Building Consumer Trust in an Online Marketplace

So much has changed in the last six months. As public health concerns impact our behaviors, retailers of all kinds are learning to adapt to “the new normal” by moving their businesses online as much as possible. For some, this is an entirely new sales and marketing paradigm, while others have a head start and online retail experience. From creating and maintaining online marketplaces to finding ways to connect with consumers digitally, there’s a lot to learn.

One of our consistent interests at Eidson & Partners is the building and sustaining of consumer trust. Trust is one of the most valuable currencies in marketing as it enables fruitful relationships and turns loyal customers into brand evangelists. But what does trust mean in a world that is (for the time being, at least) mostly digital? Without in-person or in-store experiences, how do retailers who are newly reliant on online marketplaces establish and maintain trust?

Who Can You Trust?

Months ago, I came across a fascinating source of wisdom about trust and the internet. Rachel Botsman’s terrific book, Who Can You Trust?, is a well-researched glimpse into the current, chaotic state of trust in institutions, businesses, and the media. Botsman describes an era of “distributed trust” in which, while we see record-low trust in institutions, consumers are still willing to share personal information on the internet or through platforms like Uber, Airbnb, and others.

“Whenever you’re asking someone to try a new product or service, you’re asking them to take a ‘trust leap’,” Botsman says during her talk at the 2019 DLDconference. “When we aren’t able to take a ‘trust leap,’ it’s because we don’t have faith in the company, product, (or) technology behind the product. What happens is that we get stuck in a sea of uncertainty.” In today’s world, when so much feels uncertain, how do we inspire faith and trust?

Transparency, Inclusivity, & Accountability

The answer, as Botsman explores throughout an impressive body of work, is in cultivating transparency, inclusivity, and accountability. And there’s one powerful instance in which all of these aspects come together to motivate consumer trust, and that’s user reviews. In a piece for Medium about trust and retailers on the “dark web,” Botsman asserts that it’s the presence of user feedback about the businesses lurking in the corners of the internet that enables them to continue to thrive.

User reviews achieve the holy grail of transparency, inclusivity, and accountability by allowing consumers who have had direct experience with your brand to share it publicly, personally, and without interference. Consumers are able to hear from others just like them about the results of doing business with your company. In short, user reviews give customers who have already made the “trust leap” with your business a platform to convey their experience to those who are still considering making that leap.

Shopify’s Success Story

One company that has achieved tremendous success during a difficult year for retail is Shopify. The e-commerce platform has not only grown itself but provided an opportunity for its users to continue their growth as well. Shopify posted a 47% increase in sales in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the previous year and has continued to see steady growth. Tellingly, one of Shopify’s main features is the ability for users to review the online marketplaces they access through its platform.

While consumers may often be stuck at home, they still want and need to interact with the larger world, and the internet is giving them an outlet. Businesses that are pivoting towards online marketplaces are making a smart choice, and platforms like Shopify provide an opportunity to continue reaching consumers in this difficult time. Those companies that work towards Rachel Botsman’s ideal of “transparency, inclusivity, and accountability” will be rewarded with the trust of consumers both now and into the future.


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