10 Ways to Establish Trust on Ecommerce Sites and Apps

Establish trust

Organizations in all industries are seeing a decline in consumer trust. We have moved away from traditional sources of expertise and turned to the web as a vehicle of verification. These days, we trust our peers more and look to the recommendations, reviews, and experiences of fellow shoppers to establish trust in a brand.

So, how do you demonstrate that your app or your client’s website can be trusted? It’s a question that’s important at any time of year, and especially as we head into the holiday shopping season. In this article, we’ll look at 10 strategies to help you or your clients establish trust.

The challenge of trust

Trust is changing. As users and consumers look towards their peers for reviews, problems emerge. Brand and content strategy consultant Margot Bloomstein, author of the book Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap, warns that false reviews and filter bubble awareness have sullied the recommendations we see online.

“Why don’t we all see the same reviews?” she asks. “Why should the choices of friends influence the ads and news we see? Isn’t it safer to just turn inward and go on gut instinct? That skepticism and cynicism can bog down brands trying to engage consumers. Why should they bother with your blog or even open marketing emails if you’re just pushing the latest and greatest?”

"Trust is the first principle of conversion."

In this kind of environment, building trust with customers is key—especially since trust is the first principle of conversion, according to Alex O’Byrne, co-founder of Shopify Plus Experts, We Make Websites. Luckily, there are various steps you can take to establish trust on your clients’ ecommerce sites or your apps, to reassure and engage customers.

1. Make a good first impression

We Make Websites co-founder Alex O’Byrne pointed out that art director and graphic designer Paul Rand once called design “the silent ambassador of your brand,” and so trust begins with making a good first impression.

"Trust begins with making a good first impression."

“In the age of mobile, that means ensuring that the website looks beautiful across all device sizes,” O’Byrne explains. “It should be fast, with easy-to-absorb content, inspiring imagery, and simple navigation.”

Next, the website needs to showcase your client’s products in an informative way. That means clear imagery from multiple angles (more on that below) and product descriptions that outline everything a customer might want to know about the product, including care, delivery, returns, and guarantee information.

Of course the site also needs to be fast. Web performance is a hot topic right now, and if your client’s site is slower than Amazon, it’ll impact their credibility.

You might also like: App Performance: How the Wiser Team is Keeping Stores Fast.

2. Use trust signals

If your client’s business is not a household name, one of the biggest challenges you have to overcome is the visitor’s fear of buying from a smaller business, advises SEO consultant and trainer Danny Richman.

“Use clear trust signals such as third-party reviews (such as TrustPilot), security seals, free returns, and a physical location on your contact page to reduce any perceived risk,” he suggests. “Even adding a picture of the client or their team to the ‘About Us’ page can provide some extra reassurance.”

Also, use subconscious trust signals like well-written copy and high-quality images. 

“Visitors instinctively know that an unscrupulous company is unlikely to invest in good design,” Richman explains. “Once a client knows that they have a product people want, at a price they are willing to pay, they should invest as much as they can afford in creating the best possible online experience.”

Alex O’Byrne adds that humans are social animals that trust the opinions of others, and suggests using social proof like customer reviews and recent press to convince visitors of the business’ worth.

Ultimately, the more transparent designers are (this also includes the attribution of stock photos and colophons for content), the more likely we are to trust them as legitimate.

3. Show off the products

People tend to rely on engaging visuals to help drive their purchases, finds Amanda Loftis, digital content creator, copywriter, and graphic designer.

“No matter what you're selling, good-looking photos help build trust and credibility,” she points out, and recommends really focusing your efforts on making your clients’ products look great. 

No matter what you're selling, good-looking photos help build trust and credibility.

Amanda Loftis, digital content creator

“Since online buyers might not have the option to experience your products in-person, it's important to draw them in with great product photos.”

Even if you don't have the resources to set up elaborate photoshoots to showcase your clients’ products, Loftis suggests at least making sure product photos are clear, crisp, and well-lit. Bonus points for lightly stylized shots of products next to a plant or another beautiful prop!

