Consumers’ need for ‘webshop security’ increases during the pandemic, and it is not really tech-related

From a merchant perspective, AfterPay Insights previous research shows that one of the most critical aspects to attract and retain customers is to be perceived as ‘secure’. And this has become even more central since the corona outbreak. But how do consumers interpret a ‘secure’ webshop? Which dimensions are most relevant to build trust in security? We decided to find out by taking a deep dive into the space of ‘perceived security’.

We found out that ‘security’ is a lot broader than just the technical- and data privacy related aspects that the industry normally talks about. In fact, technical security and data privacy only stand for 9% of consumers’ spontaneous associations with a secure webshop.

Consumers’ association with secure can be divided into five main areas that merchants need to cater to in order to be relevant. First, a well-known brand builds trust and therefore attracts new consumers. Second, consumers associate security with webshops that they have made previous purchases with. Third, recommendations & assortment is a key dimension of security. Financial and technical robustness of the merchant also play an important role in defining consumers’ perception of a secure webshop. And finally, consumers need to perceive payment and delivery as trustworthy and reliable to consider a webshop as ‘secure’.

Consumers’ perception of ‘security’ has increased in importance since the corona outbreak

‘Security’ is one of the main demands that consumers place on merchants. It is also a hygiene need that online merchants must perform on to have a right to play. We have now found that, during the course of the pandemic, ‘security’ has become even more important. And this is true for online shoppers in Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.

The five dimensions that consumers say define a ‘secure’ webshop

In order to understand the concept of ‘security’, we asked the one third of consumers that rated this concept as important, to detail what they associate with ‘a secure webshop’. The spontaneously mentioned top-of-mind associations reveal that ‘security’ as a concept is made up of five different facets.

The primary area that online consumers associate with a secure webshop is payment and delivery (34% of associations). Within this area, the most commonly mentioned aspect was ‘reliable delivery’ followed by ‘offers trustworthy payment methods’. Other aspects mentioned span from ‘good customer service’ to ‘delivery from homeland’ and ‘order tracking’.

Second, online consumers associate financial and technical robustness of the merchant with a secure webshop (25% of consumer associations). Only 9% of all consumer associations were related to data security and privacy aspects. This is equal to the share that associate webshop security with the comfort that the webshop has been in business a long time.

The third dimension that online consumers associate with a secure webshop is related to recommendations & assortment aspects (19% of consumer associations), and here ‘good customer reviews’ is the dominant aspect.

Fourth, online consumers also associate security to the more general concepts of previous customer experiences (made previous purchases, 8%). And finally, the general strength of the merchant brand (well-known brand, 14%) is also key in consumers' perception of webshop security. 

Diving deeper into the data, we see that online shoppers in Germany associate a secure webshop more with financial and technical robustness (36% of all German consumers’ associations), in particular that the webshop has been in business a long time and having webshop certifications. But on the other hand, Germans do not associate security with a well-known brand to the same extent (10% of all German consumers’ associations). Norwegian consumers associate security more with payment & delivery (42% of all Norwegian consumers’ associations), especially around reliable delivery and trustworthy payment methods. And Dutch consumers associate ‘security’ relatively more to having made previous purchases (11% of all Dutch consumers’ associations).

From a demographical perspective, consumers aged 18-34 years old have significantly stronger associations to recommendations & assortment aspects such as ‘offer known brands’, ‘good customer reviews’ and ‘recommended by peers’ (30%). In comparison, of consumers aged 55 years and older only 14% associate security with recommendations & assortment. Consumers aged 45 years old and above associate a secure webshop significantly more with aspects related to financial and technical robustness (30%).

Offering trustworthy payment methods is essential to be perceived as a secure merchant

Now that we have uncovered which elements define ‘security’ in the mind of an online shopper, the next step is to find out how important these elements are in consumer’s perception of ‘security’. To do so, we used a multiple response list of answer alternatives containing aspects that merchants can influence in the short- to mid-term. i.e. the aspects previous purchases and well-known webshop were excluded.

Overall, results show that offering trustworthy payment methods is key. Of the consumers that rate the overall concept of ‘security’ as important, around 70% of online shoppers in The Netherlands, Germany and Norway say that offering ‘trustworthy payment methods’ is the most important aspect in defining their perception of a secure webshop.

