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Consumer trust May 2022

Summary

  • Trust in the food / groceries and energy industries has decreased to at or below pre-pandemic levels, having made significant gains in trust early on in the pandemic.

  • Trust in the energy industry has dropped dramatically to -21 from a high of +23 a year ago

  • Consumers who lack trust in the energy industry cited rising prices and a perception of the prioritisation of profits over people as reasons for their lack of trust

Trust in the energy industry has dropped dramatically

During the covid-19 crisis and resulting lockdowns, we reported an increase in consumer trust in sectors providing essential services like food and groceries, gas and electricity, banking and broadband. The airlines and holiday operators sector experienced the opposite effect, experiencing a significant drop in trust amid significant delays in companies providing refunds for cancelled flights.  

One of the key questions thrown up by these changes in consumer trust was whether they would last, or whether trust would return to pre-pandemic levels as the initial impacts of the pandemic waned. Two years on, with all Covid-19 restrictions removed, the answer to that question differs between sectors. 

Trust in the food/groceries sector, though still higher than other sectors, has fallen sharply over the past year. 56% of consumers said they trust the food/groceries sector to act in their best interests in May 2022, whilst 11% said they don’t trust them very much or at all, giving a net trust level of +45. This is significantly lower than the +68 seen in May 2020. 

The gas and electricity industry, however, has experienced the largest drop in trust. Net trust has fallen from +23 a year ago to -21 now. This is not just below the elevated levels of trust seen in the pandemic, but also considerably lower than pre-pandemic levels. 

However, the banking and broadband / home phone sectors have so far managed to maintain higher levels of trust than before the pandemic.

Some consumers had concerns about the cost of their energy direct debit

Almost a fifth of our sample (18%) use a prepayment meter for their home energy and these customers have greater trust in the gas and electricity sector (-11) than those who pay in other ways (-24). 

This higher level of trust is despite prepayment meters being more common among low income households, and those with pre-payment meters being more likely to report experiencing financial difficulties. Seven in ten of those with a prepayment meter reported having made adjustments to cover their essential spending in the last month, compared to 53% of those without a prepayment meter. 

There is evidence that lack of trust for some is related to direct debits, with several consumers suggesting that the system is beneficial to the energy company and not the customer.

Conclusion

For industries at the forefront of the cost of living crisis, the increase in consumer trust engendered by the pandemic has now dissipated. Trust in the gas and electricity sector has been particularly badly hit with many consumers having a perception of the industry as making unreasonable profits at a time when price rises are putting major pressure on households.

Contact us

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

Published on 31.05.22

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