It is Thanksgiving Day morning (2010) – Why on earth am I blogging?
To our international readers, Thanksgiving day kicks of the season of holiday sales. The Friday after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. Quite a morbid name for a Friday. But the name makes perfect sense – it is the day that retailers turn a profit (black ink on their books) for the year.
BlackFriday sales or BF sales are the big thing for large box stores and large online retailers. Small businesses are usually not a part of the big BF day sales. This year there has been a push to make Saturday the day for Small Businesses to turn a profit for the holiday season. It has been aptly named “Small Business Saturday”. Then there is Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving and was primarily the big sales event for online retailers.
The big box stores or big brand online retailers have one thing in common, they have well established brand names. With this comes some well deserved credibility as well. As a shopper, I know that if I order an Xbox 360 with Kinect from Buy.com or Amazon.com – my credit card details are safe and I will end up receiving my super cool Xbox. That is, if they do not go out of stock. The big brands remove my online shopping anxiety. Unfortunately if you are a small online store, lack of credibility is the number one factor online shoppers cite as a reason for abandoning their shopping carts.
When I shop at a small business online store, the following comes to mind:
Are these guys legit?
Will they steal my credit card and sell it to the mafia?
Will my Xbox 360 actually make it?
Will it be under warranty?
Will it ship on time?
Can I call these guys?
How long have they been in business?
What have others said about their experience with this store?
Are they affiliated with any organizations?
What is their return policy?
The questions go on and on. For a small business website, answering the above can be a daunting task.
Here is a quick check list of items to help build Online Credibility
1) Toll- Free Number
Yes a toll-free number(TFN) makes a huge difference. I know almost all cellphone plans and some land line plans offer free minutes and calling a regular number is no big deal. Apart from the obvious statistics of domestic land line users, TFN numbers (preferably the 1800 ones) give the business a professional look. Keep in mind, international callers cannot dial toll-free numbers, so do keep the regular phone number listed on the contact us page or even on the footer of your site.
2) Contact Address
When people visit a brick and mortar business – they know it will be still standing a few months later, should they have any problems with their purchase (well maybe not in this economy, my neighborhood Blockbuster is closing down – who would have thought?) When I visit an online store I want to know where are they located? If you run a home-based online business get a mail box, rather than expose your home address.
3) Professional Web Design
This point is often glossed over. But it is crucial to have a professional website and e-commerce design. The entire shopping experience must have the same branding and look and feel. Imagine walking through Target and you stroll into the kitchen Isle and it has the Dollar General’s branding all over. Confusing to say the least. Select a web designer that knows how to either provide a complete custom e-commerce shopping experience or someone that understands third-party e-commerce tools and can integrate them into your site seamlessly.
4) Industry Affiliations
Display any industry affiliation logos, such as Better Business Bureau or similar reputable organisations.
5) Shipping & Handling Info
A huge pet peeve of online shoppers is lack of shipping information upfront. Let them know the shipping information as soon as they select a product. This can be done very easily by either having a popup question for their shipping zip code or have a mini cart summary on the right hand side with a button to enter their zip code.
7) General Terms and Conditions
Any additional legal conditions that must be stated up front.
8 ) Return Policy
Publish your return policy it will save you tons of time in responding to emails over and over about return policies.
9) Operating Hours
A no-brainer – important for customer service.
10) SSL Certificate
An SSL Certificate is a must have for e-commerce transactions or any other secure information transactions. If you sell more than $5000 per year of merchandise, get a Verisign SSL cert. It costs a lot more money than other SSL certs but the Verisign seal is synonymous with safe online shopping.
Testimonials show that others have had great experiences with the store and put users at ease.
12) Product Reviews
Product reviews can help buyers make informed purchase decisions. Amazon is the perfect example of how well it has used reviews to build its business. If you are confident about your product, you will get glowing reviews from customers. Occasionally you may get negative reviews if any, try to work with the customer to resolve their problems promptly.
13) Credit Card Security
Every online business has a legal and moral obligation to protect customers information, especially credit card information, social security numbers etc. Our advice to small businesses is to never store credit card information on file, either on a database online or offline at an office computer. However secure you may think it is, it is not worth the ultimate headache of admitting to your customers that their data has been hacked. Always pass on credit card details to a bank or merchant provider to process the information using their secure API’s.
14) PCI Compliance
PCI or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard is a set of rules & standards outlined to help prevent Credit Card fraud. Merchants that do small volume transactions do not necessarily have to comply with PCI standards. However we recommend merchants get an website application scanner similar to Trust Guard to ensure their e commerce app is PCI compliant.
This is not a final and absolute list, there maybe other items that help improve online purchase ratios. Let us know what you’ve done to improve credibility online. photo credits
Duchamp Larry Tomlinson