From vaccine policy to cybersecurity, trust takes center stage

This holiday season, consumers want to shop in safe environments, both in stores and online. Consumer-facing companies are responding by underscoring customer safety. From vaccine policies that keep employees—and therefore customers—safe, to protecting customer data, retailers have moved in lockstep with consumers to provide the authentic experiences they often seek.

More than ever before, consumers want to support businesses they trust and whose purpose aligns with their own. In fact, over the past two years, trust has taken center stage for consumer-facing companies. The overwhelming majority of consumers—92%—told us that brand trust is the leading factor driving purchasing decisions this holiday season.

What’s more, a third (33%) of consumers told us that they are willing to pay a premium for trust, while 44% said they have actually stopped doing business with a company because of trust issues. As with all aspects of earning trust—from environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies to data privacy—transparency and communication are essential. As is understanding what consumers want.

With vaccines, for example, the data is in: 70% of consumers told us they favor vaccination verification while traveling. And more than half (56%) support policies that would prevent those without proof of vaccination from traveling.

The Biden administration’s requirement that businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week offers consumer-facing companies an opportunity to advance public safety. Already, most employees at companies including Tyson Foods, United Airlines and Walmart have complied with vaccine requirements.

Designing a well-thought-out vaccine policy

Overall, employers can expect some 10% of employees to request exemptions to mandates. Between the current labor shortage, regional differences and religious and medical exemptions, a complex accommodation process awaits business leaders.

Meeting this moment in a way that protects brand equity and helps cultivate trust will most likely require consistency, documentation and security—especially for consumer-facing companies. These four steps are essential for cross-functional teams (including participants from legal and HR) to follow:

  • Establish and implement a vaccine policy that clarifies available accommodations, is applied consistently throughout the organization and is aligned with your mission and values.
  • Institute a case-management process that articulates the information you will need and the questions you will ask in order to make your decisions.
  • Orchestrate internal decision-making to reconcile the various priorities of different stakeholders—including HR, legal and the overall business.
  • Communicate your decision to employees with consistency, clarity and compassion, deciding ahead of time how much detail you will share about your decision.

As more consumers go back to stores this holiday, businesses that clearly articulate a vaccine policy and follow through have the opportunity to nurture customer trust.

Rich digital experiences

Digital trust also matters to consumers, who will do more of their shopping online than in store (57% versus 43%) this holiday, requiring retailers to continue delivering the robust experiences that help deepen customer loyalty.

A rich digital experience for customers can be frictionless, yet highly personalized. Savvy retailers reach out with relevant messages at a frequency that consumers prefer, while considering three key questions:

  • How often do your customers want to hear from you?
  • Which channels would they prefer that you use?
  • What do they want their data to be used—and not used—for?

Creating comprehensive customer profiles, as well as having the agility to adjust to shifting consumer tastes and preferences in real time, takes data-based, demand-sensing models. The goal is to follow the customer across each step of their journey, connecting each data point and earning their trust by showing them you understand what they’re trying to do.

To accomplish this, start with secure customer data. Almost 60% of consumer-facing industry executives will increase their cyber budgets to help keep up with digital demand, which has been growing since the onset of the pandemic. Some 50% of these executives tell us they’re folding cybersecurity and privacy considerations into every business decision they make.

Consumers trust industries the same or more now than they did before the pandemic

Q: As consumers, to what extent do you trust the following now compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic? (Responses to ‘Trust more now’ and ‘Trust about the same’)
Source: PwC’s Trust in US Business Survey, September 16, 2021: base of 1,001 consumers

Protecting brand trust

Consumers are clear-eyed about the essential role trust often plays in their purchasing decisions. They want to be safe while shopping in stores and they want their data to be protected while shopping online. In response, successful consumer-facing companies can continue to protect and nurture brand trust at every opportunity, whether in physical or digital environments.

Contact us

Barbra Bukovac

Vice Chair, Consumer Markets, PwC US

Katrina Carrizales

Consumer Markets Sector Leader, Cyber, Risk & Regulatory, PwC US

Samrat Sharma

Marketing Transformation Leader, PwC US

Jonathan Kletzel

Principal, Transportation and Logistics Leader, PwC US

Darin Yug

Gaming & Hospitality Consulting Lead, PwC US

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