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Designs for Effective Implementation of Trust Assurances in Internet Stores

  1. Introduction
  2. Categorization of Trust Assurances
  3. Current Usage: Extent of Trust Assurances Utilized
  4. Assurance Delivery Modes
  5. Developing Trust Enhancing Assurance Content
  6. Conclusion
  7. References
  8. Authors
  9. Footnotes
  10. Figures
  11. Tables

Improving customer trust in an internet store is an important goal in B2C electronic commerce because it leads to outcomes important for the success of an Internet store, such as reduced customer risk perceptions in transacting with the store and increased willingness to buy from the store.4 Therefore, one of the critical success factors for Internet stores is to convince customers of the store’s trustworthiness, which refers to a set of customers’ beliefs regarding the ability, integrity, and benevolence of the online merchant.5 One mechanism by which such perceptions of trustworthiness on the part of stores can be established is to provide trust assurances on a store’s Web site. Trust assurance refers to “a claim and its supporting statements used in an Internet store to address trust-related concerns.” An example of trust assurance statements found in internet stores is:

“100% safe – we guarantee it.

We are so confident in our security that we guarantee you’ll pay nothing if unauthorized charges are made to your credit card as a result of shopping at”
        (Excerpted from a checkout page of

Trust assurances can be provided by an Internet store itself, by customers, or by a third party organization. For example,, shown in Figure 1, displays both a store’s self-proclaimed assurance (such as “safe shopping our security guarantee”) and a third-party assurance (such as Hacker Safe).

In this article, we first review finding in previous studies regarding trust assurance. Then we provide a snapshot regarding how often Internet stores use trust assurances and what concerns are addressed in such trust assurances by reporting current usage of trust assurances based on observations of 85 Internet stores. We expect that this snapshot will help business managers to understand how other companies use trust assurances. Second, we suggest two design guidelines for effective implementation of trust assurances for Web developers.

Before reporting our findings based on observations from 85 Internet stores, we briefly review the findings of several previous studies regarding trust assurances.

First, many studies have reported that displaying trust assurances increases the trustworthiness of an Internet store. A store’s own assurance enhances the trustworthiness of an Internet store if they are well-structured.6 Third-party assurances (or trustmarks), such as TRUSTe and BBBOnLine seals positively influence the favorableness of a store’s privacy policies,9 and are more influential in improving a firm’s trustworthiness than a rating by Consumer Reports magazine is.1 Among third-party assurances, the WebTrust seal appeared to be more influential than BBBOnLine when people chose a vendor.7 Interestingly, third-party assurances were not considered as important as “security features,” such as SET (Secure Electronic Transaction), SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), and a lock symbol, in customer’s decisions to buy on the World Wide Web.2

Second, detailed design/ usability guidelines for building a Web site are already available. For example, best practices in Interaction Design can be accessed at van Welie’s Web site ( In respect to specific implementations of trust assurances, ease of access to assurances was suggested as one of several design considerations. For example, van Duyne et al.12 suggested that Internet stores needed to make their privacy policy available on each of their Web pages. The finding that only 54% of licensees of the top 500 Internet consumer Web sites display their privacy seal of approval information on both their home and privacy pages9 indicates that the other 46% has room to improve their customers’ ease of access to trust assurances.

In this study, based on van Duyne et al.12 we examine ease of access to trust assurances. In addition, we examine the application of ease of return to the original checkout screen that customer was working on before accessing trust assurances which is important for customers to easily complete the checkout process. These two implementation issues (for example, ease of access and ease of return) are examined in the assurance delivery modes section.

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Categorization of Trust Assurances

To examine current usage of trust assurances, we sampled 85 Internet stores. These stores are among those selling the top 9 frequently sold products on the Internet (for example, clothes, books, CDs, electronics, travel, jewelry/watch, sporting goods, computers / peripheral, and software/games).11 From’s directory of Internet stores we randomly selected the 85 that sell one or more of the nine most frequently sold product categories. Among the 85 stores, 48 were “popular” stores as classified by, while 37 were not. We also examined the product price ranges in the 85 stores and we classified them into 36 that sell ‘expensive’ products (for example, prices of most of the products in a store are over $100) and 49 that sell ‘inexpensive’ ones (for example, prices of most of the products are under $100).

