Consumer trust in August 2020
Trust in essential industries dropped slightly in August compared to May, but remains higher than before the coronavirus crisis in most cases.
Trust in airlines and holiday operators remains very low, with little recovery after its drop in May.
Trust in essential services drops a little
In May, we gave a first update on consumer trust in industries since the coronavirus crisis started. We reported that there had been a significant increase in trust in many sectors. This was notable because levels of consumer trust have typically remained quite stable over time, and it raised the question of whether the pandemic had meant a step change in how UK consumers feel towards businesses or whether increased trust was a temporary consequence of some sense of solidarity during the height of the crisis.
The increase in trust in May was particularly noticeable in sectors providing essential services. The largest increase was in the food and groceries industry, with it achieving a net trust level of +67. Broadband, banking, and gas and electricity also saw a boost in trust while the UK was in lockdown, despite the challenges faced by industries during this time.
Our latest data for August shows that net trust has subsequently dipped in all these sectors, but that consumers still have higher trust than before the pandemic.
This reduction in trust is typically the result of an increase in the proportion of consumers who have moved away from having trust in these sectors to a neutral position, i.e. they neither trust nor don’t trust an industry. We see no evidence of an increase in the number of consumers who say they don’t trust these sectors.
For example, the same (very small) proportion of people said they don’t trust the food and groceries sector in August as in May (5%). However, the proportion who actively trust this sector has decreased from 72% to 65% and the neutral proportion has increased from 21% to 27% (The remainder are people answering ‘don’t know’.)
No clear recovery in trust in airlines and holiday companies
The notable exception to the increase in trust during the pandemic was in the travel industry. Net trust in airlines and holiday operators dropped below zero in May to the lowest level on record in our tracker survey. This is likely related to the difficulties associated with obtaining refunds for cancelled holidays as the sector has been widely criticised for its handling of refunds.
Net trust in airlines increased only very slightly in August, to -9 compared to -12 in May. The same low proportion of consumers (22%) said they trusted airlines and operators, but the proportion who actively don’t trust them decreased slightly in August (from 34% to 31%).
This indicates that there is some way to go in regaining consumer trust in this sector, with the last three months having made negligible difference to trust levels, despite the opening up of international travel and a greater amount of time having passed to process refunds.
What will be the lasting impact of the pandemic?
Our regular tracking of consumer trust in industries has allowed us to assess the impact of the coronavirus crisis and its associated restriction on feelings of trust between consumers and the sectors that provide them with everyday goods and services. The continued impact of the pandemic means it is too early to determine whether or not the change in levels of consumer trust brought about by the crisis will persist.
However, the latest data suggests that consumer goodwill was perhaps only temporarily boosted and maybe we should expect some further reversion towards long run levels. In which case, the questions will be how much of the increased trust can be retained by businesses, and can they make use of it?
The travel industry raises different questions. There was no meaningful increase in trust in this sector in the past quarter and it may be that it is harder to regain lost trust than it is to lose gains. There remain concerns that a low level of trust in travel companies will hold back consumers from booking holidays in advance, and hence hinder the sector’s recovery.
The fieldwork was conducted by Populus on behalf of Which? between 12th and 14th August 2020. A sample of 2,083 consumers was surveyed and weighted to be nationally representative according to a range of demographic characteristics.
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