Trust Marks

In theory, there are no major differences between traditional and electronic commerce. However, the additional complexity of conducting business online (e.g. expertise in internet browsing and obtaining knowledge about the retailer website) requires a higher level of trust on the part of the consumer than traditional shopping methods. Despite advances in technology, the fear of scammers remains more prevalent for internet shoppers and can result in a reluctance to engage in online transactions.


A trust mark is considered to be a symbol or sign that represents an assurance of some understood message i.e. a seal of approval. It is often displayed on the homepage of a website with the permission of a trusted third party in order to prove that the online shop complies with a voluntary code of conduct to provide the best possible online business environment for the consumer. Because of the rise of internet fraud during the early years of e-commerce, the online industry had to provide a suitable response to these problems. Websites were encouraged to be independently authenticated and audited. This was the beginning of the online trust marks and they were originally logo marks such as Visa or McAfee.

Importance of Trust Marks

It is suggested that the trust marks are most crucial when the customer is reaching a decision on what and where to buy (pre-contractual stage). The online retailer has to attract the customer at this point and trust marks can make the information provided appear more reliable.

During the contractual stage, trust marks remain important as it is still possible for the user to change their mind before entering into the binding contract. Trust marks may also encourage the customer to provide the required personal and payment details in situations where they may otherwise have doubts about the security of the system.

The importance of trust marks can be indicated by a 2009 Harris Interactive survey which found that more than 90 % of people expressed concerns when shopping on new or unknown sites. Almost half of the surveyed customers terminated orders because of security fears. The survey also suggested that 47 % of customers will look for trust marks to ensure security when shopping on a lesser known site.

Obtaining a Trust Mark

An online retailer gains a trust mark by submitting a satisfactory self-assessment report referring to the business’s security, privacy and practices.

Online trust marks can be broken into four types, depending on the assurance being given:

  • Personal Privacy – These symbols indicate that a site protects user information and rights.
  • Business Reputation ­Services such as BBBOnline (BBB – Better Business Bureau) requires businesses to have a physical presence, be in business for at least one year, and have a positive track record of handling complaints.
  • Secure Transactions – Companies such as PayPal have increased the ease at which online retailers can arrange payments in a secure, trustworthy, manner. Ensuring security for payments is a fundamental task for online vendors.
  • Security and Vulnerability Scanning – Malicious content planted on websites and misconfigured websites can allow hackers and scammers to access customer details. Regularly scheduled vulnerability scanning can identify and correct these flaws promptly.

Verisign have noted a number of reasons why having individual trust marks are valuable to online retailers.

  • Level of Display – The more sites that use the trust mark, the more likely it is that customers will trust the mark and therefore the website. The reputation of the mark will obviously depend on the websites that the marker allows to display their logo.
  • Exposure Breeds Familiarity ­– If customers are viewing the trust mark on sites that they are familiar with an associate value begins to exist between the customer and the trust mark.
  • Recognition ­– The public perception of the trade mark is fundamental to the level of trust that the customers will have with it.


BBBOnline award two types of seals. The first, Reliability Seal, is awarded to companies that have been business for at least one year and possess a ‘satisfactory complaint handling record with the BBB’. The second is the Privacy Seal. It is awarded to businesses that subscribe to responsible information practices such as clearly advertising and implementing online privacy policies conforming to the BBBOnline required principles of disclosure, choice, and security.

A Verisign seal communicates that “the website and its owner or operator have been authenticated by Verisign, and that the website uses SSL and/or another service to enhance security.”


Trust marks remain an important factor in creating a positive impression on online customers and representing a certain level of consumer confidence in vendors.  Consumers continue to look for some level of security when shopping online and will not purchase from websites that they do not consider to be trustworthy. With the level of online competition available to vendors, having the right trust marks may be sufficient to encourage customers to complete their transactions.


This article takes a look at trust marks, be a symbol or sign that represents an assurance of some understood message (i.e. a seal of approval), which are an essential component in ecommerce. There are four major types of trust marks: 1) Personal privacy; 2) Business reputation; 3) Secure transactions; 4) Security and vulnerability scanning. The article also provides two examples of popular trust marks.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) exam,  a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Self-regulatory programs and trust marks (I.A.d.vii.)



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