E-commerce is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Consider the fact that just a couple of decades ago, shoppers were required to actually (gasp!) drive to a store in order to make a purchase. Today, entrepreneurs and business owners from all walks of life can reach out to consumers throughout the world via the Internet. In order for prospective customers to actually make a buying decision, though, they need to feel assured that the e-commerce store is legitimate and that their personal information will be protected. This is where the oh-so-trusty trust seal comes into play.

But who’s paying attention to these seals, what messages do they convey to buyers, and are some perceived to be more credible than others? Because we receive questions like these so frequently, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know about trust seals.

Types of Trust Seals

When a potential customer lands on your e-commerce website, he or she will be looking for visual cues that your business is credible, and that their information will remain safe and secure throughout the transaction process. One of the best visual indicators of reliability is a trust seal. Trust seals can actually can serve a number of purposes. Some of these icons work to inform consumers that their transaction will be safe (secure site seals, or SSLs). Third party companies like Norton Secure, Thwate, TrustWave, GeoTrust, and Comodo offer these seals.

Other seals might demonstrate to users that the site is free from vulnerabilities and viruses, as in the case of McAfee Secure. Finally, customers might look for icons on display that prove that your business has a solid reputation through the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List. In order to obtain a trust seal, your business must be validated by the trust company to ensure that you’ve met their standards.

Consumer Faith in Trust Seals

After making the effort to adhere to a trust company’s rules and standards and investing in their seal of approval, you want to know that your customers are actually going to pay attention to the “badges” you’ve earned for yourself. Will the use of safety seals actually improve your business model and help you to gain the trust of your consumer audience? A recent survey conducted by Econsultancy/Toluna revealed that nearly half of all survey participants indicated that trust seals were the most important factor that they considered when determining whether or not they would purchase goods or services from an online store. These seals work to provide buyers with the peace of mind that their information won’t be prone to theft or unauthorized sharing, and that their computer’s won’t become vulnerable to a virus or other threat post-purchase.

The Perceived vs. Actual Benefits of a Trust Seal

One of the most interesting things about customer faith in trust seals is that most have no idea as to which seals are “best’, or what they actually mean. Last year, Baymard Institute decided to sink its teeth into the issue and do a little research on which trust seal that buyers put the most stock in. 2,510 individuals were surveyed and asked to indicate which seal would be most likely to earn their business. A whopping 1,286 of those surveyed (more than half) responded “Don’t Know” or “No Preference”.

Of those who did indicate a preference, however, the results were decisive:

  • Norton Secured – 35.6%
  • McAfee – 22.9%
  • TRUSTe – 13.2%
  • Better Business Bureau – 13.2%
  • Thwate – 6%
  • TrustWave – 3.2%
  • GeoTrust – 3.1%
  • Comodo – 2.8%.

What’s especially intriguing about these findings is that, with the exception of Norton, all of the third party companies that offer actual SSLs (with high-tech encryption and protective measures) ranked lowest on the list. This is likely because consumers are more likely to give credit to those companies that they recognize the most, as this provides them with a perceived sense of security. While seals from McAfree, TRUSTe, and the Better Business Bureau may make customers feel more secure, though, this isn’t always an indication of actual security. Go figure.

Putting It All Together

So what does this mean for your business, exactly? Should you just go with a single Norton Secure trust seal since that’s what the masses seem to want? That depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. True, a Norton seal will look credible to customers while also providing security, but you also don’t want to alienate any of your other prospective buyers. If you really want to go all out, you might consider using an SSL like Norton to indicate a secure connection, a seal from a company like McAfee to represent that your site is free from hackers and viruses, and a seal to prove that your business has built a solid reputation with its customers.