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Conversion Optimization by Ayat Shukairy, Khalid Saleh

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Chapter 4. From Confidence to Trust

VISITORS WON’T BUY THINGS FROM YOU or give you contact information if they don’t trust you.

Before they buy, visitors need to feel secure and to trust sellers. Brand recognition lends credibility for larger companies, but many online stores do not have the luxury of having a recognizable name. Similar issues apply offline: you’re likely to lose visitors if your storefront looks sloppy or if your business is in a bad area of town. Every visitor to your online or offline store comes to you with specific intimidations and fears. They don’t want to be cheated or sold at; they want to have an enjoyable and simple shopping or browsing experience.

As you are able to successfully establish trust with your customers, you will build their confidence with your company. The more confidence a customer has in your store, the more likely she will purchase from you, often coming back for more or even recommending you to others. Although a conversion from a first-time customer is important, repeat customers are more valuable. The conversion value is multiplied if you are able to gain customer loyalty.

Gaining skeptical buyers’ trust is difficult, especially when you’re trying to sell something expensive. The level of skepticism generally increases as the price increases. Stores that sell jewelry online report a less than 0.5% average conversion rate. Does that number reflect only the lack of trust a visitor may have? Not necessarily, but trust plays an important role when guiding the user’s decision.

Consider buying a piece of expensive jewelry from an online store. You cannot see the ring up close, touch it, examine it, or try it on. You may wonder if the site is trustworthy and whether the company is honest and will deliver the item in a timely manner. How confident would you feel about the jewelry? Certainty about what you are buying would be much easier at an offline store. Of course, it is not impossible, and many online stores selling high-priced items are able to establish enough confidence with their visitors to convert.

Establishing trust with your visitors takes four steps. As you read about these steps, though, remember that this all unfolds in a matter of seconds online.


They can’t trust you before they know you.

This stage is all about driving traffic to your site through different sources and media (search engine optimization or SEO, paid advertising, banner ads, etc.). The awareness stage is about visibility and getting people to find you. You can achieve visibility through marketing and advertising, but be careful: users may trust you less if they feel they arrived at your site deceitfully.


When a visitor first lands on your site, you have mere seconds to convince him to stay, and that’s when the knowledge stage begins. You must demonstrate your value proposition during this stage. Now that visitors are aware of you, it’s a matter of convincing them that you offer a unique value, unmatched anywhere else.


As visitors get to know your business, they will decide whether to purchase from you. During the liking stage, you should address visitors’ questions, such as “Do I know enough about what they do or have to offer?” and “Can’t I go to a more well-known, established name and get these products or services?” If you succeed in moving visitors through the liking stage, you’ve gained them as customers, at least once.


Once visitors have purchased from you, it’s important to ensure that they have a wonderful experience. Trust happens when users complete the shopping experience and successfully receive their product. Up to the point of having the product in their hands, visitors are still anxious about the purchase they just made. A good experience includes receiving the shipment in a timely manner, ensuring that the product is in pristine condition, and, if necessary, making an exchange or return as seamless as possible.

What will persuade and enhance trust in one site visitor versus the next varies tremendously, which goes back to the importance of personas. Many of these issues reflect on business operations beyond your website, but sites can demonstrate seven areas that enhance trust:

  • Value proposition for the company, products, or services

  • Continuity

  • Congruency

  • Social proof

  • Membership/professional organizations or affiliations

  • External reputation

  • Design aspects

Value Proposition

Your value proposition says why a prospect should buy your product or service. What distinguishes your company from the rest of the competition? Customers always want to know the benefit of the product or service, but furthermore, they want to understand why they should do business with you and not with your competition.

Although a well-known company does not need to keep telling visitors who it is once they reach the site, it’s important to maintain relevance by alluding to the value proposition throughout the page. Value propositions are especially critical for newer sites competing against bigger names. They provide a way to conquer the initial online anonymity. Once users identify who you are, what you provide, and what you can do for them, they will overcome their first set of confidence issues.

Many companies define themselves as having “the best customer service” or “the lowest prices.” That’s not an issue as long as you do indeed uniquely offer that value. You must truly stand out in that area among the rest of your competition. We tend to encourage clients to shy away from such overused terms since these are repeated values that many competitors offer. The value proposition must put you at a level that is above the rest. Online, visitors can easily compare sites to figure out whether you really are unique.

Every element on your website, from the home page to the product pages to site navigation, should support that value proposition. It’s the message that you want your visitors not only to read, but also to experience throughout the site. Again, you are defining your company (not your products—there is a different value proposition for that) in a way that you’d like to be remembered by your site visitors.

Amazon.com offers a wide range of items. The site also offers community feedback and reviews on just about anything, positive or negative, throughout the site. Before many online shoppers make a purchase decision, they are likely to visit Amazon.com to comparison shop. The value proposition at Amazon.com could be that it is a community site, allowing you to purchase from a range of vendors, and get the feedback you need to make a more educated decision.