Screenshot of Parc Boutique main webpage, six models wearing product in a grid format
Parc Boutique displays their products on models, and the lighting, model positioning, and overall look is consistent across all images.

4. Show empathy for your users to establish trust

The best way to gain trust is to show empathy for your users, finds digital project management consultant Brett Harned.

"The best way to gain trust is to show empathy for your users."

He explains that this means understanding what your users need and offering helpful and easy-to-find tutorials, help docs, and even educational material that will help them not only use your app like a pro, but also succeed in their roles.

“If we want to build empathy into the UX of our products, we have to imagine and visualize ourselves and others using the products, day-in and day-out,” writes Marcela Sapone, CEO and co-founder of home service startup Hello Alfred, in her article Designing UX for Trust.

“We have to consider where and when we’d use the products and if our designs hold up,” she explains. “What value have we created with this micro-interaction to earn the right to a users’ valuable time and attention? Also, if we’re repeatedly asking a customer to provide the same information they’ve already submitted several times, we’re not being empathetic. Can we display their saved preferences — at the perfect time in the right context — and earn goodwill instead?”

Screenshot of InVisions product page showcasing six different ebooks in a grid format
InVisions’ DesignBetter.co features books, guides, a podcast, in-person workshops, and a community section that elevates the roles and conversations, and gives users a place to find their people.

5. Follow usability principles

Building trust with users and clients is the most important task designers face. UX designer Rachel Anderson advises that the first principle designers need to follow to create products that users trust is to recognize that usability and accessibility are the foundations of building trust through design.

Users will only trust systems they can understand.

Rachel Anderson, UX designer

“Users will only trust systems they can understand,” Anderson explains. “We can facilitate this by offering translation options, minimizing technical jargon, and conducting user research. If we understand our users, they will understand us.”

The second principle is to be clear in your messaging: “Tell users exactly why a page won’t print or load, and ensure privacy, prices, and policies are absolutely clear.”

Finally, Anderson recommends “creating with kindness,” which means avoiding dark patterns, not forcing decisions, and giving the user freedom and control. 

Remember, users will trust products that help them accomplish their goals.

Rachel Anderson, UX designer

“Remember, users will trust products that help them accomplish their goals,” she says. “As designers, we have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to build trust by designing products and systems that are usable and accessible for everyone. Now that’s what I call ‘pixel perfect,’”

You might also like: Why, How, and When to Utilize Usability Testing.

6. Make the ecommerce experience accessible

For the 15 to 20 percent of people who are disabled, trust is a crucial part of using sites and apps, highlights Devon Persing, a Technical Program Manager specializing in UX and accessibility at Shopify.

“If a user has difficulty using a product because they are disabled, they may feel a loss of trust in that product or brand,” she explains. “Using semantic markup and code standards is important for accessibility, but so is the impact on usability. Ambiguous messages, unclear instructions, complex custom controls, reliance on visuals, and inconsistency may be barriers.”

Persing also points out that though accessibility is often considered a technical problem, it's actually a product problem. 

"Though accessibility is often considered a technical problem, it's actually a product problem."

“It starts with planning, then continues through design, development, and feedback from users. Making accessibility work part of each stage of the product life cycle is crucial, and so is getting—and acting on—feedback from users.”

To start, check out these resources:

Screenshot of Accessibility for Teams main webpage that allows the user to choose the accessibility guide that best fits their role
Accessibility for Teams features guides on product management, content, UX, and visual design, as well as front-end development.

You might also like: 5 Steps to Design Apps with Keyboard Accessibility in Mind.

7. Show vulnerability

Brand and content strategy consultant Margot Bloomstein recommends that, in order to engage customers and establish trust, you should use a mix of vulnerability and validation.

“Vulnerability is a buzzword often shared in earnest tones among words like ‘empathy’ and ‘authenticity,’” she admits. “But how can you practice vulnerability in design?”

