Every Monday morning across America, retail executives file into conference rooms to review weekend sales performance across channels. They study mountains of numbers from physical and online checkouts, mobile sites, e-commerce analytics, and information taken from store intercepts and online customer surveys.
"Hey, we lost a bunch of orders over the weekend because we don't take American Express,” says an exec at one meeting, which quickly leads to renewed talks with Amex. "We had a bunch of customers cancel their orders because our two-week delivery cycle is just too long," pipes in an exec at another meeting, which leads to management exploring faster shipping. And so on.
But all the meetings are missing one thing: There’s no data point on the analytics dashboard showing how many orders the company lost because consumers no longer trust their stores, their website, their service or their management. It doesn’t come up because the standard ways of collecting information aren’t geared to this sensitive conversation (consumers won’t tell you directly that they don’t trust you). Yet that steady erosion is costing most merchants millions every season.
While they won’t tell you directly, consumers do leave clues, if you know where to look. The good news is, most marketers already do the fundamental data collection every month, if not every week, that they need to monitor trust. I’m talking about the brand attitude and usage surveys, which are ongoing for the world’s largest companies. Every month, is my brand doing better? Is it doing worse? Do more people know it? Do more people like it?
It's time to research what consumers trust about your brands across channels. Are you more trustworthy or less trustworthy than you were last week? If you’re less trusted, what did you do in specific channels and interactions to hurt trust? If you’re more trusted, what did you do to earn that trust, and how can you do more of that?
Nielsen does a survey of 30,000 consumers every year called the Global Trust Index. The results are unsurprising: Consumers trust things that retailers have to earn the most (like reviews), and they trust the things that retailers can buy the least (like ads). But the survey focuses on how much consumers trust touch points, not how much they trust brands.
Brands need their own trust indices. To build them, researchers need to dig into where the brand stands and what's informing the trust level. Trust surveys can be started anonymously. For example, consider having people rate 10 retailers based on how much they trust their pricing, service and quality. Or how willing they are to give them credit card information. Once you’ve established the key variables, you can study them over time and determine whether you’re gaining or losing trust.
You’re apt to learn some surprising things. Walmart launched a “Buy online, pay with cash” program to enable the 30% of their customers without credit cards to buy from its vast digital platform, which sells exponentially more products than its physical outlets. Now they’re getting 4% of their sales from this program, yet half of the shoppers drive to the store and then pay with a credit card. The likely reason: They don’t trust Walmart.com (the largest company in America) with their credit card information.
That’s just one example of hundreds unfolding every day. You can’t address the trust issues until you know them. Ultimately, trust needs to be the focal point for how marketers view and discuss the business of brands. That process starts with asking consumers the right questions in ways they’re able and willing to answer.