Companies must build trust to counter online fears

7 Mar 2005

Online sellers are being urged to reassure customers that their data is secure, in the same way that car manufacturers market safety features. Otherwise, consumers will lose trust in the internet as a channel for doing business, Forrester Research has warned.

In a new briefing document, the firm claimed that escalating security threats form the backdrop to the current climate where consumer confidence in conducting business online is eroding. “Every day, online consumers are pummelled by attempts to clandestinely co-opt their machines or steal their passwords while their email inboxes fill with solicitations of dubious merit, all in an environment of little accountability.”

To counter this, Forrester has advised firms to begin viewing security from the consumer’s point of view and deliver solutions accordingly. Successful security features will be those that are marketed in ways that resonate with consumers, the report found. Traditional assumptions about what security is appropriate and how much is inconvenient are no longer enough. In addition, although e-commerce providers themselves are not to blame for phishing scams or spyware, they should still bear some responsibility for tackling the problem, as consumers perceive these companies are safeguarding their account details or other important data.

Online security can no longer be viewed dispassionately as a technology issue, said Forrester principal analyst Jonathan Penn. Now it encompasses the emotional arena of trust.

According to Forrester, consumers are primarily seeking assurance based on four main points: identity – that is, only the customer can access the account, not impostors; usage – personal information is used only for authorised business activities; service – customers can validate that the service is authentic and secure; and privacy – consumers control access to their personal information.

“Consumers are scared and are responding to that fear by being more reluctant to engage in e-commerce activities,” said Penn. “Whether the threats warrant a high level of fear is irrelevant. Companies need to address consumer concerns in visible ways that resonate. For example, implementing and talking about better fraud detection doesn’t help, but placing more calls to confirm suspicious account activity does.”

The Forrester report recommended marketing security as if it were a new seat belt. Just as there are minimum standards for car safety, many current models offer features that exceed those recommendations. It concluded: “Consumers want security and trustworthiness. They seek the comfort of privacy and security protections, unconditional guarantees in the event of fraud or theft, and ongoing education efforts. Successful firms will advertise their customer advocacy trustworthiness in ways that communicate trustworthiness.”

By Gordon Smith