In business terms, perhaps the most disruptive aspect of the internet age is low start-up costs. Regardless of business size, most people can now launch a web presence that looks good, requiring only minimal cost and ability, and free open source e-commerce packages can be auto-installed in seconds. But there is a flipside to this levelling of the playing field. With the commoditisation of open-source website or ecommerce services, suddenly there is very little to differentiate your brand new store with that of a much more established competitor.

On the one hand, of course, that is brilliant – as a small business there is no barrier to entry and customers get better choices. However, there are two major downsides. First, it is difficult to make yourself stand out; that can be tackled by focusing on great customer service, or a particular niche, for example.

However, the second and key issue (as I see it) is the potential impact on trust. The ease with which anyone can set up an online business means that there are a lot of players who really shouldn’t be in the space. But, as there is little difference between an established online store and a new one, it is difficult for a consumer to know which shops are best. What protects a shopper from a dodgy purchase of a dodgy item from a dodgy store? According to figures from Baymard Insitute and Symantec, average ecommerce cart abandonment rates sit at around 67%, partly because one in four have security concerns when buying from a website for the first time.

Here are four simple things you can do to help build trust with your customers:

1. Choose your domain wisely

This may sound simple but is increasingly important.  Choose a domain extension (TLD) that is familiar and recognisable. Consumers are much more likely to buy from a .com domain than a .so domain for example. Research by Nominet, shows that 81% of British users prefer to buy from a .co.uk site, and only 5% prefer buying from a .com to a .co.uk. The reasons are straightforward: .co.uk site owners are more likely to be British companies, they are more likely to comply with UK law, they are more likely to have reasonable delivery costs, and so on. A complicated local domain can sometimes be better than a catchy foreign alternative!

2. Purchase a Security Certificate

Security (SSL) Certificates primarily encrypt the connection between a site visitor and the web server, vital when transmitting any personal data. They are the cause of the https:// address and padlocks in your browser, which you may have seen while browsing online banks and shops. However, certificates have a secondary benefit which would alone justify their use: to obtain one you are required to verify your identity. This is usually a simple process that takes a few minutes, but one which definitively proves you are a legitimate business. Such a small task (and cost, usually around £50 per year) has a large impact. Symantec research has showed that 80% of users know that the padlock is a sign of encryption, and three quarters of users have abandoned a transaction because they felt it was insecure. I personally secure my entire site, even parts that don’t take any personal data, with a certificate.

3. Write an “About Us” page

My clients often come to me and ask for advice on how they can attract more sales. I’m no web designer, but I sometimes look at sites and find them to be totally impersonal. A common mistake in the online world is to pretend to be bigger than you are. There is no need. If you are a legitimate business, tell the world and people will like you. Even though the online world can seem anonymous, shoppers still want to know they are buying from people. A great example is lingscars.com (of Dragon’s Den fame). Whatever you think of it, the personality really comes through. Her visitors want to buy from Ling the person, not just the company.

The easiest way to achieve this is to add an ‘about us’ page. Give a bit of a history of your business, and some information about yourself. Your visitors will get to know you and that can’t fail to help your relationships.

4. Testimonials

For years we used to features testimonials directly on our website, but we found that our visitors didn’t believe they were legitimate, and even if they did they assumed they were a biased reflection of our business. To get round this, we included a link to a third party on our website, so that customers could leave reviews elsewhere, for example on Trustpilot I have reviews for Tsohost.com: http://www.trustpilot.co.uk/review/tsohost.com.

Linking to a third party review site has legitimised our reputation, as it’s clear we have no influence over the reviews that are posted. A survey by Nielson of 28,000 people, highlighted that online reviews from unknown people are the second most trusted form of advertising. The setup cost for Trustpilot is minimal but there are other alternatives: reviewcentre.com and google.com/reviews for example.

In Summary

These are just four of many steps you can take to help build trust with your site visitors. It is very easy to set up a site that looks the part, but the devil is always in the detail. Little tweaks can have a huge impact on how the online community perceive you and your website.