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For Fraud And Trust, A Powerful Reminder That Retail Reality And Perception Are Light-Years Apart

June 17th, 2013

The survey sampled 1,000 adults via landline and cellphone May 29-June 2, 2013. That interesting tidbit was the perception difference among shoppers when differentiating online and offline retailers.

When asked “How much do you trust the following groups or people to responsibly use information about you?”, respondents said that they trust “a great deal” when dealing with e-tailers 6 percent of the time, a number that more than doubles (13 percent) when the question asks about bricks-and-mortars. Granted, physical store managers shouldn’t be doing a jig that they convince only 13 percent to trust them a great deal, but it’s a lot better than online.

That pattern held firm as the answers moved to “some” trust (38 percent online, 52 percent in-store), “not very much” trust (21 percent online, 16 percent in-store) and “not at all” trust (28 percent online, 17 percent in-store). If it’s of any consolation, social media sites fared even worse, with trust levels of “great deal” at 4 percent, “some” at 21 percent, “not very much” at 24 percent and an impressive “not at all” score of 46 percent.

The obvious takeaway is that the physical interactions inside a store make shoppers more comfortable and trusting, given that they can meet someone and associate a face with the chain. This is in contrast with the fact that in-store associates often have the means to do more fraud than the typical call center employee.

But there’s another interpretation. What we don’t know is whether shoppers envisioned standalone online retailers or the online arms of major physical chains (the difference between an Amazon or eBay and a Walmart.com or Target.com). Statistically, there’s an excellent chance shoppers are including both kinds in their answers, with a generous dose of the online-arm-of-a-physical-chain kind. If so, Houston, we have a problem.

The idea has always been that people might shop at Macys.com or Footlocker.com because they know and trust that brand and that, by 2013, they would trust the dotcom store the exact same amount as the physical store. Given that we’re still seeing this large a trust gap suggests that even though shoppers today are certainly comfortable with online purchases, the “trust” part of “comfort” isn’t there yet. After 19 years of E-commerce, if it’s not there yet, it’s unlikely to get there.

This raises a similar question to the “personally breached” issue above. Despite the facts—which should include that a chain’s return, price-match and other guarantee policies should be equally protective of online and in-store purchases—chains should consider making their online guarantees more generous and vocal than the in-store versions. Why? Because they’re needed more online.

Just in case some marketers are thinking “OK, we’ll just weaken our in-store guarantees to make the online ones better,” sorry, but that won’t work. Diluting any existing policy will be detected and it won’t go over well. To make online protections stronger, you’re just going to have to do it.

We’ve said many times before that reality and perception are two very different and important animals that have to be treated separately. But it’s nice every now and then for a properly done survey (which puts the Allstate survey into the distinct minority of surveys we’ve seen) to make the distinctions so clear.


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