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Trustmarks are the images or logos that retailers can place on their websites to show that they have passed various security and privacy tests, and reassure customers that it is safe to shop on the site.

But how relevant are these logos from organisations like Verisign or McAfee? Have customers even heard of them? Would other security reassurances do the same job? 

Econsultancy has been using one such trustmark for some time on our privacy page, to follow best practice, improve conversions, and to reassure customers who may harbour doubts about the site. 

However, we have found is little evidence to suggest that it has helped. Instead, it's more likely that the general experience of the website and the reputation of the brand has more importance. 

Based on this, and the time-consuming process of filling in forms, we've decided to do without this third party endorsement.

So, should etailers bother with trustmarks?

There is some evidence that consumers are looking for reasurances about security when shopping online; a recent Cybersource survey found that 85% of UK online shoppers look for signs that the website they are thinking of buying from is secure.

It doesn't specify which signs shopper are looking for though, and, as a recent eDigital Research shopper survey suggests, many customers haven't heard of some of the more common trustmarks:

Companies like McAfee claim that their trustmarks are responsible for higher conversion rates; the company says that retailers using its service see an average 12% in conversions. The same McAfee-sponsored survey also says that 47% of shoppers look for trustmarks when shopping on lesser-known websites.

Matt Curry tested one such trustmark logo on the Wiltshire Farm Foods website, and found that the green bar that appears when you have a class 3 certificate, alongside an explanation of the verification process, outperformed the security seal and the padlock logo. 

According to Matt:

The message here is that a lot of logos etc are just adverts for those companies, rather than any use to the user. What you should do is educate the user as to what's important, what to look out for, rather than relying on a single logo or company.

Matt also makes the point that having these logos means another call when customers are loading the page, and can cause a noticeable delay, especially at peak periods.

There is also the risk that displaying too many security logos and reassurances can be counter-productive. Check out this basket page from Lovehoney - there are 11 mentions of security, including five logos. (Slide by Matt Curry - click on the image for a bigger version)

The intention to offer lots of reassurance is a good one, but it may have customers wondering why the retailer is so keen to reassure them. 

Some very well known retailers aren't bothering with these trustmarks, and it doesn't seem to be doing them any harm. I couldn't spot any trustmarks on Amazon.co.uk, though the 'sign in using our secure server' wording on the Amazon call to action does offer reassurance:

This is also the case with Tesco, though it could be argued that is a retailer is big enough and well-known enough, then trustmarks are irrelevant. People know from experience that they can rely on Amazon, so no further security reassurance is needed. 

This may not be the case with lesser-known retailers though. A customer may find the product and the price they are looking for, but if they haven't heard of the site, then there may be nagging doubts about security. 

According to usability specialist Paul Rouke from PRWD

"Certainly I would say they (trustmarks) are more important for smaller retailers and less known brands. Brand credibility is important in overcoming what would normally be usability barriers and customer concerns. (See this post comparing Amazon and The Book Depository)"

Trustmarks are recommended by Dr Mike Baxter in the Online Retail Checkout Report that he wrote for Econsultancy, though it is important to note that this is just one of several factors that help customers decide whether to trust a website with their card details. 

if you want customers to trust your site, there are other areas to consider: 

Clarity of product and price information. 

The total price of the purchase should be made clear before customers enter the checkout, and a reminder during the process, or before final confirmation of the order is also desirable. Being coy about extra charges or only revealing them at the last possible moment will not make customers trust the site. 

User reviews

Reviews of both products and retailer can provide more credibility and reassure customers that, since others have has a positive experience, they are safe to shop at a site. 

Contact information

If customers can see clear contact details, a telephone number or live chat option especially, then they will feel more confident that they can get in touch if they have any problems. 

An error-free process

Broken links, slow-loading pages, roadblocks in the process, or simple spelling errors will all have customers thinking twice about trusting a site with their card details. 

A good online reputation

If I find a site I haven't heard of, I'll put the brand name into Google and see what comes up. If customers do this and see any negative comments left on comparison sites, forums, or Twitter then they will think twice. With real time search now showing results from Twitter, this is even more likely. 

Usability

If you're site is easy to use and navigate around, customers are more likely to trust it. If it looks like this, then maybe not. 

I'd love to read any feedback from retailers and anyone else on this issue - do trustmarks make a big difference to your conversion rates? Which are the most effective ones to use? What other factors matter most? 