Trust assurances were identified by searching claims displayed in these Internet stores, regarding customers’ trust-related concerns in online shopping based on the categories suggested by Kim and Benbasat,6 such as information transmission security, personal information protection, credit card shopping safety, easy return, on-time delivery, product quality, and product price. We visited these 85 Web sites and coded the characteristics of Web sites (such as, URL, popular store or not, and store selling expensive products or not) and the characteristics of trust assurances identified (trust-related concerns covered, sources of assurances, and delivery mode of assurances).

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Current Usage: Extent of Trust Assurances Utilized

A total of 453 trust assurances were identified in the 85 stores selected, i.e., stores displayed on average 5.3 trust assurances per store. In terms of sources of assurance, a store’s self-proclaimed assurance accounted for 69% (3.7 assurances per store), third party assurances 28% (1.5 assurances), and customers’ assurances for 3% (0.1 assurances) of the total.

Most frequently addressed trust-related concerns by these trust assurances are shown in Table 1. Assurances concerning information transmission security (1.3 assurances per store on average) are the most-frequently-used one. Assurances for credit card shopping safety (0.7 assurances per store on average), privacy protection (0.7 assurances per store on average), and easy return (0.4 assurances per store on average) are next. The third column of Table 1 shows the correlations between customers’ confidence of an Internet store’s claim, that is, its trust assurance for trust-related concerns shown in the first column of Table 1, and customers’ perceptions of trustworthiness of the Internet store. The positive and high correlations imply that the more customers believe a store’s claim regarding trust-related concerns (such as, information transmission is secure), the more likely customers perceive the store to be trustworthy. For example, in case of information transmission security, the correlation (ranging between −1.00 and +1.00) was positive and relatively high (0.55), hence the more confidence customers have on assurances for information transmission security, the more likely customers will perceive an Internet store to be trustworthy. It is interesting that the four assurances most frequently used in actual Internet stores (for example, assurances for information transmission security, credit card shopping safety, privacy protection, and easy return of products) are indeed assurances that show relatively high and positive correlations (0.55 ~ 0.50), indicating that these stores have an understanding of what the more important assurances that influence their trustworthiness are.

Stores classified as ‘popular’ ones by used more assurances. Popular stores used on average 6.8 assurances per store compared to 3.4 assurances for the rest. It is not evident why popular stores use more assurances than the others, but one of the plausible reasons may be that these stores became popular because they pay more attention to customers’ trust concerns hence provide more assurances, earning higher trust and reputation.

Stores selling relatively more expensive products (over $100 in this study) used more assurances (6.0 assurances per store on average) than those selling relatively inexpensive ones (4.9 assurances). Stores selling expensive products are likely to provide more assurances than those selling inexpensive products because trust related assurances would matter more to customers buying expensive products (because they have a bigger stake in a transaction) than to those buying inexpensive products.

Given the positive effects of trust assurances in several studies reviewed in the previous section and the positive correlations between confidence in assurances and trustworthiness of a store, as shown in Table 1, Internet stores may need to review for what concerns they currently provide assurances and consider providing assurances for customers’ key potential concerns, especially for those showed high correlations with trustworthiness of a store.

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Assurance Delivery Modes

Even though an Internet store provides trust assurances, these would be of no use if customers do not use (such as, notice or read) them. Mao and Benbasat8 argued that information, to be effective, should be accessible within one’s working context (such as, ease of access and ease of return). For example, let’s assume that a customer is asked to provide some personal information during the checkout process. This customer might want to review a store’s assurances about privacy protection before doing so. If there is a hyperlink to privacy assurance within the current checkout screen, as van Duyne et al.12 suggests, the customer is more likely to access that assurance (for example, ease of access). In contrast, if one should leave the current screen to access privacy assurance, then he or she might hesitate to access privacy assurance because of the effort to access it and to return to the original working context (such as, the screen to input personal information).

We identified four generic types of delivery mode based on differing ways of accessing assurances within checkout processes (such as, in terms of ease of access) and of returning to the original checkout screen that customer was working on before accessing trust assurances (such as, according to ease of return).

