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Security: How Trustworthy Is Your Site?

Good web sites establish trust. Online shoppers can be a very skeptical bunch. They've been trained by the media to expect all kinds of online scams that are waiting to pick their pockets. Even if you've given them a reason to buy from you, now they have to trust you enough to plunk down their money.

Build Trust in Your Site with Shoppers

Shoppers are looking for proof that your site is trustworthy to deal with. A good way to do this is join TRUSTe or the Better Business Bureau (BBB). TRUSTe certifies that the personal information a shopper provides to a site is protected. Membership in the Better Business Bureau shows that you abide by the BBB way of doing business.

You build trust in your web site in two ways:

  • The customer knows that his or her credit card number is secure when placing an order on your site.

  • The customer knows that the private personal information he or she gives you is kept personal and private.

Credit Card Ordering

Shoppers are very concerned about using their credit cards to make purchases online. There are two things you can do to help your customers feel secure enough to place an order on your web site.

First, make sure that your web store is running on an SSL secure server. Check with your ISP or web hosting service and make sure that your store is either running on an SSL secure server or that they can make it available to you. If your transactions are not being placed through an SSL secure server, find an ISP or hosting service that will provide it. Shoppers can see right away if your server is secure by looking in the lower-left corner of the major browsers. If they see a broken key or an unlocked lock, they know that their order won't be placed securely.

Second, after an order is taken at the secure server, many times the order information must be emailed to you for processing. If so, be sure that the email method is using some kind of encryption key. You can avoid all this if your SSL secure server sends the information encrypted to the credit card company for processing and charges the customer's credit card.

Some shoppers just won't place an order online with their credit card, no matter how secure it is. For these types of customers, provide a toll-free telephone number to call in their order to you. Also provide an order form on your site that they can print, fill out, and fax to you.

Privacy Policies

The Internet is a great medium of commerce. With it, you can create new marketing methods, tap new markets, and target potential customers with electronic ease. And it also can get you sued by millions of consumers for violating their privacy!

You thought spamming consumers with unwanted email was a blight on your company's reputation? Consumers are even more upset over the incessant abuse of their personal privacy—not to mention the government investigating the business practices of e-businesses. But companies must acknowledge the need to gather a certain amount of information to personalize and better serve their customers. After all, how can you connect with a customer if you know little or nothing about her? There has to be some kind of balance between protecting a consumer's privacy and the need for your business to target and personalize your offers to your customers.

Consumers are sensitive to what's done with their personal information, but that doesn't mean they're opposed to giving it if the circumstances change—including getting something back for the information.

Still, e-businesses need to know what the privacy equation is, in order to get the cooperation of consumers and customers in surrendering their personal information. And the principles of that privacy equation include what the FTC calls "fair information practices": notice, choice, access, and security.

First, give your site visitors notice that you're collecting information and/or tracking their behavior, and then give them a choice to avoid such tracking. Second, and this is more difficult, give consumers access to the data collected on them and provide them with the security that their data is kept private. And the best option to give your shoppers that warm and fuzzy feeling of security is to provide a third-party privacy seal of approval on your site.

A number of privacy protection organizations have appeared to help soothe the concerns of online consumers. They do this by offering third-party privacy seals to e-businesses. This is a good way to gain the trust of consumers, since these organizations certify your privacy policy. There are two types of privacy seal programs. One has strict guidelines that prohibit sites from sharing consumer information they collect with other business partners or using it for direct marketing programs. Other privacy seal programs award their stamp of approval to sites that simply stick to whatever privacy promises they made. That could include passing on personal information to advertising networks or other businesses, as long as it's spelled out in the posted privacy statement.

Self-regulation was the preferred approach for the e-commerce industry—until COPPA came along. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted in late 1998 and became effective in April 2000. COPPA bars the online collection and use of personally identifiable information from children under the age of 13 unless verifiable parental consent is provided.

You must be aware of this law!

There have been reports that the FTC might seek up to $11,000 per COPPA violation. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that such penalties can really add up. If your e-business caters to children under the age of 13, be warned! Make sure that you understand the COPPA regulations.

Consumer privacy issues and concerns can have a drastic effect on your ability to market to, connect to, and create an ongoing relationship with your customers, all of which are critical to the success of your e-business in the future. A lot of thought should be given to your privacy policy and how you communicate it to visitors and customers at your site.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA)can help you build a privacy statement for your site. Simply fill out the questions on its Privacy Policy Generator page, submit it, and the Direct Marketing Association will send you a web page to post to your site.

Be sure that your privacy policy clearly states the following:

  • What information is collected when shoppers buy from you
  • How you use this information
  • What you intend to do with it

Finally, make your privacy policy accessible right from your home page.

Keeping the Big Five in mind, you'll offer the right combination of selection, price, service, convenience, and security to your customers—and make those sales.

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