Panel: Digital marketplaces shake-up consumer trust models but human relationships remain key

From left: Optimizely’s Dan Ross, eBay’s Tim Mackinnon, Rachel Botsman, Uber’s Steve Brennen and Peer Academy’s Kylie Long

Trust is playing by new rules in today’s world of digitally driven marketplaces. But human relationships remain pivotal to building successful brand-consumer interactions today and into the future.

That was the general consensus across a panel of marketing and industry commentators at ADMA Global Forum, who explored the nature of ‘collaborative consumption’ and how digital and technology are changing conceptions of trust.

While panellists agreed technology increasingly enables trust to occur across digital and physical interactions, it was equally clear it’s the sociological trends and human relationships underpinning them that create or crush success.

Author and digital trends commentator, Rachel Botsman, said digitally disruptive brands such as Airbnb are utilising technology in order for consumers to trust strangers on a scale never possible before.

Coming forward to today, Botsman saw a second shift happening due to the collapse of trust around institutions, and the move towards ‘distributed trust’, or direct trust between human beings or with intelligent machines.

“There’s this interesting question around whether technology can make us smarter about who we can trust, which changes how we fulfil our needs and wants,” she said.

There are three broad reasons why trust has eroded, Botsman said. One is the perceived lack of institutional accountability in situations such as the GFC, while the second is the inversion of influence.

“The way you influence people historically was very much top-down fashion – you had a celebrity spokesperson or an economist telling you the way it is. Now we have an inversion of influence driven through peers,” she said. “The third is tied to social media and echo chambers, where you don’t hear these dissenting views but they are amplifying people’s fears.”

Another problem is institutions weren’t designed for the digital age. “In contrast, digital marketplaces are in the business of trust. The way they design trust is so different from a traditional brand,” Botsman said.  “The question is, can technology make us smarter around who and what we trust?” 

EBay CMO, Tim MacKinnon, saw trust as fundamental to the online seller marketplace and said it’s being propelled through data. For example, the company has a comprehensive customer feedback system, but it also uses objective data to track interactions. More recently, eBay has tapped machine learning to detect if a transaction looks fake, to remove offensive images, and to translate communications between customers globally.

“Technology is critical to trust and breaking these barriers down – it’s enabling trust in ways we never before,” he said.    

“But the other side is retail basics. Even without technology, there are simple things you need to continue to do to build trust. For example, like retailers have lowest prices guarantee, we have a money back guarantee. We did an A/B test on creative on our homepage when we were running a sale, and we put the moneyback logo on the homepage, but kept it off in the control group. We saw a 22 per cent uplift in sales just from that.”

Another way eBay builds trust is by “borrowing” it from partners, Mackinnon said, adding 80 of the top 100 retailers in Australia are now selling on the platform.

Over at Uber, trust starts at a company level, its CMO, Steve Brennen, said. “When you press the button and tap the app, the trust is with Uber first,” he said.

Things in the back-end supporting that relationship are digital profile of drivers and transparency, automated payments, and 24-hour customer support.

What ultimately fosters that bond, however, is humans trusting other humans. “You have 3 million people in 65,000 cars travelling around every 90 days. That’s a lot of humans in a small metal box , and humans have to trust humans for that to happen,” Brennen said.

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