Online information needs stricter protection. Image via Flickr.

Online information needs stricter protection. Image via Flickr.

Two years ago my identity was compromised by the South Carolina Department of Revenue (along with every other taxpayer in the state of South Carolina) as a result of an outside hacker.

It was a horrifying experience. I can still remember the day it hit the news. I later received a letter in the mail officially informing me of the data breach. As a result, I had to change all of my bank accounts (one of which I had for nearly 20 years) and subscribe to a credit protection service.

The hackers will probably always have my social security number and date of birth. I still wonder when my personal information will be used next.

As a marketing strategist, I know and understand the value of e-commerce.  As a victim of identity theft, I realize the importance of making sure people know and understand how their personal information is being protected.

If you have or are planning to add an e-commerce component to your business, make sure you take extra measures to reassure your customers and help them comprehend exactly how you protect their personal information and privacy.

Actually protect your data!

Image by John Caserta via thenounproject.com

Image by John Caserta via thenounproject.com

Secured Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificates encrypt data and prevent third-party acquisition of information. In a nutshell, personal data is gathered during a “secured” session (https://), is encrypted and transmitted. Go Daddy does a great job of explaining the SSL Certificate process in detail.

In addition to a SSL certificate, consider acquiring a trustmark from a well-known, reputable third party. There are a number of providers out there, including McAfee SECURE, the Better Business Bureau and Norton Secured. Take time to research the one you feel will work best for your brand. To start, check out Techopedia, which explains in-depth how trustmarks work.

Use a known and trusted payment gateway

There are companies out there that collect credit card information with methods other than a payment gateway. I have seen websites use a simple contact form which sends the unencrypted credit card data for manual processing. Don’t do that.

Setting up a widely known and trusted payment gateway will not only help protect your customer’s personal information, but will reinforce your legitimacy and strengthen confidence in your brand.

The popular payment gateway PayPal, for example, can be easily incorporated into your e-commerce website.  When choosing a payment gateway (or, if you already have one), confirm that all data transmissions are encrypted.  Also, take advantage of fraud screening services, which are offered as options with many providers.

Once again, take time to research all of your options, terms, conditions and reputation of your payment gateway provider.

Design does matter

It always amazes me when I visit an e-commerce website featuring a “homemade” design. The reason goes way beyond aesthetics. Online, trust is everything, and fair or not, a poorly designed website implies the site probably isn’t that secure.

People lose confidence (and patience) if a website loads slowly or if they encounter other problems. According to case studies performed by econsultancy.com:

  • 40 percent of people will abandon a page if it takes more than two seconds to load;
  • 88 percent of online customers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience; and
  • more than a third of a the people who encountered problems told others about their disappointing experience.

(source: econsultancy.com)

Most e-commerce sites can be built for an affordable price. Shortcuts may save you money up front, but will likely cost you sales and your reputation down the road.

Site speed also impacts conversion rate, as this Econsultancy chart shows. Image via econsultancy.com.

Site speed also impacts conversion rate, as this Econsultancy chart shows. Image via econsultancy.com.

Openly discuss and outline your privacy policy

Best Buy provides extra resources for visitors, in addition to using clear language to outline its privacy policy.

Best Buy provides extra resources for visitors, in addition to using clear language to outline its privacy policy.

Develop an exhaustive privacy policy and outline the terms on your website.  Doing this eases the minds of your customers, and because the policy describes your terms and conditions, there won’t be any unnecessary misunderstandings.

Best Buy does an excellent job of outlining and describing its privacy policy. Instead of immediately launching into legal speak, the policy starts by describing what it covers concisely, and in plain English.

Best Buy takes its approach one step further by providing additional information on how to protect your online accounts and details on how to spot phishing, smishing and gift card scams.

Gather and post testimonials

People will trust your site more when they see testimonials from satisfied clients. Just ask eBay, which was probably one of the first to incorporate testimonials to help protect its users.

The point of testimonials is obvious, but any kind of content – from blog posts to mission statements – will help build a rapport with visitors. Just be sure to stay transparent and keep your promises.

Take, for example, Goodwin Company, providers of antique wood flooring. It may not be a sexy brand, but the site’s testimonials, blogs, backstory and awards page elevates its image and injects purpose into the company.

Taking a few extra steps to protect the integrity of your customers’ private information and being open about how you do it can go a long way. The more comfortable your customers feel, the better the chances they’ll return.