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A Matter of Balance

Retailers need to meet shoppers’ expectations to inspire trust in the payment process – and recognise that those expectations vary in different parts of the world. Chloe Rigby reports

Buying online is an act of faith for shopper and retailer alike. If a transaction is to succeed, the shopper must believe that the retailer will give them goods in exchange for their money, and that a refund will be forthcoming if they don’t ultimately warm to the as-yet-unseen items. For the other side, the retailer must believe that the deal is a good one, backed up by real money from a real customer. If both parties do not believe in the purchase, then either the customer may decide not to part with their card details or the retailer’s fraud screening will rule out the customer’s business.

The onus is firmly on the merchant to mitigate that risk for both parties – and to communicate this clearly. By doing so, the retailer will inspire trust in the customer. And by having reliable fraud-screening processes, the retailer will know when it’s safe to accept the customer’s payment. Nowhere is that trust more critical than at the point of payment, says Jean Marc Noel of the trustmark scheme Trusted Shops. “Without trust there is no trade so it’s utterly important for an online seller to inspire trust in the buyer,” he says.

“The payment is eventually the result of the trust in the transaction.”


Inspiring trust is easier said than done. For while consumers do want reassurance that their payment details will be safe with a merchant, at the same time they don’t want to be held up through cumbersome verification processes that give the merchant piece of mind.

Balancing those two requirements starts well before the point of payment – with first impressions. For those with well-known brand names, those impressions start before the customer arrives at the shop, when it’s important that a website confirms previous expectations. For all retailers, strong, relevant images and branding, good navigation and a well-functioning search engine are all part of creating the allimportant early impact. “The brain computes within 100 milliseconds your first impression and you decide whether something you’re looking at is trustworthy or not,” says Noel. “So the first thing is to have the proper appearance and be trustworthy at first sight.”

Just as a travel retailer will reassure through the presence of an Atol or an Abta logo, trustmarks may also help to reassure. Noel says that behind its Trusted Shops logo lies the organisation’s guarantee to customers of problem-free shopping when they buy from an accredited store. “If you ordered and the goods don’t come, or if you send the goods back and don’t get the money in 30 days, we will reimburse the online buyer and take care of all the discussions with the shop,” he says.

This type of reassuring message can also be communicated on the site, leading up to and throughout the payment process. Trusted Shops’ own studies found that there’s a higher rate of cart abandonment for carts containing higher-value goods. Focusing reassurance on higher-value transactions can therefore have an impact on checkouts. This is a good time to remind customers of promises, whether that’s a money-back guarantee or the pledge of free and easy returns. For more on this, see our merchandising feature.

Trustworthiness is also about meeting expectations. Consumer expectations formed through advertising, PR and word-of-mouth recommendation, both on and off social media networks, can be powerful. But to be effective, those expectations must be confirmed. That happens for customers through their judgement of the website itself, as well as on-site ratings and recommendations. “Ensuring good service is fundamental to gaining those recommendations in the first place,” says Noel. “It’s a really important thing if you can provide genuine customer reviews that show others have had a good experience, or if they had a bad experience online sellers can tell how they solved the issue: that’s how you create trust.”


But in the payments process itself, delivering on expectations is also about offering the payment types that consumers expect – and that varies from market to market.

While consumers in the UK expect to pay through credit or debit cards or alternative payment methods such as PayPal, shoppers in other markets have different expectations. Featuring the iDeal bank-to-bank transfer system is a given for those hoping to sell in Holland – something that Marks & Spencer {IRDX RMAS] recognised when it recently launched a dedicated website for the Netherlands. Similarly, German consumers, who are less likely to have credit cards, expect a cash-on-delivery option. Researching local markets, both by analysing local websites and the dedicated websites of those UK retailers who do well in that market, will clarify what local expectations are.

But just as different payment types will meet different expectations of paying in other markets, there are also varying expectations of the verification processes that sites will take their customers through.

Close to home, there’s a growing perception that security systems such as 3-D Secure, which interrupt the payment flow and rely on customers remembering yet another password, can deter them from buying (see the logistics feature for more). Over-zealous fraud screening systems may also run the risk of turning away too many customers. Overseas, there may be lower tolerance of the interruptions that fraud screening can present. Don Bush, VP marketing at Kount, suggests that Americans, for example, may be less patient of thirdparty screening processes that take customers off the site. “I know in certain countries in Europe this is much more acceptable in the marketplace, but once you step outside Europe, go to the US, Canada, Australia, if they’re truly an international company, going through third-party offsite processes is a conversion killer,” he says. That’s a thought worth considering, given a recent Barclays study that found retailers believe the United States is the most difficult market to break into.