Graham Charlton

Published 17 February, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Claire

We did just over a week of a/b testing with and without the mcafee secure trust mark (run by mcafee themselves!) and saw a decrease in sales for customers who were shown the mark! They did an inital ROI graph for us based on a 5% increase in sales which looked impressive however the test figures actually showed a -0.56% decrease so unsurprisingly - we decided to give it a miss! Defintiely worth doing a similar test before you decide whether to go ahead.

about 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Claire - good advice and an interesting insight. 

about 6 years ago

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Clerkendweller

Testing is certainly the way forward, but not everyone has the resources or ability to do this.  Confidence is as much about building trust as avoiding dis-trust and therefore your brand reputation and what your competitors are doing are considerations here too.

There is no standard for trustmarks/seals and what they mean for the security and privacy of consumers can be a little unclear.  Retailers who go this route can also be affected by negative publicity if another site that was displaying the trustmark seal was compromised in some way, had a data protection issue or their customers were affected by the website in some way (e.g. lost orders, exposed data, malware downloaded).

about 6 years ago

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Rob Mangiafico, CTO at LexiConn Internet Services, Inc.

Good article that provokes thought about whether or not to offer Trustmarks on your site. As you mentioned, (and I think it's quite an important distinction) just because Amazon or another household name e-tailer is not using trustmarks does not mean it's a good idea for small retailers to follow. Even my grandmother knows about Amazon and would trust them because of who they are.

A big mistake smaller merchants make is the mentality: "If it's good enough for Amazon, it's good enough for me". Amazon's methods do not always translate on a much smaller scale.

My advice - Use an EV SSL certificate (the green bar / company name displayed in the browser) and choose one prominent Trustmark service to use if your budget allows for it. And follow the rest of your advice about clarity of product, clear contact info, etc...

about 6 years ago

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Brian D. Shelton

We implemented HackerSafe (now McAfee) about 2 years ago, and to be honest, it really hasn't impacted online performance in a dramatic way. Displaying the logo on the Gilchrist & Soames website hasn't caused any significant jump in conversions for us, but it also hasn't cost us. Bottom line: people buy from people (sites) they trust, and a "trustmark" doesn't build trust - relationships do. If you are relying on a vendor logo or icon to do the job of building trust for your brand, you're going to have a tough go of it.

about 6 years ago

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Jeff Mulligan

I have done a lot of testing with the Better Business Bureau seal. I suppose it is semantics about whether that's a "trustmark" or not, but I would maintain that for the average USA consumer, it is.

http://quickie.s3.amazonaws.com/bbb/bbb.html

This 5 minute video shows some of my results, and they are quite significant.

Jeff

about 6 years ago

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Danny

I think the important thing to note here is that a trust mark should add value. Does Hacker Safe mean that I'm not going to lose my credit card details, does it mean that the company is reputable and has a good track record? Some of the logos out there Thawte, Verisign etc... refer to the secuirty of the website which is part of building the trust element - all of us look at sites and we thiink "will I get ripped off if I use this site?" anything that can allay fears when browsing or shopping can mean that you can capture those customers. We spend alot of time merchandising, advertsign and driving traffic to sites but if we fail in the trust stakes then the effort has all been in vain.

Not every business is Amazon or Tesco so we need to have something that can help support our business in the crowded marketplace and a trust mark could just be the differentiator required.

about 6 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & Director of Optimisation at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Great post Graham, you've highlighted some really valuable points.

In addition to the reference you made to my Amazon 'usability versus brand credibility' post, I would also reference my post looking at whether retailers are following checkout best practice to improve conversion rates, where I talk about the importance of making security and trustmarks even more visible during the checkout process, and an enclosed one at that.

Once again its worth pointing out that one size certainly doesn't fit all, and lesser known retailers in the main do need to work harder at delivering a solid user experience, high value proposition (and USP's) as well as instilling trust and confidence in the shopper, helping to win over those shoppers who would normally shop at one of the bigger, more reputable players in that market. 

about 6 years ago

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Jane Cooke

I think it depends on the strength of the e-commerce site as a brand. Amazon would not really need it as much, since it is a powerful brand. On the other hand a small retailer would probably look better with a strong security brand showing up on their website. Even then, it may work for some and not for others depending on things like type of products or services offered. But again, it would have to come down to testing for the individual website to see if it makes a positive difference or not.

about 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

Really good post Graham. Clearly what the small retailer is trying to achieve using a mcafee, verisign et. al. logo is to benefit from surrogate trust. However this can only work if the average user going through the checkout process actually knows who mcafee (for instance) is AND trusts them. Perhaps we are not thinking as real users but rather people within the industry who are familiar with these security brands. 

