Building Brand Trust Is Not Easy

Building brand trust is not easy. Little things or small mistakes can lead to significant erosion of trust. Find out what happens to brand trust when DeAnn observed two little things on a recent trip to a grocery store.

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Introduction – Brand Trust

What is brand trust?

Brand trust is the level of confidence that customers have in a brand’s ability to deliver on what it promises and meet expectations. Brands that consistently meet or exceed expectations based on customers’ perceptions will earn more trust over time.

Importance of brand trust
Brand trust is important for any industry because it can lead to:

Increased sales: Customers who trust a brand will consider buying from you first even if others offer better pricing or superior quality products.

Loyal customers: Customers who trust a brand are more likely to stay with it for a longer term. They will also be more forgiving of little product or service mistakes and are more likely to be upsold on new offerings.

Positive word-of-mouth: Customers who trust a brand will amplify their experiences through positive physical interactions with others or online posts.

In reverse, a lack of brand trust will cause customers to consider other brands for their purchases, leave the band permanently, or negatively discuss their experience on different channels.

How to build brand trust?

5 ingredients to building brand trust (Source: Retail Mashup)

There are several things brands can do to build brand trust. Here are some examples:

Delivering Promises: Brands need to deliver what they market and promote. Designing and communicating the right expectation against product/service delivery is key. Instead of the old saying “Underpromise, over deliver”, brands are better off with “Deliver what you promise”.

Be Transparent: Actual customer experience does not always unfold as designed (e.g., flights may be delayed). Brands need to be transparent about issues and challenges continually while offering the right mix of remediation and support. Brand trust is often built on customer service issue management than during regular interactions.

Customer-Led: Brands need to define what “Customer-Led” means so that they can build the best combination of customer experience, support, and cost management.

Feedback Driven: Design a feedback system that is timely in 1. collecting the information, and 2. resolving any service issues. It is important to note that feedback can be both positive and negative. Brands should not train customers to only provide feedback due to a negative experience.
Pro tip: There are many ways to collect feedback beyond standardized forms. Think about using technologies to create a hot map for a store, or engage customers about their positive interactions directly into a smart product.

Consistent Presence: Brand trust is built across all presences (physical, virtual, or online) brands have with their customers. These presences need to have a consistent message.

Accumulating brand trust requires time and resources to design, build, and monitor. Brands are best to identify emotional markers during any customer experience journey to maximize their understanding of brand trust.



DeAnn and Larry
Hi. Welcome to Retail Mashup. I’m Deanne. I’m Larry. This is a podcast where we find intersections between customer experience and the retail industry and talk about it. What are we gonna talk about today?

Today I wanted to talk about the little things, the little irritating things that retailers do that have a huge impact on brand trust and customer experience. Retailers tend to underestimate how much these small things impact their business. Still, they really are big things to a customer and they ultimately have a big impact on bottom-line sales and profitability.

Case Study 1: The Mistaken Product Labels Eroding Brand Trust

I’ll start with grocery shopping and retail. I recently saw a product that I’m pretty sure it was lamb. It had two labels on it. One label had price information, pound information, and expiry date information, and there was a larger label off to the opposite side.

The small informational label had the product correctly identified as “lamb”. The large label had it identified as beef. Lamb is one of those dishes that not everybody eats all the time. There are an awful lot of people who wouldn’t recognize lamb necessarily. What if your partner sends you to the store to buy a lamb roast?

Product details – Is this beef or lamb? The wrong information can have health and brand trust implications. (Source: DeAnn Campbell)

You really have never bought it before. You don’t know what it looks like. You see that it says, “Ooh, beef I don’t think they have lamb.” You go home without buying it. And you get in trouble. We all see packaging mistakes and some of them are minor, but something about the information about the product is really, really important.

Food is something we put in our bodies. We wanna know it’s safe and nothing can shut down a business faster than seeing a moldy piece of meat or bread on the shelf for sale. You immediately think all the rest of the product is no good either. And gee, I guess they don’t pay attention to detail around here. I guess they don’t take their products off the shelf often enough.

I don’t know that I wanna buy food from this retailer because I don’t know if it’s safe. I don’t know if I can trust it. Something so simple as mislabeling a product, or slapping a beef tag on a piece of lamb, it’s one of those things where a retailer would think, oh, people are overreacting.