The first type is “automatic without hyperlink,” content of which appears on screen automatically without customer’s request. This mode of delivery requires the least effort in accessing trust assurances (and no effort to return).

The second type “easy access and easy return” provides a hyperlink to access trust assurances. This type also requires minimal cognitive effort (such as, one click) in accessing trust assurance. As shown in the Figure 2, assurance information can be accessed by clicking a hyperlink within the checkout process and customers can return to the original working context by closing the pop-up window.

The third type of delivery “easy access and not-easy return” is the second to least desirable because once customers click a hyperlink then it requires cognitive effort to return the original checkout screen (and more importantly sometimes impossible to return to the original checkout state). As shown in Figure 3, customers can access assurance information by clicking a hyperlink within the checkout process as in the second type of delivery. Unlike the second type of delivery, however, the hyperlink shows assurance information in the same window (cf. in the second type, assurance information appears in a new pop-up window) hence customers have left the checkout process, making the assimilation of the information difficult. Returning to the checkout process screen is not easy. Customers need to click the back button of the browser to return to the checkout screen, but lose all the information typed already. This means that customers may need to re-enter their personal information after accessing trust assurance information, discouraging customers from completing the checkout processes. In this regard, the delivery mode might be related to the potential loss of sales as Dayal et al.3 pointed out, “Many Web sites lose sales when buyers have to fight to complete a transaction. Nothing alienates a buyer more than when one entry mistake causes him or her to lose pages of entered information.”

In the fourth type of delivery, “not-easy access,” assurance cannot be accessible within the checkout process because no hyperlink is provided within the checkout process (such as one needs to leave the checkout processes to browse frequently asked question sections).

According to our analysis, about 14% (62 assurances) of total assurance was delivered as “automatic without hyperlink,” 38% (170 assurances) as “easy access and easy return,” 38% (171 assurances) as “easy access and not-easy return,” and 11% (50 assurances) as “not-easy return.” It is notable that about 38% of total assurances (2.0 assurances per store on average or 171 assurances from 85 stores) were delivered as “easy access and not-easy return” mode, which we believe to be ineffective. We recommend that Internet stores change assurance delivery mode from the third “easy access and not-easy return” and the forth types “not-easy return” to the second type “easy access and easy return” to avoid potential loss of sales and to increase customers’ use of trust assurances.

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Developing Trust Enhancing Assurance Content

Kim and Benbasat4 reported that trust assurances asserted by a store itself can be almost as effective in increasing customer trust as one made or supported by a third party (such as, WebTrust) under certain conditions, specifically when customers buy relatively expensive products and if a store’s assurance is well-structured and supported by reasoning provided in a logical hierarchy. That is, assurance content matters more than source of the assurance for those customers who buy relatively expensive products. This is because people form their beliefs based on careful examination of the merits of the trust assurance itself rather than on the sources of the assurance when the topic of assurance is highly relevant to their personal interests.5 In this regard, developing logically convincing trust assurance is very important to the success of Internet stores. Kim and Benbasat5 (2006b) proposed utilizing Toulmin’s model of argumentation as a way to construct more convincing assurance. Toulmin10 suggests there is a hierarchy of argumentation that can be employed to bolster the perceived veracity of claims. Here is an example of assurance.

“100% Safe Shopping: We absolutely guarantee that… you will pay nothing if unauthorized charges ever appear on your credit card as a result of shopping here.” (excerpted from

The claim of this assurance is “100% safe shopping”, and the reason for the claim, called data,10 is: you will pay nothing if unauthorized charges ever appear on your credit card as a result of shopping here. However, the reasons for why customers should accept the data, called backing,4 are missing in this assurance. In spite of the relatively sound logical flow (such as, if there will be no money loss, then the shopping is safe) some readers may not believe this claim if they are not convinced by the veracity of the data. For example, customers may inquire as to why they will pay nothing in case of credit card fraud. The answers to these kinds of questions, or the backing,4 might be: “Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your bank cannot hold you liable for more than $50.00 of fraudulent charges. If your bank does hold you liable for any of this $50.00, we will cover the entire liability for you, up to the full $50.00.” (Excerpted from an information page of With this backing, it is more likely that more customers will accept the data part, thus increasing the acceptance of the store’s trust assurance.

