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How Has Consumer Trust Evolved in the Digital Era?

Ross Kelly

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consumer trust

Speaking at the DIGIT Leaders Virtual Summit, Carolyn Jameson explored how consumer trust has evolved alongside rapid technological changes.

Maintaining trust and ensuring transparency are two of the key considerations among technology leaders in 2020, according to Carolyn Jameson, chief legal & policy officer at Trustpilot.

Speaking at the DIGIT Leaders Virtual Summit, Jameson explained that consumer trust has now transcended the issue of basic transactional parameters, and has grave implications for credibility and authenticity.

The DIGIT Leaders Summit explored the evolution of technology as a core driver of value creation across a range of industries, examining how this shift has placed senior technologists at the heart of organisation change, strategy and decision making.

The concept of consumer trust, Jameson asserted, has changed massively with the advent of digital technology, online platforms and social media networks. Given recent events with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in many businesses having to move online, discussions around trust and transparency aren’t simply going to disappear, they will be critical to brands in a range of industries moving forward.

Citing Rachel Botsman’s thoughts on the evolution of trust in the digital age, Jameson highlighted the radical changes to basic norms. Traditionally, society has relied on ‘local trust’, which refers to smaller networks of people, reputation-based communities and a propensity to deal with people either within or not far removed from our own social networks.

In the digital age, however, trust is a far more complicated issue, especially for businesses.

“Individuals who we’ve never met before are now being assisted through digital technology, and we see platforms which provide rating systems as well as companies simply growing through word of mouth via online networks,” she said.

“We’ve entered an era in which individuals trust each other in ways we never would’ve expected, such as getting into cars with strangers or renting apartments from people we do not know” Jameson added.

These new patterns and trends present organisations with great challenges, Jameson asserted. For many companies – particularly those which are digitally-native – trust is the fundamental building block of success and rapidly accelerates the development of consumer relationships.

Additionally, companies that have capitalised on these trends and sought to stay ahead of the curve are reaping the rewards and retaining strong consumer support.

“When you think about this, it is really strange. In the physical world, it takes us time to build up trust with another person. We spend time together to figure out we like them or if we believe what they’re saying,” she said.

“In an online environment, it’s really difficult to look for that reliability, which is what trust is really all about. Tech now gives us trust signals that we would’ve seen in a real-life scenario and it’s had the effect of speeding up these relationships. We’re very quick to share personal details, payment information or user-generated content,” Jameson added.

Perhaps naively, Jameson suggested consumers have come to accept these new norms while companies themselves have become “very adept at designing for trustworthiness”.

The unintended consequences of this are now becoming very visible, she warned. In recent years, high-profile scandals involving companies such as Facebook have rocked consumer trust. The social media giant has been heavily criticised so far in 2020 over its failure to ensure political ad transparency and tackle hate speech.

Despite repeated scandals, Facebook still boasts a gargantuan user-base, underlining the reality that it still remains a popular choice of platform for consumers.

While Jameson admitted that it may not have intended for the platform to aid in misinformation and influence world events, the fact remains that it still wields significant power and has an obligation to ensure the trust of its users.

“Do we honestly think these companies have deliberately set out to get into these positions? Personally, I don’t,” she said.

“However, I do think that trust online creates power. For companies that have managed to achieve this with consumers, they have significant power. These companies are also very innovative. So the personal information we give them, they’re going to look to use it to innovate in ways that perhaps weren’t originally intended,” Jameson added.

Looking ahead, Jameson warned that deteriorating consumer trust will likely have huge negative impacts, and as such organisations across a raft of industries should focus heavily on getting consumers on-side. On a broader scale, a failure to address this issue will have far-reaching political and economic side effects.

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“Already in Europe, we’re probably behind where we should be when competing against the US and China in terms of the emergence of successful technology companies,” she asserted.

“Of course, there are many reasons for this, such as access to finance or education, but we certainly don’t need another in the form of poor consumer confidence,” Jameson added.

There is no single answer or solutions to solving the ongoing crisis in consumer trust, and challenges lie ahead for many businesses and organisations. However, technology will be central to solving the problem, she suggested, and senior personnel must take dynamic steps to embrace technologies that have transformative potential and can build greater reliability for consumers online.

This could involve continued development and adoption of distributed ledger technology to allow individuals to share information securely and on their own terms. Similarly, artificial intelligence and big data can play a key role in spotting patterns of behaviour, fake reviews or counterfeits online.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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