Trust is the foundation of every successful sale. Today’s shoppers have countless options available at the click of a mouse, and business owners can track every click. But the most crucial measure—trust—is harder to fully understand.
How does trust develop for shoppers when they purchase a new product online or buy from an online store they’re unaccustomed to? What elements of an online store’s experience are trust builders or trust deal breakers?
What makes an online store seem trustworthy
At Shopify, we continually study those very questions. Last year, our teams conducted a series of in-depth interviews with a diverse set of North American shoppers, asking them to walk us through their recent online purchase experiences.
We sat with each shopper for one hour and asked them to review a recent purchase, involving either a product they’ve never bought before or a store they’ve never bought from before. We also asked them to make a real purchase of up to $40 on a Shopify store they’ve never bought from before.
We wanted to understand what makes a new shopper comfortable purchasing a new item or buying from an unfamiliar store. Specifically, we wanted to learn:
- How does trust form for shoppers assessing a purchase of a new item on a new store?
- Which pages or elements on your store are most important for building trust with shoppers?
After analyzing their actions during these purchases, we noticed a few patterns. This allowed us to pinpoint design elements that are trust breakers and trust builders in online stores.
Trust builders are elements or design details that reassure shoppers—they quell doubts and help shoppers feel relaxed about making a purchase. Trust breakers fill shoppers with apprehension, making them question the validity and authenticity of the business and creating doubt as to whether making a purchase is a safe choice.
Today, we’re sharing our findings so you can increase the trustworthiness of your online store and increase the likelihood of a first-time shopper buying from your site. We’re also sharing a simple checklist you can follow as you tweak your website.
What Shopify’s research says about building customer trust
Gaining customer trust starts with the first impression. Building trust continues with the information you share and the social proof that backs up your claims.
Our findings show there are five essential ways an online store can establish and increase customer trust:
- Ace the first impression with your homepage
- Provide customers with essential information
- Share your story and why the business started
- Show current customer satisfaction
- Ensure the transaction is transparent and easy
1. Ace the first impression with your homepage
🔍 What the customer is asking: Does this website feel safe? Can I find what I’m looking for and navigate this site easily?
🎯 Business goal: Create a welcoming homepage and establish the overall look and feel of your store on the first visit.
We found shoppers are more critical of a store’s design and layout on their first visit, regardless of whether they’re looking for an item they’ve never purchased or a product they’re already familiar with. Since your homepage often serves as a digital welcome mat, it’s a vital location for building customer trust and should focus on acing the first impression, as well as providing guidance for where shoppers can head next.
Our findings show there are essential must-have elements that shoppers seek out when evaluating a homepage, along with nice-to-have details that can further tip the scales in your favor—though only after the must-haves are in place. Throughout this piece we’ll separate these two groups so you know what to prioritize.
- Content that is consistent and polished, with high-quality photography and error-free copy present across the site
- A layout that is clean and uncluttered (important for North American shoppers)
- Category navigation that is easy to understand and use across all devices
- Category names in your navigation that are clear and easy to understand (e.g., Shop, Women, Men, About, Contact, etc.)
- When selling internationally, copy and content translated into the shopper’s language and prices listed in the local currency
- Fast-loading pages across your store, with no errors (shoppers usually only notice performance issues when pages are slow or broken)
Example: How Hat Club’s homepage eases apprehension
Take Hat Club, a business that sells a mix of branded and licensed hats. One of the store’s competitive advantages is its Hat Club Membership, a loyalty program that allows customers to get hats at a discounted price. To build trust with shoppers and incentivize repeat sales, it needs to get each visitor past the front page, deeper into the site, and present the loyalty program as a value-added perk.
What is Hat Club doing well with its homepage design?
- The layout is clean and the navigation is simple, which encourages shoppers to dive deeper into the site and closer to making a purchase
- It showcases a unique offer with its specialty hats section, listed under “This week’s drops”
2. Provide customers with essential information
🔍 What the customer is asking: Does this product solve my problem?Is it well made and the right size or dimensions? Is the price fair, and can I afford it?
🎯 Business goal: Make product information easy to discover with detailed product pages, accurate search results, and collection pages.
Once a new shopper navigates away from the homepage, we found they typically head straight to a product page. The product page is where shoppers evaluate a product’s value, whether they’re visiting a new store or a store they’re familiar with.
