THE CURRENT STATE OF CONSUMER TRUST

Where consumer trust currently stands around the globe and how the past year has changed it.

47%

of global consumers say they tend to trust companies by default, meaning they have to do something bad to lose their trust, while 37% feel the opposite, indicating that companies have to earn their trust.

50%

of global consumers trust leaders of companies based in their country to do the right thing. This rises to 62% trusting small business owners, and drops to 41% trusting leaders of major international corporations. Just 3 in 10 trust leaders of American companies.

In the United States, corporate leaders saw net negative drops in trust over the past year – only marginally smaller drops than the U.S. government and news media experienced.

75%

of global consumers trust restaurants, food & beverage companies, and home care or household goods companies to act in the best interest of consumers. Significantly fewer (roughly 5 in 10) trust social media and real estate companies to do so.

21%

trust brands more because of their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, in most markets, the majority of consumers’ trust in brands was unaffected by corporate responses.

Big-box retailers, cleaning brands, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, entertainment brands, and a number of auto companies were most cited by U.S. consumers as having gained trust because of their COVID-19 responses.

Where consumer trust stands today across regions

To capture global perspectives on the state of consumer trust, as well as important regional and market-level nuances around consumer trust, Morning Consult spoke with more than 15,000 adults in key international markets, including the world’s largest economies, in March 2021.

Which of the following do you agree with more?

TRUST IN COMPANIES

Across markets, significant shares of consumers default to trusting companies. Germans, Russians and French consumers, however, are slightly more inclined to distrust the average company.

BEHAVIORAL TRUST

Ethical and responsible behavior is more likely to be a prerequisite to trusting a company for Asians and Latin Americans; in Western markets, trust is based more on reliability and quality.

Which of the following do you agree with more?

How much do you trust the following to do what is right?

Global consumers give doctors, teachers and small businesses the highest marks on trust. They are also the only entities to consistently gain trust in the past year.

Trust in all others – elected officials, news media and leaders of American companies in particular – was significantly harmed during the same period.

Notably, Chinese adults’ attitudes toward the U.S. government and American executives took a sizable hit this past year, while the police and elected officials saw notably net negative drops in trust in the past year among U.S. and Canadian consumers. In fact, the police, local governments and the news media saw notable net negative shifts in trust in the past year across all markets.

These sentiments generally hold in the United States, where corporate leaders saw net negative drops in trust over the past year, while trust in primary doctors, small businesses and even small business owners saw upticks year over year.

GLOBAL TRUST IN DOMESTIC BUSINESS

Similarly, domestic businesses – whether small businesses, women-owned or companies in general – enjoy greater overall and net trust than those affiliated with a specific market. Chinese companies in particular are the least trusted on average but show the greatest variance in trust across markets, with China and other more-trusting nations viewing them more favorably than most others.

Indian, Mexican, Brazilian and in some cases Chinese consumers’ trust in various company types saw significant net gains in the past year, with domestic businesses enjoying the largest net increases year on year.

Trust to act in the best interest of consumers (Total Trust)

To what extent do you trust the following to act in the best interest of consumers?

On aggregate, restaurants, food and beverage, and home care or household goods companies enjoy the greatest trust around the world, while trust in social media and real estate companies is lower.

Still, important local nuances exist:

  • Indian consumers are notably more trusting of most industries while South Koreans have significantly lower levels of trust in them.
  • Chinese consumers are less trusting of health care, hospitality and real estate companies than their global peers, though trust levels are still at 58%, 55% and 43%, respectively, for companies in these industries.
  • Brazilians, meanwhile, are notably more trusting of entertainment and social media companies. This applies to Mexicans too; a greater share of these consumers also trust technology, financial services and real estate companies more than most other global consumers.
  • The French and Italians have lower levels of trust in financial service and social media companies, though 4 in 10 at least somewhat trust these types of businesses.

As might be expected given the events of the past year, health care companies enjoyed the greatest net boost in trust year over year. So too did restaurants, household goods and food and beverage companies, though in certain regions more than others. Social media companies, meanwhile, saw the greatest net decline in trust in the past year.

Considering the below categories, in which three is trust most important to you?

IMPORTANCE OF TRUST

Globally, consumers say it’s most important for them to trust health care, financial services, food and beverage and, notably, technology companies.

This has implications for not only tactics around messaging, positioning and experiences delivered by brands in those categories, but also how they build trust and strategically defend it. That is, to satisfy higher consumer expectations around the trustworthiness of companies in these categories, brands need to acknowledge and take special care of this heightened responsibility knowing that every communication, action and business decision has a greater risk of jeopardizing especially fragile and emotional consumer relationships.

IMPORTANCE OF TRUST

Categories in which consumers rate trust as more important enjoy a number of benefits: They are much more likely to be trusted “a lot” by consumers in 2021, and to have seen gains in trust over the past year.

And conversely, categories lacking trust face real risks – not least of which being the negative sentiment and higher levels of skepticism and frustration that accompany low levels of trust. In categories with high levels of trust, trust compounds over time to the benefit of the category and the brands within it. The opposite is true of brands that have low levels of trust: There’s a near-perfect relationship between a category being trusted “not at all” in 2021 by global consumers and that category having lost trust in the past year.

Directionality here is hard to prove – did lower trust levels at the start of 2020 lead to a downward spiral throughout the past year (whether because of consumer sentiments and brand activities, or lack thereof, during the pandemic), or did the decline in trust levels these categories saw in the past year lead to the lower present-day trust levels?

Either way, it’s clear that less trusted categories didn’t do much to help their case in the past 12 months, while more trusted brands benefitted from a powerful flywheel effect.

Trust around the world

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Up Next: How COVID-19 Has Changed Brand Trust

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