Radical Transparency: A New Bar Of Consumer Trust in E-Commerce9 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
For as long as set frameworks didn’t exist, doing conventionally unacceptable things has been prevalent and even acceptable in the world of selling.
The book The Poison Squad, tracks the commercial production of food and how before the days of the FDA, it was considered perfectly acceptable to add copper sulphate, a known pesticide, to food products to make them look brighter. Do we blame the pea makers? Not really, because they have a job to do- sell peas.
Such instances just go to show that without clear regulations and better consumer awareness, almost anything is passable as good practice.
However, in retail, the time for change has come. The 2019 State Of Fashion report from McKinsey and Company in association with the Business of Fashion highlights that radical transparency in retail is the need of the hour as more and more consumers get jittery about the brands they buy from.
Today, customers are aware of everything that happens in the retail industry, and the sales ecosystem at large. Data breaches at established corporations and the subsequent introduction of GDPR rules has shown us that until now, our data has been used irresponsibly, willingly or otherwise.
Add to this a broken customer experience chain, and we have a recipe for disaster. The omnichannel experience is evolving over time, but several retail brands still struggle with the implementation. As a result, what is promised on one channel isn’t delivered on another, leading to a huge trust deficit.
A Classic Catch-22
Even though the number of customers preferring a digital receipt is on the rise, they are wary about providing details such as their email address and phone number. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has proved that the most innocent of data elements can often lead to huge consequences. The wide coverage that this scandal received has rightfully made buyers second-guess their choice of sharing their information.
What’s more, before the GDPR rules were set in place, customers would often receive promotional material even though they specifically requested not to. The other end of the argument- that companies have willingly extracted the email address and can thus use it as part of their data property, stands on flimsy ground today.
With so many different aspects influencing consumer trust today, how can we build a better consumer experience and get the buyer to trust the brands more?
Building Trust, One Brick At A Time
There’s a simple, straightforward question that surveys love and brands hate. The question is, “Name five brands that you trust.”
The answer to this question is influenced by a range of factors such as the most recent buying experience, news from and about the brand, the product’s efficiency, the number of purchases made from the brand, etc. For a brand to feature in this list of names is a steady ticket to the promised land of CLV (Customer Lifetime Value).
In an oversaturated retail market, CLV is how some brands continue to thrive even as others perish. Apple may be topping the revenue charts right now, but with a failing product, the chances of staying on top for too long are slim. As brands lose trust, the ramifications aren’t visible immediately. Over time, ad spends go up, marketing gets expensive and by the time we realize what just happened, the time to change has passed.
Indeed, even luxury brands aren’t spared from the trust deficit. What was once perceived as the price of quality is today being seen as being too expensive. Even a factor as basic as changing affordability can significantly erode CLV.
With this in mind, brands need to take a very different approach toward trust. The time has now come for full disclosure at every point in the interaction.
Make Creative Property Safe Again
Imitation is the best form of flattery, they say. Not if someone palms off a duplicate product as an original! And yet, such issues are extremely common, particularly in e-commerce where product visibility is limited to the number of pictures a retailer puts up.
The painstaking work of several designers often features on e-commerce stores where it doesn’t belong. Customers can always tell whether a product is actually being sold by the retailer, or if it is just a ‘representation, and actual quality may vary’.
Indeed, such warning signs do nothing for the industry at large. Even marketplaces need to consider who their vendors are, which ones are underperforming consistently, and which ones are providing false information as all of these lapses reflect poorly on the marketplace itself.
On Instagram, duplicate handles often get the attention of the unwanted kind from the original designers as well as sharp ‘grammars who know a fake product when they see it. It also doesn’t help that sometimes, well-known designers use a lesser-known entity’s creative property. It isn’t a mistake until it gets caught, except in today’s connected world, it is very, very easy to get caught.
By keeping an eye out for counterfeits being passed on under a brand’s name, and also reviewing the in-house creation and use of creative property, brands can prevent major embarrassments and also avoid losing trust. When in doubt, do all you can to avoid becoming Diet Prada’s favorite new target.
Price Goes Independent
Any good pricing strategy almost always takes into account competitor pricing. While it isn’t expected that brands offer heavy discounts all the time, there’s no denying that most global markets are getting frugal with their spending. Rising student loans, an uncertain political atmosphere, and stagnation in traditionally growing markets have all led people to tighten their purse strings.
With this in mind, brands need to go the extra mile to specify why a product costs as much as it does. The apparel industry, in particular, is known for exorbitant profit margins, but that’s set to change. Everlane is one company that has taken the initiative of breaking down each product’s cost to inform customers of the cost of production, labor, transport and even advertising. Seems counterintuitive, but it works as a differentiator for the brand established in 2011.
Pricing today is no longer a product of what someone else in the market is charging. Instead, it needs to depend on what consumers know about the product and what they’re willing to pay for it. The better a brand communicates its pricing strategy to the customer, the higher the chances are of making repeat sales.
Belief In The Brand
With so many brands out there today, it isn’t easy to tell a unique story. As a result, companies find themselves adhering to a strict set of guidelines on representing themselves correctly across all platforms.
Needless to say, a customer can instantly spot the difference between a shallow message and a heartfelt one. The purchase decisions usually tend to accompany the latter. With this in mind, up-and-coming retailers need to pay specific attention to the story. It is a back-to-the-basics approach, and however ordinary the story may seem, it is worth telling. Customers trust a brand with a story more. Often, it can be as simple as stating the problem the brand set out to solve.
For example, Warby Parker’s brand story is very memorable. They noticed just how much eyewear costs, and they set out to solve the problem- a relatable problem, a logical solution, and a very ordinary-sounding name is all it took to give them a $1.75B valuation.
Trust comes with relatability, and brands like Birchbox, Lululemon, THINX, and the master-storytellers Nike all know this very well.
Bucking Up On Data Usage
Ever had the experience of signing up on one website, and beginning to receive promotional email from nine others? When we stop and think about it, how are all of these irrelevant ads and promos getting into our inbox?
Brands in the retail space, moreover, have access to data beyond just the email address. They know the product size ordered by the customer. They can tell if a purchase was made for a special occasion (gift wrapping, anyone?). What’s more, with advanced data analytics, they can even predict what products a customer is likely to buy in the future.
This is information that most brands guard ferociously. Up until now, though, the intent in safeguarding this data has been to maintain market dominance and to encourage customers to buy more. Today, however, such a need for data protection takes on ethical implications as well.
Whether a brand does or doesn’t divulge data is of no significance to customers. What matters to them is for them to know for sure that such a thing isn’t happening. If word gets out that customer data is being misused, big names can crumble in no time at all. This reason alone is enough for brands to want to bring in tighter regulations.
Making The Case For Radical Transparency
The time is now for brands to consider every individual customer, their preferences and their process of thinking. What is the best way to tell them more about their favorite brand? What initiatives can brands take to continue garnering trust? These are some of the questions that key decision-makers need to think through today.
For a fast-fashion label, H&M’s Conscious initiative is a refreshing example of what transparency can look like. Just the fact that they are willing to close the loop on buying and discarding, and that they’re doing so in a customer-centric manner earns them major brownie points. A similar approach may not work for all brands.
The key to better transparency is to identify the one area where it is lacking and begin by fixing just that one first. Keeping your customers informed about the measures you business takes towards making a change, makes all the difference between a mitigation process and going that extra mile for providing a bespoke service