But it isn’t because it speaks to the care that you take with your store and your product, which is ultimately what drives your customers to come back to see you all the time to shop with you, to trust you, and to be loyal to you.

Case Study 2: Empty Coolers and Freezers. Are They Really Broken?

Another thing that I saw in this same grocery store are entire aisle of empty coolers and freezers. Those, an entire aisle had been emptied and it was clear that it was older equipment. It wasn’t like they were installing something new.

All the labels were still in place. There was no sign of what they were doing. There were no indications of maintenance. There was no indication of restocking. It was just all the products have been removed from these cases. We don’t know what’s going on. I saw this on a Friday morning. I went back on Monday morning just cuz I was thinking about it.

Coolers with empty shelves. What does it say about the grocers? (Source: DeAnn Campbell)

The same situation was still happening. The cooler cases were still empty, something’s wrong here. Now suddenly, you’re wondering, is this store having problems? Are they not able to keep the product in stock? Do they miss a shipment? Is there a problem with the coolers?

Is the store going under, I don’t know, am I gonna have to find another grocery store? I mean, there’s something wrong here. Now you’re thinking about all the things that could potentially be wrong, and it’s getting bigger and bigger in your mind. You’re uncertain about whether you wanna continue to shop with this retailer, and you don’t feel good about any of the other products that you’re buying.

You could find your favorite bread on sale for half price, which is usually something that makes you happy. But because of that empty aisle of coolers that looked kind of creepy and strange, then it calls into question even the products that you know and love. Something as simple as an under maintenance sign placed on these coolers so that people know, oh, they’re under maintenance, there’s something wrong.

Just having that communication suddenly has the opposite effect. Now, you know that the store is on top of its issues. They are taking care of the problem. They’ve identified the problem, keeping the store safe for me, and not leaving products in the coolers when the coolers aren’t working correctly. Now I feel better about the products that I’m buying. Something so simple as communication, place it and how you time it can have such a big impact on the relationship you have with your customer and their loyalty to your store.

The Discussion

How do mistakes or “little things” impact brand trust?
I have a couple of questions. The first question, when you saw the packaging and you were determining whether or not it’s beef or whether or not it’s a lamb did you buy the product?

I did not, I didn’t know what was going on, and it made me very uncomfortable, so I did not buy it.

And you mentioned brand trust and it’s such an important concept. When you saw that packaging and you felt uneasy how did that affect the way you built brand trust? How did that impact the way you feel about that particular supermarket?

That experience where you see a product mislabeled to that degree really colors your perception of every product in that store.

How many things do they have that are past their expiry date? Is the expiry date wrong? Do I trust them to tell me the truth about where this product has come from? Suddenly all those thoughts are going through your head and it is making you feel a little less happy with that retailer. A little less unsure of the choices you make in the products you’re buying from that retailer.

Is it safe to buy this milk, these eggs? How long have they sat here? Did the cooler break down overnight? And I did interview the manager. I flagged them down on Monday to say, what’s going on with these cooler aisles? I came here on Friday and they were empty then.

“He said, oh yeah, they’re broken. They don’t work. We’re waiting for a repair crew to come. They’re behind cause they’re understaffed. So we’re gonna get to it.” And I just thought, well, that’s simple and that’s understandable. Why don’t you have a sign telling your customers what’s going on?

It is not difficult for brands to be transparent and post an “Out of Order” sign. This gesture improves comfort, It is not difficult for brands to be transparent and post an “Out of Order” sign. This gesture improves comfort, reduces uncertainty, and may improve brand trust. Source: Robin Britt at Pexels

Everyone was kind of uncomfortable around this aisle. This was the frozen pizza aisle, which is usually very popular. You’d see customers turn down there and get kind of confused and act unsure of themselves on what to do next.

You’re interrupting the rhythm of a person’s routine shopping experience. You’re calling into question the quality of the product, and you are denying information to the customer. This is their grocery store. Customers feel extremely personal about their retail. They feel almost ownership, especially in something that they rely on and visit every week like a grocery store. Food is important. Your groceries experience is part of your daily life. Your trust and relationship with the grocery store and the brand are critical for your continued comfort in shopping at that store.

