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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Can You Trust Online Stores?

February 16th, 2009

Can you trust online stores you are doing business with? Lately I’ve been on a mission to get my business certified as a green web design company. As part of that effort, I have been doing research online into how exactly to accomplish this. I wound up on one online store that looked legitimate and I started to purchase carbon offsets. I quickly lost trust in the online store and wanted to share with you the red flags I found.

The first red flag I found, was when I tried to check out, and got to the page where you enter your name and billing information. My browser (Firefox) gave me this warning:

Security Warning

Your have requested an encrypted page that contains some unencrypted information. Information that you see or enter on this page could easily be read by a third party.

Now, since I work with online stores, I know that sometimes these warnings are triggered by very benign issues, so I went ahead to the next step in the process since it hadn’t asked me for my credit card info yet.

The second red flag, was that the online store was charging me $9.95 for shipping. Now, I was purchasing carbon offsets – meaning that there was literally nothing that was being shipped to me. Not wanting to get charged for shipping when there was nothing being shipped, I stopped the checkout process and started looking for a phone number to call.

The third red flag, was that the phone number I found didn’t work.

So I emailed the company telling them about all of these issues. This was a Saturday.

On Monday, I got a phone call (from a wireless number, according to my caller id) from the company. Even though I had detailed all of the above issues in an email, they wanted to know what my problems were.

I told them about the security issue, and they assured me their store was secure. I politely informed them that, no, it wasn’t. Until my browser warning goes away, the store is not secure. They said they would relay this to their “technical staff”.

They also told me that since my purchase was under $50, I was being charged shipping – even though nothing was being shipped – they said, sorry, that’s the way the online store is set up. They offered to give me a refund after I made the purchase. They were not the least concerned about charging other people for shipping when nothing was being shipped.

Then they said that their website was being completely redesigned and that it would be done “next week” and all these issues would be fixed.

Lastly, I told them about their non-working phone number, and they said, yes, it was fixed now. (I called to verify this, and while it was working, it was a voicemail for a person – it didn’t mention the company name at all).

I asked the company if they would email me when their online store was secure, and they said they would, and then simply hung up.

Since I develop online stores for my clients and do quite a bit of online shopping, I am always on the lookout for online stores ways of conveying trust – telling their prospective customers through all kinds of ways that they can trust their online store. But trust must be earned, and when you encounter a security warning, unwarranted shipping charges, and a disconnected phone number, you’re inclined to take your business elsewhere. With online stores, details matter!

I ended up purchasing my carbon offsets from a different company, whose website was secure, who didn’t attempt to charge me shipping, and who had a real live person at the other end of the phone.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

2 Responses to “Can You Trust Online Stores?”

  1. Evie Seifu Says:

    Hi…thank you for this article. I wondered if you could right about what are the things to look for that helps to build trust when you are a new store. How can one convey this to potential customers that don’t know about your product or the company?
    Thank you,

  2. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Evie,
    I think there are many articles written about shopping cart abandonment. I’d say the store has to appear trustworthy (professional, privacy policy, return policy, address, phone, valid SSL, etc) and also be user friendly (ie, easy to navigate, not force customers to create an account, etc). So trust and usability are important, because confusion causes people to leave just like mistrust does.

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