I was pondering this week about the concept of trust.

The first news story to get me thinking was published last Wednesday. It was reported that Australian retailer, Woolworths, were launching their ‘fresh or free’ campaign in an attempt to get one up on their arch rival Coles. The promotion allows customers to bring back any product that they deem unfresh and the retailer will offer a no questions asked refund. Whilst they were clear that this new idea was open to abuse, they said that they “trust the customer to do the right thing”. Wow!

The following day I was listening to a segment on the Today programme about peer to peer lending. Executive Director for financial stability at the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, made a speech in New York predicting that traditional high street banks will be replaced by peer to peer lenders in the future. In response, the co-founder of Zopa, Giles Andrews, talked about his business model. Zopa is an online lending service which is like a dating site for money lending. They match people who have spare money to invest with people who want to borrow money and let the magic happen. But it was when Mr Andrews was undergoing the usual aggressive, cynical line of ‘Today’ questioning that he admitted it all came down to one thing in the end…trust.

Last year, I was trying to figure out how I could afford to stay away on my trip to New Zealand without incurring huge costs for accommodation and as a last resort I investigated home swapping. It occurred to me that even if money is tight, I have a great asset at my disposal in my London flat and why not barter that. Home swapping is an ever growing market and ever since the film Holiday, has received a lot of press attention as money is tight and we are all looking for alternative options. Needless to say, Jude Law thrown in would be a bonus, or indeed Jack Black, if he floats your boat, but for me it simply opened up a whole new world of holidays. A week in Stockholm and 2 weeks in New York for an accommodation cost of £99 can hardly be scoffed at.

Home from home - my NYC flat for 2 weeks

Most of my friends and family thought this was all good and well but fundamentally would never go there as the whole concept required a significant amount of trust. After all, you are opening up your home, your haven, to a complete stranger. My theory is that they are doing the same to me, but I admit this requires a big leap of faith.

It is this connection and level of trust that is essential to the success of a retailer. Just as I am prepared to open up my home to others, so a retailer opens up their doors and then it is up to the other party to come on in. There have been a lot of pontification about the role of trust in retail brands over the years and in my old job at M&S, they were always very keen to be top of the YouGov survey on trust. I think it is equally important to new, small brands just as much as those more established large scale ones because it is a fundamental reason for customers to come back for more. In food, we trust that we are not going to be poisoned or even worse, killed by an untrustworthy dish and since this is a distinct possibility with an unscrupulous provider, then trust really is central to our industry. With the current fashion for small artisan hand made products as well as replicating authentic street food, this concept is more inherent than ever.

Try Brixton Village for some really great street food

So as a retailer how do you instil trust in your customers? Well for me, there are three simple principles:

Approachability. I really think the first way in is to be approachable so that the consumer can connect in some way with the brand. There are no set rules to that approach. It could be through design, or humour, or warmth, or fame and so many other routes. Whichever way you choose, it is critical to find a link with your target customer base.

Honesty. Whatever it is you do or stand for, be honest about it. Any exaggerated claims or over promised services will be caught out in the end, so believe in what you stand for and stand for what you believe in.

Credibility. Find a way of telling your customers about the lengths you go to delivering your brand experience. It doesn’t need to be heavy and lengthy. Sometimes a picture tells a thousand words and other times social media lets you have a loads of fun with it. But most of all you need to communicate.

With all that in mind, I am off to search for a lovely place to holiday this Summer. At the moment, I have wonderful homes shortlisted in Greece, Thailand, Costa Rica and Anguilla. I am just waiting to hear who fancies London. Let’s see who trusts me.

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