When it comes to brand trust. It’s an earned process. With a grocery store, every consumer has a baseline of trust that it would have safety and security in mind. There will be cleanliness and all the food are properly labeled. That would be the baseline with which the consumers would operate.

You spoke about this particular item having a dual label. I saw the picture and we posted it at Retail Mashup. Someone who thought that this is a piece of beef, but in fact, it was labeled as lamb, the pricing is very different. The expiry date and the sell-through dates are very different.

The confusion, as you mentioned can erode the brand trust that anyone would have. Slowly but surely, it’s not always quantifiable that you second-guess yourself. That second-guessing yourself is what makes it very interesting for me. When we shop, we sometimes just go to our favorite aisle.

We pick up things that we know about. We don’t always double-check the expiry date because we believe that is done for us. Yeah. We believe these supermarkets not going to sell us something that’s already expired. In fact, there have been many cases of the reverse, where the supermarkets start throwing up things that are not even remotely expired.

Hearing the consumer buy something that may be expiring soon. To have that reverse happen can be damaging for that particular supermarket location. Some people may think, “oh, it’s only that one location that is having a problem, and that’s okay. Maybe I just wouldn’t go to that location anymore.”

But for some people, if they see this type of mistake happen more than once, they may start questioning the entire chain, whether or not it’s a chain-wide issue. They may be there to deceive just so that they can get more money. Unknowingly lamb would be more expensive than beef.

If you unknowingly purchase something not only could it contribute to allergic reactions or religious reasons that you shouldn’t eat one all over the other, but you likely paying more for that piece of meat. In environments where inflation and affordability are a concern, you don’t want to feel like you’re being cheated. We wrote about the emotional response to brand trust, the reputational impact that it may have, and then mm-hmm. Ultimately the financial losses.

Small mistakes can have big brand implications (Source: Retail Mashup)

Meat products are higher price products typically. If a lot of people don’t buy from you, it could be problematic for the particular store, maybe even the chain.

With the shelves, I can just imagine in the summertime and the coolest section is one of the most popular sessions. You mentioned that particular section was for pizza, but what if it’s ice cream? Mm-hmm. If I go to my favorite local store and the ice cream aisle is empty, Over a heat wave that really would have an emotional impact on me. Now I’m leaving that store empty-handed, not being able to manage my needs and maybe my family’s needs. That could actually be a huge problem I may tell people about.

We have seen this with McDonald’s. Their ice cream machines are sometimes broken and they don’t tell their customers that They are broken until they get to the counter or use the kiosk to buy the ice cream. Then people are pissed off on a really hot day.

McDonald’s broken ice cream machine is not making customers happy in the summer and may impact brand trust. Source: Monica Escalera at Pexels

That type of communication is needed to manage expectations and continue building brand trust. it Takes a long time to build brand trust but it’s very easily shattered. Once it’s shattered, it may take an even longer time to rebuild. And for some consumers brand trust may never be recovered.

Understanding too that the shopper journey inside of a grocery store has a tendency to quickly become routine.

You’re almost on autopilot. You go around and buy the things that you normally buy. A lot of shoppers don’t think consciously. In an effort to shake things up a little bit and get people to buy more products and notice more products, grocers will often shake things up, move products around the store a little bit, put a new display, and move displays around.

Just subtle things to wake you up for lack of a better term, so that you’ll notice, “Oh, there’s a new type of salsa. I never saw that before. Maybe I’ll try it and grow that basket size”.

But it’s an art form and there’s a balance. If you go too far, people can’t get their routine items. Now they have to think too hard to remember what they normally go to the store for. They’ll often leave and forget something if you mix things up too much.

And to your point, you can’t find the ice cream. Suddenly you usually go to buy the ice cream and then you forget that the next aisle over is eggs, cheese, and milk. You bypass that aisle completely cuz you’re thrown off so much and you leave the store and then you have to go back for it.

You’re probably not gonna go back to the same grocery store cuz you’re ticked at ’em. It’s like a dance and you can’t have discordant notes that nobody can dance to in this store. So there’s an existential way to end the podcast, I think.

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* We made some modifications to the transcript to improve understandability and flow.

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