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Designing Experiences That Build Trust

Today’s brands must architect their sites for low-intent shoppers via inspiration and discovery mechanisms that inspire confidence. In this lesson, learn how to develop trust online.

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Chapter 2
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Mick McCarthy
Chief Design Officer at Zehner

In this lesson, learn how to develop trust online.

Consider the End-to-End Result From All Layers of Your Brand

Visitors form an opinion of your brand within seconds. What if it takes longer for your site to load? Today’s consumers expect so much from a brand that you simply have to nail every touchpoint.

Trust in your brand reaches way past the legitimacy of your products. When designing experiences that build trust, you have to look end-to-end from all layers of the brand, including user interfaces, technology, and load time.

Designing for trust means architecting a buyer journey that prioritizes customer experience from discovery, through conversion, and even post-purchase, both on-site and off.

Take Advantage of the Digital Space for Meaningful Discovery

People often wax poetic about the in-store experience, and, while it has value, I think the online purchase experience can actually be much more rewarding and effective at establishing trust.

When I’m shopping in-store, I can end up with a sales associate who may not be super invested in the brand or who may not have the information I’m looking for. They’re doing the best they can, but online I can get everything I need right away.

If you’ve done your homework, you can create a much more personal experience online by including social proof, like reviews and customer photos, as well as other types of content that you can’t access in a store. Reviews in particular have a lot of brand equity.

When you use social proof to build a story across channels, like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, your blog, etc. and weave in educational content, you have a lot more power to build trust than you would just with an in-store experience.

Add to that super descriptive product info, resources like fit guides for apparel, or customer photos so shoppers can see products in action, and you can really create a lot of resonance with shoppers, taking them from consideration to conversion.

Build for Confidence and Conversion Will Follow

Every eCommerce site has two things: a consideration path and a conversion path. Trust in your brand and your products helps move shoppers from consideration to conversion. But, in order to build that trust effectively, you need to look further than the elements on your site — product photos, reviews, videos, blog content etc. — and into a shopper’s entire journey with your brand.

Consider what a shopper’s acquisition point is — email, paid, social, word-of-mouth recommendation? Is it their first time visiting your site? What device are they using?

Once you understand the context of their entry point into your sales funnel, you can make smarter decisions about design. For example, you can think about how a shopper might consider a product differently on a laptop or a mobile device, and how it might affect whether they’ll really start digging into your brand at that moment.

The same is true once a shopper converts: you have to think about the communication strategy related to that particular conversion, how to support the purchase, whether that’s through free shipping or something else. And if they didn’t convert, how can you ensure that they still had a valuable interaction?

Creating a trusted experience is a matter of fine-tuning all of these levers and dials and considering all of these points.

Don’t Forget the Value of Building Trust Post-Purchase

Once a customer has converted, you want to make sure they feel that trusting your brand was the right decision. The post-purchase experience is paramount here.

Follow up in a way that shows you care about their experience with your product and your brand — ask about the service, the quality, etc.

If you get negative feedback, there’s still an opportunity to build trust by quickly remedying the problem. There’s an old quote that “your defects are your assets,” and when building trust in a new brand, your startup status can really be your greatest asset, since it allows you to test and change things more quickly.

Smaller brands can get feedback about everything from product to service and site design almost right away. They can understand how their users are moving through their experience and improve from early on. So being small and starting off is really an amazing opportunity to get things right before you’re too big to be as agile.

Take advantage of new beginnings to meet the most important design goals: achieving what the user wants and reaching your business objectives.


  • Remember the journey. Shoppers don’t just materialize on your site. Use the context of where they’ve come from to inform their experience and build trust.
  • Educate online. Digital channels give you more opportunities to educate your customers and showcase social proof than physical retail. Take advantage of this content-rich landscape to build strong relationships with shoppers.
  • Be agile. Use customer feedback to make quick, relevant improvements that show you care.