Examining the intense role of trust between consumers and online travel brandsNews / OnlineBy Viewpoints | November 18, 2014Share This article was originally published on Two recent articles, spring to mind: one from Tnooz (The Art of Trust in Travel) and another which includes a quote from Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com. "That’s the product that we sell, trust. Customers work with us because they trust us."Share this quote And thus prompted me to bring something else to the trust debate.NB: This is an analysis by Paul Byrne, senior vice president of development at OpenJaw Technologies.In 2000, the following quote was made: "Price does not rule the web; trust does"Share this quote Yet, how true is this statement now, fourteen years later?Trust is important any time there is uncertainty and risk in social and business relationships.Uncertainty about the outcome of the transaction, the amount at stake and that the trustee may abuse the trust are some potential sources of risk. Trust is viewed as the most effective uncertainty reduction method.Where the behaviour of others cannot be controlled or predicted, there is a need to reduce the overwhelming social complexity.Predicting the behaviour of other parties, particularly where rules and regulations do not exist to reduce this complexity, assumes away undesirable behaviour, creates favourable presumptions regarding future behaviour and is the essence of trust.Trust in online transactions is vital for success in e-commerce.Prior research has pointed out that the lack of online consumer trust is the main barrier to consumer participation in e-commerce.It also indicates the existence of trust in an e-tailing transaction tends to mitigate consumer perceptions of risk and increase intention to transactDefinition of trustIt is worthwhile starting with a definition of trust. Trust is a consumer’s willingness to take risks in an uncertain situation where possible adverse consequences might arise.This definition clearly distinguishes trust from trusting behaviours: trust is the willingness to take risks as opposed to the actual taking of risks.In online retail transactions, consumers perceive significant risk. Trust, based upon beliefs about the trustee, may reduce risk and influence intention to transact.Trusting beliefsTrust may be formed based upon cognitive beliefs about the object of trust.Cognitive-based trust is based on rational expectations about the behaviour of the trustee. Competence, Integrity, Benevolence and Predictability are characteristics of the trustee that are used to build trust.Institution-based trust, personal disposition to trust and experience with the trustee are antecedents of cognitive beliefs and can impact intention to transact.Brands and e-Vendors may influence intention to transact by adopting strategies to reduce consumers’ perceptions of risk associated with them and by developing trust towards them.Consumer trust in technology, which leads to web site adoption, is important for eVendors as this is how they interact with their consumers on the Internet.For consumers transacting on Internet, there is no human interaction and this has implications for trust building processes.Travel products have specific characteristics that impact the consumer trust-building process; travel eVendors must be aware of these and adopt strategies to mitigate consumer perceived risk in order to build trust.Travel trust surveyA questionnaire was created and semi-structured interviews conducted with eight subjects selected across the breadth of travel companies, including airline, metasearch, online travel agency, tour operators and activity providers.Each subject is extremely senior, familiar with the Internet, web technologies and online travel.In addition, each has many years experience with their travel niche and with the travel industry in general and each is in a position to make decisions that affect how their consumers interact with their brand.Survey results - most important factors for building trustExactly half of the participants indicated that being human, contactable, accessible and responsive to consumers and following reported issues through to resolution and reporting back to consumers was most important.A similar number of participants reported that acting with integrity, being transparent, open and sharing information honestly and clearly with consumers is key to earning their trust.Just under half of the participants reported that addressing the privacy and security concerns that are of concern to their customers when purchasing travel products online resulted in greater trust.A similar number of participants indicated that perceived vendor competence was a key factor in the creation of trust.A majority indicated that social presence on the travel vendor web site is the most important factor for creating trust. Perceived eVendor integrity and competence are vital to earn trust.It is crucial to address the security and privacy concerns held by consumers to earn their trust. As might be expected, the eVendor web site design plays a large part in earning consumer trust.ConclusionsWhile much of the extant research in the field of ecommerce is relevant, travel has several unique attributes that may affect the building of consumer trust online.Current research findings conclude that increasing social presence is vital for travel e-vendors.A possible explanation for this may be the increased perceived risk because of the size of the financial outlay, the infrequency of the transaction and the lack of self-confidence in using the tools to complete the goal.Consumer desire to reduce this risk to manageable levels appears to primarily involve social channels.There are, of course, other possible explanations. Consumers might use the social channels as a surrogate for the offline travel agent experience when purchasing travel online.RecommendationsThe findings of this study suggest several courses of action for travel vendors.Adding features that increase the social presence of the website may result in increased e-consumer perception of the firm’s benevolence and thus increase purchase intention through increased consumer trust.Features such as virtual communities, toll-free numbers, web chat, responsive email service, after-sales support and ask and answer boards can all be used to increase social presence.Another important practical recommendation is to simulate the human processes that lead to the creation of trust by building an online interpersonal connection with an e-customer using personalisation, knowing the user’s history and greeting the user personally using a computer cookie.Well-designed explanations and reasons for offering certain travel products, along with social proof - e.g. "users like you also bought this" will create trust with e-consumers.Such e-vendors should adopt a transparency policy to build trust with consumers.Using third party-hosted vendor and product reviews, which are perceived as being more independent, can be used to show reputation, competence, benevolence and integrity, all of which help build consumer trust beliefs in the e-vendor.NB: This is an anaylsis by Paul Byrne, senior vice president of development at OpenJaw Technologies.NB2:Trust technology image via Shutterstock.