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Fear Factor: How Fear & Uncertainty & Doubt Undermine eCommerce Conversions

eCommerce Conversions

Published by

July 6, 2017

Fear, uncertainty and doubt accompany every transaction we make, to some degree. They all influence ecommerce conversions in various degrees. We expect that when we exchange our hard-earned cash for a product, we’ll receive something of equal or greater value in return. But we’ve been fooled before (and if we haven’t, thousands of online reviewers have, which is enough to make anyone jumpy).

Fundamentally, the e-commerce customer fears they will be giving up something they know is worth (money) and may not receive the same value in return. They are uncertain whether they will be satisfied with the choice they made. Maybe something else might have been better, but they missed out on it (FOMO isn’t just for millennials). And finally they will doubt (until proven otherwise) whether they need the particular product/service at all.

You are competing against all of this, and as an e-commerce store, you are guilty until you prove innocent.

And then there’s the process of paying, which involves the buyer leaving some of their most sensitive data in the hands of people they don’t know. You are asking them to take your word for it that their data will not be abused and that they’ll receive the product as advertised.

As you can see, in online world there are a lot of obstacles one must overcome to make a positive decision on whether to buy at all.

Factors influencing the decision to buy

Who is the seller?

It’s a lot easier to sell something in person than it is to sell over the internet. Why? Because when you have a brick and mortar store, your customers can walk in, meet you face to face, see, hold, and maybe even try out the product immediately, and if once they buy anything goes wrong, they know exactly where to find you.

E-commerce stores come with none of these luxuries.

When customers reach an online e-commerce website, they are keenly aware that they only see what you want to show them – about yourself, and about your products. And they don’t trust you to tell them the good and the bad. They arrive in a state of doubt.

eCommerce Conversions Doubt and Fear Sign
eCommerce Conversions Doubt and Fear Sign

From there, website visitors are left to wonder whether the e-commerce site is legitimate – and they make this first impression very quickly, in less than 5 seconds. This impression is based almost solely on the store’s visual presentation. Does the website look modern and professional? Or does it look like it hasn’t been updated in 20 years? Having an out of date website sends a red flag to already suspicious customers that this is a fly-by-night operation.

If you make it past that first impression, visitors will continue to look for clues that will confirm or invalidate their initial observations. They’ll look for professional photos of products, testimonials and reviews from customers, and security badges – and they will form a strong impression based on how easy your website is to use, and how well you’ve ironed out your user experience.

Brands that are strongly established have a strong advantage over newer or smaller brands, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the running. You don’t need to be Amazon to make a sale.

How do you establish trust on your homepage?

To bridge this first five seconds you need to include the following:

1. Clear information who you are

When you give your prospects clear info of who you are, preferably with pictures of employees (contextual photograph tend to work the best – ie connect your employees with your product), office space and other info that unambiguously shows there is a real business behind your website. Include phone numbers, office addresses and other info that shows your business is legitimate.

2. Provide an up to date website design

Modern and up to date design has very good chance to woo your visitors and make them trust you more. Which does not mean you need to include novelties that look good on paper but have unproven effect on user experience.

3. Prototypical layout of the ecommerce stores tends to help a lot

Your website layout has the best chance to make your visitors convert if it feels and looks familiar to other sites in the same business.

“In a study by Google in August of 2012, researchers found that not only will users judge websites as beautiful or not within 1/50th – 1/20th of a second, but also that “visually complex” websites are consistently rated as less beautiful than their simpler counterparts.

Moreover, “highly prototypical” sites – those with layouts commonly associated with sites of it’s category – with simple visual design were rated as the most beautiful across the board.”

Tommy Walker from Shopify in his blog post for Conversion XL

4. Perfection

It goes without saying, but is worth repeating – your copy should be absolutely free from any grammatical or other errors. Paying attention to small details like that enhances trust and credibility of the website and helps reduce doubt.

If you successfully negotiate this step and get people to pay attention to your actual offer and products, you encounter the next big step.

Gaining trust on your product pages

Congratulations – your visitor has made it past your home page and trusts you enough to click onto a product page! Unfortunately, there are many more obstacles ahead. This is where you can make or lose the sale, and much of that depends on whether you can eliminate the fear factors that would prevent your visitor from purchasing.

