How to Ensure Customer Privacy on Your Online Store

by Aron Hsiao 0

“Aron Hsiao, Ph.D. is head of communications at Terapeak. Aron is a veteran eBay seller, former eBay employee, and a longtime author and editor in the e-commerce and open source spaces. As a technology and society specialist, he has taught business innovation, new media and technology, and sociology at a number of universities in the United States. Like everyone at Terapeak, Aron is committed to helping new businesses to succeed on their own terms.”

E-commerce is huge business nowadays, but many consumers are hesitant about sharing their personal and credit card data, slowing down the possibility of online sales.

They are tough customers to land, but with a few best practices you can earn their business and loyalty.

Website Layout

  • Don’t ask for lots of personal data. Lead-generation is big business online, and some sites and sellers have taken to requiring Facebook sign-ins or multiple lines of personal data just to browse products. This is a sure way to alienate privacy-minded buyers. If you want to reach them, you’ll have to permit guests to see what you sell without requiring them to give you their data.
  • Use encryption. Ensure that your storefront supports https:// connections so that when safety-minded shoppers visit you, they see that their activities and data are protected.
  • Assure buyers that they’re safe. Make statements about security and privacy on the footer of your website pages and include a link to a page outlining your privacy policy and the ways in which your shoppers’ activity and data is protected. If in doubt, visit other sites and use their similar documents as a template.

Shopping and Transaction Experience

  • Clearly state shipping practices and a generous return policy. Make shoppers feel safe by setting their expectations about the coming transaction clearly. Tell them how you ship, how fast, and what estimated delivery times are. Make it clear that you care about customer service, show that it’s easy for them to contact you, and offer a generous and easy-to-follow return policy.
  • Enable guest checkouts. Avoid the increasingly common practice of requiring shoppers to create an account on your website in order to buy. By doing this, you’re losing shoppers that simply don’t want too many “accounts” out there with their names on them, particularly at independent websites. Provide a workflow that enables guests to purchase without creating an account and a password.
  • Select a payment provider with a conservative payments form. While conventional wisdom says to reduce shopper friction to maximize sales, the checkout process can be an exception to this rule. Shoppers are wary of sites that need minimal information to process a payment; they’re more comfortable when they have to enter names, addresses, and card security codes. Be sure that you don’t save credit card information, and state this clearly—or make the saving of payment information an opt-in process.
  • Show who your payment provider is—and make sure it’s a reputable one. Privacy-minded buyers prefer to give credit card numbers to sellers that will safeguard their data. Show that you do this by being transparent about your payment processor during checkout. You get bonus points if you use the word “secure” and show a provider whose brand the buyer recognizes.
  • Offer PayPal everywhere, in addition to card payments. PayPal is something of a strange beast in that some security-minded shoppers avoid it like the plague, seeing it as fundamentally antagonistic to privacy and safety, while others won’t make payments in any other way. To reach the latter crowd, be sure that you offer PayPal payments everywhere that you sell, if possible.
  • Offer optional e-mail confirmation and follow-up. Provide a field on your payment form to enable shoppers to receive an e-mail confirmation for their order. Make the field optional. Include an extra check-box to enable shoppers that wish to do so to opt-in to your marketing-oriented communication in the future (news, promotions, and so on).

After Order Confirmation

  • Fulfill promptly. Ship quickly and provide shipping details (i.e. tracking information and estimated arrival date) to shoppers as soon as you’re able to do so. This helps to keep the concern level low, and will tend smooth over any bumps that follow.
  • Make communication easy and reply promptly. Some percentage of buyers will have concerns after the transaction; this can’t be avoided. What can be avoided is half-baked customer service that creates a rising sense of panic amongst safety-conscious shoppers. Ensure that your business is accessible to inquiries and responds promptly and professionally.
  • Communicate only within the shopper’s parameters. For buyers that provide an e-mail address for confirmation, communicate only about their order—confirmation, shipment, etc. Don’t fudge it an “accidentally” market to them every now and then. Be sure to include your security and privacy language and related link—along with an easy-to-use email unsubscribe link—in the footer of your email. Send further marketing communication only to users that opted in to your promotional mailings and have not unsubscribed.