes into great detail on various forms of navigation structures. I strongly recommend reading this book if you wish to gain the knowledge of how to use both aesthetics and mechanics to create distinctive, cohesive websites. It explains how getting lost in a large website can be confusing and frustrating and while a well-designed taxonomy may reduce the chances of customers becoming lost, complementary navigation tools are needed to provide the customer with a context.

“For most people, information architecture is invisible and intangible. When it’s done well, nobody notices it at all. When it’s done poorly, users become frustrated, but they often can’t articulate what’s wrong” – (Rosenfeld, 2000)

Search – is a central part of supplemental navigation. The user should be able to find what they want. To most, search is the favourite form of navigation as it gives us the power to use our own keywords to look for information. Search also provides a great level of specificity, which can be difficult to capture within the global or local navigation systems. We need to be careful with the way that we provide search functionality because it introduces ambiguity as different users will use different words for the same things. There are various ways we can ensure our search system helps the user:

  • Index only valuable and meaningful content. For an E-commerce website, users would likely be interested in products.
  • Determine search zones by eliminating content that isn’t relevant means the user will be faced with fewer results; this helps to prevent disorientation and confusion.
  • Presenting search results – are the search results what the user expected? A ‘revise search’ option enables the user to easily tweak their search criteria. Giving the user the option to sort the results provides them with the ability to accomplish the task of finding the specific piece of information they are after.

Security must exist within E-commerce websites. Organisations need to have confidence in the security of their E-commerce systems, as the information stored in them is what keeps them running as a business. Potential customers need to feel confident that they can shop safely and securely. The most up to date security protocols and methods must be in place in order to protect the consumer and merchant’s sensitive data. These security protocols should then be advertised to the customer to demonstrate their level of protection.

Post-purchase uncertainties

There have been many surveys conducted about E-commerce and privacy issues that demonstrate the level of concern most consumers feel about transmitting personal data over the internet.

Charlton (2007) shows that abandonment rates for online shopping carts are at around 60%, a certain percentage of this is related to areas such as the customer simply changing their mind which retailers can’t do much about, but overall it relates to areas that affect the customer’s trust during and after their purchasing process. There are many ways to ensure that trust is maintained with the customer after they have made their purchase by:

  • Always providing contact details
  • Clearly showing delivery details
  • Displaying a privacy policy detailing how their data will be protected
  • Displaying a terms & conditions policy in a form that the customer can easily store and reproduce
  • Sending an acknowledgement receipt of orders to the customer immediately after their transaction
  • Providing an order tracking service
  • Making it simple for customers to modify or cancel their orders

Organisations should be fully transparent with their customers, this will increase trustworthiness with them, it’s important to be open and honest and not to hide information from them as they could be breaking the law in certain situations. Organisations also need to understand their legal liabilities before setting up an E-commerce website.

Schulze & Baumgartner (2001) state that there is a ‘golden rule’ of complying with E-commerce law. They explain how organisations should be fully transparent with their customers, which in turn will translate to a degree of trust. It’s important to be open and honest and not to hide information; in some cases it may even be illegal.

Rules for building trust

  • Make sure your website gives a good impression and is relevant to the subject you are dealing with
  • Target the appropriate audience; this will build empathy between you and your users
  • Make sure your site has good grammar; spelling errors give the user the impression of carelessness
  • If you have good testimonials then display them for other users to see
  • Avoid any suspicion: everything should be clear
  • Try to avoid using reciprocal links that have no relevance to your website, this will cause the user to question your integrity
  • Clearly display your privacy and security policies
  • Make sure your SSL certificates are kept up to date
  • Provide as much contact information as possible
  • Interactivity builds a community and a sense of involvement for the users: allow them to contribute where possible


This is a large subject that is constantly refreshed with on-going research and discussions. I hope that, at minimum, this series of posts has demonstrated how important aesthetic appeal is to the success of any website and how trustworthiness can be developed through the use of good design.  Usability is a strong element in the building of trust.

“Usability is not the only key to success; rather it is a partner with trust” (Lanford & Hübscher, 2004).

Attention to usability guidelines is important, as is the application of advanced information architecture techniques that ensure content is organised and structured meaningfully. This results in increased ease of use and allows consumers to find what they are looking for effortlessly. To minimise customer uncertainties and increase trust, it is important to be transparent about security and privacy protection too.

To find out how Box UK can help your deliver a user experience that drives increased customer satisfaction and better business results, visit the UX & Design section of our site, and get in touch with a member of our team to discuss your specific goals and requirements.


Araujo.I, Araujo.I, (2003). Developing Trust in Internet Commerce. School of Computer Science. Carleton University. (Journal – p3, p4, p5, p6).

Charlton.G (2007). Why do customers abandon the checkout process?

Goles.T, Lee.J.S, Rao.V.S, Warren.J (2009). Trust Violations in Electronic Commerce: Customer Concerns and Reactions. (Journal – p1).

Heaton.M (2003). Web sites: the facts on legal compliance. Computer Weekly. 17/10/02.

Hoffman.L.D, Novak.P.T, Peralta.M (1999). Building Consumer Trust Online. Communications of the ACM. (Journal – p82).

Lanford.P, Hübscher.R (2004). Trustworthiness in E-commerce. ACM. (Journal – p315-319).

Rosenfeld.L (2000). News – An Interview with Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville.

Rosenfeld.L, Morville.P (2002). Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. (2nd ed.) O’Reilly: Sebastopol, CA. (p92).

Schulze.C, Baumgartner.J (2001). Don’t Panic! Do E-commerce. European Commission’s Electronic Commerce Team. (Journal – p4, p13, p16, p21, p23).