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Introducing the Retail Brand Trust Index: Consumer Trust Perception of Major US Retail Brands

In late May and early June of this year, we fielded a proprietary survey (n = 1,920) to analyze how consumers think and feel about values-based retailing, about retail involvement in political and humanitarian issues, and to analyze the explicit and implicit elements that create trust (or distrust) in a brand. We examined how 17 national and large regional retailers stack up against each other. We also measured their performance compared to our 2011 survey. To quantitatively measure the level of consumers’ trust in a retailer brand and to track this trust belief over time, we have developed a proprietary Retail Brand Trust (RBT) methodology.


The Retail Brand Trust Index (RBT) is calculated based on a national survey of consumers that are asked to rank, on a scale of 1 to 10 the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statement:  “I feel that I can trust this brand completely”.

  • Based on their responses to this question, we grouped participants into 3 buckets:
    1. Trust Advocates: respondents who rated a retailer 9 or 10 were placed in the Trust Advocates group
    2. Neutral: respondents who rated a retailer between 6 and 8 were placed in the Neutral group
    3. Brand Cynics: respondents who rated a retailer between 1 and 5 were placed in the Brand Cynics group
  • Finally, a Retail Brand Trust score was calculated for each retailer by subtracting the % of respondents falling in the Cynics bucket from the % of respondents in the Advocates bucket. Neutral respondents were omitted from the calculation.
  • The RBT methodology has a theoretical maximum score of 100 (100% of respondents are Advocates) and a theoretical minimum score of -100 (100% of the respondents are Cynics)
  • The 17 retailers measured ranged from a top score of 21 to a bottom score of -21
  • Additional survey questions probed implicit contributors to trust.
  • It is important to note that the 2020 fieldwork was conducted in the weeks surrounding coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home orders in many states and the first wave of protests against police brutality.

2020 Retailer Rankings by Retail Brand Trust

The stand-out retailer from this year’s study is Costco, followed by HEB, Aldi, Sam’s Club, and Publix. These results bode well for the value-minded retailers amongst the food/drug/mass set that also hold a strong community, employee, and customer service orientation.

Costco’s trust leadership is consistent with their leadership on policies that elevate the experience for their customers and employees alike. Compared to other retailers, respondents rated Costco favorably on their pricing and as a place they would miss if it were to disappear. Costco also scored toward the top for their treatment of employees and customers and their honesty as an organization. We noticed that these dimensions correlate highly with a strong RBT score, and are consistent with some of the policies Costco follows like providing employees with health care coverage and a confidential ethics hotline, their early moves to provide coronavirus protection and raises, and their ongoing steps towards becoming more environmentally-friendly.

Retailers with the lowest RBT score were Walmart, Instacart, Meijer, Safeway, and Walgreens. These bottom-performing retailers had poor scores across related dimensions such as employee treatment, importance of the customer, honesty, and providing a fun or joyful shopping experience.

Brand Trust Erosion Over The Last Decade

When compared to our 2011 survey results, every brand had an RBT decline.  Retailer performance has clearly not kept pace with Customer expectations for brand transparency, customer and employee experience.  The exception is Aldi:   although RBT declined slightly, Aldi moved from 8th place to 2nd over the 10 year period.

The downward shift in consumer perceptions toward all brands studied is observed amidst a period of unprecedented disruption and uncertainty and an increasingly connected world with greater access to information and demand for brand transparency than ever before. These results should be a wakeup call for all retailers and brands to go beyond lip-service and to create a true culture of trust, transparency, and care for employees and customers.

More Detailed Study Results – Coming Soon

In an upcoming whitepaper, we will be discussing the Retail Brand Study Trust Study 2020 results in further detail. Highlights will include a full breakdown of 2011 and 2020 RBT scores, an analysis of dimensions related to brand trust and which correlate most closely, RBT scores versus retailer financial performance, and how to use RBT as a complement to promoter and loyalty metrics.

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Emerson Delgado

Emerson leads McMillanDoolittle projects from start to completion, working collaboratively with client and internal stakeholders on strategic growth planning, digital transformation, consumer insights, and operational implementation initiatives.

  • Carl Bjorncrantz

    September 7, 2020 at 4:19 pm Reply

    How does Walgreens compare with CVS?

  • Emerson Delgado

    October 5, 2020 at 11:30 am Reply

    Hi Carl- We found that our respondents were slightly more trusting of CVS than they were of Walgreens. Across our implicit trust dimensions, we found that Walgreens did especially poorly in their pricing, the shopping experience, and in how they treat their employees, but also got dinged for what participants saw as subpar support for their local communities during the current pandemic.

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