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Designing websites that users can trust

Article by: Scott Smith | President, InfoTrax
July 10, 2017

E-commerce sales continue to rise as a percent of total retail sales. In 2007, about 3.5% of retail sales happened online and in the first quarter of 2017 ecommerce sales were at about 8.5%. Many direct selling companies see a much higher rate of online sales as a percent of total sales. We have new distributors sign up online and we take payment online for distributor kits and product purchases. As ecommerce takes the lead, we have to consider the expectations and reservations people have when they do business online. As you develop and maintain your online presence, your focus must be on building trust.

For you to thrive in this space, your customers and distributors must trust your company and the website through which you make online sales. Not only must the customer and distributor trust that their credit card information is secure, they must also trust that the company is not going to sell their consumer data. One advantage that direct selling companies have in building trust is that typically the new customer or distributor has a human experience before going to the e-commerce site. If we trust the person who brought us into the business, we are more likely to trust the online ordering systems. Trust can be broken by either something that the upline distributor does (for example, dropping out of the company) or that the company does (for example, failing to deliver product).

Tips for building trust

Although research suggests many factors that can influence trust, several key elements can help maintain that online trust (Beatty, Reay, Dick, & Miller, 2011). The obvious is that the shopping cart must be secure and people should know how their information is being used. But there are several less obvious things you can do to build trust.

Provide information

One important factor is information. Websites should have accurate and useful information. In most retail relationships, the company knows more than the consumer about the product or service. Withholding information can be viewed as deceitful which leads to loss of trust. By providing clear and understandable information, you help create trust. In the direct selling world, that means information about products and about the compensation plan. As a distributor, I should always be able to find out what I am being paid. Many studies have shown that the usefulness of a site increases the likelihood that someone will use the site (Venkatesh, & Davis, 2000). Having useful information is important for building trust.

Make it easy to use

Ease of use is also important for building trust (Venkatesh, & Davis, 2000). Make it easy to buy your products. It should be easy to find your product list and the shopping cart should be easy to use. For example, it should be easy to add and delete items from the cart. This may seem obvious, but it’s worthwhile to make sure that you meet these simple expectations. Another part of the ease of use concept is that customers respond positively to predictability (Beatty, Reay, Dick, & Miller, 2011). Use familiar icons. Use tabs and dropdowns in similar ways to other companies.

Be judicious with novelty

The opposite of predictability is novelty. Many companies want to have their webpage look new and exciting, which isn’t a bad idea. The novelty or fun factor is important for attracting new customers. However, for trust, being predictable is also important. When it comes to places on your site that require a customer to take risk—for example, a payment page or a sign-up page—be more predictable.

Minimize requests for personal info

One final idea is to minimize the requirement for personal information. Ask for the minimum amount of information needed. In the past, companies would require everyone to give their government ID in order to buy product. Companies treated everyone who may need to receive a 1099 as a distributor. The reality is that 70% of your customers/distributors will never receive a check and therefore don’t need to submit a government ID. Rather than collect government ID at signup, wait until the distributor has earned a check before requiring a government ID.

In a 2015 study of a large direct selling company, Totterdale found that the more a distributor had privacy concerns, the less likely they were to use a variety of technologies. Totterdale suggests that companies should hold training sessions for distributors on how customer data is protected.

Ecommerce will continue to grow. In direct sales, the convenience and cost savings of ecommerce solutions are so great that companies can’t afford to be left behind. Direct sellers must stay current with their ecommerce offerings. Emphasize building trust to stay competitive in this space.


Beatty, P., Reay, I., Dick, S., & Miller, J. (2011). Consumer trust in e-commerce web sites: A meta-study. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR)43(3), 14.

Totterdale, R. L. (2015). Case study: Exploration of how technology and social media use is related to internet privacy concerns in a direct sales organization. Issues in Information Systems16(4).

Venkatesh, V., & Davis, F. D. (2000). A theoretical extension of the technology acceptance model: Four longitudinal field studies. Management science46(2), 186-204.

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Scott Smith | President, InfoTrax

Scott Smith is President of InfoTrax, a software and consulting company in the direct sales multi level marketing industry. Scott has over two...

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