When Ebay.com was first launched, it was one of the first online marketplaces where items could be bought, sold, or traded. Users could successfully auction off items as large as a home (sold for $1) or as bizarre as the Virgin Mary Sandwich (sold for $28,000). There was little other value like that on the Web, and people came flocking as a result. The value that was being offered superseded any concerns users may have had about the site. Therein lies the power of a value proposition.

A well-stated value proposition throughout the site promotes visitor “confidence.” It does not necessarily build your visitors’ trust in your company. As mentioned earlier, confidence is only the second step toward the establishment of trust. If users have enough confidence, they will like you and make a purchase from your site.

Bluefly.com positioned itself as a company that offers only the latest high-end designer fashions. This is not enough to define the value proposition internally; it has to be present throughout your site. Bluefly.com does this beautifully, as you can see in Figure 4-1.

Bluefly.com main home page

Figure 4-1. Bluefly.com main home page

Several elements on the main home page of Bluefly.com communicate the value proposition clearly:

  • The website’s tagline below the logo, “the ultimate hook-up for the fashion obsessed”

  • The “New This Week” section allowing visitors to navigate to the latest items just released in the market

  • The main image displaying the latest models from the fashion world

Every element points to that value proposition. What does this mean for Bluefly customers? Visitors to the site are well aware of what this site has to offer. There is very little chance that visitors will leave the site because they do not know what Bluefly offers—the company clearly states what sets it apart from other apparel stores. This clear value proposition serves another vague purpose: since it caters to the fashion-hungry, visitors to whom this doesn’t apply will bounce off the site quickly. If a visitor does not fit within Bluefly’s niche market, this will become apparent as soon as the visitor sees Bluefly’s home page.

Figure 4-2 shows the main home page for Bookpool.com. The value proposition of the site is stated clearly in its tagline, “Discount Computer Books.” Every image or incentive on the page drives the point that it is a discount computer bookseller:

  • The main image of the site offers an incentive of a 45% discount on books by different publishers.

  • The site allows visitors to browse through technical books on Windows Vista.

  • The navigation panel on the lefthand side of the screen presents different categories of technical books.

Bookpool.com main home page

Figure 4-2. Bookpool.com main home page

Compare Bookpool.com to Powell’s Books’ main home page in Figure 4-3. Visitors to the Powell’s Books website have no indication of what distinguishes this bookstore from the competition. Why would a visitor, who hadn’t encountered Powell’s Books before, select Powell’s over any other bookstore? The main home page does not communicate a clear value proposition. The only hint of a possible value proposition is the rather difficult-to-read tagline saying that the company was established in 1971. Is that enough for visitors who do not know Powell’s Books to judge whether it is a reputable and trustworthy bookstore?

Powell’s Books main home page

Figure 4-3. Powell’s Books main home page


The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is not the same as the value proposition. The USP refers to what is unique and attractive about a specific product, whereas the value proposition is the overall benefit and value a customer will derive from purchasing from your company. Although they are different, they do work hand in hand: the USP for varying advertisements and landing pages will be aligned with the value proposition.

During your initial conversion analysis of a client’s website, determine whether the site’s value proposition is unique. If it is not, work with the client to come up with a value proposition based on their offerings and their customers’ expectations and needs. If the client has a value proposition but it is not clearly stated on the site, focus your efforts on amplifying that value throughout the site.

For example, Zappos.com is one of the few companies that is able to differentiate itself from its competition through excellence in customer service. It is one of the few large ecommerce sites that displays the customer service phone number in the header inviting visitors to call 24/7 if they have any issues. When shopping for shoes online, customers are worried that once the shoes arrive they will not fit correctly or will not be comfortable. Zappos’ unique value proposition addresses these concerns head-on: you can return an item within 365 days, and you get free shipping both ways.

Figures Figure 4-4 through Figure 4-6 show how Zappos reiterates its excellent customer service. Figure 4-7 shows the home page of Endless.com, a direct competitor of Zappos.com. This site lets you know immediately what it is: a “shoes and handbags” site, which is stated in the tagline. The name “Endless” refers to the fact that the company sells anything and everything that falls under the umbrella of shoes and handbags. So, how does Endless deal with the Zappos value proposition? Endless offers:

  • Free overnight shipping on new styles

  • Free return shipping

  • A 100% price match

The free overnight shipping from Endless.com beats the free shipping from Zappos.com. However, the caveat is that overnight shipping is only available on new styles. Overnight shipping appeals to several personas, but it resonates very well with the spontaneous persona. Both sites offer free return shipping. Endless.com offers a 100% price match, which Zappos.com does not offer. Figure 4-8 shows the value propositions of the two sites against each other.

