Trust: A terrible thing to waste on business

When it comes to trusting any businesses from cell phone providers and car salesmen to real estate brokers and gas stations, Americans seem to be at an all-time low.  That would be the conclusion of a report out today from the Better Business Bureau and survey experts at Gallup.

    In just the last seven months American consumers say their trust in businesses has fallen in 13 of 15 industries measured and nearly half of those surveyed say they have only "some, very little or no trust at all" in companies they do business with in everyday life.

    How pleasant.

"And these trust levels are 14% less than they were last fall when we started taking these measurements. This trend should be a call to action for businesses, especially in an ailing economy-the link between consumer trust and profitability is well established," said Steve Cole, president and CEO, Council of Better Business Bureau in a release.  

Oddly, department Stores and gas stations ranked in the top four in both the "Most Trusted" and "Least Trusted" groupings. And only the Banks, Financial Institutions and Stock Brokers segment saw a greater than five percent change in the actual percentage of consumer responses in both the "Most Trusted"  and "Least Trusted" groupings, the BBB said.

The first BBB/Gallup Trust in Business survey was conducted in September 2007; the second in April 2008. A little over 1,000 consumers were asked to indicate their degree of trust in businesses using six categories: A Great Deal of Trust, Quite a Lot of Trust, Some Trust, Very Little Trust, No Trust or Don't Know.

When asked what factors affect their trust in businesses, 77 % of consumers cited increasing prices of food, healthcare and energy as having major negative impacts. When asked what would strengthen their trust in businesses surveyed, 86 % of respondents said it would be "very" or "somewhat" helpful for businesses to let credible third-parties assess their performance. In contrast, only 58% said having government more actively involved in regulating performance would be "very" or "somewhat" helpful. 

The BBB said demographic data shows consumers with no college education drove down trust levels in seven of 15 industries. As for gender, women specifically cited declining trust in home improvement and department stores, whereas men noted low degrees of trust in pharmacies and drug stores, and banks, financial institutions and stock brokers.

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