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A picture says more than a thousand words: Photographs as trust builders in e-commerce websites

Authors:

Abstract

Virtual re-embedding, i.e., adding social cues to a website, has been suggested as a possible strategy to increase consumer trust in online-vendors. Numerous online retailers meanwhile incorporate this strategy, for example by adding photographs and names of customer service agents or by creating chat and callback opportunities. Yet, little is is known about the effectiveness of virtual re-embedding. The present study examined the effectiveness of a comparably simple strategy, the inclusion of photograph in an e-bank's website and found a significant positive effect on perceived trustworthiness of the examined website. It is suggested that virtual re-embedding is an effective way to increase customer trust and that it does not even have to be costly to implement.
A Picture Says More Than A Thousand Words -
Photographs As Trust Builders in E-Commerce Websites
Ulrike Steinbrück, Heike Schaumburg
Freie Universität Berlin
Center for Media Research
Malteserstrasse 74-100
12249 Berlin, Germany
u_steinbrueck@web.de, heike@cmr.fu-berlin.de
Sabrina Duda, Thomas Krüger
Eye Square
Schlesische Strasse 29-30
10997 Berlin, Germany
duda@eye-square.de, krueger@eye-square.de
ABSTRAC T
Virtual re-embedding, i.e. adding social cues to a website,
has been suggested as a possible strategy to increase
consumer trust in online-vendors. Numerous online
retailers meanwhile incorporate this strategy, for example
by adding photographs and names of customer service
agents or by creating chat and callback opportunities. Yet,
little is known about the effectiveness of virtual re-
embedding. The present study examined the effectiveness
of a comparably simple strategy, the inclusion of
photograph in an e-bank’s website and found a significant
positive effect on perceived trustworthiness of the
examined website. It is suggested that virtual re-embedding
is an effective way to increase customer trust and that it
does not even have to be costly to implement.
Keywords
Trust, trustworthiness, re-embedding, e-commerce, e-
banking, b2c relationship
INTRODUCTION
Consumer trust or, more precisely, the lack thereof has
often been cited as a major reason for the slow adoption of
electronic commerce [1, 2]. In recent years, different
models of consumer trust have been developed [3, 4].
Among other factors, such as trust marks, brand names,
technology, and navigation, the interpersonal interaction of
customer and vendor has been emphasized as one important
aspect in the building of consumer trust [3]. In a face-to-
face situation, the direct contact to the salesperson provides
the customer with important cues for the establishment of
trust, e. g. eye contact and gestures, which stabilize their
relationship and add to their verbal communication. These
meta-communicative features are assumed to have a crucial
importance for mediating personal contacts [5]. Computer-
mediated communication lacks most of these features. The
business transaction in e-commerce is based on the
communication of the customer with a machine. It is space-
and time-independent and therefore deficient on the
personal and social dimensions of communication.
Based on the work of Giddens [6], Riegelsberger and Sasse
[3] point out that in other social situations, for example in
distributed work, the separation of space and time and its
negative consequences for interpersonal trust are
commonly overcome by re-embedding strategies, such as
introducing face-to-face meetings in an otherwise distant
relationship. They suggest that a similar mechanism that
they call virtual re-embedding might also take effect when
social cues (photographs, video, text or speech), which
provide prompts for personal trust, are added to a website
of an online-retailer. In an empirical study with a mock-up
design that included various trust cues, Riegelsberger and
Sasse could show that virtual re-embedding had a positive
effect on user trust for medium experienced shoppers.
Highly experienced Internet users as well as consumers
with a high level of distrust towards online-vendors
benefited little from the provision of social cues in the
interface.
The present study seeks to extend and further clarify the
relationship of consumer trust and re-embedding strategies.
More specifically, the goal is to focus on only one social
cue, the display of a photograph and accompanying label
and to test its impact on the customer’s perception of the
trustworthiness of an e-commerce website.
If it turns out that a photograph alone can already pertain
significantly to the trustworthiness of an online-retailer,
designers could be recommended a comparably simple
strategy for virtual re-embedding of e-commerce websites.
METHOD
For the empirical study, three identical mock-up websites
for an online-bank were developed. Version 1 displayed a
portrait photograph on the welcome page. A label identified
the person in the picture as a customer service agent.
Version 2 displayed the same photograph without a label
and version 3 did not include a photograph.
45 subjects were randomly assigned to one of the three