Hopefully you’ve created a great product page (not sure? Check out our guide). In the sea of photoshopped images, false advertising and similarly questionable methods, you need to convince your customer that your product image is real, accurate, and delivers the information they need to make their decision. Once again, you face the issues of doubt and it needs to be minimized.

eCommerce Conversions - Product Page
eCommerce Conversions – Product Page

This is a nice e-commerce product page – but take a careful look at the product images. Yes, they’re professional and appear to be accurate in color (a frequent problem since every monitor shows color a little differently), but they are missing vital information for the target buyers to make a decision.

There is no picture of the inside of the purse.

How is the buyer to know if there’s a cell phone pocket, hidden zipper pockets, or any of the other little conveniences that separate a bag from a really fine, useful, purse? There’s not enough information.

Physical stores have this advantage over online business. When a visitor walks into a store, they can see the actual product and test it right there. When you can’t deliver that experience, you have to invest in giving your visitors the next best thing – which is lots and lots of information.

  • Pictures that show multiple angles and interiors of the product, as well as pictures of the product in use (it would be nice to see that purse on someone’s arm to get a better idea of its size)
  • Testimonials from previous purchasers who can report back on how the product feels and functions
  • Promises of customer support and easy returns should the product arrive flawed
  • Promises of fast shipping

Many sites prominently show things like same day shipping guarantees, money back guarantees if the item is not delivered within some reasonable time, and offers of shipping tracking. If your store did a good job in establishing trust at the outset, visitors will be more likely to believe you at this stage.

Social proof on your product pages is golden – literally, it will make you money.

Make sure you have credible testimonials and/or user reviews on the product page itself. Visitors won’t trust you to tell them what your product is really like, but they do trust their peers, especially if the reviews you show seem authentic (ie. not all completely, 100% positive).

If you can, let them know also that they’re getting the best deal (to combat FOMO – fear of missing out). does this in a very clever way: If you open their home page, you will see their “Best Deal Guarantee. We match any price you find online.”

You can also offer added incentives at this stage, like free shipping to customers who spend a minimum amount. Often, sites will offer their first customers some additional benefits, to encourage them to purchase a product. SaaS companies offer demos or freemium versions of the software they sell, so the potential customers can try it hands-on. That might not be possible for product-based e-commerce stores, but the principle is the same – give them an offer they can’t refuse.

Eventually, given enough persuasion, at least a few of the visitors will take a dip and put the product in their cart.


All they need to do now is to give you their money.

Hah! Like it’s that easy.

Because this is where fear really takes the wheel.


“Your greatest dreams are all on the other side of the wall of fear and caution.” – Unknown

The real test of your website is whether the visitor will trust you enough to give you their money. Unlike in the brick-and-mortar world, paying online requires giving away some of the most sensitive personal information we have – our bank accounts. To expedite paying online, visitors must provide you with a way to charge their credit cards.

There are so many horror stories about identity theft that visitors are rightly concerned about passing around their private information. If they are not 100% confident that you are trustworthy, they’ll change their minds and leave. In case you missed it, here is an excellent post about shopping cart abandonment on our blog.

Fortunately, there are ways to earn their trust.

This process begins long before they reach your shopping cart – you’ll need to provide a number of trust indicators, including design, content & copy (this starts right on the homepage), social media and social proof throughout your website and online brand presence.

Those alone will probably keep your bounce rate down.

Conversions, though, are somewhat more complicated beasts. To make people give you money, they not only need to trust you, they must feel safe too.

Here is where security seals come into play. Common examples are Google Trusted Store certificate, Symantec (previously known as VeriSign) SSL certificate, and PayPal.

eCommerce Conversions - Security Seals
eCommerce Conversions – Security Seals

Using trust seals and certificates, you can alleviate a large part of the fear visitors may have about the online transactions.

Here’s how this works: Many users will be reluctant to provide their credit card numbers to you directly. In this case you can use third a party service, such as PayPal or AmEx Express Checkout, etc. Using these services, your visitors can authorize payments to you without revealing their personal information.

Sometimes visitors are not willing to reveal their information because they think you will clutter their inbox with promotional emails, or do not want to fill in forms for any number of different reasons. In this case, you might also consider offering a “guest checkout” option, so visitors don’t need to create an entire account before purchasing at your store.

Guest accounts are useful for establishing first contact and getting your customers to try your service out. Once they buy, they will most likely return and create an account. But that trust must be earned.

And nurtured. And maintained.

Nurturing and maintaining trust

There are numerous studies, such as Business Insider Intelligence research, that show that returning customers have higher conversion rates and spend more time on websites.

eCommerce Conversions - Returning customers have higher conversion rates and spend
eCommerce Conversions – Returning customers have higher conversion rates and spend

It’s clear that once you sell something and turn your visitor into a customer, the odds are good that they’ll return and purchase more and more – if you don’t disappoint them.

