Trust has to be earned and maintained – it’s not just a brand issue

Retailers and brands must go beyond the corporate approach to trust if they want to earn consumers’ trust explains Danielle Pinnington, managing director of independent shopper behaviour research agency, Shoppercentric.

Danielle Pinnington
Danielle Pinnington

In our work with clients we have been hearing increasing numbers of businesses talking about trust, and whether trust – in brands and in retailers – has been affected by events over the last 12 months. This got us thinking about what trust means to shoppers: what are they thinking about when deciding whether or not a brand or retailer is trustworthy; and what role this has in their decision making process.

So in August we conducted as series of focus groups, depth interviews, and 1,009 quantitative on line interviews among shoppers in order to investigate ‘trust’ within the shopping process.

The first insight to emerge was that shoppers don’t spontaneously talk about trust as a purchase decision factor in its own right – and yet they recognise that trust is playing a role in their decisions. In fact trust in relation to shopping appears to be an amalgamation of factors, including: Ambience, consistency, familiarity, quality, convenience as well as the individual’s own priorities, the shopping occasion and the channel used.

In talking to shoppers it becomes clear that Trust in relation to shopping can be defined as an equation:

Trust = Experience
Needs + Expectations

A retailer’s ability to deliver the right experience that matches shoppers’ needs and experience is key to being trusted on future shopping occasions. The fact that experience is such a crucial part of the equation reveals that there are effectively two levels of trust at play in the shopper’s mind:

Corporate Integrity: which relates to corporate responsibility, staff/supplier treatment, transparency, consistency and heritage.

Tangible Delivery: which is about the business’s ability to meet the shopper’s individual needs and expectations during the purchase process

Importantly, this difference highlights the need for brand owners and retailers to think beyond the typical corporate approach to ‘trust’. As one of our shoppers put it: “I question whether or not I can carry on trusting the honesty of a retailer if they persist in offering promotions that, once you’ve looked at them in detail, offer very little value whatsoever”

Among our shoppers, Waitrose was felt to have generated trust through the launch of its Essentials range, whereas Tesco was felt to have compromised itself to some degree with its ‘Britain’s largest discounter’ signage in-store. Whilst Waitrose improved the shopper experience by highlighting their lower priced options, Tesco were felt to have reduced the in-store experience with un-necessary and unappealing visual clutter.

Given the economic climate it’s also important to remember that the recession is placing many shoppers in a position where they may not have experience of a store or brand, and so that element of the trust equation is missing. Without this first-hand experience, shoppers look to fill their knowledge gap through a range of sources of information:

64% of shoppers would use word of mouth
37% would use on line reviews
31% would refer to press reports
22% would refer to consumer review magazines

This demonstrates the desire for shoppers to access objective opinions rather than taking what a company says about itself as a given.

If shoppers are becoming more prudent then it stands to reason that their choices will be more considered and their decisions more deliberate. There is a very real sense from shoppers that they are increasingly focusing on actions rather than talk. If the experience in-store or at the fixture fails to meet the shopper’s needs and expectations then the opportunity to build trust is potentially lost.

A retailer or brand who is serious about earning trust first has to understand the needs and expectations of the shopper in their store or category in order to ensure the in-store experience is a match. It is then the ability of the business to take those learnings and use them to deliver a winning experience in-store that will enhance trust for the benefit of the brand in the long term.

Those businesses that put shoppers as well as consumers at the heart of their business will be the long term winners, regardless of recessions. It’s about making a real connection in order to engage the shopper, to generate trust and therefore build loyalty.

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