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Consumer trust in May 2021

Summary

  • There is more variation in the level of consumer trust in brands in some industries than others. Consumers have a similar amount of trust in most supermarkets and broadband providers, but there is more variation among holiday providers and social media platforms. 

  • Trust is always higher among customers of a brand than the population as a whole, but the strength of this relationship differs between brands. Of those brands we asked about, Facebook is the least trusted among its own users.

Introduction

Having tracked consumer trust in industries for nearly 10 years, we know that reported trust levels vary significantly between sectors. This variation demonstrates that consumers hold views on industries as a whole, but it is not clear how trust at a sector level relates to trust in individual brands within that sector. 

To explore this, we asked consumers how much trust they hold in brands in four industries: supermarkets, broadband, social media, and holiday operators. These represent sectors with very different levels of trust. The food and groceries sector has very high levels of trust and this has increased during the pandemic. At the other end of the scale, social media companies are widely distrusted by a majority of UK consumers. The broadband sector and holiday operators lie between these, although the latter did suffer a loss of trust at the start of the pandemic. 

Trust varies considerably between brands within sectors

While trust in brands clusters around a similar level to the sector overall, the level of variation between brands is different across the four sectors. There is little variation among supermarkets, where all brands have high levels of trust. Consumers also had similar levels of trust in all of the broadband operators we asked about, although TalkTalk is an outlier with a low net trust score of -19. 

By contrast, there is large variation between holiday operators and social media platforms. Trust in holiday operators ranged from +52 for Jet2 and TUI to -6 for Teletext holidays. Holiday operators have been under scrutiny over their handling of refunds for cancelled holidays and the CMA recently took action against five major package holiday firms, reminding them of their obligations to refund consumers. However, it is not necessarily the case that companies who have been criticised for their handling of refunds have lower consumer trust. Both the most and least trusted holiday operators (TUI and Teletext) are among the five firms recently warned by the CMA. 

Among social media companies only LinkedIn and Pinterest have a net trust level of 0 or above. The lowest trust level recorded was in TikTok at -43, with Facebook (-31) and Snapchat (-35) not far ahead. 

Users of a brand typically have higher trust levels

Trust in brands is much higher among current customers. Every brand we asked about has higher levels of trust among their users than the population as a whole. This is to be expected since people who do not trust a brand are more likely to not use it, but for some brands the difference is substantial.

Trust in TalkTalk is 58 points higher among its customers than the population as a whole and, when focussing on existing customers only, it is not an outlier in the sector as it has a level of trust very similar to Virgin Media.

Focussing on current customers only, trust levels in broadband companies are close to those of supermarkets. However, trust in social media companies remains low even among current users only. LinkedIn and Pinterest are exceptions, as they have high levels of trust among their users. Facebook is an outlier in the other direction; it is by far the least trusted among its own users, at -19 points. This makes it the only brand we asked about to have a net trust below zero among its users, i.e. more don’t trust than trust Facebook.

The low levels of trust in Facebook may have numerous causes. Data security is one of the biggest worries for UK consumers with 71% of people telling us they were concerned about this in May 2021, and Facebook has had high-profile scandals such as the one involving Cambridge Analytica, which may have compromised consumers’ trust in how their data is handled. Which? has also reported on consumers’ deep unease about Facebook’s use of their personal data for targeted advertisements. 

However, something which sets Facebook apart from other companies is the extent to which consumers are unable to choose another platform even if they don’t trust it. The size of Facebook means that consumers can be tied to the platform if they want to maintain contact with friends, family and local businesses. 

The results are indicative of the complex relationship between consumer trust and behaviour and the paradoxical relationship between trust and choice. 

Where consumers are able to shop around, trust matters less as consumers can avoid businesses they don’t trust, but competition will encourage businesses to be trustworthy. Conversely, it is in situations when choices are restricted, either by an individual’s income or mobility or by market conditions, that consumers have greater need to trust the businesses they deal with, but businesses have less incentive to be trustworthy.

Published on 25.05.21

Contact us

If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please email Sophie Beesley at consumerinsight@which.co.uk

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