Who do consumers really trust? And why?

03 May 2018

My colleague Lisa Hooker recently published a blog post picking out some of the key highlights from our 2018 Global Consumer Insights Survey (GCIS). In this second blog in the series, I’ll drill down into an intangible asset that has a very concrete impact: trust.

It’s an issue that’s risen rapidly up the industry agenda. Over the past decade, social media has transformed the way consumers and brands interact, giving consumers more of a voice and putting pressure on brands—to be authentic, respond to consumers’ concerns, accept responsibility for mishaps, and even take a stand on social topics.

These shifts have forced brands to put building consumer trust at the heart of their strategies. And guess what: our 2018 GCIS shows they’re right to do so. The study covers more than 22,000 consumers in 27 territories. And when we ask them which factors – other than price – influence their decision to shop at a particular retailer, 39% rank ‘trust in the brand’ among their top three reasons. Indeed, brand trust makes the top three for more consumers than ‘good location’ – and is only marginally less important than being able to find items in stock (42%).

Our research also shows that building brand trust involves much more than providing consistently high-quality offerings and understanding shoppers’ behaviour. Trust can be earned in many other ways – ranging from being transparent about sources, suppliers and ingredients, to genuine engagement in community and charity activities.

The wisdom of the crowd matters too: while trust plays a major role in determining where consumers shop, they rely heavily on other people’s opinions to decide what to buy. Asked which online media regularly inspire their purchases, consumers globally rank social networks first (37% of respondents), while UK shoppers rank them third (25%). Top place in the UK goes to individual retailer websites (42%), which win just 34% of votes globally.

This suggests that consumers in the UK are less ‘sold’ on social media than those elsewhere. By comparison, Chinese consumers have a much stronger preference for social networks when making buying choices (52%), while those in the Middle East are even more reliant on them (70%).

But why do so many consumers across the world trust opinions on social media? Because they regard them as authentic and helpful. So the challenge for brands is to engage in the conversation on social networks in a way that consumers perceive as genuine and caring rather than self-serving. Some brands – like Patagonia – do this by communicating their commitment to environmental causes. Others create online communities, like the online fitness community built by Under Armour.

Interestingly, where companies do succeed in building trust online, our GCIS findings suggest this helps soothe consumers’ concerns over data privacy. 36% of our UK respondents are comfortable having a retailer monitor their shopping patterns, and 32% expect retailers to hold up-to-date information on how they shop to target them more accurately as consumers.

Trust also plays a role in how consumers approach online security. Over half of UK respondents say they only use credible and legitimate websites (59%) or choose providers they trust when making payments (59%). Other factors, such as minimising the data they provide, trail far behind. As the media interest around GDPR ramps up in the coming months, it will be interesting to see if behaviours change here in the UK.

Another area where consumer trust may face headwinds is using drones for deliveries. Only 11% of UK survey respondents say they trust a drone to deliver any package, and 17% say only for a low-value product. Some 36% of respondents don’t trust drone delivery at all. On trust, maybe this is the overarching message of this year’s GCIS: like the retail & consumer sector itself, the landscape of consumer trust will continue to shift.

Our next blog in the GCIS series will be on artificial intelligence. To read the full research report, click here.

Craig Skelton

Craig Skelton | Assurance Partner
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