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Meeting Consumers’ Trust Concerns

What has been observed in user tests of e-commerce web sites is that the assessment of security typically happens very late in the trustworthiness evaluation process – namely, just before placing the order. Of course, most of the interaction with a commercial web site aims at establishing whether a particular merchant offers products or services that meet the customer’s needs. While looking for information, a number of cues are picked up by the user – in both explicit and implicit ways. These cues, be they graphical or textual, give an indication of the merchant’s professionalism and competence. It is only when a transaction is envisaged that medium-trust customers will explore the terms and conditions, as well as privacy and security policies.

This risk assessment phase goes much further than merely assessing the security of online payments – it covers the handling of confidential data by the company, warrantees and after-sales service, as well as the customer’s liability in case of fraud.

In terms of user interface design, one should therefore not assume that having a padlock appear at the bottom of the browser is enough to make customers feel safe to transact. Having detailed step-by-step payment procedures with links to additional security information is likely to work better than having a system that offers inadequate feedback and, thus, limited control. Presenting key information in an understandable way where and when consumers need it most is an information architecture challenge fit for usability based design.

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Last modified on 27 june 2004

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