Zappos.com main home page

Figure 4-4. Zappos.com main home page

Zappos.com product page

Figure 4-5. Zappos.com product page

Zappos.com cart page

Figure 4-6. Zappos.com cart page

Endless.com main home page

Figure 4-7. Endless.com main home page

Endless.com versus Zappos.com value proposition

Figure 4-8. Endless.com versus Zappos.com value proposition

Like every element in optimization, a value proposition is a work in progress. Identify your value proposition and then test it to see its impact on your customers. Based on shifts within the market and changing customer expectations, you may need to readjust your value proposition to meet these changes. For instance, in 2009 many companies shifted their value to reflect the downturn of the economy. Wal-Mart has always been a company that “slashes” prices, so it was not much of a departure to bring that within the context of the economic downturn. Wal-Mart became the company that saves you money with a powerful value proposition: “Save Money, Live Better.”

Defining Your Value Proposition

What drives a customer to make a purchase decision? When visitors arrive to your site, they could have come for a few reasons:

  • They arrived by accident because they clicked on the wrong link or advertisement.

  • They are browsing.

  • They have a “problem” and your product will solve it.

It is rare for offline stores to have customers walk in “by accident.” Customers walking through the door either are browsing and window shopping, drawn in by your sale sign or featured product, or are coming specifically to your store to fill a need.

Understanding motivation is key to creating a clear value proposition. By identifying what brings different customers to your site or store, you can adjust your value proposition to meet the needs of every customer. The value proposition should state a value your customers are actually looking for. You can determine this by conducting surveys and field studies of your market. Tapping into your market is the best way to understand what motivates customers to make a purchase.

Our client, RHDJapan, offers the widest selection of Japanese domestic market (JDM) auto parts on the Web. Visitors arrive at the RHDJapan.com website with a number of motivations:

  • They are curious (browsing).

  • They have a knack for building race cars (problem).

  • They sell unique parts to customers (problem).

  • They have a vehicle they’d like to improve but are unsure of what they need (browsing).

Once you’ve identified the motivation, it’s time to evaluate your company: what value do you offer customers that no other competitor offers? If you have no distinguishing value, you are going to have a difficult time convincing visitors that you are better than the alternatives online or offline. Identifying your value proposition requires lengthy brainstorming discussions with key individuals within your company: C-level personnel, VPs, and marketing directors.

For RHDJapan, we discovered that the majority of customers were students, and cost was definitely an issue for them. Race car parts can get very expensive, so getting factory-direct brand-name parts from Japan at the lowest prices was a tremendous value to customers. Again, we do not recommend advertising “lowest prices” unless you really offer the lowest prices and can match a lower price offered elsewhere. Figure 4-9 shows how we communicated RHD’s value proposition on the main home page, giving users more confidence.

RHDJapan.com main home page

Figure 4-9. RHDJapan.com main home page

Value Proposition Matrix

As you work to identify your value proposition, evaluate it based on a scale of 1 to 5 in each of the following areas:


Make your value proposition stand out to be exceptional. This area evaluates the value proposition’s originality as experienced by your customers, as well as within the marketplace. Overused value propositions, such as typical customer service, will get a score of 1. When Zappos first came out with its free shipping both ways, the company introduced an innovative value proposition to the marketplace that set it apart from the competition. Progressive Insurance positioned itself as the website that allows visitors to compare insurance quotes from different companies, which was novel and gave customers enough knowledge to develop a liking for and make a purchase from the company.


How unique is your value proposition compared to your competitors’? Your value proposition should distinguish you in at least one area from the rest of the competition. Consumers consider several companies before making a major purchasing decision because of the commonality these companies share, but the one they select is often the company that offers the most unique value to them. When we launched Invesp in 2006, we competed with few conversion optimization companies. But we suffered from lack of uniqueness. When we found we were most successful working with ecommerce companies on complex conversion optimization problems, we hit gold because none of our competitors positioned themselves that way.


How do you excel at your value proposition? Toyota’s value proposition focuses on quality and reliability. The company delivered on this value until it had major recalls in 2010, which shook consumer confidence in the company and its products.


How desirable is your value proposition to your customers? It is important to consider how relevant or desirable your value is to the various types of customers you have. The more desire you provide them, the more inclined they will be to purchase from your company. Netflix’s value proposition of never charging late fees resonates well with consumers who are tired of paying late fees. Compare that clear value proposition to the number of times Blockbuster had to change the way late fees are calculated in the past few years.

Different visitors will be interested in different aspects. Browsers who are just looking around your site appreciate the originality of your value proposition. Visitors in the early stage of the buying cycle will most likely give the same weight to the different factors. Visitors in the later stage of the buying cycle will most likely give “desirability” and “excellence” more weight.

Evaluate your value proposition through the lens of your personas. What’s the value for the individual persona versus the value for the entire market? Test the value proposition to understand how it will resonate best with each persona:

  • Does it appeal to the impulsive persona? Is it a value the customer can act upon immediately?

  • Does it appeal to the caring persona? How does it relate to other customers? Have other customers benefited from this value?

  • Does it appeal to the aggressive persona? Is this value unique? Do other competitors offer something similar? Why is this value better?

  • Does it appeal to the logical persona? What’s so useful about this value? Will this value truly impact this person’s conversion?

When evaluating your value proposition, you should also consider personas from the various buying stages.

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