The right layout and design elements on your product page make it easier for customers to determine if each product offers the value they’re looking for. Images, descriptions, sizing charts, stock and inventory details, and information about shipping and taxes draw outsized attention from customers.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to designing the perfect product page, our findings once again show there are cardinal details to consider for building trust, regardless of your industry.
- A variety of product photos for each product page
- Product descriptions organized into distinct sections for readability
- A size chart, preferably with size conversions, on your product page, when appropriate
- Recent product reviews on the product page
- Return policy and shipping information included on the product page
- A product video included on the product page
- Desktop only: a “quick view” option on collections that allows customers to view the product without opening the product page
Example: EM Cosmetics lets its photography speak a thousand words
EM Cosmetics is a makeup brand that inspires self expression through its products. Beauty products affect a customer’s appearance and can even influence their identity, so it’s important that customers are able to envision the results of using each item.
To build trust with its customers, EM Cosmetics needs to clearly explain how its products meet the needs of each shopper—not only with product photos but also through specific-use cases and examples. So the brand highlights its reviews section as a complement to its detailed descriptions and animated product visuals.
What is EM Cosmetics doing well with its product page?
- The description and layout are clear and concise with the use of sections and subheadings
- The shopper can find the measurement of the product in both milliliters and fluid ounces
- The number of product reviews and current rating is presented clearly at the top
- On other product pages where the item is out of stock, there is an option to sign up for an email alert once more stock arrives
3. Share your story and why the business started
🔍 What the customer is asking: Is this an upstanding business? Does it treat its customers fairly?
🎯 Business goal: Help the shopper feel reassured this is a legitimate business. If you have a mission or values, share your brand story and why the business was started.
We found that shoppers want to navigate to an About Us page to learn more about the brand—and the people—behind the products. An About Us page should offer up answers to quell the two curiosities that shoppers have.
First, interest in a brand’s About Us page piques when someone is suspicious about whether the store is real or authentic. Shoppers often are trying to make sure a business will be around for the long term and won’t suddenly close up shop. This is why a Contact page can be useful: by listing a contact phone number, email, and retail location (if there is one), it offers shoppers reassurance.
Second, many customers are interested in the business’s mission and purpose and if they share any values with the business (e.g., sustainability). They will turn to the About Us page to learn more about who they’re buying from and, for more socially conscious customers, how the business is run.
- An About Us page
- A Contact page
- A phone number included on the Contact page
- A detailed story of the brand included on the About Us page
- A professional email associated with the store domain included on the contact page (e.g., email@example.com and not firstname.lastname@example.org)
- An option to contact support via an online chat
- When appropriate, the address of the merchant’s physical location(s) included on the contact page
Example: Tease connects with customers by sharing its principles
Tease is a brand that specializes in sustainably sourced loose leaf tea. But Tease, like many modern brands, is about more than what it sells. The brand’s purpose and principles—which include a firm commitment to sustainably source its products and empower women through its Charitea Program—are as intrinsic to the company as its catalog of flavorful teas. That’s a story worth telling, and one it skillfully shares on its About page.
What is Tease doing well with its About Us page?
- It puts its value-based brand message front and center
- It’s detailed and structured for the shopper to learn about its mission and values
- It clearly explains its founding story and who the founder is
Example: Kotn is building trust with a Contact page
Kotn is a brand making apparel from authentic, ethically sourced Egyptian cotton, which it sells in its online store and in its Canadian retail locations. Kotn builds trust on the oft-overlooked Contact page by letting customers reach it through their preferred channel, and by surfacing all of the necessary details, along with providing guidance around which path is best, depending on the customer’s question.
What is Kotn doing well with its Contact page?
- Listing a professional email address allows customers to get in touch with support
- Providing links to its social media
- Listing a direct contact method for both email and phone for its retail locations
4. Show current customer satisfaction
🔍 What the customer is asking: Do other customers think the product is as described? Does the business treat its customers fairly?
🎯 Business goal: Provide customers with the social proof they’re looking for about your brand and its products.
Our research found shoppers greatly value the reassurance they get through impartial customer and store reviews—unsurprisingly, they pay close attention to what previous customers have to say.
When considering a purchase on a new website, shoppers want to read reviews on product pages, external sites and marketplaces, and social media before completing the transaction. Specifically, shoppers look for any inconsistencies or explicit warnings from previous customers, or feedback that contradicts what a business says on its website. On social media, shoppers may, for example, use mental math to figure out if the ratio of Instagram followers to likes feels authentic.