One could speculate whether having a "checkout made safe by Amazon" logo (if such a thing existed) would actual have more effect. If it did then the established big brand retailers might move into providing 'secure services' for small independent ecomms - which would be a fascinating twist!

My other take on this is that perhaps we leave the whole issue till far too late in the customers journey? Adding a logo to a screen just before I ask you to enter your credit card might be the accepted wisdom, but it feels like too little too late? What has happened in my journey up until that point to help me build trust and understand that it will 'be OK'? Maybe we need much better messaging around trust earlier in the process?

about 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2Small Business

We tested Hacker Safe a while back and sales dropped. A bit of qualitative research revealed that it put the fear of hacking in people's minds, so we concluded it's better not to mention the 'H' word.

We always recommend clients go for Verisign EV, but we've never tested this alongside another for obvious cost and technical reasons.

I wonder how many retailers advertise the top level SSL but actually have a lower level installed?

Can't really say on the others, McAfee etc, but I'm not surprised that there's no improvement sometimes. I think that no amount of logos are going to help a sceptical person put their credit card details into a checkout if they have 'the fear', so it's more about education.

Lots of people still prefer to order by phone, and probably always will so companies will be well served to give themselves the ability to track these sales too.

Hope Matt's enjoying his Rabbit...

about 6 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

In true journalistic fashion, I made my excuses and abandoned my basket :-) 

The test we ran (remember with a very old audience) was between 

1) The Verisign Secure Seal and some text saying what it meant

2) A padlock logo, with some text saying that this section of the site was secure

3) A graphic of the part of the green bar showing our name in Internet Explorer 7, showing what this meant and the extra effort we put in to get it

The green bar graphic was the definite winner, although the padlock graphic outperformed the Verisign logo.

We summised that since we were pointing out something their computer (the browser)  was telling them, this gave the process much more credibility than proclaiming the site to be secure ourselves.

Again, as a proviso, our audience are much less likely to know what all these logos mean. We also know from testing that our audience know to "look out for the padlock" but it would seem they don't know where to look for it.

Matt

about 6 years ago

Matthew Lawson

Matthew Lawson, eCommerce Director at loveholidays.com

I work for a company that sell white good through our own brand sites as well as white label sites on behalf of some major brands so have good experience of both side of the story.

We use many of the logos and accreditations just as standard practice but we found that the main drivers for conversion are…
Proposition
-    Price
-    Clear Availability
-    Services (delivery)
Usability

But there comes a point that Trust becomes the next big thing. We find that customers seem to be more persistent with a Branded site even if the proposition isn’t as good or even the price is higher than the none branded sites.

We found the main concern of the customer is “How do I know this website isn’t man in a shed business”. We found that Video tour of the business gave customers the confidence to buy online. This video alone of the customers who watched it gave an increase of 710% in conversion.

http://www.appliancesonline.co.uk/services/about_us.aspx

So there is more than a logo that you can do to drive trust into your business. Let the customer see past the website and you will reap the rewards.

about 6 years ago

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George Eberstadt

Another way to engender trust is through on-site social shopping utilities. These show shoppers that people to whom they have some connection also shop at your store, which adds a big comfort factor. First-degree friend matches of course have the biggest effect, but any sort of connection -- all the way out to zip-code match "neighbors" -- helps. Even just the offer to look for such connections seems to help. (My company, TurnTo provides a system like this. Try it on www.wirelessemporium.com -- the "Friends" tab on the right edge.)

about 6 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Dear Ling Valentine,

this isn't a usability thread, but

If you're only moving £35M of cars with your current site, imagine how many you would move with a really usable site. You could double that figure overnight by simply making the Order Now button on a car lease page the most visual attracting item. At the moment it's lost amongst graphics for free car paint and email updates and tax discs.

your search, the single most powerful thing on the page, is hidden beside game of hangmen. Imagine how much money you could make if visitors who wanted to search for something could do so, just like that? Another £5M, given your current turnover, easy.

Funnily enough, you already do on lingcars EXACTLY  what this post is about. instead of showing a Comodo certificate symbol, you're showing a graphic of what happens to the address bar in Internet Explorer - which we also found to be the best solution.

Matt

about 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Ling, 

I wasn't doubting the trustworthiness of your business for a moment, just making the point that a visually cluttered site like yours is not very easy to use and navigate. I could get a migraine trying to find the information I'm looking for.  

If I came to a site that looked like yours, without knowing anything else about the business, the look of the site alone would immediately put me off. 

