Online florist Arena Flowers recently fell foul of Norton, with its SafeWeb product flagging its website as unsafe for users due to an issue with the site’s WordPress blog. 

The problem was fixed promptly by Arena Flowers, but the process of contacting Norton and getting the warnings removed was far from perfect, and could have had a serious effect its sales and reputation. 

This is what customers saw when searching for the site in Google, which would surely deter most potential visitors:

Arena Flowers SERPS warning

Visitors to the site saw a similar security warning:

 

The problem was with Arena’s Flowers’ WordPress blog; the security threat was legitimate, and was resolved by upgrading to a newer version of WordPress. However, though the security issue was confined to the blog, the whole 60,000 pages of the website as well as Arena Flowers’ PPC ads were all flagged as unsafe for Norton users.

Though this was alarming enough, the biggest problem was in getting Norton to remove the warnings once the security problem had been fixed.

The support staff that Arena Flowers’ CTO Sam Barton contacted were unaware of the online tool designed to allow webmasters to flag ownership of the site and resolve the problems, and once this issue had been solved, it emerged that the company would have to wait two weeks for the site to be re-scanned and the warning removed. 

According to Sam Barton: 

The bone of contention is that once flagged, the resolution system doesn’t work, it is not supported (the product is not even a prompt on their phone system like Norton 360 is) and that it will take two weeks to get returned to a ‘Green’ status once they scan you again which is appalling for sales. 

I don’t have any stats how many online shoppers use the Norton SafeWeb toolbar, but since it is one of the most popular security products and often comes pre-installed when you buy a PC or laptop, it’s a reasonable to assume that a significant number of people may have seen the security warning for the site. 

To resolve the issue, Sam had to resort to raising the problem on Twitter, and fortunately someone from Norton noticed, escalated the issue, and removed the ‘site is unsafe’ messages. 

However, there were still at least four days where visitors to the site may have been deterred by this security warning, something which had a negative impact on sales, but also customer trust, as Sam explains: 

We had customers saying that our site was giving them viruses. Whilst this wasn’t the case the customer was obviously left with a negative feeling about our site, something that is going to last longer than the week long duration of the ‘Red’ status assigned to us by Norton.

Sales we can recoup over time but trust is very difficult to re-establish. We are e-commerce only, no bricks and mortar stores. As we are never going to meet our customers we are reliant on establishing trust with them to convert sales. Its ironic that Norton, who pride themselves on security, were the ones to ruin that trust.

While security products like Norton have their place, and can be useful to steer users away from sites which may harm their computers, the system for site owners to resolve these complaints needs to be improved. 

As Sam has pointed out, warnings like this could have a serious impact on online retailers’ sales. If Norton is going to flag e-commerce sites as unsafe, then it should have a fast-track process in place for retailers to resolve such issues without doing too much damage to their business. 

If you have experienced similar issues with Norton or other security products, let us know in the comments below…