Returning customers are much more likely to trust you and with each new transaction, this trust will grow. It is your task to keep up the good work and keep the customer satisfied.

There are a few things you can do to stay in your customers’ good graces.

Personalization: This is also one of heuristics that we mention in our blog post on heuristic research. Personalization is how you make each customer’s visit to your website seem like a familiar and welcoming experience, like walking into the bar at Cheers (everybody knows your name).

One of the world leaders in personalization is Amazon. Once you establish an account, they will track all your actions, purchases, reviews, product views and wish lists and try to show you the merchandise they believe will interest you the most. This approach is one of the things that made Amazon into what it is today. It may not be warm and fuzzy, but it gets top marks for being relevant.

Reliability: This is another feature your website must have to retain the trust of its customers. Your service must always be of the same high quality. If you make one slip up, you may get away with it, but you may also experience adverse effects. One negative review or blog post on your service may be all it takes to bring your website to failure.

Consistency means maintaining the experience of your website as roughly the same, or at least similar, over time. Unless you really need to change, keep the website design, content and navigation familiar so the returning customers can recognize it and use it easily.

Think of this in terms of your favorite grocery store. If they kept changing the isle where they keep the bread, it would be quite annoying.

Friction – not quite fear, but just as bad

To fully grasp the concept of friction, we will borrow a model that can be very useful for visualization purposes. It is called a persuasion slide.

eCommerce Conversions - Persuasion Slide
eCommerce Conversions – Persuasion Slide (Source:

The main elements of the model are nudge, gravity, angle and friction. Nudge represents your call-to-action and value proposition. The force of gravity is the constant and represents the motivation of your visitor. Angle represents the elements such as ease of use, content consistency and other motivational factors you provide. Finally, friction is any hurdle or difficulty, real or perceived, that may dissuade your visitor from purchasing.

In terms of a model, friction is a generic term denoting everything that creates an obstacle or hurdle in the path of conversion. While the process of buying something will always have at least some friction, it can be minimized using the right methods .

Those methods include:

  1. Increasing motivation through offering additional benefits
  2. Limiting the amount of information a visitor needs to provide (especially private information)
  3. Increasing trust and confidence (as we discussed above)
  4. Easing the way the visitor interfaces with the site (improving the user interface)
  5. Offering social proof

While overcoming friction may be difficult, and reducing it to zero impossible, your website must make conscious and deliberate effort to smooth the slide’s surface enough to make the really motivated visitors convert. Failing to convert the motivated visitor, who has reached your website in search of a solution to their problem, is a sure sign that no other visitor will convert either.

Useful methods to further increase trust to increase ecommerce conversions

Using content marketing you can demonstrate your customers you know a lot about the products you sell, you are up to date with the business area your site operates in or simply offer them useful advice related to the issues you products solve.

The best way for content marketing is to maintain an active blog for example. Or you could use videos to present your products. Interactive content can be the best way to foster trust and gather some data on your customers too.

Interactive content such as quizzes, assessments or trivia, as well as calculators and similar, can be used to provide useful information to your prospects and also gather information on them, they volunteer to provide.

While not providing any direct benefit to your website, providing content will increase your credibility and reduce doubt and uncertainty with you prospects.

There’s nothing to fear – but fear itself

Convincing the customer to make the first purchase is what every e-commerce website struggles with. As you have seen, there are many obstacles you need to overcome. Every one of them is in a certain way influenced by doubt, uncertainty and fear.

Using methods such as social proof, trust seals and authentic and honest copy can go a long way towards alleviating fears and doubts with your visitors. Of course, it is impossible to make fears and doubts totally go away. But, all you have to do is to minimize them enough so the visitor’s motivation is a more powerful force. This will increase ecommerce conversions for sure.

You can achieve this by easing the way the visitor interacts with the site, giving benefits (deals, special discounts or coupons), allowing instant transactions (think ‘Buy with one click’ at Amazon) or expediting delivery. Furthermore, make sure that your website design is modern, simple to navigate and clear.

Relevance and clarity go a long way to earning your visitors’ trust and grabbing their attention. Make sure that you have both areas covered.

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Edin is a Senior CRO Consultant. Edin is into Google Analytics and testing (any A/B testing tool really) and likes to write about it. You can follow Edin on Twitter.