Perhaps it works for you, or perhaps, as Matt Curry points out, you could do even better with a more usable website. 

about 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Tim - I stand corrected. I didn't spot it on Amazon.co.uk when researching this article. If you have any stats you could share about use of the VeriSign seal, I'd love to see them. 

about 6 years ago

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Ling Valentine

Graham and Matthew,

Ok, well, you are bothso very very wrong. You make a massive error.

Reason... because you don't consider the goods I am selling.

A new car is a massive decision, probably the biggest people will make as an online purchase. This decision is made only about once ever 3 or 4 years by most people.

My website is not one where people come to make an impulse buy, these are not books at Amazon. Most people make many visits (some over periods of years) before finally choosing to use my service. I need to a) retain them over that period before they buy, b) imprint my website in their brain like they imprint the swastika in Inglorious Basterds and c) Entertain people and build dialogue and trust, d) overcome the fact I am non-franchised and have to compete with the biggest names in the car industry, plus the fact I am a Chinese bird (who commits to a brand new car from an unfranchised Chinese bird?)

You will notice that other car sites who simply think that people roll up and place an immediate order with a clear "order now" button are sadly mistaken. 99% of car websites (and you) cannot understand that building the relationship before the (massive) online decision is the most important factor. That's why other car websites have to substitute a big phone number and are merely an advertisment for an offline service. My service, all CRM, everything, is online. Often I never ever actually talk to customers at all by voice.

I need to retain customers on my website for AGES before a decision will be made about a car. I need to get emotional commitment from their hearts before I can get it from their brains and their mouse finger.

If I was just selling impulse goods, I would agree with your simplistic "make the order button bigger" ... but until you have experience of customers commiting to £400/month purchases for a 3-year commitment (a £15,000 purchase online!) or £30,000 cars (whichever way you look at it, it's a massive commitment), with NO physical contact, NO physical view of the stock, and just a bit of trust and reputation to go on... then I am afraid you simply do not know what it takes to acheive this.

Maybe I am wrong? Please detail your experiences in getting commitment for £15,000 of real spend via a single simplistic "order now" button, over the web, and I will pay attention to you.

Ling

LINGsCARS

about 6 years ago

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Ling Valentine

If it helps, I gave a talk at Newcastle University about this stuff, and also discussed site development.

On my website here split into 5 segments

What annoys me is that you think simplistic answers work and that I am just dismissed as an example of bad usability. If you read my customer letters pages, the usability for the actual customers (as opposed to random "web expert" visitors), getting the info needed to make a massive decision is better than any other site.

It just does not fit your conventional thinking. For God sake, if I am getting plaudits from Seth Godin and being used by him as an example of excellence on stage in his only UK lecture last year... and he wrote about me:

"From personal YouTube videos to particularly poignant and honest presentations or direct and true sales pitches, the humility, freshness and transparency that comes with an honest performance might actually be better than what a professional could do."

You chose the wrong example to slag off, baby! :)

Ling

LINGsCARS

about 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Ling, 

I didn't slag off your website, and if it works for you and your customers are happy with it, then that's fine. 

I used it as an example of a homepage that is way too cluttered and visually confusing, especially for first time visitors. It may work for you, but I don't think think it would for many other online businesses. 

It was a very small point made in an article that is actually about e-commerce trustmarks, not the merits or otherwise of the Ling's Cars website.

If you have an opinion about whether trustmarks and security logos help or hinder your conversion rates though, I'd love to hear it. 

about 6 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Hi Ling,

sorry, you're getting the wrong end here - you're clearly very passionate and you've built up a big business based on "Brand Ling". 

In terms of experience, half my work is actually for a B2B company, where I'm responsible for bringing in leads online that can turn into multi-million pound, 5 year supply contracts. you think the "order now" option is simplistic, but it still boils down to a clear call to action, weighted in favour of what you want the visitor to do. 

When someone visits your site, what do you want them to do? Clearly, ultimately, you want to start the process of leasing a car, but this "action" is practically hidden on the page. How much of your business is incremental? Since you've got a stunning ( and it really is, kudos) CRM machine, how much of your business is new cusotmers compared to existing ones? Do new potential customers have to fight through the tax discs and games of hangman to find out what they want?

Clearly the website works to reinforce Brand Ling, and you've got all the good stuff, customer feedback, video, and sheer ballsy honesty about the whole thing, it's refreshing, but because it's grown very organically it does need a fresh set of eyes to prune and cultivate it.

