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For Online Marketplaces, Trust is the New Currency

Written by Steve Dziedzic, Director/Head of Marketplace Products @ The Knot.SD

For local businesses, it used to be really simple. Consumers would find you in the Yellow Pages, call you, and ask you for your services. You'd smile and oblige them.

That doesn't happen anymore. Also, what are Yellow Pages?

Sellers are now found on websites and mobile apps, which display them in an order they can't control, and even when consumers do find them, they don't call on the phone. They email, message, or don't communicate at all--because there's enough available information on the page to satisfy them. The true person-to-person interactions are nearly non-existent.

So then, sellers can't control anything within these marketplaces, unless they pay lots of money to show up on page one.

What can they control?

The truth is that, even though the odds are stacked against them, sellers can control the most important thing of all: the trust between themselves and the consumer.

Trust is the new currency of the Internet. Though trust may seem like a nebulous concept between two sets of strangers (the buyer and the seller), it's actually quite quantifiable. There are four distinct things that sellers can do to serve more buyers.

1. The 900% Factor: Speed of Communication: If there's one thing sellers can control directly, it's response time. In an age of mobile email clients and push notifications, anyone can respond to an inquiry as soon as they see it—even if it's just something candid like, "Thanks for emailing. I'll send you a more detailed follow-up when I get back to the office!"

And there's good reason for responding immediately: you'll increase your client responses by 900%.

Research conducted by Kellogg's Dr. James Oldroyd showed that responding to a lead within the first hour increased your chances by 900%. If you can catch that person in the midst of their research mode, you'll have their attention. More importantly, the immediate response builds trust. Specifically, it says that you'll be there for them when they need you. Think about how much it annoys you when a friend doesn't respond to your texts. Now think about how nice it is to have a friend that always responds...the same principle applies with local buyers and sellers.

2. The Why: Sellers can also control their editorial and communication. Specifically, they can build all of their communication around why they do what they do. For instance, say a couple is looking for a professional florist for a wedding and emails two different florists. Imagine these two responses:

  • "Thanks for emailing! We have premium quality flowers at great prices, and I'd love to sit down with you to discuss."
  • "Thanks for emailing! I just love creating stunning weddings through floral design--it's why I got into this business. Let's sit down with you to discuss."

The first email, although it's straightforward and compelling, doesn't appeal to our emotion; it appeals to our logical side. Although the logical side of our brain processes data efficiently, it doesn't make our decisions. The emotional side does.

If you don't effectively communicate the "why," you won't close as many deals, because you're not communicating to the buyer's decision-making faculties. The "why" bonds with the part of our brain that latches onto ideas and confirms our judgment. And again, identifying with the client on the personal side of things builds trust, too.

If at all possible, include the "why' on the online profile, too, not just in correspondence.

3. Photography: We live in the age of design, and nothing speaks louder than amazing photos. That's one reason why AirBnB started funding professional photos for apartments: they realized that their sellers' conversion rates would go way up if they did so. The ROI was substantial.

The better the photos, the most trust is build, the higher conversion you'll see.

Why do photos build trust? Simply put, photography is a light form of a user review. Everything that a user says in a written review provides images of what the seller is like in terms of quality, and photos can do that instantly. I'm not saying that they can replace reviews, but I am saying that they're necessary. Whether it's AirBnB, eBay, The Knot, or Houzz, photos convert because they build trust pixel by pixel.

In my experience at both Hoppit and The Knot, it's the #1 converter of the search results page to the profile page. That's why sellers should select their search result photo very carefully and test several variations.

4. Reviews: I won't spend much time here because, by this point, everyone knows reviews are incredibly important. Reviews are the #1 way that sellers can lose and gain trust, and they should seek to get positive reviews however they can. At The Knot, a high majority of leads go to the local vendors with the most reviews. The reason is simple: the user base has vetted these local vendors on the user's behalf. It's much easier to commit when you know you're not taking as much risk. If others have trusted, you, too, can trust.

Conclusions: I've seen conversion rates go through the roof when sellers executed on the above four items. Photography and Reviews can lead buyers to the seller profile, and speedy, thoughtful communication can close deals quickly.

Constantly have trust in mind. The second that something jeopardizes trust, eliminate it.