With more and more companies and products showing up online, it is hard to figure out who’s who, and whom to trust. Am I buying from someone selling out of his garage? Does this organization even warehouse any of the products? Is he a fifth-tier seller and am I paying a hefty premium? If I call customer service, am I going to have to wait until the business owner gets home from his day job to respond to me? What are other people saying about this business?

When I co-founded Minimus.biz in 2004, people were finally trusting putting their credit card information online and actually buying real products. But people were wary of who was on the other end of the transaction. I came up with a simple idea to address this a couple of years into the business. It wasn’t the security seal on the website (everybody has one now), or the “About Us” story that gave people a personal connection, or the Better Business Bureau rating. I decided to list our major press mentions on our home page. Business increased immediately. The third-party validation of the press gave people the trust they needed.

Soon thereafter, product and company reviews started to become extremely popular. Sites like Yelp helped people pick new restaurants. That works when the public is more savvy than the business owner. Then business owners learned the value of these reviews and began seeding these reviews with friends and family. It has now gotten to the point where a majority of review sites cannot be trusted, or at least need to be viewed skeptically.

Is a seal of approval worth anything anymore?

Last year, I got a phone call that fascinated me. It was from a company called StellaService.com. They had “mystery shopped” our website without our knowledge, and then returned their order. Apparently, they tried to give us as hard a time as they could, and used various communication methods and tactics. They measured our response. Their whole reason for being was to counteract the “seeding” of review sites on the web and create an unbiased review portal. They were answering the need for additional measures of trust in e-commerce.

Many online companies skip over the idea that they need to have a “trust strategy” to make sure that customers are comfortable with shopping on their website. You can do all the marketing in the world, and have great prices, but if people don’t trust shopping on your website, you might be throwing time and money away.