Looking at the overall results, payment & delivery is the most important of the dimensions. 95% of consumers in Germany and Norway mention at least one aspect in this dimension as important. The corresponding share in The Netherlands is 92%. Aside from offering trustworthy payment methods, other important aspects are ‘reliable delivery’, clear payment information’ & ‘good customer service’. Notable country differences are a higher need for ‘clear payment information’ in Germany and ‘good return policy’ in The Netherlands. Dutch consumers are evidently also more used to international purchases, as only 20% in the Netherlands claim ‘having all information in local language’ is important to feel secure, whereas this share in Norway and Germany is 37%.

Aspects related to recommendations & assortment are mentioned as important by 67% of consumers in Norway, 61% in The Netherlands and 59% in Germany. In this area, Norwegian consumers have a relatively higher need for peer validation in terms of ‘has been used by someone I know, with a positive experience’.

And Germany sticks out when it comes to the area of financial and technical robustness of the merchant. Here, 81% of German consumers mention at least one aspect in this area as important, whereas the corresponding figure for Norway is 64% and 60% for The Netherlands. Notable demands that are higher in Germany in this area are ‘been in business for many years’, ‘clear information about owner of the webshop’, ‘has a stable financial situation’ and ‘share external certification about credit worthiness’.

Deep-diving into demographics, there is a strong correlation between age and the importance placed on the recommendations & assortment aspects of security. This is especially evident regarding ‘has been used by someone I know, with a positive experience’, ‘has social media accounts with lots of followers’ and ‘has many positive customer reviews’. For example, 63% of 18-24 year olds place importance on ‘has many positive customer reviews’, in comparison to 22% among consumers aged 65 years and older. For all age groups, the importance placed on the recommendations & assortment aspects of security is highest for 18-24 year olds, and decrease in importance as consumers get older.

And a gender comparison shows that women place more importance on
‘trustworthy payment methods’, ‘clear information about refund process’, ‘reliable delivery’ and ‘good return policy’ than men. No clear differences exist in between consumers when it comes to life stage, degree of urbanization and household income.

Consumers who spontaneously associated a secure webshop with previous purchases and well-known webshop also rate ‘trustworthy payment methods’ and ‘reliable delivery’ as the most important for them to feel secure.

Experienced shoppers are driven by the ‘recommendations & assortment’ aspects of ‘security’

The demands that consumers place on merchants related to security are quite different depending on consumers’ purchase frequency online. Merchants need to cater to different aspects depending on customer type.

We see that online purchase frequency is correlated to the importance placed on the recommendations & assortment aspects of security: the more frequent a consumer makes online purchases, the more importance the consumer places on recommendations & assortment aspects of security. In addition, the perception of a secure website is also more driven by merchants’ brand strength and in particular the reliance on peer reviews.

Interestingly, heavy shoppers, defined as having made 5 purchases or more online during the last two weeks, put a significantly higher importance on the merchant having ‘many positive customer reviews’ but have a relatively smaller need for having website ‘information in your local language’.

And both heavy shoppers and medium shoppers have a higher need for ‘clear payment information’ and ‘reliable delivery’ compared to light shoppers – who on the other hand put the highest importance on ‘trustworthy payment methods’.

What can online merchants do to increase consumers’ perceived ‘security’?

Online merchants can take three general aspects into account when investigating how to increase perceived security: location, brand novelty and consumers’ demographics.

Besides these general aspects, merchants can also focus on improving the specific aspects within the previously described dimensions of perceived webshop security. To which degree however, depends on how established a webshop is. For newer and online webshops, building brand awareness and a positive customer experience are key. 

When looking at payment and delivery, creating a ‘secure’ perception is all about giving consumers a sense of control and generating trust. If all other aspects of perceived security are not up to par, consumers often fall back on possibilities within payment and delivery methods to mitigate their perceived risk exposure. Paying by credit card, for example, often offers insurance against undelivered items, services or fraud, and it gives consumers the possibility to chargeback any costs that they do not agree with. On the other end of the spectrum, pay-after-delivery services offer the ultimate form of security and control as consumers only pay after they have received goods and services, and are able check the contents and quality of their order.

Merchant considerations:

Using financial and technical robustness to increase consumers’ perception of security is particularly related to level of data security, how long a webshop has been operational and if external certifications are available. 

Merchant considerations:

When it comes to recommendations & assortment, consumers perception of security is heavily influenced by a visual, emotional experience, like having a well-designed website, offering well-known brands and use of online advertising, as well as social affirmations, like customer reviews and recommendations from peers and friends. 

Merchant considerations:

What is next? 

Coming up is a new data set, with which we will be able to add two new data points to our ‘Trends’ tab. Next is also a detailed deep dive into how consumer behavior has developed in Fashion since the corona outbreak. Watch this space!