You really shouldn't be attacking us Ling, the site is great, insane, but great. I just personally believe it would before a great deal better if you took a step back & thought more about "when someone unfamiliar with me and my brand sees all this, what do I want them to click on?"

in respect,

Matt

about 6 years ago

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David

Whilst I agree and commend many of the points made in this article, Lingscars.com should remain an honourable exception.  Lingscars.com is mad as a bag of cats, and really should be allowed to remain that way to remind us all that business orthodoxy can sometimes be a bit boring.

about 6 years ago

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Graham Dudman

If you're only moving £35M of cars with your current site, imagine how many you would move with a really usable site. You could double that figure overnight by simply making the Order Now button on a car lease page the most visual attracting item.

Simply one of the most naive, misinformed statements I have ever read!

As Ling eloquently established, she is selling (successfully) high value items not £2.35 frozen meal to OAP's!!!

different markets

different engagement

different techniques

about 6 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Hi Graham ( surely not THE Graham Dudman, surely?)

http://twitter.com/mattycurry/status/9328273312

thanks

Matt

about 6 years ago

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Ling Valentine

Ok, I will scale back the indignation :)

Yes, I do use trustmarks. I have the Norton Safeweb randomly displayed on my advertising sidebar, I use the Comodo bottom triangle thing (breaks in ie6 because it is position:fixed - how stupid) and I have a whole page of security stuff advertised by the lookalike green ev addressbar gif on my menu system.

Not sure if still the case, but when I got EV I was the firest website in the auto industry in the UK. I had to jump through hoops of stupid forms to get that.

I have security-related pages, like the MERSEYMAIL page where I took down a Scouser email service provided by the company who created and runs the intranet for the Serious Fraud Office!

So yes, all these various trustmarks and security stuff - of course they help.

Ling

LINGsCARS

about 6 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

You weren't the only one who had to jump through hoops to get EV when it first came out - I spent far too much of my life on the phone to verisign south africa ( inexplicably ) that I'm not gonna get back anytime soon.

about 6 years ago

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Mark Bolitho, New Business Director - Ecommerce at more2Small Business

So, what have we learned...

Firstly: don’t mess!

In relation to the actual question of whether trustmarks are beneficial per se I think we can conclude the answer is ‘no’.

Perhaps a better answer, albeit to a question that wasn’t directly asked is that it’s the brand that carries the weight. A brand must build trust, and no amount of trustmarks or green address bar will convince a skeptical person that somebody with an unfamiliar, or cheap looking, tacky (in their view, subjective) website is trustworthy - in fact attempting to gain trust through logo’s can actually have the opposite effect.

How a brand can build trust to attract and convert new customers is one for another day perhaps, but it seems like an appearance on a popular TV show doesn’t hurt, and engaging with your customers on as personal a level as possible is always good.

We’ve also learned that ‘best practice’ is very contextual. Anyone who’s got the testing mentality or experience will already know this, of course, but the Ling example is text book.  What clearly works well for Ling would send plenty of people visiting a similar site for the first time running for the hills. 

Having implied that a trusted and respected brand can do what it likes, it should be immediately added that it is what a brand chooses to do that defines it, and I don’t think you’ll be playing hangman on House of Fraser any time soon.

The beauty of all this is that there are very few hard and fast rules - doesn’t necessarily make life any easier, but it does open up a whole world of exploration, theorising and debate that keeps us all out of trouble - but sometimes gets us in it too...

about 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

That's a good summary of the points Mark. I think the trust of the brand is all important, and no amount of trustmarks can help if that trust is not in place. 

about 6 years ago

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great one

E-commerce trust marks are still important, most especially to enable unprofessional clients build confidence in the ecommerce website. Most non-IT based people are being taught rudiments of security and what they are introduced to is to look out for some signs before supplying their private data. Therefore, a website with no mark of such will suffer low volume of sales. Despite the mark, users should be careful and ensure they supply their private data with caution.

almost 6 years ago

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Peter

I dont use trustmarks anymore, it's not working, atleast not as the trustmark companies describe it, Increase the selling with 15% like companies like Sitelock say is just Bullshit!

So dont spend your money on it.

over 4 years ago

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Charlotte

I didnt thinm they worked anymore?

over 4 years ago

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bennix

At least for compliance? Customer's trust is very important, providing them good shopping experience will be the best thing to prove that your store is 100% secure

about 4 years ago

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Leasebam

For those in the know, trust marks make a big difference to the converson of sale. But the challenge is getting the word out what these trust sybols actually mean to the normal consumer who don't know. I could create a "Trust Logo" and the chances are, many would assune I was a recognised authority, as unfortunatly people do not read that much or do much digging into that sort of thing. they see a logo and either believe what is there, or take no notice.
More awareness will make trust even more valuable to an online business.

over 3 years ago

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