On the Scene--Etail East: E-Commerce Requires Customer Trust

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As digital channels evolve and customers are granted more ways to buy products and services, companies must strive to make their e-commerce channels trustworthy, speakers agreed at the eTail East conference in Boston in mid-August.

To kick off this year's show, Pablo Cohan, senior business leader of U.S. emerging payments at MasterCard, outlined some of the prominent challenges facing e-retailers today. High on the list is security. As customers turn to new forms of digital payment, including Apple Pay and Android Pay, the threat of losing those customers will also be amplified if pains aren't taken to address potential risks. For one, "fraud will be moving away from the point-of-sale solutions towards digital," Cohan said.

As numerous security breaches (at the likes of Sony and Target) have made headlines, customers have become wary of putting their personal information at risk, said Jeff Barto, trust strategist at Symantec. "It was just a year and four months ago that Heartbleed happened, and everybody freaked out," Barto said, pointing out that customers are aware of how susceptible they are to threats.

Online shoppers are most likely to abandon carts due to hefty shipping fees, Barto conceded, but another overlooked source of anxiety is a lack of protection. Barto cited a statistic from Econsultancy that notes that 50 percent of shoppers will drop out mid-transaction due to security qualms. He suggested companies work toward getting a reputation for trust by earning stamps of approval from organizations such as the Online Trust Alliance and Alexa. The rule doesn't apply just to large brands, either, Barto asserted. "Some of us haven't heard of iherb.com, but they're doing trust just as well as Netflix and Amazon," he said.

Investments in Web site security and navigability have made all the difference for some companies, which have turned those investments into a source of continual growth.

Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com and Target mobile, spoke about how vital e-commerce channels have been to pleasing customers. Attention to e-commerce is important to Target, considering that 98 percent of its customers shop digitally. By re-engineering its Web site, the company has experienced a 30 percent boost in digital sales. And it is constantly updating functionality: "Seventy percent of [Target's digital experiences today] are different from those of last year," Goldberger said.

Nevertheless, Target has had to overcome its own challenges to achieve such results. Goldberger recalled a snafu the retailer experienced when launching its Lilly Pulitzer collaboration Web site in April. The night the site went live, a bug led customers to an error screen that blocked them from completing their purchases. Frustrated users voiced their complaints on social media, with one going so far as to call it "the worst day of [her] life," and another claiming she would never forgive the brand. "Whenever customers want to do something, the answer [should be] yes," Goldberger said, "even if it causes [the company] short-term pain."

For MyBinding.com, a supplier of binding materials, ongoing success in a seemingly limited industry has also hinged on improving its Web site’s functionality. For starters, it tries to understand exactly what clients need when they land on its page; the company looks at what customers enter into search fields, for example, to get a better sense of how items should be organized onscreen.

Jeff McRitchie, vice president of marketing at MyBinding.com, seconded Barto's notion that customers are keen on the endorsements of trusted third-party sources. "Our users in a B2B space are really about trust," he said. "The introduction of high-quality trust marks, that people recognize, helps generate growth." 

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