Whom Do You Trust? A Shopper's Dilemma

A Letter from the Vice President, Consumer/Community Affairs and Communication

David Fikes
As skepticism grows and public cynicism escalates, shoppers are left wondering who is worthy of trust.

The Teddy Roosevelt adage that "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" is garnering new energy in the world of food retailing, particularly in a climate of increasing consumer skepticism. The truth of Roosevelt's observation is substantiated by research published by the Journal of Rural Sociology pointing out that shared values are three to five times more important in building trust than demonstrating competence. In an industry reliant upon consumer confidence and customer loyalty, that statistic should be grabbing food retailer attention.

There are two countervailing trends currently blowing within the food retailing world. On the business side of the equation, the food retail industry is experiencing increased consolidation, integration and industrialization. For any number of reasons – economic, improved efficiencies or it's just the nature of business – food retail chains are getting larger. On the consumer side of the calculation, there is a growing distrust of big companies, with large being equated with impersonal and indifferent to the concerns of the individual. And it is proportional; the bigger the company, the less it is trusted. These factors create a challenge for food retailers: how to fulfill the natural business inclination to grow and at the same time not lose the trust of the shopper. The answer lies in making sure our business strategies are grounded in listening to, understanding and sharing in the values of the individual.

There is a reason the word "transparency" is getting a workout these days. As skepticism grows and public cynicism escalates, shoppers are left wondering who is worthy of trust. With its overtones of clarity, having nothing to hide and vulnerability, transparency is the recipe for nurturing consumer trust, especially when it offers a clear view of a company's corporate values and enables customer awareness of shared values. These days, business transactions are not just about the exchange of money and products; they are also about supporting the principles behind the products and examining the ethics of the expense. Like all recipes, transparency has a number of key ingredients that help build shopper trust and engender the customer-winning notion of shared values.

To trust your company, consumers need:

  • Tangible demonstrations that you understand the issues that concern them and consistent actions that reveal your company's ability to put public interest ahead of self-interest.
  • Timely and clear disclosure of both positive and negative information, and no intimation you are trying to hide damaging information.
  • The ability to participate in shaping store actions and the ability to offer input in a clearly defined decision-making system. Why? Because we tend to trust things we had a hand in building.
  • Communication of clear and relevant information – including posts on websites, social media and in-store.
  • A credible source who is solid at your center, not threatened by being challenged around your edges, willing to engage your critics and unafraid to admit mistakes.

Through all channels of communication and customer engagement, retailers should aim to create forums and seek feedback. Opening a dialogue about bedrock values allows shoppers to respond with their perspective and gain a sense of ownership and partnership with your company. Listen to these consumers, respond thoughtfully and aim to make each communication reflect your values. As consumers, we trust those who share our convictions and support those whose growth is grounded in an honest foundation. To succeed as trusted retailers, we must practice transparency and let customers know how much we care, so they will care about how much we know.