Prettier websites gain trust

July 12, 2011

Despite the increase in online scams and malicious websites, internet consumers are 20 per cent more trusting of websites than they were five years ago, according to a new University of Melbourne study.

However, while surfers may be more trusting, online shoppers are 30 per cent less loyal to online businesses than in 2007.

Author of the study, Dr Brent Coker, said the increase in online consumer trust is largely linked to the visual appeal of websites. “As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence. As the internet has become prettier, we are venturing out, and becoming less loyal.”

“With websites becoming increasingly attractive and including more trimmings, this creates a greater feeling of trustworthiness and professionalism in online consumers.”

Dr Coker, from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics, developed a formula to track patterns and trends in online behaviours and purchasing. The formula, called ‘Webreep’, creates a score for 130 website industries based on seven dimensions of quality: visual appeal, trustworthiness, ease of use, search quality, information quality, information relevancy and load speed. Webreep started mapping the internet in 2007.

According to Dr Coker, the research could have a profound impact on the future of e-commerce. “The biggest source of frustration is the inability to find relevant information on a website. The best way to stop defection to other websites, and increase loyalty, is to be interesting. Being pretty, but with nothing to say, is not enough.”

The research found that if a website has poor navigation or access to information, or is slow (i.e. more than two seconds to download), web surfers are more likely to opt against purchasing and navigate to an alternate website.

In the last five years, the frequency of referring others to websites has increased by 32 per cent. “This increase is largely due to social networking sites, like Facebook, that enable users to share links and recommendations,” Dr Coker suggests.

“People are developing relationships with the internet the same way we develop relationships with other people. Compared to five years ago, we are more trusting of attractive websites, less tolerant of websites that have irrelevant information, and more likely to introduce ourselves to websites that are new.” he said.

”Our online lives are changing the way we think about shopping and interaction with others,” Dr Coker says. “Shopping offline is very different to shopping online. Offline we shop in a large room, with clear signage, and often a sales assistant. Online, however, what we want to buy is buried somewhere, and we’re left to find it on our own.”

The final paper will be presented the 2011 World Congress in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Applied Computing, held in Las Vegas.

Source: University of Melbourne

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