According to Toulmin’s model,10 claim, data, and backing are common element of an argument. Kim and Benbasat5 tested a proposition that assurances conforming to Toulmin’s model of argumentation would be effective in persuasion, and confirmed that assurances including claim plus data and backing (for example, assurances conforming to Toulmin’s model) were more effective in increasing trustworthiness of an Internet store than those consisting of claim only and those comprising claim and data (for example, assurances relatively less conforming to Toulmin’s model). We recommend that web developers include claim, data, and backing to structure assurance content. Kim and Benbasat6 investigated the trust assurances utilized in ten popular Internet stores, such as Wal-Mart, SEARS, Amazon, iQVC,,, Coastal Tool & Supply, eBay, Cassette House, and Travelocity. About 20% of these assurances did not include backing information, indicating that there is room to improve assurance content.

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We reviewed how often Internet stores use trust assurances and what concerns are addressed in these assurances based on current implementations in 85 Internet stores. We also discussed two design guidelines. Our suggestions for effective implementation of trust assurances are summarized as follows.

First, we recommend that Internet stores consider providing assurances for customers’ key potential concerns, especially for those showed high correlations with a store’s trustworthiness (see Table 1).

Second, Internet stores may need to change their delivery mode from “easy access and not-easy return” and “not-easy return” to “easy access and easy return” to avoid potential loss of sales and to increase customers’ use of trust assurances.

Third, we recommend utilizing Toulmin’s model of argumentation as a way to construct more convincing assurance content. Toulmin’s prescriptions can be used to evaluate existing assurance content and to develop new and more effective assurance content.

We hope these suggestions will be useful for Web developers to implement trust assurances effectively and hence increase the utilization of online stores.

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F1 Figure 1. Examples of Trust Assurances by Sources of Assurance

F2 Figure 2. Easy Access and Easy Return

F3 Figure 3. Easy Access Not-Easy Return (A fictitious example)

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T1 Table 1. Most Frequently Used Assurances in Internet Stores by Trust-related Concerns

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    1. Aiken, K.D. and Boush, D.M. Trustmarks, objective-source ratings, and implied investments in advertising: Investigating online trust and the context-specific nature of Internet signals. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 34, 3, (2006), 308–232.

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    3. Dayal, S., Landesberg, H., Zeisser, M. How to build trust online. Marketing Management 8, 3, (1999), 64–71.

    4. Kim, D. and Benbasat, I. The effects of trust-assuring arguments on consumer trust in internet stores: Application of Toulmin's model of argumentation. Information Systems Research 17, 3, (2006b), 289–300.

    5. Kim, D. and Benbasat, I. Trust-Assuring arguments in B2C e-commerce: Impact of content, source and price of trust. J. of Management Information Systems.

    6. Kim, D. and Benbasat, I. Trust-Related arguments in internet stores: A framework for evaluation. Journal of Electronic Commerce Research 4, 2, (2003), 49–64.

    7. Lala, V., Arnold, V., Sutton, S., and Guan, L. The impact of relative information quality of E-commerce assurance seals on Internet purchasing behavior. International Journal of Accounting Information Systems, 3, (2002,) 237–253.

    8. Mao, J. and Benbasat, I. The effects of contextualized access to explanatory knowledge on judgment. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 55, 5, (Nov. 2001), 787–814.

    9. Miyazaki, A.D. and Krishnamurthy, S. Internet seals of approval: Effects on online privacy policies and consumer perceptions. Journal of Consumer Affairs 36, 1, (2002), 28–49.

    10. Toulmin, S.E. The Use of Argument, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1958.

    11. UCLA Center for Communication Policy. The UCLA Internet Report: Surveying the Digital Future Year Three, 2003;

    12. van Duyne, D.K.V., Landay, J., and Hong J.I. The Design of Sites: Principles, Processes and Patterns for Crafting a Customer-centered Web Experience. Addison-Wesley, 2003.

    This study was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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