It’s essential business owners understand that community sentiment can be what makes or breaks the decision to purchase a product.
- Positive product reviews that have a rating of 70% or more
- Product reviews posted on social media that are mostly positive (e.g., reviews shared on Instagram, YouTube, etc.)
- Product reviews that are descriptive and with customer ratings
- A social media following on Instagram, Facebook, or other platforms
- Positive store reviews on external websites like Google, Facebook, Yelp, Trust Pilot, Amazon, eBay, etc.
- Product reviews on product pages that include photos
- Product reviews for clothing/accessories/health and beauty that include the reviewer’s description of themselves (so shoppers can relate to review more)
- Product reviews that include a video of the product
- Links to the store’s social media profiles that are easily visible in the store
Tip: Browse the Shopify App Store for a product reviews app that lets your customers upload multimedia to product reviews.
Example: EM Cosmetics eases customer curiosities with reviews
EM Cosmetics builds social proof through product reviews and, specifically, by encouraging customers to attach photos and other details. This transparency from reviewers opens them up to critiques and criticism, but it also instills trust in future shoppers and gives them the chance to discover a review that helps them say, “That’s just like me.”
What is EM Cosmetics doing well with product reviews?
- Ratings & Reviews section clearly summarizes the product as five-star with 100% product recommendation
- Product reviews include a photo of the product taken by the customer
- The reviewer has provided their own description of the product
- The product reviewer is asked to provide a description of themselves, helping other customers relate and simplify buying decisions
- When you use a search engine and look for “em cosmetics review,” multiple videos reviewing the brand and products are listed as well as product and store review articles published on popular websites
Community sentiment can be what makes or breaks the decision to purchase a product.
5. Ensure the transaction is transparent and easy
🔍 What the customer is asking: What is the cost of delivery and how much are taxes or duty going to be? Are the payment options familiar and secure, and do they function well?
🎯 Business goal: Remove customer doubts and risk when calculating the total cost at shipping and payment.
As the saying goes, “Price is what you pay, and value is what you get.” While high-quality photography and compelling copy help communicate product value, shoppers also want to easily access the total price they’ll pay—with all discounts and fees included—as early in the purchase as possible.
Price is fairly straightforward, but there is lots of subjectivity to what a product costs and how valuable a customer feels it is. That means adding context around price, and reducing unnecessary surprises, is a valuable way to build trust.
- A return policy that is clear and easy to understand
- When shipping internationally, a shipping policy that clearly states who pays duties and taxes
- Surface shipping costs on the online store
- Ability to apply discount codes in the cart
- Ability for the shopper to edit the cart’s content
- Familiar payment methods (such as PayPal and Shop Pay)
- Optional order status tracking
- Rewards and discounts for future sales, surfaced on the order confirmation page
- Easy access to the contact page in case order editing is needed
- For international stores, a language and currency switcher
Example: L.L. Bean builds shopper trust through transparency in transactions
L.L. Bean, an outdoors apparel retailer renowned for its generous return policy, has traditionally gone to great lengths to keep customers satisfied. For a brand with a mission and values grounded in loyalty and satisfaction, it’s vital that it puts all of the information about a transaction right up front on product pages and during checkout so there are no surprises when placing an order.
What is L.L. Bean doing to show the transaction is easy?
- Clearly communicating tax inclusion for shipping across borders
- Offering a free shipping policy and the ability to find out more details, like estimated shipping speed and return policies
- Highlighting a trusted and familiar payment provider (PayPal) at the top of the checkout page
- Clearly stating total cost before finalizing orders by breaking down all discounts and fees
Customers reward businesses they trust
Customer trust is frequently a blind spot for businesses—especially newly formed businesses—because founders don’t question their own trustworthiness. And when you’re fulfilling promises made to customers and telling true facts and stories in your marketing, why would you ever consider yourself “untrustworthy”? But it’s important to remember that trust is a matter of perception and something every business has to earn.
Over time, your business can build trust by way of many satisfied customers and positive word of mouth. By then, your reputation will precede you and the finer details of your site may not have to do such heavy lifting. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate proven best practices to make your site feel familiar, reliable, and clear. Doing so will put shoppers at ease, make it easier to buy from your store, and potentially unlock step level growth for your business.