Romancing the Customer: An E-Commerce Relationship Guide

Any relationship involves trust. While trust usually develops in person and over time, you have a limited window when it comes to your e-commerce customers.

So how do you build trust while still getting a customer quickly through your shopping funnel? How do you convince them to risk their money, their time and their personal data on your site and products?

Perhaps it would help to frame the basic principles in a more relatable metaphor that we’ve all been through—a first date. We’ll take a look at a few common sense dating principles and see how they can be applied to the world of e-commerce.

1. Prove you’re not an axe murder

You know you’re not crazy (or at least not the bad sort of crazy), but how do you usually go about proving it to someone else you don’t know well? Maybe you’ll discuss the projects you’re involved with, exchange social media accounts, show off your business card with the impressive title, or bring up mutual friends. At the core you’re saying: “Look—all these people trust me! You should too.”

So in the ecommerce world, how do you prove to potential customers that you’re not one of those crazy rogue businesses that will run off with all their billing info and have a field day?

Use social validation. Show off your Better Business Logo, glowing customer reviews, social media fan pages, and media coverage. Use whatever you can to reinforce the image of a legitimate and well-loved business.

But use it tactfully—no one likes a braggart who reminds you at every turn. Be strategic about where you place each validating element for maximum impact on the conversion funnel. Focus on reviews and awards earlier on in the conversion funnel and better business or security logos when the user is entering the checkout process.

2. Don’t make assumptions

Maybe you have some idea of how you want the “night to end up” on a date, but we all know that we shouldn’t assume the other person is on the same page. Being overeager can be off putting and make the other individual feel like they’re being taken advantage of. They feel like they no longer have control over the situation and trust starts to erode.

Similarly, your company may have come up with a set of ambitious conversion goals. In order for your team to meet those goals, you consider forcing registration and auto-checking all the newsletters. Surely that will increase the number of account and newsletter signups!

Let your user take control. Don’t assume a user wants to “Opt-In” to your 5 newsletters—let them check the box if they want it. Don’t force the user to create yet another account unless absolutely necessary. Make more form fields optional if you don’t actually need them for anything integral to your business.

Sure—some of these approaches may work to increase your KPIs in the short term. But over the long term, they will degrade the consumer’s experience and opinion about the company. And many customers might abandon all together when it becomes increasingly apparent what you’re trying to do.

3. Dress to impress

When you go on a date, you usually put a little more effort into how you look than on a typical day. As much as we hate to admit it, people tend to trust and warm up to attractive, well-groomed people more than those who … well, aren’t. It communicates that you’re capable of taking care of yourself and others. Plus eye candy is always nice!

E-commerce sites should also take care to present themselves in the best possible manner. You definitely don’t want to be the haphazard bum next to a sleek, seamless site.

Pay attention to the details. Give thorough consideration to your content layout. Use clean design principles to ensure proper page weighting, color contrast and readability. Ensure that all of your links are working properly and your paragraphs don’t contain spelling errors.

People notice when you don’t pay attention to the details. And that makes them feel uneasy even if they can’t pinpoint why. Good design makes people feel more comfortable, because it shows that you’re a business that strives for a quality product, that thinks things through, and cares enough to put itself together well.

4. Be attentive

We’ve probably all had the experience on a date where you just went into detail explaining something important to you, only to have your companion ask you essentially the same thing five minutes later. You can’t trust that they care and are really listening to you… maybe they’ll remember and maybe they won’t.

And I’m sure we’ve all had that happen online as well. Say you just spent ten minutes digging through your wallet for your card then painstakingly filling out all your billing information and finally hit “Submit”. Only then do you find out there was an error and it that it completely reset the form. Sigh.

Remember input. Make sure you remember what the user tells you. Don’t make them reenter the same things again and again. And if you have account level information on hand, by all means prefill fields with the input they are most likely to use (bonus—this also helps with accuracy!).

Also show that you’re engaged and listening by actively validating content as the user enters their information. This will make the user feel more secure as they go along rather than risking a colossal waste of time if something goes wrong.

5. Keep the surprise factor low

So say you’ve spent all this time planning a first date that involves mini-golf and a picnic with pizza, but your date shows up in a white dress and high heels. Opps—their expectations were of the more typical drinks and possibly dinner sort. While the two of you may still have fun, they’re going to feel ill prepared and uncomfortable and not sure what other “surprises” you may have in store.

Similarly, your customers will want to know where you’re bringing them, so they know that they have the time and resources to complete the process once they embark upon it.

Communicate your “plan”. Let them know how many steps there are in your checkout flow. Label buttons with where they’re taking the user (i.e. “Go to Billing Information” instead of “Next” or “Submit”). Provide additional information where there may be ambiguity.

And, most importantly, if you say you’re going to do something, make sure you do it! As a user, it is very disconcerting to click on a link that says one thing but it goes somewhere else or has a bunch of intermediary steps. Don’t take your user down the proverbial “dark alley”.

Keeping these general trust principles in mind will foster your relationships both online and in real life. Validate who you are, share control, be detail-oriented, be attentive and communicate. In sum, treat your users how you would want to be treated and your online relationships will be far more successful.

Brian McNamee
Managing Partner
Brian McNamee
Managing Partner

Brian McNamee is the only creative director in New York who cares about your Google Quality Score. In a career spanning over a decade, Brian has held positions as art director and digital creative lead at some of the world’s most preeminent agencies, including Ogilvy & Mather and Saatchi & Saatchi. Prior to founding Resolute Digital, Brian was general manager and creative director of Market Maker Interactive (MMi), a 30-person digital advertising agency.

Contact Brian