Bloomstein suggests first toning down the polish. That doesn’t mean you should embrace typos, but to go ahead with the soft launch: share and label sites, new products, and apps in beta, so your users know the team behind the brand is working to create something better for them.

“Even Shopify does this, such as when it first launched multilingual support. Was it perfect? No. But was that a reason to delay—or an opportunity to launch and gather input?”

Beyond beta launches, Bloomstein recommends embracing language that speaks simply and in the first person about decision-making processes:

Saying, “We’ve decided to delay the release,” engenders interest, sympathy, and support in a way that, “Due to shipping issues, the release will be delayed,” never can.

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8. Validate customers’ beliefs

Another way to establish trust is to meet customers where they are, and move them to your client’s offering by validating their beliefs, emotions, and lived experiences.

“You can play a role in rebuilding the trust of your client’s consumers not by ignoring the negative experiences they had, but by acknowledging and validating their beliefs,” Margot Bloomstein explains. 

You can play a role in rebuilding the trust of your client’s consumers not by ignoring the negative experiences they had, but by acknowledging and validating their beliefs.

Margot Bloomstein, brand and content strategy consultant

Consider how America’s Test Kitchen begins many educational articles, she suggests as a strong example. Though the research powerhouse is eager to bring its latest discoveries to home cooks, many articles start by acknowledging their frustration (‘We’ve all been there’, and ‘If you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place.’). 

“In the article, How to Use a Digital Thermometer and Never Overcook Meat Again, the shared experience is right in the title; the secret to success is right there in the subtitle. The Test Kitchen builds on those bad experiences, using common vocabulary and the readers’ current mindsets as points of departure for new ideas and further reading,” she explains.

“Education drives empowerment,” Bloomstein concludes—and by empowering users’ confidence, your client’s brand will reap the reward in greater trust.

9. Build trust over the long term

The two elements most often missing from a discussion about building trust online are time and team communication, found user experience expert JD Graffam.

“A lot of folks talk about establishing trust through a user interface by designing things that feel human, sound human, and convey transparency,” he says. “This is good, practical advice. But in real life, we know that trust takes a long time to establish and very little to undermine. More than a decade ago, my wife and I learned about the 5:1 ratio for a healthy relationship. This principle applies to establishing trust in anything, not just marriage—it’s just as true when you run an online business.”

In real life, we know that trust takes a long time to establish and very little to undermine.

JD Graffam, UX expert

You have to stay focused on every interaction you have with your customers over a long period of time, Graffam suggests. “It’s way easier to screw up than it is to get it right. This is easy for founders and small teams to handle, because a founder or small group of people with shared values will naturally act consistently.”

10. Be consistent with a brand’s communication and its values

JD Graffam also recommended that, as a business grows, it must invest in internal communications around its brands and values.

“A growing team must know what the business stands for, otherwise they won’t consistently represent it,” he warns. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a designer, customer support person, marketing specialist, developer, or contractor—everyone on the team needs to know what the brand stands for, so they can treat the customers consistently. Consistency over time is the key to earning trust.

Consistency over time is the key to earning trust.

JD Graffam, UX expert

“Building any business takes time, because earning the customers’ trust takes time. Consistency takes time. I run several SaaS businesses, online stores, and two agencies. In each business, I take the long-term approach. Once trust is established, it lasts decades, way longer than it takes to read an email, tap a button, and enter some payment details. If you’re like me and want to build a generational business, then take the time and spend the energy it takes to earn your customers’ trust. Don’t screw it up by being short sighted.”

Trust is the first principle of conversion

In today’s world of misleading privacy practices and fake news, establishing trust on an ecommerce site or app has become crucial. If you get it right and earn your or your client’s customers’ trust, it can give conversions a powerful boost.

First impressions and the professional quality of the site’s/app’s design are essential factors, just as their performance and security will reassure users. Don’t forget to show empathy to users, and make your experiences usable, accessible, and consistent. But remember to be patient, too—building a trustworthy image takes time.

What methods do you use to establish trust with the products you create? Let us know your insights in the comments below!

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