Also important is to consider the implications of different fraud processes for consumers and retailers. For example, there’s no limit to the length of time that consumers in Germany have to chargeback an unsatisfactory online purchase.


It’s difficult to overstate the important of communicating with shoppers throughout the payment process. We’ve already looked at how retailers can use reassuring messages close to purchase to overcome shoppers’ doubts about purchase. Keeping that communication open throughout the payments process remains important, especially when paying takes the customer into verification processes that ultimately exist for the retailer’s protection. If payment will take the shopper to a third-party website for verification, a clear explanation of that fact, emphasising the security benefits to the consumer, will promote both understanding and acceptance. Similarly compliance with the PCI Data Security Standard should also be explained, and in layman’s terms.

Taking the conversation beyond the website can also be effective. Ellen Valentine, product evangelist in the marketing department at email marketing services provider Silverpop , points to ways of communicating payment options to both potential and existing customers through automated email campaigns.

As well as reminding customers of payment options and membership trustbased organisations in initial welcome emails, Valentine says email can also be relevant for communications around the payment process. “Since one of the reasons someone may have abandoned their cart or basket is price or other payment considerations, in the remarketing emails retailers can again remind customers of the different payment options and link to a page on the site with more details,” she says. Emails sent to confirm purchases can also usefully remind customers of safe payment processes and the retailer’s ability to store credit card details for the future.

But whether communications take place on or off the website, it’s imperative that retailers continue to engage and talk to their customers throughout the payment process.

Speaking from Experience


“It is crucial when launching into a new territory to build trust, and offering familiar payment methods helps to build that trust and increase conversions.”

Mohammed Hussain, managing director, Mobile Fun


“It’s really understanding very profoundly what the customer is thinking and considering what kind of pictures, what tonality, what kind of information you want to serve to make sure people feel safe and will buy and eventually use the payment system to buy at your shop.”

Jean-Marc Noel, managing director, Trusted Shops

image008NEED TO BUY

“Some retailers inspire with the look, while others are going for a targeted purchase. All have different triggers to buy. But you have to keep that need to purchase pretty much front of mind. It helps if you keep the context right, such as the imagery that affirms that buying decision.”

Max Childs, marketing director, Amplience


“What we want to do as a customer engagement rule of thumb is stay out of the way. Don’t make fraud mitigation something that reduces conversions of sales.”

Don Bush, VP, marketing, Kount

What’s New

International markets have become a key focus for retailers looking to boost growth rates over recent months. Getting payments and fraud right is a prerequisite for engaging with potential customers likely to be new to the brand. Think local and research new markets to find out what payment methods will be most successful.

Mobile Fun: Engaging Customers Through International Payments

In recent years, mobile accessories retailer Mobile Fun has expanded fast in international markets. The company, founded in 2000, now sells in more than 30 countries around the world, having launched in 20 new markets in the last financial year alone. Managing director Mohammed Hussain says payments have been key to this rapid overseas expansion.

“Customers want to pay using methods that they are familiar with,” he says. “If we didn’t offer iDeal in The Netherlands or COD (cash on delivery) in Germany, we would lose customers. “It is extremely important to get payments right for all countries. We have invested time and effort in understanding and localising payment options for each country we operate in.”

To do that, Mobile Fun’s dedicated country managers work with local payment providers to set up payment methods locally. “Although we are aware that there are global payment providers who offer local payment methods internationally, for a premium,” says Hussain, “we have so far not chosen to use them as we have developed an inhouse capability to integrate directly with local payment providers in other countries. Our local office managers have found that offering local payment options is more popular with customers.”

Engaging with customers throughout the payments process is part of the expansion strategy. Each Mobile Fun website is designed to enable customers to flag up any problem areas quickly, though features such as customer feedback points. “Local accreditation from third-party reputation management sites also serves to reassure customers,” says Hussain.

Hussain advises companies moving into new markets not to underestimate the importance of localisation – and that includes using the local payment provider. “Don’t assume that your UK credit card provider can take payments in other countries, even when they claim it is possible, as payment failure rates can be very high in countries where the UK provider is used. A local provider is usually the better option so, in countries where local payment types are prevalent, take the time to consider all of the options and then decide which is best, from an effort versus reward basis.”

When it comes to deterring fraud however, the company has found that following UK best practice guidelines works well. It sets strict rules for assessing transactions, and finds that the rules that work in the UK also function well overseas. “We can conduct security checks on orders at our local offices,” says Hussain, “but our advice is to follow UK best practice as we have found that it works when dealing with international payments too.”

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