By Daniel Hunter

Trust in UK retailers has hit a four-year low, according to OC&C Strategy Consultants’ Retail Proposition Index, presented today (Wednesday) at the World Retail Congress in Paris. Trust in the retail sector fell by 1.0 over the last 12 months to 70.8 in 2013.

The Proposition Index is a major piece of consumer research surveying over 10,000 shoppers across the UK, asking them to rate retailers on a range of measures, including price, range and value for money, to uncover attitudes towards the UK’s retailers.

Issues such as horsemeat, the Bangladeshi factory collapse and tax avoidance have meant that trust in retailers has reached its lowest point since the Retail Proposition Index began four years ago. Tesco, once among the most trusted British retailers, now finds itself among the five least trusted retail brands for the first time.

Overall, furniture and entertainment retailers have seen the sharpest fall in trust since last year. Furniture retailers’ trust ratings fell by 3.1 from 67.8 in 2012 to 64.7 in 2013, while entertainment retailers saw trust scores plummet by 3.4 from 73.6 last year to 70.2 in 2013.

John Lewis has retained its crown as Britain’s most trusted retailer, closely followed by Marks & Spencer and Waterstones. More than 96% of consumers trust John Lewis, highlighting how retailers who consistently deliver on promise and leverage their heritage can maintain consumer trust, even against a backdrop of greater consumer cynicism.

Discount retailers, such as, Aldi are another sector that has bucked the trend of consumer scepticism on trust. They are the only sector within the retail industry to see average trust scores increase (by +1.3 points over 2012-2013). By improving the range of products they stock and a greater marketing focus on quality of their products, they have helped persuade consumers that they can trust the quality of the products they are purchasing at a lower price point.

“Trust plays a critical role for consumers’ overall perception of a retail brand so it’s worrying that trust in retailers has hit a four-year low," Tom Gladstone, Partner at OC&C, said.

"The report shows that a focus on CSR or ethical trading alone is not enough to convince UK consumers that a brand is trustworthy — rather, delivery on promise and quality remain prerequisites to winning consumer trust. Retailers such as John Lewis, M&S and Waterstones have worked relentlessly over the years to build their position and have been rewarded by consumers as a result.”

Trust is only one element of the OC&C’s Retail Proposition Index. Consumers were also asked to rate brands on a range of other measures including quality and diversity of products, shopping experience and price.

The report shows that Amazon’s popularity with consumers hasn’t wavered, and it continues to top OC&C’s Retail Proposition Index for the fourth year running followed by John Lewis, Apple and Marks & Spencer.

“Although the tax avoidance scandal negatively affected UK consumers’ trust in Amazon, their execution and reliability around products and delivery helped them maintain their overall title," Tom Gladstone continued.

"The US retailer continues to excel in areas which consumers value highly, such as excellent customer service, a wide choice and great value for money.”

OC&C Retail Proposition Index: top-10 overall UK retailers

1. Amazon
2. John Lewis
3. Apple
4. Marks & Spencer
5. M&S Simply Food
6. eBay
7. Lakeland
9. Waterstones
10. Healthspan

OC&C Retail Proposition Index: top-5 most trusted retailers

1. John Lewis
2. Marks & Spencer
3. Waterstones
4. M&S Simply Food
5. Lakeland