empirical conditions. After subjects took approximately
five minutes to freely explore the website, they were asked
to complete two simulated money transactions via the site.
Next, subjects were asked to rate the trustworthiness of the
website using a 30-item trust questionnaire, which was
developed and validated by Kammerer [7]. In his study,
Kammerer showed that the questionnaire effectively
discriminates trustworthy from less trustworthy online-
vendors. For the two scales trust attitude and trust action,
which were used in this study, Kammerer also reports
excellent reliability scores (1 = .95 and .97). For the
purpose of this study, trust attitude and trust action were
collapsed into one single scale. In addition, subjects were
tested for their general trust level, their experience with
electronic commerce and with surfing the Internet in
general as well as for their general level of trust towards
online-vendors. These variables were controlled for in the
subsequent analyses.
Overall, subjects spent approximately 15 minutes with
examining the website and 15 minutes with filling out the
questionnaire.
RESULTS
To determine if the three versions were rated differently
with regard to user trust, a covariance analysis with the
website version as fixed factor, the trust rating as dependent
variable and general trust level, experience with electronic
commerce and experience with surfing the Internet as
covariates was calculated. The overall difference between
the users’ trust ratings was found to be significant (F(2, 39)
= 4.293; p < .05). Using reversed Helmert contrasts, it was
tested if versions 1 and 2, which used a portrait photograph
as a re-embedding strategy were perceived as trustworthier
than version 3 (without a photograph). In addition, version
1 was tested against version 2 to determine if identifying
the displayed person as a company employee helps to
significantly raise user trust. The comparison of version 3
to version 1 and 2, i. e. the effect of displaying a
photograph, approached significance (t(39) = -1.99; p <
.05). The comparison of version 1 and 2, i. e. the effect of
the label, was also significant (t(39) = -2.03; p < .05).
60,47
53,33
43,13
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
Trustworthiness-Rating (Mean)
Version 1
Version 2
Version 3
Figure 1: Mean Trustworthiness-Ratings
Thus, as expected, version 1, the version with photograph
and label was perceived as most trustworthy, version 2 as
second most trustworthy and version 3 as least trustworthy.
In contrast to the results reported by Riegelsberger and
Sasse [3] it was found that users who were highly
experienced with using the Internet showed a similar
degree of trust as inexperienced and moderately
experienced users.
DISCUSSION
The results indicate that re-embedding is an effective
strategy to increase consumer trust in an online-vendor.
The present study thus corroborates the findings of
Riegelsberger and Sasse [3]. Displaying a portrait
photograph helps to create social presence and brings the
impersonal process of electronic commerce closer to the
familiar situation of a face-to-face sales conversation. The
underlying process can be characterized as virtual re-
embedding. The customer develops a quasi-social
relationship to the person shown in the picture. The
displayed person represents a real-world representative of
an otherwise intangible, virtual company. Thus, it creates
an entry point for the consumer to the anonymous company
and facilitates the establishment of customer trust.
For the design of e-commerce websites it can be concluded
that embedding a photograph of a company’s representative
may be a simple, yet powerful way to increase the
trustworthiness of an online-vendor. Further research
should investigate how re-embedding can be done most
effectively and how different re-embedding strategies
interact. In the light of findings from Riegelsberger and
Sasse [3] consumer variables as well as the integration of
virtual re-embedding strategies with the overall branding
concept of a website should also be taken into account.
REFERENCES
1. Egger, F.N. “Trust me, I’m an online vendor”: Towards
a model of trust for e-commerce system design (2000).
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2. Kim, J. and Moon, J.Y. (1999). Designing towards
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3. Riegelsberger, J. and Sasse, M.A. (2001). Trustbuilders
and trustbusters. Paper presented at the 1st IFIP
Conference on e-commerce, e-business, e-government
(Zurich, Switzerland, Oct. 2001). Available at:
http://www.cs.ucl.ac.uk/staff/J.Riegelsberger/trustbuilde
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4. Cheskin Research and Studio Archetype/Sapient (1999).
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http://www.cheskin.com/think/studies/ecomtrust.html
5. Goffman, E. (1972). Strategic interaction. New York:
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7. Kammerer, M. (2000). Die Bestimmung von Vertrauen
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Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Zürich.
Available at: http://www.kammerer.ch/
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