In the US, the eCommerce industry grew by 15% in 2016 and this trend shows no sign of going down. Yet, with online business doing so well, it may come as a surprise to discover that its growth is being hampered by some serious trust issues.
Nearly half of consumers in a global survey said they don’t shop online because they don’t trust it and they are worried about cybercrime. What’s more, 79% of people in another survey stated they don’t trust the way their data is being used online and that they want more control over it.
So how should businesses respond to this? As a Jersey solicitor who specialises in commerce and corporate law, I’ve spent my entire career advising businesses on how they can act within the law in order to gain the trust of consumers. I often give legal advice, but many of the things eCommerce businesses need to do in order to be seen as more trustworthy have nothing to do with the law and everything to do with public image.
1. Recognise the Scale of the Problem
Whether or not these fears are rational, or whether or not any of this is the fault of businesses, is beside the point. Statistically speaking, cybercrime is quite rare and the general worldwide trend is that cybercrime is going down. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an issue. In the UK, one in ten people were victims of some kind of cybercrime in 2016 alone. This crime ranges from hacked accounts to instances of fraud that can cost the victim a small fortune.
As for privacy worries, you could also argue this isn’t really the fault of small to medium-sized eCommerce businesses. Rather, government surveillance and the complicated, wafer-thin privacy policies of social media websites are to blame for these concerns. Once again, though, this doesn’t matter; perception is what matters. Until eCommerce businesses realise how badly all of this perception will affect their bottom line, they stand to lose millions while they haphazardly pass the blame elsewhere.
2. Explain How Your Website Is Safe
3. Stay Ahead of the Game
Stepping away from the law for a moment, one of the best ways to ensure the safety of your eCommerce website is to make sure that it is a HTTPS domain and not a HTTP domain. For a lot of websites, it isn’t necessary. Security only matters if you’re handling secure information.
However, eCommerce businesses do handle sensitive information. Card details, email addresses and account details are all submitted to millions of eCommerce websites across the world every day. Even if your business operates under some model where you don’t handle sensitive information on your website — perhaps you just have a phone number — perception trumps here once again.
Trends like these are important to keep on top of. A well-known aphorism in the eCommerce world is that a three-year-old website with no updates is basically a dinosaur. With regards to security, this aphorism is even more apt.
4. Respect the Power of Social Media
Some would argue that “all press is good press”. In 1994, McDonald’s served coffee to an elderly woman at 88℃, resulting in third-degree burns over her legs, skin surgery, and two years of medical care. In 2017, the public perception of the case is that the lawsuit was frivolous. McDonald’s was able to make the coverage about the mistake the woman made, rather than the mistakes it made.
Social media changes all this. The United Airlines scandal which quickly went viral because of social media shows the power the consumer now has. United’s own spin on the story, that the passenger was being aggressive, was proved false by the evidence which another passenger recorded. United had to back down from its previous position and apologise. All press is no longer good press.
With regards to trust, eCommerce businesses need to realise that social media is not always on their side. It can be, of course. Talking directly to your customers via a social media channel makes your business seem less like a faceless entity and more like a group of people. It’s a lot easier to trust a person than it is to trust an impersonal eCommerce business with an impersonal website.
Trying too hard, though, can be just as bad as not trying at all. In 2014, big businesses learnt this lesson the hard way when the Twitter account “Brands Saying Bae” began pointing out how stupid big businesses looked when they tried to engage with younger people using their slang. Picture an old uncle at a family gathering trying to talk about modern hip-hop or internet memes with his unimpressed nephews; this is the internet equivalent of that.
Businesses need to walk a balance. Nando’s didn’t create the “cheeky Nando’s” phenomenon, but it definitely embraced it. It boils down to brand voice. If your company has successfully developed a reputation for a certain personality, that personality needs to be cultivated with consistency. Suddenly using social media in a way that’s inconsistent with the rest of your company’s public outreach will do the opposite of create trust. It will rouse suspicion in a generation of customers who have the power to destroy your company’s image by making wit or damning evidence go viral.
Perhaps the best example of a sustained attitude towards brand voice on social media is Apple. Apple is perceived as a minimalist, stubborn and proudly elitist company who don’t play nice with other tech giants. So the fact that, as of 2017, they have yet to send out a single Tweet (despite having a verified account and nearly a million followers) is the Apple brand voice in a nutshell.
5. Know the Law
For customers to trust you, they need to trust that you are following the law to the letter. To follow the law to the letter, you need to know the law to the letter. This is easier said than done, though, as eCommerce is still a baby in the eyes of the law. This means that if a law gets made in 2017, it won’t necessarily exist in the same form in 2027. In fact, quite a lot might have changed.
This problem is somewhat unique to eCommerce, as its such a new industry. Because offline commerce hasn’t gone through any seismic changes in the last 30 years, the law surrounding it hasn’t changed a huge amount in the last 30 years. The same is not true for eCommerce. The industry went from not existing in 1988 to being worth over $22 trillion in less than thirty years.
Lawmakers are struggling to keep up with such rapid growth, as the controversial rise of the sharing economy shows. While Uber’s taxi service, AirBnb’s accommodation service, or Deliveroo’s food delivery service may well be unethical, it’s hard to argue that they’re illegal (or legal) because the law surrounding what they do is still being written. Different lawyers in different countries are saying different things at different times.
This brings us to the issue of national vs. international law. Added to the issue created by its youth, eCommerce law is also complicated because of the fact that national law applies to something which doesn’t appear to have a nation. It’s hard to believe that the likes of Facebook, YouTube or Amazon have to adapt their global business models to the countries in which they operate, but they do.
Though this gets complicated fast. In the US, for example, this can even apply to a state level. Offline gun sales in America are regulated by the state in which the sale takes place. Online, “the state in which the sale takes place” is a tricky thing to define.
It’s hard to say whether an “Uber for guns” would be against the law in the US or not. We’d have to see what would happen if that business model took off and how lawmakers and lawyers would react.
Trust is a fluid and tricky thing, especially when it comes to eCommerce. There are no shortcuts to achieving trust. Businesses need to be trustworthy as well as act trustworthy. Just doing the former will mean that all your good work remains in the shadows. Just doing the latter will means that, when the mask your public image falls, your customers may never trust you again.
Bio: Mason Birbeck is a specialist in eCommerce and corporate law. As a solicitor in Jersey, Mason is the Head of Corporate Law at Parslows, where he works with Jersey-based businesses.